Boston’s Best Tools 2012: Best Contact

When I think of great contact hitting, I think of Wade Boggs. In his rookie season (1982), Boggs hit .349. He holds a .325 career average and he struck out in just 6.9% of his trips to the plate. His career batting average on balls in play is even better at .344. Boggs didn’t just hit the ball, he hit it hard and to the gaps. He wasn’t much of a home threat, hitting double digit home runs in a season just two times, but the man got the bat on the ball.

Last season, the Red Sox had four hitters hit over .300. (Scutaro just missed hitting .299). Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia all ranked in the top 15 in batting average in 2011. That seems a like a fair leader board for the best contact award, but we aren’t limited to just looking at batting averages like back in 1985 now, are we? If we want to know who made the most contact, we can look at their contact percentages.

Name

Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

SwStr%

Marco Scutaro

37.70%

90.80%

96.60%

94.70%

46.70%

1.90%

Dustin Pedroia

43.60%

80.40%

91.00%

87.40%

46.90%

5.20%

Jacoby Ellsbury

44.30%

75.10%

91.60%

86.10%

46.70%

6.00%

Jed Lowrie

47.30%

68.80%

89.80%

83.50%

46.00%

7.60%

David Ortiz

44.50%

72.90%

89.50%

83.30%

40.90%

7.00%

Carl Crawford

51.80%

74.20%

88.30%

82.60%

44.50%

8.80%

Adrian Gonzalez

49.20%

72.10%

89.20%

81.80%

39.80%

8.40%

Kevin Youkilis

38.20%

64.30%

90.00%

81.50%

46.50%

6.8

I left Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie on the table because I think it is really interesting that the Red Sox have trade two players that rank in the top in contact percentage for the team this off-season. Simply making contact may be important, be it isn’t valued nearly as much as the end result of that contact. So, what exactly do we mean by "best" contact then? The best contact a player can make is a home run, but that is already covered by best power and, with the image of Wade Boggs inherently connected to this tool, it feels like it should mean something else, something that is more connected to that .300 average.

On the surface, contact is an easy thing to define, but when we are looking for the best contact, we want the player who hits the ball and who 'hits it where they ain’t'. Marco Scutaro might not swing and miss ever, but he doesn’t drive the ball the way the other hitters here do. Look at what David Ortiz did, after all. He made contact 11.4% less often than Scutaro and still batted ten points higher. Adrian Gonzalez doesn’t even make the top five by this measure and was second in the league in batting average.

While it is important to consider the amount of contact the hitter makes, we need to think about the type of contact as well. Hitters who hit a large number of fly balls are going to make more out than those who hit are large number of groundball, generally and hitting line drives is almost a guarantee of reaching base. Batted ball data is tricky though, since we have to trust a logger’s judgement of the batted ball type. Still, adding some information about batted balls is extremely helpful.

Name

AVG

BABIP

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

Contact%

Jacoby Ellsbury

0.321

0.336

1.26

22.90%

43.00%

34.10%

10.40%

16.70%

87.40%

David Ortiz

0.309

0.321

1.1

21.40%

41.10%

37.50%

6.60%

17.50%

83.30%

Adrian Gonzalez

0.338

0.38

1.45

21.20%

46.70%

32.10%

5.50%

16.40%

81.80%

Kevin Youkilis

0.258

0.296

1.09

20.00%

41.80%

38.20%

6.30%

13.30%

81.50%

Dustin Pedroia

0.307

0.325

1.43

19.10%

47.70%

33.30%

8.10%

11.40%

86.10%

Carl Crawford

0.255

0.299

1.4

18.10%

47.80%

34.20%

8.00%

8.00%

82.60%

Looking at these ranking by line drive percentage, we find results much closer in line with the batting average leader board. Ellsbury leads here followed by David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez. Ellsbury also has the highest contact percentage of anyone here and makes a good case for best contact. While Pedroia ranks surprisingly low in live drive percentage, he is just 3.8% below Ellsbury and only slightly behind in contact%. Pedroia also hits the second lowest number of fly balls, behind Adrian Gonzalez.

David Ortiz deserves some major recognition for his hitting last season. Big Papi has been a force at the plate since 2003, but in 2011, he was a completely different hitter and he still put up the best season since 2007. In 2010, Ortiz struck out 23.9% of the time, last season he whiffed just 13.7%. He made more contact and still had good power numbers and good walk rates. He tend to forget that players can change what they are doing, they can adapt and improve. Ortiz credit the influence of Adrian Gonzalez for helping him add more contact to his approach, but whatever the reason, the fact that a veteran player can alter his style at the plate and be hugely successful deserves some attention.

I am going to go with Dustin Pedroia because Pedey has able to combine a top contact percentage with consistently strong results for longer than Ellsbury. Adrian Gonzalez got some support from Marc Normandin among our staff, and he is probably next on my list. Gonzalez can hit by virtual any definition, but I think Pedroia relies more on hi contact skills and Gonzalez has more power to fall back. With Ells, A-Gon and Pedey all on the team and playing in Fenway Park, Boston has a good chance of seeing a few more batting titles in the coming years. Wade Boggs would be proud.

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