Sunday, November 30, 2014

Would the “wide arc" of DiMaggio’s swing have made him more vulnerable to strikeouts against the higher velocity of pitchers in today’s game, as John Thorn suggests?

Yankees great Joe DiMaggio was overrated, says MLB historian. Excerpt:
"Perhaps most remarkably, especially when compared to the current era in baseball when hitters strike out more than ever, DiMaggio never struck out more than 39 times in a season. In 1941, the year of his famous 56-game hitting streak, DiMaggio struck out a total of 13 times.

By comparison, 2014 AL MVP Mike Trout struck out 184 times, the highest total in the majors.

Yet Thorn makes the case that the “wide arc" of DiMaggio’s swing would have made him more vulnerable to strikeouts against the higher velocity of pitchers in today’s game."
This might be true, but all players would have to deal with the faster pitch speeds.

It wasn't just that DiMaggio had low strikeout totals. It is that his HR-to-strikeout ratio was astronomical, especially considering that he was a right handed batter in Yankee Stadium. See my post Which Players Had The Best HR-To-Strikeout Ratios?

DiMaggio hit 2.77 HRs for every one that the average player hit while he only struck out 59% as often (for a ratio of 4.69).

In fact, the only player to have a higher HR-to-strikeout ratio relative to the league average was Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns. His home field, Sportsman's Park, was a great hitter's park.

DiMaggio hit only 41% of his HRs at home in his career while Williams hit 72%. So it is likely the case that DiMaggio would rank first, and probably by a wide margin, if HRs were park adjusted.

DiMaggio faced Bob Feller 138 times. He hit 6 HRs while striking out only 7 times. Feller struck out 16.9% of the batters he faced from 1938-51. He allowed a HR% of 1.3%. DiMaggio struck out much less than average against Feller and hit HRs more frequently. So it looks like he could adapt to fast pitchers.

DiMaggio face Hal Newhouser 60 times (Newhouser was 3rd behind Feller and Tommy Bridges in strikeouts per 9 IP from 1938-51 in the AL). He had 6 HRs and just one strikeout. He faced Bridges 7 times with 1 HR and no strikeouts.

Data from Baseball Reference and the Baseball Reference Play Index.

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