The panel on ‘The Changing State of Sabermetrics: at the 2017 SABR convention in NYC with panelists Joel Sherman, Mark DeRosa, Vince Gennaro and Mike Petriello claimed that fewer balls are going into play and singles are actually down. They posed the question, “Are singles still a thing?”
With that in mind, we aimed to verify if these claims are true and what makes people feel that players are hitting fewer singles in today’s game.
We used data that’s current as of July 2, 2017.
- Data being visualized is from http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/bat.shtml and http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/bat.shtml on July 1, 2017.
- BABIP definition is taken from http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/babip/
Below you will see two charts illustrating the number of hits, home runs and strikeouts per game.
You can conclude three things from these graphs:
- Over the past 10 seasons, strikeouts have been increasing dramatically — 1.94 K/Game in the AL and 1.52 per game in the NL.
- Over the past 3 seasons, singles per game have dipped.
- Over the past 3 seasons, HR per game have spiked higher than ever before.
To get a good picture of the change in the distribution of hits, we broke down the AL and NL in the following two graphs. From these graphs you can conclude three things.
- Percentage of HR are spiking higher than ever before.
- AL home runs are up 4.6% from 10.3% to 14.9% since 2014
- NL home runs are up 4.32% from 9.85% to 14.17% since 2014
- Percentage of singles are lower than ever before.
- AL singles down 4% from 68% to 64% since 2014
- NL singles are down 4.85% from 68.44% to 63.59% since 2014
- These spikes somehow started in 2014.
With strikeouts per game over the last 20 years rising 1.752 strikeouts per game in the AL (6.456 per game to 8.210 per game) and in the NL 1.5 strikeouts per game (6.754 per game to 8.255 per game), we wanted to see how this has affected offensive performance in terms of both batting average (BA) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For those unfamiliar with BABIP, it measures how often non-home-run batted balls fall for hits. This metric assesses how effective a particular hitter is at putting balls in play that lead to hits. The graphs below show how BA and BABIP are correlated.
- In the AL batting averages have dropped .271 to .255 over the past 20 years while BABIP has remained rather steady around .299.
- In the NL batting averages have dropped .263 to .254 over the past 20 years while BABIP has remained rather steady around .299.
Singles are decreasing at an alarming rate, yes. However, they’re still the most prevalent type of hit in the game. This trend is supported by the panel’s feeling that the shift has led to vastly improved defense and pitchers making better use of SABR data. Conclusively tying shifts to better defense is a bit harder, however, as shift data is difficult to obtain.
Additionally, home runs and strikeouts are increasing to all-time historic highs. This confirms the general sentiment on the panel that batters are now willing to take bigger risks to go for the HR, resulting in more home runs and strikeouts.
In follow-up pieces, we are going to look into why this may be happening, and attempt to look into how this helps generate fan interest.