Suddenly, putting the ball in play is back in fashion.
The Royals struck out only three times Wednesday night against hard-throwing Jacob deGrom and the Mets relievers in a 7-1 win in Game 2 of the World Series, culminating what has been a postseason-long epiphany for the number-crunching types.
This follows Sports Illustrated baseball-number columnist Joe Sheehan writing about how teams with a better contract contact had won more playoff series by about a 3-1 margin since 2009.
Then Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, on Sirrius/ XM last week, mentioned that maybe some of the players who struck out a lot might not be back for 2016. Throughout the surprising 2015 season, the Astros seemed to not give a hoot about whiffs.
And even Brian Kenny seems to have bought into the idea that contact is a good thing throughout this postseason.
And now we have the Royals a contact-hitting team that keeps winning and didn’t swing and miss even against with uber swing-and-miss stuff on Wednesday.
A generation ago — before we had stats that proved to everyone who grew up with the game that they didn’t know a darn thing about it — any observations about how contact was important would have drawn a yawn. Everybody knew that putting the ball into play was much better than striking out.
But now the contact-is-good theory is flying in the face of conventional, unconventional, data-driven new thinking.
Over the past several years, number crunchers have declared what while strikeouts are desirable for a pitcher, they are no disadvantage to a hitter. For a batter and his team, an out was simply an out. In fact, Baseball Prospectus, wrote in one book, putting the ball into play more often simply led to more double plays.
This out-is-an-out theory has been widely accepted both in analysis world of bloggers, columnists and Brian Kenny but seemingly by front offices.
But no matter how you want to manipulate the numbers, this could never be true. Baseball is a sum zero game. What is good for my team is bad for my opponent and vice versa.
If a pitcher who strikes out many batters and has swing-and-miss stuff is desirable because he minimized the opportunity for opponents’ hits, even weak ones, to fall in, the batter who didn’t make contact would be equally less desirable.
The new conventional, unconventional, data-driven thinking has been guilty of the same kind thinking of demonstrated by the old, old school — dismissed long before the current stats revolution — that walks were merely a pitching flaw and that while pitchers wanted to avoid walking batters, the fact that some batters walked a lot was in no way a plus for them.