Byrnes’ BABIP

Since Eric Byrnes was designated for assignment last week, a variety of writers have noticed that his offensive downturn the last couple of years is entirely driven by tremendously low BABIPs – .226 in 2008 and .229 last year. His performance in the numbers that are usually more indicative of talent level (BB%, K%, ISO) are basically in line with his career marks. And while BABIP is certainly more in the control of a hitter than the pitcher, it still can vary significantly from year to year. So, if the core skills are still in place and BABIP can be driven by luck, it’s feasible that Byrnes could bounce back and become a solid offensive contributor again.

Maybe. But he is an example of why you can’t just look at a hitters BABIP and regress to a league average mean, because Byrnes has one particular skill that destroys his ability to get hits on balls in play; he is the master of the infield fly.

Since 2002, Byrnes has hit 244 infield flies, more than anyone else in baseball. Vernon Wells is second on the list with 222, but he has 1,300 more plate appearances than Byrnes over that time frame. Steve Finley is third on the list with 161, almost 100 pop-ups behind Byrnes in only 200 fewer trips to the plate.

7.67% of all of Byrnes’ plate appearances since 2002 have ended with an infield fly. Tony Batista is the only other player in that span with greater than seven percent of his PAs resulting in a pop-up. Not surprisingly, his BABIP since 2002 was just .244.

In fact, these numbers actually understate how pop-up crazy Byrnes has been of late. In 2002 and 2003, just 15% of his total fly balls stayed on the infield. His final full season in Oakland in 2004 saw the rate jump to 20 percent, finishing with the 3rd highest rate in baseball that year (behind Batista and Juan Uribe). But after leaving the A’s, he took it to another level.

2005 – 23.9% infield fly percentage – #3 in baseball.
2006 – 24.8% infield fly percentage – #1 in baseball.
2007 – 26.7% infield fly percentage – #1 in baseball.
2008 – 22.2% infield fly percentage – #3 in baseball.
2009 – 25.3% infield fly percentage – #1 in baseball.

Over the last three years, among players with at least 500 PA (total, not per season), Byrnes is #1 in IFFB% by a mile. His 25.6% mark is followed by Jeff Mathis at 21.1%. Eric Chavez and Chris Burke are just over 20%, and then there’s Mark Ellis at 18.4%. No one else in baseball is over over 18%.

We cannot look at Byrnes’ low BABIP and conclude that he’s gotten unlucky. His BABIP is a reflection of the fact that he is constantly hitting 100 foot flies that are easily grabbed by an infielder and have no real possibility of becoming a hit. He’s not hitting lasers at people. This isn’t bad luck. This is bad hitting.

Byrnes may have another good year or two left in him if he can get healthy again, but do not project him back to anything close to a league average BABIP. Given his proclivity for the pop fly, he’d be lucky to crack .260 or .270.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


24 Responses to “Byrnes’ BABIP”

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  1. The Nicker says:

    Perhaps this is the shred of the scouting community’s influence I still have left in me, but couldn’t somebody consider this guy a reclamation project.

    There is simply no way a guy with major league talent should make so much bad contact. Making no contact is one thing, as it suggests the batter is simply overmatched. But a 25% IF fly rate? It seems to me like somebody can at least get this guy to slap the ball around on the ground, which would make him, with his still above average defense, a valuable utility OF.

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    • joser says:

      I was wondering that too, but if it was possible you’d have thought somebody would’ve done it to him by now. Maybe he’ll find the right magic instructor that “fixes” this, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        It’s too bad Craig Counsell didn’t help him out with his swing back in 06. I’m pretty sure Counsell developed that old funky swing of his to get on top of the ball. Might be the perfect cure for Byrnes.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      I think he’s a good pickup as a utility OF for a contender on a minor-league deal with an ST invite (or MAYBE league minimum, but that’s pushing it), or a starter for a team that isn’t going anywhere and wants a cheap guy who might produce some excitement. But no team that thinks it’s going to contend (as the D’backs do and should think they will) ought to have this guy on their lineup card every day. Byrnes is just bad.

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  2. jthomas says:

    Is IFFB% factored into any of the expected BABIP formulas? I’ve used the formula David suggests (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/expected-babip-for-pitchers/), and the Dutton/Bendix simple calculator (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/simple-xbabip-calculator/), and ended up with reasonable BABIPs (.273 and .288, respectively).

    IFFB% overall presents a bit of a challenge to BABIP – the players with the lowest IFFB% also seem to have unusually high BABIPs (Howard, Jeter, Votto, Mauer). It would be useful to develop an xBABIP tool that would take it into account.

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  3. Steve says:

    Could he simply be trying too hard to elevate the ball … ie trying to hit homers instead of line drives.

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  4. Rich in NJ says:

    Is there any difference in Byrnes’s righty/lefty splits?

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    • Derek says:

      I’m not finding a split for IFFB%, but he is a career .249/.310/.410 hitter against righties and a career .284/.385/.511 hitter against lefties with a .273 babip against righties and a .296 babip against lefties.

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  5. Tim Kelly says:

    It seems like Byrnes should be a good fit on a team that plays their home games with very little foul territory. I have to think that his performance in IFFB is directly related to the expanse of foul ground in his home parks (Oakland, Arizona, etc.)

