Beware the BABIP

I harp a lot about BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and how it's a good indicator if a player is due for a slump or a rebound from year to year, and even within a season. The general guideline is that a player will generally settle within a range of .290-.320 on their BABIP, with the league average being .300 for a hitter and .290 for a pitcher. Now pitchers have much less control over their BABIP than hitters, that is unless they throw a knuckleball or particulary good change-up that is hard to get good contact on, but hitters actually can outperform or underperform that guideline quite significantly thanks to an ability to hit line drives, speed and a few other minor factors. That being said, they don't outperform it by that much. If you look at the 3-year leaderboard for BABIP on Fangraphs, only three players have topped the .360 mark (Jeter, Holliday and Chipper Jones with Ichiro just missing). Now those are some of the best hitters in the game and their career BABIP's are pretty high as well (except for Chipper who has a .328 career BABIP) and it's been shown that players regress more towards their own BABIP levels than the league averages. That all being said, when you see a player hitting anything over .340, you need to start worrying that it will fall back a bit unless they've been able to sustain it for a few seasons. On the flip side, if a guy is suddenly below .280 he's either had a really unlucky season or he's about to leave major league baseball (see Jones, Andruw).

People smarter than me and with way more time have been trying to calculate exactly what influences BABIP and a recent study posted at The Hardball Times has made some headway on the topic. Now with the advent of keeping track of batted ball types (line drives, ground balls, flyballs, infield flys, etc)  a bit of an illuminance has been shed on the subject.  At one time, it was suggested that if you add .120 to a hitter's line drive percentage, you'd get a fairly decent approximation of what their BABIP should be...the harder you hit a ball, the harder it is to catch it.

That recent study broke down BABIP even further and came up with a better mousetrap to guess what a player should be doing using speed, line drive percentage, ability to hit to all fields and much, much more. The results are interesting and their model seems to be the best estimator out there at the moment. 

I've listed the Cubs results below but let me explain an interesting discrepancy. Fangraphs has their BABIP for each individual season and their career and that's what you'll see in the first three columns, their 2008 BABIP from Fangraphs, their career BABIP from Fangraphs and the difference. The BABIP for 2008 in the spreadsheet provided by the authors of the THT article differs slightly and is said to be taken from Baseball Prospectus. Why the difference? I'm not sure, but I assume they calculate it slightly differently and why that is I don't know, but know that the BP BABIP numbers are lower than what Fangraphs calculates, although generally just a few points. To compare apples to apples, the second three columns compare the BP calculated 2008 BABIP versus their xBABIP as the THT article calls their new BABIP estimator. And for some reason, they don't have an entry for Mike Fontenot for 2008.

 

Player 2008 FG BABIP Career BABIP
2008 vs. Career 2008 BABIP 2008 xBABIP 2008 vs. xBaBIP
Miles .343 .316 +.027 .337 .301 +.036
Theriot .340 .319 +.021 .335 .291 +.044
Bradley .396 .326 +.070 .375 .334 +.041
Ramirez .306 .293 +.013 .296 .288 +.008
Lee .333 .326 +.007 .330 .304 +.026
Fukudome .307 .307  .000 .301 .314 -.013
Johnson  .367 .333 +.034 .338 .302 +.036
Soto .342 .346 -.004 .331 .295 +.036
Soriano .305 .312 -.007 .299 .291 +.008
Fontenot .355 .340 +.015      
Gathright .297 .319 -.022 .278 .156 +.122
Bako .291 .306 -.015 .284 .310 -.026

 

So whatever column you're looking at, you can see the Cubs hitters certainly enjoyed some good luck last season. Almost across the board they outperformed their BABIP for their careers and what they should have gotten in 2008. Sobering news indeed...

Now, I would also kind of expect that from the number one offense in baseball, you'll get a fair amount of luck coupled with career years and the Cubs still out-OPS'd the Cardinals by .014 pts (who had a few of their own career years) and the Phillies by .027 points (the Phils offense is just good), so they have a bit of a safety net for the eventual fall the offense will likely take in 2009. 

