“I’m probably leading the league in bad contact, too.” — Marco Scutaro
We talked for a few minutes, Marco Scutaro and I, about hitting and contact before a game a few weeks back. When I told him he’s leading the league in contact rate since 2010, he offered the response above with a slight frown and a flick of the bat. He swung a bat the whole time we talked, even. But his voice never really wavered — it never betrayed either the physical effort he was putting into choosing his bat for the day or the matter-of-fact humor that accompanied his answers.
I asked him why his zone percentage was so high, and pitchers threw him so many fastballs — he is second and tenth in the league in those categories since 2010 — and once again, it was a simple matter: “They know I take a lot of pitches, so they throw it in the zone.” You’d think they might play it more fine with a guy that was in the top 70 in pitches per plate appearance last season, but he doesn’t reach — he was in the top 25 in reach rate. So you might as well throw it in the zone.
Once it’s in the zone, he’ll make contact. 97.5% of the time since 2010, to be more exact. But that doesn’t mean that Scutaro feels that great about it. “There are times that I would rather swing and miss,” he said. “I make contact and it’s a fair ball and it’s a weak ground ball, and I’d rather have another chance, as long as there’s not two strikes.” Hitting ground balls is one thing — he’s hit more and more of them in the last three years, and maybe that’s been his journey towards finding his own unique ideal ground-ball rate — but here’s that ‘bad contact’ idea again.
Can we find bad contact from where the ball was contacted? We know that pitchers who can hit the edge of the strike zone are likely to have a lower batting average on balls in play than pitchers that can’t. What if Scutaro is making too much contact on balls on the edge of the zone? Well the league batting average on balls in play on pitches on the edge since 2010 is .351. Scutaro has a BABIP of .347 during that time.
The pitches on the edge have mostly been kind to Scutaro. There’s a swinging strike rate of 7.6% on those pitches since 2010, and Scutaro’s is 1.7%. Then again, those pitches have been called strikes 31% of the time for the league, and umps have called em strikes 39% of the time against the Giants’ second baseman. So far, the evidence is that Scutaro should swing more often at those pitches.
Perhaps, when he’s talking about bad contact, he’s talking a little more about line drives. Still lamenting his best skill — maybe that’s a strong way to put it, but he didn’t strike me as proud about it — Scutaro said that “after the ball leaves the bat, you pretty much have no control.” He said he spent two months in Colorodo last year hitting more lineouts than ever, but felt like he was missing the remote control for the ball once it was in play. His BABIP in Colorado was .287 despite a line drive rate that was almost 25% (league average hovers between 19-20%). His BABIP lurched forward to .366 with the Giants later that year and you know the rest of the story. Since 2010, he’s got the 13th-best line drive rate among qualified second baseman, so he can’t be leading the league in bad contact. He doesn’t even lead the league this year in balls in play (53rd).
Make a bunch of contact without hitting balls out of play, on the other hand, and you might be a little dependent on the bounce of the ball in play. When his BABIP has been over .300 in his career, Scutaro has been about 10% better than the league with the stick. Lifetime, he’s been about 4% worse than league average at the plate.
But if depending a little on the bounce of the ball is an unsteady feeling, you wouldn’t notice it from the soft-spoken man in the Giants clubhouse. All he’s trying to do is “keep that feeling” and continue to make good contact. “Trying to be consistent, that’s the hardest part of hitting,” he says, even in the face of evidence that he makes contact more consistently than anyone in baseball.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.