Mains: Detroit’s earthworm preservation society

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on May 22, 2017:

Balls hit in the air are one of the big stories of the 2017 season. A record number of them are going over the fence, but the larger narrative has been about how players are seeking to hit more balls in the air—elevate is the term of choice—with improved results. Ryan Zimmerman—nearly stick-a-fork-in-him done last year, MVP contender this year—is the poster child, but greater launch angles have been a theme throughout the game.

Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight has pointed out that this hasn’t necessarily benefited hitters, but it is, if nothing else, a thing. How big a thing? Well, through games of Saturday (all 2017 statistics in this article are through Saturday), 45.7 percent of batted balls have been hit on the ground this year, compared to 46.1 percent in 2016, which in turn was lower than 2015’s 47.0 percent. So far this year, batters are hitting ground balls at the lowest rate since 2011.

Now, it’s easy to understand why batters might want to avoid grounders. Per Baseball-Reference, batters are hitting .243 with a .265 slugging percentage on grounders. In contrast, they’re hitting .205 with a .642 slugging percentage on fly balls. That .642 slugging percentage is fueled largely by homers—fly balls are yielding an .087 batting average and .145 slugging percentage on non-homers—but that’s a little like saying wine tastes bland without grapes. More elevation yields more dingers.

This isn’t to say that a player can’t have a successful career hitting a lot of ground balls. Or that some batters might not be more successful if they hit more balls on the ground. But the trend is clear: Batters are hitting more balls in the air.

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Originally published: May 22, 2017. Last Updated: May 22, 2017.