Individually, I'm particularly worried about Theriot and Miles, and expect a pretty decent drop in their numbers. And while I do get on Theriot's case a lot, I will say that my observation has been is that he does have a knack for getting the sweet spot of the bat on the ball. The more you do that, the more solid contact and line drives he'll hit and the more the ball will fall safely for a hit. But I still expect his numbers to drop in 2009, although maybe not quite as steep as 30-40 points off his batting average. I already expected Bradley to fall of from his .999 OPS, and hell, he could drop 100 points off that OPS and still be the Cubs best hitter in 2009. The xBABIP estimator doesn't look good for Soto, but he's young and we don't know his career baseline yet and he could suffer a drop in his BABIP and make it up for it with more power as he's still just 26 years old this year.  If Reed Johnson gets to hit mostly versus lefties, I'm not worried about him dropping too much either.

I know I mentioned two articles for today, but one of the twins has been pretty sick, so you get one. We had three articles yesterday plus a game thread, so plenty to scroll back on and enjoy during today's off day.

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Comments

Thanks for the in-depth explanation, Rob. I was a math major, and this stuff still makes my head hurt!

If you go by the Fangraphs data, the guys who drive the bus (Lee, Soriano and Ramirez) only went up or down slightly in 2008 versus their career BABIP numbers. The interesting one will be Bradley, because he almost HAS to drop 40-50 BABIP points in 2009...

By the way, how old are your twins? I have 2 girls (5 and 2 years old), with a third one on the way (fingers crossed for a boy), and I would gladly take on their illnesses if I could when they get sick... those are miserable days!

they're about to turn 4, and yeah, no fun seeing them sick.

the leaps made from what BABIP shows vs. what people claim it shows about a player has been a warning sign for me for a while.

without getting into manager meddling...or suspending reality to pretend every hitter is going to the plate actually looking for his own personal best possible outcome...or speed (or lack of it)...etc...i wouldn't treat a stat that says theriot splitting the middle infielders on the ground can be compared to a guy that bloops singles and doubles into the OF.

i really don't understand how this one even got championed...it's a conglomerate of stats that don't say a whole lot without personal investigation of the players involved.

fwiw...BABIP says one thing to me...the guy can hit for average independent of power. it don't tell me much about it, though...ichiro...manny ramirez...

yet I'd say 7 out of 10 times i can tell you which players will slump or bounce back primarily using just BABIP.

if you had looked at BABIP you would have known not to draft Renteria last season either...

"if you had looked at BABIP you would have known not to draft Renteria last season either... "

you're kidding right?

i know it wasn't a nice pick, but you can't be basing it off that.

he shows up 20lbs overweight in spring...that couldn't have anything to do with it. he had a nice april, but struggled mighty through july...BABIP totally showed that was going to happen i guess. please, please, PLEASE ignore his post-allstar performance, though.

i think more people are worried about his D than his bat...seriously.

sure, . 375 BABIP in 2007, career .323...seemed pretty obvious (career number would have been slightly different in 2007).

one thing is for sure...i definitely didnt draft him based on 2007 and if he had a .375 BABIP in 2007 i would be even more concerned about the quality of that stat in judging a player's value.

edgar renteria isn't a .330 batting average hitter? woah...shocking.

-edit- forgot to clear up im talking batting average with that .330...

Rob - do you have a few watch-out players for this upcoming season based on BABIP? I'd appreciate your thoughts on guys who should play better this season and ones who are likely to slump, since I have a draft coming up and I'd like to avoid the overrated guys and could always use a couple of sleepers.

from a few days ago, check out the bottom of this article

http://thecubreporter.com/2009/03/09/fantasy-reporter

it's more of a good way to see overrated vs. underrated and Bradley is already going to be avoided because of injury issues so I don't think he's that overrated in drafts. Upton's pretty damn young, so even with a high BABIP, he could make it up with some power.

