Posted by John Dewan on December 16, 2015
July 07, 2015
We often assume a player's ability to get hits is a function of luck and his ability to make solid contact, but speed can be a hit tool as well, particularly when it can help result in an infield hit. Bill James first created his Speed Score statistic nearly 30 years ago, but it still does a nice job of organizing players by their speed based on publicly available data like stolen bases, triples, grounded into double plays, and runs scored per times on base. Speed Score works on a general scale of 1 to 10 where 4.5 is about average, 2.0 is very poor, and 7.0 is outstanding.
When you group hitters based on their Speed Scores, it quickly becomes clear just how much speed drives infield hit rate:
|Infield Hit Rate by Speed Score, 2013-2015|
|Speed Group||Infield Hits||Fielded GBs||IFH Rate|
|Less than 3.0||348||7323||4.8%|
On the low end of the scale, hitters with Speed Scores below 4.0—which includes a lot of catchers, pitchers, and first basemen and features players such as Jason Castro, Matt Adams, and J.D. Martinez on the high end—get infield hits on about five percent of their groundballs. Each step up in Speed Score from there has a higher infield hit rate than the one below, culminating in players with Speed Scores above 8.0—such as Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Trout, and Billy Hamilton—recording infield singles more than twice as often on their groundballs than the slowest batters.
Next up, here are the players with the highest infield hit rates:
| Highest Infield Hit Rate, 2013-2015
Min. 200 Fielded Groundballs
|Player||Speed Score||Infield Hits||Fielded GBs||IFH Rate|
If you’re like me, then you probably expected to find Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton on this list. They did make the top 10; however, it’s actually Jose Iglesias that leads the way with hits on 18.5 percent of his infield grounders. It’s interesting to note that Iglesias has the lowest Speed Score of anyone in the top 10 (although he’s still well above the MLB average). Whether or not Iglesias has some inherent skill for this or whether it is mostly good fortune, it does help explain his career .336 batting average on balls in play, which is higher than one would otherwise expect given his power and speed profile.
The other unexpected name on the list is in the No. 2 spot. Yasiel Puig is often criticized for his poor decision-making on the basepaths, which has led to a career caught stealing rate of 41 percent and many other unforced outs. However, this is one area where his aggressive style is benefitting his team. His 16.6 percent infield hit rate seems as much a function of his effort level as it does his speed to first base.