Why do you get no credit for hitting a fly ball or pop fly that is caught in baseball?

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Hitting the ball, especially at the pro level, is hard. Why is it that hitting a ball on the ground between the defensive players is rewarded much higher than knocking a skyrocketing ball into the outfield that gets caught?

Shouldn’t a pop fly, even if caught, count for something? I think it should at least put you on first base. It would make the game of baseball a better product.

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The idea is to reward hitters for placing the ball where the defenders cannot catch it. It is not meant to be easy. Rewarding a pop fly with reaching base would have the same impact as a participation trophy.
The argument that it would make a better product is similar to saying golf would be better without trees, sand, water and tall grass.

You can get some credit. You can get a RBI “Runs Batted In”. Essentially you get a runner on 2nd or 3rd, and you go up and hit a pop up as far back as you can. As soon as the opposing team catches the ball, and you are out, the runner can “tag” and run for home.

If he makes it, then you get credit.

Because the point of the game isn’t to hit the ball for the sake of hitting the ball. Just like a quarterback doesn’t just throw the ball just to throw the ball. That’s why quarterbacks don’t get passing yards for interceptions.

So you’re actually kind of on track to uncovering the logic behind some of baseball’s advanced statistics. You’re right that hitting a ball really hard that goes all the way to the wall is more impressive than a slow ground ball. But the reason you don’t get credit on a play that was caught is that you essentially let the defense make a play with where you hit it. Sometimes that could be because the defense was smart and knew where to expect you to hit it. Maybe the defender made a really good play. Or maybe you just got unlucky. Sometimes, you do everything right and still fail anyways. I think it might help if you think of this less as punishing the hitter and more as rewarding the defense.

But now that all is said and done, if you’re making a team or evaluating players, you want to know who is most likely to be successful going forward. Past success can be important, but as you noted, certain types of contact are more skillful and impressive and can be outs. Other times, really bad contact can end up as lucky hits. Over enough time, you would expect the amount of luck to be about the same between all players. So how do you account for that?

One idea is a statistic called batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Basically, it calculates a player’s batting average when excluding home runs and strikeouts. When you do this, the average is usually around .300, with most players close to that number. If someone has a really high BABIP, that means they probably just got really lucky. Likewise, if their BABIP is really low, that typically means they were just unlucky. However, some players consistenly under- or overperform, especially the players who are really good or really bad.

Another stat that tries to address this is a little bit newer, called Expected Batting Average, or xBA for short. This is a statistic that essentially looks at every time a player makes contact and says how often similar contact would be a hit. It does this by looking at how hard the ball was hit and what angle it was hit at, which let’s you calculate how far the ball would likely go. What you’ll find is that those lucky hits are pretty rare – usually, that kind of contact ends in an out. If you do this for every time a player hit the ball in play, you get a number of what you expect their batting average to be based on how they actually hit the ball and ignoring the results of the play. In theory, this should be about the same as their regular batting average. If their xBA is higher than their real average, then that hitter was unlucky. Because of that, you would predict that the player will “improve” and play more in line with their expected stats going forward. Because of that, teams reward these players with more playing time or money.

So while a hitter doesn’t get credit in the actual game for hard hit balls that get caught, teams take notice of it, and they do credit the hitter.