Lewis, Holliday (leaving Coors) and Ludwick are guys to watch for a big drop. There are a couple of interesting guys on the flip-side as well (low BABIP, should get better) and pitchers as well.

My name's not Rob, but here are some players for ya:

Sleepers:
Grady Sizemore= you hardly ever hear anyone on TCR talk about him, but he's actually pretty good(p.s.--he's super dreamy to a fault!)

Tim Lincecome(sp?)= yeah, he's young, but he won a major award last year...that has to count for SOMETHING

Hank White= he plays for the Padres or somebody, but you won't find a sleepier player in MLB

Overrated:
Frank Thomas= the Big Hurt? sorry, but I'd only call him that on Opposite Day(which is JUST AROUND THE CORNER)

Cal Eldred= arm troubles have pretty much sapped his stats and, therefore, his fantasy value...AVOID

Albert Pujols= he's a Cardinal...you're a cubs fan...have some stinkin' PRIDE

I hope this list helps.

fwiw...

h.reynolds stated on 30/30:Cubs that lou didn't get along with fuku "at all" (complete with dramatic hand gesture) last season.

also...30/30:Cubs are pretty much treating a.miles as a starter every time they bring up a 2009 projection graphic...

also...and this is great...they had J.Ceda in a graphic as a cubs prospect, though the voice-over talking totally walked around that name without even mentioning it or anything about him.

I have a simple formula for calculating Lou's likes and dislikes on offense.

You have to hit twenty home runs or steal twenty bases.

Good luck finding exceptions to this. It explains Gathright and why Lou appreciated Theriot long before TCR bloggers became satisfied with Theriot's OBP.

In 500 at bats, Fukudome slugged 10 HRs and stole 12 bases. This will never cut it.

Reed Johnson was a better player than Edmonds, but not according to the formula, so Edmonds played.

Miles is not destined to be a favorite of Lou's.

Naturally, he loves Soriano.

Lou is talking up Fukudome these days because the Cubs have to prop him up so they can trade him and only pay half his salary for 2010-11. Trouble is, he isn't worth half.

This isn't mind reading, it's counting.

lou's batting fuku 2nd so it can't be all that bad...at least as it stands.

...and jim edmonds would have been a cubs MVP candidate (and definitely the team MVP) if he did what he did with the cubs over a full season.

I wouldn't go overboard on Edmonds with the Cubs. He hit .233 (35 for 150) for the Cubs after the month of June. That .233 was accompanied by a bunch of home runs, it's true, but many of them were Wally Moon-shots. When you contort your swing to hit low outside stuff over toward the foul pole in left, you're leaving a large part of the strike zone uncovered. I believed the hype about Edmonds until I started watching him. I'm certainly not going to buy it now.

If you like Edmonds, you're in luck. He's still available. Thirty teams have passed on him, including the Cubs.

Was there argument about who is the better bet going forward, who has the best fundamental by-the-book approach, or who was more valuable last year? Edmonds produced last year and his numbers were good for the Cubs, albeit in limited playing time, regardless of whether he left a large portion of the strike zone uncovered. I'll take a .369 OBP and .568 slugging out of any of our outfield spots. Do I think he'll do it again? No. But that wasn't what anyone was arguing. He played because he produced, and the Cubs got a lot of production out of him. Reed got a pretty fair share of ABs himself, for a 4th outfielder.

Edmonds still had a .926 OPS after the month of June. Why are you cherry-picking stats, in particular batting average?

On May 15th, when Edmonds started playing for the Cubs, Reed Johnson was hitting .258 / .343 / .311

His stats only got better later in the season because was playing against mostly LHP. He hit 53 points higher last year against LHP.

Wait, players who have neither speed nor power don't usually get that much playing time? Really? What a revelation! This formula is sure to unlock some major baseball secrets! I mean who, in their right mind, would like Soriano more than Aaron Miles?!?!? Every other manager would surely play Miles over Soriano if they could, but nope, not Lou, he's got this formula.

