Exactly how difficult is it to hit a baseball consistently?

One of the most famous baseball quotations is attributed to hitting:
“Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports.”
In 1941, two hitting feats were achieved, both of which have not been duplicated since. Ted Williams became the last player in MLB history to hit .400 in a season. That same season, Joe DiMaggio hit safely at least once in each of 56 straight games. It has been debated for years upon years, how much of these marks can be attributed to luck, and how much can be attributed to skill and ability. With the assistance of my trusty historical simulator, let’s find out the answers to these questions.
My simulator of choice is Diamond Mind Baseball, using the 1941 season disk with the factory settings. For this initial look, I ran the season 10 times on autoplay, and found some interesting trends. In nine of the ten season runs, Williams led the AL in batting average, each time surpassing the .400 mark (and one time surpassing the .500 mark, which would seem to qualify as an outlier statistic). In only one run did Williams finish second in hitting, and in that run he finished with a .388 mark (second to Cecil Travis’ .396 mark in that run).
In the long run, it appears that a batting average would seem to be fairly repeatable achievement – over the course of a 150+ game season, the batting average is a pretty good indication of expected performance.
The hitting streak, on the other hand, was a far livelier statistic. In each of the 10 season runs, the longest season streak ran from 22 (set by Williams himself) to 59 (a surprising mark set by the Tigers’ Rip Radcliff). Discounting that outlier statistic, the high marks ranged from 22 to 33 consecutive games with a hit. These seems to intuitively suggest that a hitting streak is a more difficult accomplishment to duplicate in a theoretical situation, as there are further factors that weigh into putting together a hitting streak. However, it is not impossible to duplicate, although the final results may deviate farther from the mean than the results for season batting average. Along with Williams and DiMaggio, other consistent hitters such as Travis, Jeff Heath, and even Phil Rizzuto made consistent appearances in both top batting average and top hitting streaks. The main difference between the two statistics lies in the need for consistency. The very nature of a “streaky” hitter is that one can expect a streaky hitter to hit a hot streak at some point, at which point the hitter could deliver a fairly long streak of games with a hit. The only consistency required is the ability to deliver at least one hit per game. Batting average, however, is measured on the whole season, which requires a greater degree of consistency but does not disqualify a player for registering an oh-fer in a particular game or series of games. The less a player delivers at certain points, the more of a need the player has to deliver in other spots to maintain a high batting average.
Obviously, ten runs is a small sample size, so in part II the study will go further in depth – 50 runs, examining the correlation between consistently high hitting streaks and consistently high batting average, and the correlation between consistently high hitting streaks and mediocre batting average.
Links to season batting average and season hitting streaks for each run:
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

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One Response to Exactly how difficult is it to hit a baseball consistently?

  1. Pizza Cutter says:

    Michael, welcome to the team. Interesting post to kick off your contributions. I’ve messed around with looking at which players were the most consistent in getting hits on a game to game basis and who were the most variable, using standard deviation of number of hits per game over a season. (i.e., which players were more likely to go 0-for-4 followed by 4-for-4, rather than a consistent 2-for-4). It would be interesting to run some simulations based on this idea.
    Ted Williams hit .500. Even for a computer chip, that’s a pretty good season!

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