Ever notice how Lonnie Chisenhall hits an inordinate number of foul balls in two strike counts?
|1. Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE)||424||48.8%|
|2. Brian Roberts (NYY)||451||47.8%|
|3. DJ LeMahieu (COL)||394||45.9%|
|4. Adam Eaton (CWS)||462||44.9%|
|5. Denard Span (WSH)||449||44.8%|
I’ve been noticing all season how Chisenhall seems to be doing a great job of battling with two strikes, but only yesterday did I finally take the time to look up the stats. As it turns out, Lonnie Baseball leads the majors in foul ball rate (percentage of swings that produce foul balls) in two-strike counts.
At first glance, this seems like an impressive stat. We’ve been told since little league to “battle” in two strike counts and are often praised for “wasting a pitch” by fouling it off. And if Chisenhall could isolate his foul balls to two-strike situations, I think we could confidently say that he has developed a quantifiable skill for this approach.
Unfortunately, as I dug a little deeper into the numbers, it seems as though this might be a lack of skill simply showing up in a beneficial area.
My initial theory was that Chisenhall’s improved ability to battle was a reason for his success this season, as it was forcing pitchers to throw more pitches, increasing the chances of making a mistake. As it turns out, Chisenhall has had this “ability” all along.
Chisenhall’s two-strike foul ball rate has been no lower than 42 percent in any of his four seasons in the big leagues, and sits at 45.4 percent for his career.
Further crushing my theory is the fact that Chisenhall’s foul ball rate isn’t isolated to two-strike counts. In fact, in hitters’ counts Chisenhall’s foul ball rate still stands well above the league average at 42.4 percent.
All these numbers seem to indicate that Chisenhall’s foul balls aren’t intentional, but rather a result of his inability to square up the pitch and make solid contact.
A breakdown of his 2014 season lends further evidence to this theory.
Take a look at Chisenhall’s performance in two-strike counts this season while he was hot, and since he began to slump:
Through June 11: .341 BA, 43.8 foul rate, .176 hard-hit average
Since June 12: .139 BA, 53.2 foul rate, .089 hard-hit average
When Chisenhall was red hot, his foul ball rate dropped—the opposite effect of my initial theory—and his hard-hit rate rose significantly. But since his slump, the foul ball rate is now above his career average and the hard-hit rate is concerningly low.
Based on these stats, it’s not hard to jump to the conclusion that Chisenhall’s tendency to foul off pitches is due to nothing more than his inability to square them up, and it’s an issue that has been plaguing him throughout his career.
We’re all hoping that his two month hot streak was more than just a fluke, but this sampling of statistics doesn’t provide much evidence to support that theory.