Why is this a surprise that the weakest links in the lineup are not manager's favorites??? Fukudome had an abysmal season last year. He shouldn't be on many people's list of favorites. Likewise Miles is not destined to be one of Lou's favorites because he is not really that good at baseball. Again, not a shocker. So I don't really get the point of this formula.

It's not a revelation, Wisc, that "players who have neither speed nor power don't usually get that much playing time," but if that rule is applied rigorously (which is Lou's tendency), some surprising things happen. Gathright, for one example, gets more at bats than Miles, since Gathright has no power but lots of speed. Nobody is predicting that.

Also, centerfield could be wide open one month after the season starts. Nobody is predicting that either. One possibility is Rob's idea of Bradley moving to center, Soriano to right and probably Hoffpauir to left.

not that Bradley coundn't play center if needed, but I don't recall mentioning that...maybe I did.

Lou doesn't seem to care about who plays right field since he trotted Murton and Floyd out there for a good portion of 2007, so I doubt he'd ask Soriano to move once the season started.

Gathright, for one example, gets more at bats than Miles, since Gathright has no power but lots of speed.

I would bet you that, barring injury, Miles gets more at-bats than Gathright.

And no... Soriano is not moving to right anytime soon. If that was even a possibility, he would be getting there now.

Nobody is predicting it because A) it won't happen, and B) it's not even true. Do you make this stuff up? Miles has 30 spring training at-bats. Gathright - 18. I mean, you can just go to Cubs.com and look it up. Took like 10 seconds.

But spring training at-bats mean about two things anyway - jack and shit.

It is Lilly starting for the US tonight, btw.

Hadn't seen anybody say anything about that.

C: Hartnett
1: Grace
2: Sandberg
S: Banks
3: Santo
R: Sosa
C: H.Wilson
L: B.Williams

SP: M.Brown
CL: L.Smith

damn, I fucking nailed it...I rule.

How is Mark Grace the all time best Cub 1B??

Cap Anson, Frank Chance,Phil Cavarretta?

Hell I would take both Bill Buckner and Derrek Lee over Grace. I might even think about Leon Durham!

besides Cap Anson, Grace leads them all in Win Shares and WARP-3 as a Cub. A lot of people use the 1900 cutoff for modern baseball when putting together lists and such which would exclude Anson. I'm not sure why the hate over Grace. He was consistently above average for 10 straight seasons.

Besides MVP awards (and Cavaretta's was in 1945 playing againt inferior competition), I don't see what the argument is for anyone else.

well, COME ON! COME ON! i am COME ON! COME ON! officially COME ON! COME ON! sick of MLB Network's COME ON! COME ON! 30/30 commercial COME ON! COME ON! with that stupid COME ON! COME ON! "rock" song that repeats the line "COME ON! COME ON!"

plz make a new commercial or contract the last 10-15 teams so i don't have to hear COME ON! COME ON!COME ON! COME ON!COME ON! COME ON!COME ON! COME ON!COME ON! COME ON!COME ON! COME ON!...

I just change the channel during the commercials.

Sounds like The Von Bondies. They had that song in the last MLB game I had, back when I had a game system (ah, marriage)...2006,7? Boy it got annoying.

Geo Soto is catching in the Nederlands vs PR game (Pudge is dh)...both teams have qualified to the next round though, so it's essentially an exhibition squared (winner will be #1 seed though)

Geo Soto flyed out in his first at bat. He just walked in his 2nd at bat (bottom 3rd) but didn't score.

The statue of Randy Bass lookalike Colonel Sanders has finally been pulled from the Osaka river where it was thrown years ago, ushering what some baseball fans have called the "Colonel Sanders curse".

More here

And Hank WHite just dials 9 on Lilly.

But Izturis flys out next.

And Hank WHite just dials 9 on Lilly.

But Izturis flys out next.

