In mid-April, I took an early look at hitting trends in a plethora of metrics since 2015. Now that the 2019 season has concluded, let’s now revisit those metrics and see what 2019 ended up bringing us. Did it continue a trend, reverse a recent trend, or begin a new one?
I highlighted cells in 2019 in yellow if the metric was the highest or best since 2015 and in red if the metric was the lowest or worst. This was quite a season of extremes!
Hitter walk rates have stabilized over the last three seasons after spiking in 2016 and then jumping again in 2017. As we are all well aware, strikeout rate continues to make new highs every season, as it has risen every season since the first year of this period.
A rising strikeout rate is fine, as long as it also comes with increased power. And increased power has certainly come along for the ride, as ISO surged from a down 2018 to a new five year high. The increased ISO was driven by a record high HR/FB rate and a big decline in AB/HR rate.
Despite shifting being all the rage, BABIP has curiously not been affected all that much. Remember that shifting didn’t just start in 2018, so don’t make the mistake of looking at that year and 2019, seeing a lower BABIP than the previous three seasons, and chalking that up to shifts.
Given the increased focus on power, it’s no surprise that stolen bases are going the way of the Sega Dreamcast. Why run into an out or risk injury when the hitters behind you are much more likely to clear the bases with a dinger than ever before?
To take advantage of all this newfound power, hitters are hitting grounders less frequently and more fly balls. Again, this matches up with the narrative of the fly ball revolution. You might be surprised that FB% is actually barely higher than the last two seasons. The fly ball revolution is more player specific than taking over the entire league, but you can see the slight change in approach to a more fly ball heavy one as a league.
Extreme city again! In 2019, the league posted batted ball metrics at the highest or lowest rates in five of six categories (because of rounding, I’m not sure if it’s actually all six).
The newfangled hitting strategy is quite easy to identify — pull the ball and hit it hard! Pull rates have risen each season, while the rate of balls hit up the middle has declined to a five season low, and opposite field rates are at the low. Meanwhile, Soft% has plummeted by a dramatic rate to just 17%, while medium hit balls has also dipped. All those previous softly and medium hit balls have become hard hit balls. Hard% has been on an impressive run. When does it peak?!
It’s a fascinating time in baseball. Now of course we have to wonder which ball they’ll be using in 2020 and where these metrics are headed next.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.