As if being a 27-year old rookie weren’t hard enough, Ryan Schimpf went at things in an unprecedented way last season. While the fighter — schimpf literally means “to curse and fight” in German — probably established himself as a useful major leaguer with a couple of important tools, regression will come for a player with such an extreme batted-ball mix.
Since we started recording these things, no batter has ever had a qualified season during which he hit fewer than four grounders for every 10 fly balls. Schimpf hit three for every 10 in his debut last year. Even if you relax the entry to 300 plate appearances, the San Diego second baseman is an outlier — only one person has ever recorded a higher fly-ball rate.
There have been 4,094 player-seasons with at least 300 PA since 2002, when we started publishing batted-ball classifications. Schimpf is one of two players who has produced less than a 0.4 GB/FB.
Two things immediately come to mind when looking at this chart. One, not many people take such an extreme approach. Schimpf is definitely an outlier. Two, it’s hard to combine so many fly balls and also a good home-run per fly-ball rate. As the volume of fly balls goes up, so do the infield-fly rates (these 15 averaged more than double the league’s infield-fly rate), and the home-run per fly-ball rate goes down.
Again, on this front, we find Schimpf all alone. He’s the red dot.
So Schimpf probably will hit more ground balls next year. The 15 players with the most extreme ground-ball per fly-ball rates averaged 0.46 GB/FB in year one and 0.58 in year two. They went from 57% fly balls in year one to 53% fly balls in year two. It’s hard to keep for a batter to retain such an extreme launch angle. If he follows the group, Schimpf won’t likely set a record in a full season next year; he’ll squib too many grounders, even with his extreme approach.
Still, it’s interesting to find that two players were able to keep a career going by hitting one ground ball for every two fly balls. Those two players are all over the leaderboard above: Rod Barajas and Frank Thomas.
While obviously different players from an overall skill standpoint, Barajas and Thomas also seem to have come to their realizations about fly balls at different points in their careers. Thomas always hit loads of fly balls. Barajas may have realized mid-career that launch angle would be his savior.
We’re dealing in tiny samples and narrative here on the extremes, but it certainly feels like the 5-foot-9, 190-pound old rookie who showed an explosion in power halfway through his minor-league career fits the Barajas mold a bit more than the one that behemoth Hall of Famer Thomas created and then copyrighted.
The year after Barajas produced the lowest GB/FB in the history of that statistic, he came back and had recorded a .34 GB/FB, good for third place on this list. That sort of regression also seems about right for Schimpf, considering how they’ve linked up so far, and it would have Schimpf hitting about 60% fly balls next year. But note that both of Barajas’ extreme seasons also came in sub-400 plate-appearance samplings.
Maybe there’s something about playing every day that makes the extreme uppercut harder to pull off. Maybe it’s that pitchers start to take advantage of you, and that there’s something untenable about swinging for the fences so obviously on every swing. It’s certainly true that nobody has ever gone to the plate 400 times and managed to do what Schimpf did last year in a small sample.
But, given the size of that sample, it’s also hard to say if he’s more Frank Thomas or Rod Barajas, and what his regression will look like. If you take the approach projections take, you’d notice that he had 191 balls in play last year, and that means he’s just hit the moment when you’d regress his work halfway to the mean. That would produce a fly-ball rate around 54.5% next year instead of 65%. (That number would still have been the most extreme in baseball last year if it qualified, ahead of Todd Frazier’s 48.7%.)
A drop in fly balls from 65% to 55% would cost him homers: six homers, to be exact, if his current contact and home-run rates per fly ball were to remain consistent. He’d hit 32 instead of 38 in the Depth Charts‘ 574 projected plate appearances. The player and the club would take that outcome.
And maybe that’s the lesson in the end: Ryan Schimpf is so extreme that two things are true. On the one hand, he won’t be as extreme next year, because only one person has ever been as extreme as Schimpf was last year, and that player also didn’t play a full season. But it’s also true to say that Schimpf will probably a hit a ton of fly balls next year, even with regression.
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.