Hitting with two strikes is hard. As if baseball isn’t hard enough already, when down two strikes, the pitcher is generally in solid control of an at-bat. For example, the 2012 league leader in batting with two strikes were the Angels, who happened to lead the majors in total offense (measured by wRC+). How well did the most potent offense in 2012 hit with two strikes? A blistering, league-best .201. That’s right, .201, as in basically 1-5 over the course of the year, and yes, that was the best performance.
As it turns out, the Mendoza Line is especially good for a team when batting with two strikes. After all, this is why we love pitchers who throw strikes and get repeatedly frustrated with those that don’t. The average team bats around .180-ish with two strikes and the Diamondbacks have actually been a little worse than that by batting average so far in 2014 (.169). But while the average leaves something to be desired, they actually have the sixth-most hits with two strikes in baseball (99). Is this something the Diamondbacks can hang their hat on? Well, in not so many words, maybe.
If you’re looking for a gritty statistic at the plate, hitting with two strikes might just be the ticket. Last year the team excelled in two strike counts, and given how easy it is to fail, we have to acknowledge that several Diamondbacks have fought through the count and notched themselves some hits in 2014. In fact, Arizona has five players in the top 50 in baseball in hits with two strikes (through 5/4).
Surprise, surprise, Goldy leads the way here just like he does with most things Diamondbacks related. His 18 two strike hits are largely skill, but he’s also had the fifth-most two strike at-bats in baseball. Chris Owings has been a warrior, notching 14 two strike hits while veterans Miguel Montero, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra aren’t far behind. You’ll also notice that all of these guys have eclipsed the .200 mark by a solid margin. No one else on the team has a two strike average over .176 (Pennington) and next highest hit total belongs to Aaron Hill with eight. Suffice it to say, there’s a big drop off after the guys you see listed above.
But while hit totals are cool and all, I’d rather know whether this is sustainable. As we know, a month of at-bats can yield some wonky results, so what do we have to look forward to? Let me draw your attention to the BABIP column. As you probably know, batting average of balls in play tells us how many balls put into play have ended up as hits. The general rule of thumb is that the average BABIP is right around .300, although it definitely depends based on who’s at the plate. Still, using the .300 approximation, we can see that everyone aside from Montero is grossly exceeding that threshold. Goldy should hit a little higher than that given his skill and Owings might exceed it due to his speed down the line, but this just doesn’t look like something we can count. This BABIPs should fall and these players’ two strike hit rates should fall right along with them.
Excluding himself from this group is Miguel Montero. As we’ve discussed at length, he struggled last year but has been a consistent top performer for the Diamondbacks in this category for several years. His current BABIP looks very sustainable and if there’s someone here we should expect to stay on this list, it’s Miggy. For what it’s worth, Aaron Hill has had a tough time with two strikes in 2014 but has been good in recent years. Mark Trumbo, on the other hand, has a non-pitcher worst two strike average at .082. Again, it’s early, but this is something we may want to watch as the year progresses.
How helpful is the ability to hit with two strikes? Pretty helpful, as it turns out. After running a correlation between league rank in average with two strikes and overall offensive prowess (wRC+), we can see that hitting with two strikes appears somewhat related. From 2012 through this season, the correlation between batting with two strikes and overall offense is .639, which is relatively strong. Teams know that at bats with two strikes are going to happen (the average number of two strike at-bats in 2013 was 2815) and the ability to cash in on them with regularity compared to the opponent certainly appears to be a big piece of an effective offense.
At the end of the day, this appears to be a strength of some Diamondbacks hitters, but certainly not all of them. Some with excellent results thus far show signs that it won’t last, however. There’s a lot of baseball to play and these things will become far more clear in the coming months, but because hitting with two strikes is often tied to offensive success, it’s something we should keep an eye on.
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