BABIP Leaders: Wright, Freese, and Kemp Start Strong


Every year, some players start hot, others start cold. In the past, when a player had a high BABIP to start the season, we said, “Oh, well he’s lucky. His numbers will come down.” But now we can say with greater certainty, using Fielding Independent wOBA (or FI wOBA), what a player’s wOBA would actually regress to, given their performance in other areas.

Let’s look at the top five BABIPs in the league with FI wOBA regressed to career BABIP rates (or CaB-FIw for Career BABIP FI wOBA).

David Wright: .536 BABIP, .503 wOBA, .424 CaB-FIw

Even if/when Wright’s BABIP comes back to his career .342 BABIP, his peripherals are off the charts. He is on pace for 30 homers, which is nothing miraculous for Wright, but he is also walking and striking out at a 12.5% rate.

Will that kind of patience continue? Eh, probably not to that extreme, but it certainly means Wright is seeing the ball well right now and could be poised for a really good year.

David Freese: .500 BABIP, .458 wOBA, .417 CaB-FIw

The St. Louis Cardinals third baseman has started the season with not just a high BABIP but a high home run rate. Freese, like Wright, has a high career BABIP (.372), but unlike Wright, his FI wOBA numbers are exceptionally high due to an unusual home run rate. Just 42 PAs into the year, Freese has 3 homers for a 42 home run pace (per 600 PAs). Last year, he hit 10 HR through 363 PA.

It’s not unreasonable to expect the 29-year-old to hit a few more dingers this year as he showed a fair share of power in the minors, but 42 is a bit much. If we adjust down the rate, we get these scenarios:

If we think Freese will hit 29ish homers = .374 wOBA
If we think Freese will hit 22ish homers = .352 wOBA
If we think Freese will hit 14ish homers = .330 wOBA

All in all, it appears unusual luck with his home run rate (or just early clustering in his home run events) has affected his wOBA more than the oddity of his BABIP.

Matt Kemp: .484 BABIP, .575 wOBA, .526 CaB-FIw

Wow. Kemp is actively transforming into what we in the soft sciences refer to as Super Saiyan. The man has 6 homers already and with the way he’s been playing, I can almost believe he is capable of maintaining his nearly-70 home run pace. But I cannot.

Using the FI wOBA tool, we can regress both his BABIP and home run rate. If both of those return to his career norms (maybe they won’t; I’m not advocating that they will) then Kemp would have a .392 wOBA. Good enough for the second-highest wOBA of his career, which will put him right back into the MVP conversation this year. In other words: It appears last year was no fluke.

Andrew McCutchen: .474 BABIP, .397 wOBA, .305 CaB-FIw

The CaB-FIw regression really does not like Cutch’s (may I call him Cutch?) lack of home runs. I doubt the 25-year-old outfielder finishes the season with 0 home runs, so let’s substitute in his career home run rate, which suggest he would have hit 1.4 homers by now.

The result is a .357 CaB-FIw — which would rate as a career-low wOBA for Pittsburgh brightest star. In short, his walk rate is way down, and he is swinging at a lot of pitches (+52% swing rate). I imagine when his BABIP comes down, his approach will change as well and he should be able to reach or exceed those career numbers.

Austin Jackson: .464 BABIP, .438 wOBA, .392 CaB-FIw

Another high-BABIP guy, Jackson sports a career .372 BABIP through 1397 PA. That does not make his current BABIP any saner, but it means he has less distance to travel for normalization — presumably. Through his career so far, Jackson has managed to hover around league average offensively, but his early season numbers — coupled with a 22 home run pace — make him look more impressive.

If we assume the home runs are more of a clustering issue than a change in talent level, then we would expect him to have hit only 0.6 homer so far, lowering his CaB-FIw (I really need a better acronym) to .344. That would still be a career high for Jackson, though, who is walking at a 14.8% rate. If he can start sustaining that rate in his age-25 season, then this year could be the start of some impressive production.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

28 Responses to “BABIP Leaders: Wright, Freese, and Kemp Start Strong”

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  1. Cloud Computer says:

    you write for fangraphs – you know austin jackson is terrible, dont pretend his walk rate will be sustained. his name is kjax for a reason

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    • Bip says:

      You read fangraphs, you should know walk rate very often increases with age.

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    • ThePartyBird says:

      Jackson works the count pretty much every PA. True, a good chunk of the strikeout rate is related to his contact skills, but he also tends to see a lot of full counts, which obviously leads to lots of Ks and BBs.

      He has the unfortunate skill combination of being a player who can sustain a high BABIP with great speed and a favorable batted ball profile but his plate approach (and tendency for swinging strikes) makes him a TTO guy.

      Also, yeah. Like Bradley said, he’s pretty close to an average hitter over his career. Not close to terrible.

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  2. Ron Paul says:

    ….and what happens when you only analyze numbers is that you miss out on other changes. A.Jackson will enter his prime in a year or so, has completely re-vamped his approach at the plate this offseason, and shortened his swing. If you’ve watched him hit, his swing is dead-on with an A.Soriano in his prime(not necessarily good or bad…).

    Obviously his BABIP will come way down, but mentioning his new approach and new swing in an A.Jackson analysis seams like a requirement, not an inconvenience.

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    • Franco says:

      Ron Paul would never support a Socialist wasteland like Detroit!

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    • Fan says:

      Thats interesting, but these new approaches don’t always survive a run of bad results or opponents’ countermeasures (most famously Jeter and Tiger Woods). Humans are dynamic, nonlinear so you never know. I do like the local reports like yours that show up in the comments; who needs newspapers.