Hank White takes Lilly deep, 1-0 Venezuela

sheit, everyone on Venezuela has Blanco on the back of their jersey...

So how did Venezuela score?

It appears it was a solo HR, but haven't heard of the pitcher or hitter.

Some white guy hit a home run.

Watching Mighty Peking Man on IFC.

Chinese King Kong.

im sure it's as good as Yeti: A Love Story

I'm watching "Soul Plane" on BET. Good movie. Snoop Dogg is underappreciated as an actor.

And oh yeah... just kidding.

"Caucasian adapter" toilet seat!

Ha!

Lilly off the hook courtesy of some guy named Braun 1-1

Theodore Roosevelt 3 innings, 36 pitches, 24 strikes, 3 hits, no walks, 2 K's....

Hank White doubles off of Guthrie, so he is just an unstoppable force

well at least Gabor bats lefty.

so that went well..

5-3 in the 9th with one out and runners on 2nd/3rd and Youklis up, K-rod pitching

double steal attempt and Hank throws out Jeter at 2nd base and then Youklis K's on the next pitch.

USA vs Puerto Rico I believe in the next round. Had they won, I believe they would have gotten the Netherlands.

FUCK YOU DUSTY

I don't think it's 3/44, so.....

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb...

 

The title to this article might be the Greatest Thing Ever.

 

Except it can't be, because the discussion at BTF is.

 

http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/newsstan...

"He had some stiffness in there" - Classic quote from the story about Bedard's sore butt... Ha!

When stuff like that fails to make me laugh, I no longer wish to live.

Edmonton Sun has Cubs news:
Edit: Cant' get link to work, so either go to edmontonsun.com or do Google News on "Carlos Zambrano"

* Zambrano is scheduled to pitch in the secound round of the WBC
* A "Ryan Dempster Betrayed Canada" group has sprung up on Facebook

With all the political crap swirling around the Venezualans, I hope Z says thanks but no thanks.

Anyone want to start a "Chicago Cubs fans love Ryan Dempster" group?

I don't think Z will do that because he didn't participate for Germany in the 1932 Olympics.

I'll let myself out.

It's okay, betraying Canada is considered "cool" by most of the world.

aside from the world economy crap the biggest political issue in VEN seems to be the chavez administration disrupting elections in other countries propping up friendly candidates in order to get his South American new-world-order trade and protection group broadened.

the US does this, too...only they tend to do it far away from home.

chavez's vision includes all of south america (and no, not for him to take over, but for a joint-country trade and self-supporting conglomerate) and getting rid of US backed/influenced government like the one in Columbia.

el salvador should be the next country to fall into the allies-o-chavez camp with boliva, nicaragua, and ecuador...and to tell you the truth...it's no huge deal to most americans. they all still love our money and consuming and we have trade laws in place to fund them all through "free trade."

Blame Canada?

didn't they kill Kenny Lofton too?

Canada is mad that Dempster didn't play for them?

Canada sucks, Dempster is getting paid by the Cubs. As far as I'm concerned the MLB clubs should be able to decide if they want to let their contracted players play.

Why are the Cubs not looking at someone like Pedro if they're looking at Schilling (even though I don't care for his politics....)? Pedro seems to be a good fit considering Harden...is well, Rich Harden...

You're not the only one wondering this...
http://blogs.suntimes.com/cubs/2009/03/on_pedro_an...

I don't think the Cubs were looking at Schilling is probably why.

Probably because of his politics...

lol *high five*

i wouldnt take "cubs looking at schilling" too seriously based on what info actually leaked that could be taken seriously.

pedro is an injury risk and his changeup doesnt compliment a 88mph fastball too well...still, the main reason is most likely the 6 starter-ready guys (counting heilman) and the team seemingly wanting to get samninja some trial starts this season in the pros or full time AAA.

even without the fastball it's still weird seeing pedro not snagged yet by someone on an incentive laden 1-year deal. pedro's not really in much position to demand multi-year.

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