Contact+: Which Hitters Are Baseball’s Best at Making Frequent Contact?
In this installment of a series on advanced baseball metrics, we look at what contact+ reveals about the greatness of DJ LeMahieu.
Deciding whether to swing at a pitcher’s offering is only the first component of an at-bat.
The next is whether the batter is able to make contact on that swing, and finally, what he’s able to do with the ball if contact is made. It’s now possible to measure how much value a player adds to his offensive line in all three of those aspects with discipline+, contact+ and BIP+.
After the batter has made that split-second decision to swing, discipline+ and contact+ can provide a more thorough analysis of which batters have elite hand-eye coordination than advanced stats like contact rate or contact percentage in and out of the strike zone.
Similar to discipline+, the velocity, movement, location, count and other factors of a pitch go into contact+ as well. But here we determine the probability of a league-average hitter making contact on each.
If the league-average contact rate on the average pitch is around 75% and the batter makes contact on 80 out of 100 of those pitches, he’s 5% better than league average in contact+ (not including foul-tips that land in the catcher’s glove).
Using 2020 data as an example, it’s easy to understand why New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu was a nightmare for opposing pitchers. The two-time batting champion rated better than the league average in both discipline+ (109) and contact+ (114) in 2020, meaning he rarely swung at stuff he couldn’t handle and often made contact when he did.
Players who often swing at pitches with a higher probability of generating weak contact are going to have a lower value in contact+. There is often a negative correlation between discipline+ and contact+ because there are many patient hitters who also strike out a lot. Former big-leaguer Adam Dunn and slugger Kyle Schwarber are good examples.
But on the flip side are players we know to have elite hand-eye coordination because they swing at most everything yet still manage to be good contact hitters. Hanser Alberto fell into this category, leading the majors in contact+ in 2019 and 2020 despite having well below-average plate discipline.
For a look at which players are currently the best in the majors in this category, check out our metrics leaderboard.
Data analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.