As noted here several times in the last few months, the D-backs were extremely average in many ways last season. One exception was defense, in which the team excelled; but another appears to be players’ success in hitting with two strikes – especially in full counts. Nobody ever said this team isn’t gritty.
The overall batting average in the National League last season was .250. The D-backs did succeed a little more often: .259. That may not sound like much, but recall that we’re talking about an entire team here. In fact, those 9 points of batting average came in 5,676 AB — so that’s an extra 51 hits or so (it doesn’t work out exactly due to differences in AB totals). But it turns out that the D-backs’ advantage over the NL average came primarily in two strike counts.
I tried out a new tool from At Bat Stats that creates at bat trees (here’s an image of what the tree looks like for Martin Prado). I compared NL averages for batting average in all counts to the D-backs team totals for all counts, and some two-strike trends really jumped out, especially in 0-2 and 3-2 counts. There are four different two strike counts, and the D-backs were above average for all four: 23 points for 0-2 (582 AB), 5 points for 1-2 (878 AB), 5 points for 2-2 (872 AB), and a whopping 58 points in full counts (534 AB).
I’ll cut to the chase: that was about 13, 4.5, 4.5, and 31 extra hits in the four two-strike counts — 53 total hits. In other words, without this above-averageness in two-strike counts, the D-backs’ team batting average would actually have been just a hair below the NL average, rather than slightly but comfortably above it (those 9 batting average points).
What does that mean? In my estimation, the sample size is large enough that this is unlikely to be chance (it’s like looking at ten years’ worth of statistics for a single player). It might be reflective of a team-wide, two-strike approach. Or it could be an effect of having a team with a high contact percentage — the D-backs had a Contact% of 80.7%, which came in third in the NL.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2013 D-backs hitters with at least 50 AB in 2-strike counts, including their batting average in 2-strike counts and their overall Contact%:
Some of the team’s best hitters predictably lead this list in terms of BA — Martin Prado, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt all posted very strong averages (remember, this is in 2-strike counts, for which sub-.200 averages are normal). And although the table above is sorted by the batting average column, there does seem to be a pretty strong relationship with Contact%. At the other end of the spectrum, Miguel Montero’s batting average in 2-strike counts was extremely low (and his contact rate isn’t that great, either).
Montero notwithstanding, I think there’s enough information here to conclude that 2-strike hitting was a real strength for the Diamondbacks in 2013. As for whether it was a conscious effort to develop a good 2-strike approach or whether it was a product of a generally high contact rate, I’m not so sure.
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