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    • uh says:

      I would not be surprised at all if Austin Jackson ende up hitting more homeruns this year. He’s hit about ten a year his first couple years in the bigs. He hit ten in about 250 plate appearances in 2007 in A+ ball. He is also an athletic player as we know by judging his speed and fielding ability. Rickey Henderson was about 25 when he found his power stroke and Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 homers last year at age 27 after a couple years of 10 and 9 home runs. He is certainly strong enough to hit 20 + homers and players often find their power stroke around 25. We may also see more walks and at least fewer strikeouts as he has perhaps begun to mature as a hitter. I’m going less off the numbers than I am off the track records of players who had similiar skill sets and athleticism. He also has a swing which is closer to speedsters like Henderson and Ellsbury than it is to speedsters like Posednik or Pierre. In other words Jackson does not try to punch the ball to right field. He comes to the plate looking to rake.

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  3. Randy says:

    “or just early clustering in his home run events”

    I like how this is explained.

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  4. Phantom Stranger says:

    I think analyzing any stats before 150 plate appearances is just rife with small sample size issues. It’s possible to tell much earlier if you break a hitter down scouting-wise if a new playing level has been established.

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  5. NBarnes says:

    A DBZ reference in Fangraphs. The mind boggles.

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  6. Jason says:

    “I doubt the 25-year-old outfielder finishes the season with 0 home runs, so let’s substitute in his career home run rate, which suggest he would have hit 1.4 homers by now.”

    I like this. …of course if you follow it to its logical conclusion and just substitute career rates for all the other numbers you are using that are affected by small sample size (all of it), you arrive at the career numbers…. …oh, small sample size fun. But what does it all mean?

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    • If your conclusion is to arrive back at their career numbers, then I am perfectly happy. I agree that it is too early to make many judgments about players.

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      • Jason says:


        Of course I agree that it is too early to make judgments about players based upon statistical profiles. I guess I just don’t see the point to articles like this because of it. You write:

        “But now we can say with greater certainty, using Fielding Independent wOBA (or FI wOBA), what a player’s wOBA would actually regress to, given their performance in other areas.”

        But what is the point since all of those other areas are likely to regress as well? None of the numbers you are using are likely to be good estimates of what they are supposed to measure. So how is any of this informative then?

        I guess I’m

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      • Jason says:

        ….I guess I left the final sentence as a fill in the blank….

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      • That’s a fair objection, Jason. The point is to look at their other process — namely walk-rate and strikeout-rate — and see whether they are pointing in the right direction. It’s like looking at a derivative rather than the whole curve. The information we can learn early in this season is limited, but these players will make for interesting case studies as the season progresses.

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  7. johnorpheus says:

    Here we go with another poo-pooing Freese article. The dude is absolutely ripping the cover off the ball. I haven’t seen one bloop hit from him. He’s not getting lucky with home runs, he’s crushing the ball. Maybe you should watch some games and ABs before you do a write up on a player.

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    • chuckb says:

      Relax, Mrs. Freese. He really does love your son’s work.

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    • So I’ve got you down for 42+ homers for David Freese. How much did you say you wanted to wager?

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      • Voxx says:

        I don’t necessarily think Freese is a 40 HR hitter, but he’s showed flashes of power in the minors, and he passes the eye test right now, and has since late in the regular season last year. I do think he’s closer to a 25-30 HR talent if he is fully healthy.

        He ‘is’ striking out quite a bit, so it may be a conscious decision to simply sit on a pitch? Possibly trading contact for harder contact when it happens. Fact remains that we just don’t have a huge sample size to work with, with Freese due to his injury checkered past, and late development.

        ~.370 wOBA (300/350/500?) doesn’t seem entirely unrealistic for Freese, which would be quite the value over a full season – with the huge caveat. His health.

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  8. Josh says:

    Super Saiyan 4 is where I’d say Kemp is close to. DBZ FTW!

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  9. sprot says:

    How many people on the planet use FIO? Including the author, does that number reach 10? My guess is no.

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  10. Fan says:

    I like these articles, because i like baseball, talking, reading and watching. I also know enough, like almost every single Fangraphs reader, such that the article and comments don’t need Captain Obvious caveats cluttering flow.

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  11. With some guys, like maybe Kemp, Freese, Jackson, etc we should weight recent performance a little more than career norms.

    It’s fairly obvious that Kemp’s true talent has shifted from his total career average. With guys like Freese, I’d even add post-season PAs to his career numbers because it gives us a slightly larger sample, and those PAs did occur against real-life MLB teams.

    In no way am I suggesting that any of these guys will keep up the pace, but we can assume somewhat reliably that their true talent’s have shifted … Sort of like how we did with Bautista with taking into account the end of his 2009 season and 2010 season and ignoring everything that came before.

    Either Freese and Kemp’s talent has shifted or luck really can carry over through the off-season.

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    • RC says:

      “Either Freese and Kemp’s talent has shifted or luck really can carry over through the off-season.”

      Only a very small part of BABIP is luck. It seems clear to me, that with all these hitters who have high BABIPs right now, and also elevated homerun rates, thats its not them ‘getting lucky on balls in play’, its that they’re either seeing the ball well right now, or facing shitty pitching.

      Those things may not be completely sustainable, but they’re not luck.

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  12. the hottest stove says:

    With Freese, using his career home run rate or even fly ball rate tells us very little because this is the first time in the past three years he is remotely healthy. He has openly said that he couldn’t turn on pitches in the past due to two ankle injuries and a broken wrist, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a homerun spike based on pulling the ball alone.

    Don’t put me down for 40 home runs, but 26-28 with a high number of doubles is definitely in play if he can stay healthy enough to get 500+ at bats.

    Chipper Jones said this spring that he would take Freese over David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman if given a choice. That’s either a really stupid statement or tells you a lot about Freese’s ceiling.

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