Jose Bautista’s Strange Season

Jose Bautista is once again performing at a very high level after a slow start to the season. He has produced 2.4 WAR in 72 games, and ranks 11th in the American League with a .381 wOBA. He is tied for the league lead with 23 home runs and is currently on pace to pass the 40 HR plateau for the third straight year. Despite his homer-happy ways, however, Bautista only ranks ninth in the league in slugging percentage at .533.

The major culprit is his batting average on balls in play. At a ridiculously low .201, Bautista has not had much success turning balls in play into hits. A greater percentage of his hits are home runs, which are excluded from the BABIP calculation, and his rate of singles and doubles is below the norm. In other words, while a .381 wOBA is fine for anyone to hang his head on, Bautista has actually been held back this season.

It seems strange for someone to produce so effectively with such a low BABIP, which got me thinking: has anyone ever finished a season with a wOBA as strong as Bautista’s current .381 mark with as extremely suppressed a batting average on balls in play?

After perusing the historical records, it seems that Bautista could potentially finish the season in some rare company. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances in a season since 1900, there are only five batters with a .380+ wOBA and a .225- BABIP:

Roger Maris (1961): .424 wOBA, .209 BABIP
Ralph Kiner (1952): .409 wOBA, .221 BABIP
Roy Cullenbine (1947): .391 wOBA, .206 BABIP
Norm Cash (1962): .389 wOBA, .215 BABIP
Andy Pafko (1951): .381 wOBA, .222 BABIP

The first thought that pops to mind is that their ISOs must be off the charts. After all, the only way to really succeed this way is to have a high percentage of hits that aren’t included in the BABIP calculation — home runs — and to have a greater percentage of extra-base hits on the relatively rare occasions a ball put in play turns into a hit.

Respectively, the five players above posted the following ISOs: .351, .256, .198, .270, .246. Maris set the then-HR record with 61 longballs in 1961. Kiner hit 37 home runs and led the league. Cullenbine hit a career-high 24 home runs in just 464 at-bats, as he walked 22.6% of the time. Cash finished second in the American League with 39 home runs in 1962. Pafko hit 30 home runs in just 133 games and 455 at-bats.

One season that came close, but ultimately missed the cut, was Bautista’s 2010 campaign. Two years ago, he hit .260/.378/.617, with a .422 wOBA and a .233 BABIP. He bopped 54 home runs and had 56 singles.

Players have produced at an all-star level like this with substandard BABIP rates, but it’s incredibly rare throughout baseball history.

Similarly interesting is that Bautista entered this past weekend with a .197 BABIP. It wasn’t just low, it was below .200, which seems even rarer. Throughout history, only seven players with 400+ PA from 1900-now have finished a season with a sub-.200 BABIP. The highest wOBA was Gus Triandos‘s .336 back in 1959. At almost 50 points above Triandos before weekend action got underway, Bautista was bound to regress. Otherwise, he would have found himself on pace to absolutely shatter a completely meaningless record.

Players either improve their BABIP in this regard, or cease to produce as effectively. Bautista had a .171 BABIP in April, a .247 mark in May, and is back down to a .176 rate now. However, his monthly wOBA splits have improved almost exponentially, from .288 to .382 to .478. With an incredibly low BABIP it’s going to be very tough for him to finish the season with the .420-.440 wOBAs he posted the last two seasons. But although historical precedent exists — and he, himself, is almost part of that precedent with his 2010 season — the odds are against him finishing the season with a .200ish BABIP.

One of two outcomes is bound to occur: either he stops producing at this high of a level and his wOBA drops, or balls in play start falling in for hits, his BABIP increases, and his overall batting line beautifies. Given his performance over the last month and a half and the high level of production he established in 2010-11, the latter scenario is far more likely.



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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


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ASAP Robbie
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ASAP Robbie
4 years 2 months ago

Jose is a beast. His plate discipline and timing are back to elite status and he’s mashing everything in the strike zone or taking walks. I love to watch him hit.

pete
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pete
4 years 2 months ago

very true. i also think xbabip should be included in this article.