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  6. Sky Kalkman says:

    The IFFB thing might (*might*) be a good example of a stat that’s not meaningful within a season, but sure means something when you have five seasons worth of a trend.

    A 25% IFFB rate might be a good indication for a rebound next year 90% of the time, so we make that assumption for 100% of projections. But once you have many years of data, you can pull out the 10% of players who actually deserved that 25% IFFB rate and actually project them to repeat it.

    For many popular stats (like those in the fantasy realm), a three year Marcel is pretty damn good. But it’s certainly worth using more years of data with different rates of regression for different stats, if the goal is to build projections of larger metrics from smaller, more specific metrics.

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  7. mymrbig says:

    It would definitely be foolish to regress Byrnes toward some league average BABIP to try an project him going forward. Byrnes’ career BABIP is .282, which for a guy with power and speed, is crazy low. This is because of his ridiculous IFFB%. But even if if you regress to a slightly lower BABIP to reflect his IFFB% since 2005, he should still be a lot higher than .225 range. Byrnes was never a high AVG guy, but his career .335 wOBA incorporates his IFFB%. And if he is a platoon guy, as noted above, he could put up excellent numbers against lefties while providing plus defense in LF.

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  8. bballer319 says:

    I second the development (if there isn’t one already out there) of an xBABIP tool. It would help clarify a great deal of “luck” vs inherent skill/trend. As mentioned above, some players just have high BABIP (Mauer, Jeter, etc), and we shouldn’t be trying to regress them to league average (apples and oranges).

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    • Bobby Boden says:

      http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/11/10/1124792/a-new-xbabip-calculator

      I’ve developed an xBABIP calculator that incorporates batted ball data (including IFFB%), but it still doesn’t paint a 100% accurate picture, as there are players that continually defy it’s predictions. The 2 biggest factor’s that I think are missing are: How hard somebody hits the ball, and how well they spray the ball to different parts of the park (infield, and outfield). These are certainly two big factors in the frequency of hits dropping, which aren’t incorporated in the batted ball data that I’ve got. Ballpark foul territory certainly influences it, as well as grass speed as well, and other weird stuff, like the green monster.

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  9. potcircle says:

    interesting enough – but where’s the thread to mock the bengie molina deal?

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  10. dan woytek says:

    This is really funny because whenever I picture Byrnes in uniform at the plate, his eyes are looking straight up and then his head turns down just as quickly as he trots, in vain, to first base.

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    • drew says:

      I was thinking the same thing. The only thing you forgot to add was the slamming of bat to the ground and his screaming “F*ck!”

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  11. Logan says:

    Good article.

    What would be a possible cause of this? For pitchers, don’t those who throw FB’s with “rise” induce more IFFB? What about hitters? Hmm…

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    • levski says:

      Just a wild guess, but maybe Eric Byrnes plain sucks? And his suckitude seems to be contagious; check out Chris Young’s IFFB%…

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      • HarbingerOfMonotony says:

        The only thing worse than his suckitude is his TV show.
        But he can FLIP. That’s gotta be worth a spot on a big league club, no?

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  12. OB says:

    I think Eric Byrnes’ low BABIP is being overthought. Why may it be unlucky? Consider his GB BABIP:

    2008: .109!
    2009: .214

    Whilst his high IFFB% undoubtedly plays into his low BABIP, it is reflected in his below average FB BABIP:

    2008: .103
    2009: .110

    Eric Byrnes is not a good hitter, but he has been unlucky.

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    • HarbingerOfMonotony says:

      Flipper Byrnes is a special instance in which you cannot trust your numbers. It’s necessary for one to take their respective nose out of their spreadsheets and watch footage of Eric to truly understand what Mr. Cameron and the collective intelligence of commentators above are trying to quantify with numbers.

      Eric has not been unlucky in the sense of BIP simply not falling as frequently as they should. What your BABIP split most likely is reflecting is Eric’s inability to consistently put solid contact on the ball — which could be either issues with squaring up the ball or with his time — and the result of which is weaker grounders, added hang time on fly balls, and, the topic of this conversation, increased pop-ups.

      Take a quick look at Eric’s batting mechanics:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_eR_rmhy7w

      Do you see the incredible amounts of head movement? Now take a water bottle — or something similar you can place on a table to be at waist level — and get a good idea of where the cap is. Now close your eyes, and while leaning your upper body forward, move your head off toward your front foot and try to grab the cap of the bottle. That’s essentially what Eric is trying to do when he swings like he does in that video.

      You can imagine how difficult that would be if what you were trying to grab — or hit, in this instance — was moving at MLB pitch speeds.

      Flipper’s offensive struggles go far beyond what is statistically quantifiable — or rather, when the correct statistics are viewed in the right pattern to create the correct impression of Eric’s ability, it does not tell relay the physical issue(s), only the effect.

      So, sure, Eric could certainly be a pet project for some hitting coach who thinks they can correct him on a mental (approach) and physical (mechanics) level. Vicious dogs that attack any and all humans without hesitation can be fixed too, but unless you are absolutely sure of exactly what needs to be done to correct the issue(s) and had the patience to wait for results, would you even bother?

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