Following up on excellent recent pieces by Travis Sawchik and Jeff Sullivan, I had a hypothesis: If there is truly a swing-path revolution underway in MLB, perhaps the best hitters by wOBA and wRC+ showed more marked FB+LD%’s (Air%) tendencies in 2015-2016 than in years past? If not them, then perhaps there is a trend among the middle and/or lower classes of hitters?
The hypothesis was wrong, but the investigation still gave some interesting context to the 2016 power spike and the profiles of recent successful/unsuccessful MLB hitters in general.
Here’s a plot of the average FB%+LD% (Air%) for each year, 2009-2016, for all qualifying MLB hitters per FanGraphs leaderboards, divided into three roughly even buckets of 40-50 players by wRC+ (<100wRC+ left, 100-120wRC+ center, >120 wRC+ right):
Here’s a plot of the average FB%+LD% (Air%) for each year, 2009-2016, for all qualifying MLB hitters per FanGraphs leaderboards, divided into three roughly even buckets of 40-50 players by wOBA ( <.320 left, .320-.350 center, >.350 right):
The consistency of these numbers is remarkable. The writing has been on the wall for some time with regards to the benefits of hitting it in the air.
Perhaps plenty of hitters are (and always have been) trying to hit it in the air more often and are either failing to make the change stick, or not finding success quickly enough to stick with the change / stay in the league?
We aren’t seeing across-the-board nor player-class-specific changes that stand out beyond random variation by this method (yet).
There could be an equilibrium point here where given the best pools of pitching and hitting talent available (regardless of how they arrived at said status), the outcomes will be pretty similar at a macro level, save for major fundamental changes to how the game is played.
This does not mean that individual players cannot aspire to find more optimal approaches. Surely there have always been hitters finding success via these means, and only recently have we been focusing on batted-ball data and focusing on these traits of the transformations.
Preach on, Josh Donaldson: Ground balls? They call those outs up here.