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Contact mode, or daddy hacks

What approach do you think is best?

Ty Cobb Practicing Swing Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

As a child, my baseball sim of choice was Tony La Russa Baseball 2 for the PC. While batting in that game, the player had the following options:

Presumably, the game’s algorithm—powered as it was by an extraordinary 2 MB of RAM—was configured to increase bat-to-ball contact on the third option and increase HR or XBH chances on POWER mode.

Right now, most MLB hitters are choosing POWER—or at least NORMAL—on every swing. Over the past decade, the amount of balls actually put into the field of play has decreased considerably. Is this the best approach for professional bat-wielders? That is the question I will pose shortly.

First, some context:

Until 2018, when a bit of a plateau was reached, the average fastball velocity in MLB was on a steadily upward trajectory. Logically, the faster an object is thrown the harder the batter must work to perceive/guess its ultimate location, thus rendering said object more difficult to hit. The “solution” to high velocity utilizes one of two methods:

  1. Choke up on the bat or take less hefty swings. This would presumably produce less home runs and extra base hits, but more contact (and less strikeouts) overall.
  2. Do quite literally the opposite, presuming “I probably won’t get much of a chance on any of these pitches, so I’m going to swing as hard as I can every time and hope to put my best lumber on at least something”.

It is pretty clear at the moment that most MLB batsmen are favoring the latter approach, trading in bloops, bleeders, “duck farts” (thank you, Bert Blyleven), and higher contact rates for hard-contact percentage, extra base hits, and the resulting bushels of strikeouts.

Intuitively, one might think “well, it’s better to hit the ball as hard as possible all the time, right?”. But consider:

Since 1993, MLB’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) has stayed almost exactly at .300 (never below .293; never above .303). Put another way, a batter who simply contacts the ball every at-bat is a .300 hitter, a long-held standard of excellence in the batter’s box.

There are numerous pros and cons to each approach: Swinging for the downs at all times increases the chances of reaching base safely when contact is achieved, but also plays right into shifts and often ends with a slow walk back to the dugout. Honing in on contact over power makes defensive shifting more difficult and likely increases batting averages, but requires more hits to produce a run and likely—on an individual percentage basis—decreases the chance of each contact event resulting in an obtained base.

That’s just the “low-hanging fruit” of the discussion too, as volumes could (and likely have) been written on this very topic. For now, I’m simply curious what baseball fans think about the POWER/CONTACT divergence in the face of record pitched ball velocities.

So here it is—the promised question:


In today’s high-velocity MLB, what batting approach is best to achieve team run-scoring success?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Daddy hacks (line drives, XBH, K’s, non-productive outs)
    (22 votes)
  • 62%
    Contact mode (shift-beaters, hustle plays, weak contact, more hits needed per rally)
    (36 votes)
58 votes total Vote Now