Spike
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Spike
4 years 2 months ago

this is sorta the flaw in the babip computation.

mcbrown
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mcbrown
4 years 2 months ago

Can you elaborate? I fail to see how BABIP can be “flawed”, any more than BA, OBP or SLG can be flawed, in that all are simply records of what happened and can be calculated easily from box scores.

Mr. T
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Mr. T
4 years 2 months ago

explain yourself fool

Spike
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Spike
4 years 2 months ago

nice.

It means that there is nothing really intuitive from this analysis. Bautista’s unusually low babip is largely due to his high frequency of balls hit which leave the park, and don’t get counted as a “bip”

GUY
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GUY
4 years 2 months ago

I don’t see how the 2 correlate when Bautista’s FB rate this year is in line with the last 2. In fact his batted ball rates across the board are very similar to the last 2 years, making a rate as low as his truly an anomaly.

GUY
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GUY
4 years 2 months ago

Last part should read “making his BABIP”…

mcbrown
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mcbrown
4 years 2 months ago

@Spike, I’m not sure A follows from B since we’ve never seen other players with similar profiles exhibit unusual BABIPs over the long run, including Bautista himself. But regardless, even if that is a problem, it is one of usage of the statistic, not the statistic itself. It’s like saying OBP is flawed because it treats a walk the same as a double – for what it is intended to measure that supposed flaw is both obvious and irrelevant.

Spike
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Spike
4 years 2 months ago

mcbrown, that’s all fine but what are we saying from this analysis other than to point out a statistical oddity? what else are we to glean from this?

Paul
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Paul
4 years 2 months ago

Spike: You’re missing the part about a .380+ wOBA being indicative of a standout offensive performer. There have been a whole bunch of guys with low BABIPs along with really crappy seasons. On the other end of the spectrum would be a guy with a super high BABIP, say .400, but a wOBA of under .350. I can only guess that it’s been done a few times, recently Austin Jackson got very close last season.

I like articles that this one that focus on legit and relevant outliers, but I guess it’s not for everybody.

The Foils
Member
The Foils
4 years 2 months ago

I actually kind of like this point of Spike’s:

“that’s all fine but what are we saying from this analysis other than to point out a statistical oddity”

insofar as, yes, that is all that this article is point out. What I don’t get is how you take the next step to “who cares” or “BABIP is dumb” (not real quotations, I know).

This article IS about a statistical oddity, and that’s sometimes interesting?

Spike
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Spike
4 years 2 months ago

The Foils… well, babip is relatively less intuitive a metric as many people seem to give it credit for, and as far as this discussion goes, feel free to go ahead and tell me why I should care about this particular statistical anomaly…

mcbrown
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mcbrown
4 years 2 months ago

@Spike, that’s fine and you can certainly choose not to care if you are so inclined. But I think it is evident that many people do find baseball’s statistical oddities interesting, for some reason or for no reason. It’s why so many people can see arbitrary integers like 56 and 61 out of context and instantly associate them with historical events. If we didn’t care about statistical oddities like hitting streaks and home run records those two numbers I mentioned in the prior sentence would just be two numbers. But we do, so they’re not.

Spike
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Spike
4 years 2 months ago

mcbrown, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I’m a frequent f/g visitor so I clearly have a pretty good grasp on the utility of most of the metrics this place is cool enough to provide. In this case, I don’t see what’s particularly interesting about the statistical anomaly being discussed. I’m not judging anyone who does find it interesting.

Furthermore, I sincerely asked if anyone wanted to try and show me the light on what I may be missing. Merely saying that “others appreciate it” doesn’t really illuminate the “it” part any further tho.

I said up front that it’s likely that a large part of the “explanation” for the anomaly is that (outside of Adam Dunn), Bautista has a higher % of his hits result in HRs than any other player in MLB as far as I know. That alone accounts for his babip being lower than what one might consider “average” or had half his HRs been doubles instead…

Jon L.
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Jon L.
4 years 2 months ago

I’m thinking of Spike’s point this way: Who cares about an anomaly in a statistic whose purpose is to eliminate things like walks and strikeouts in order to focus only on balls that are hit, but then focuses only on batting average, which most people on this site think is (still) grossly overvalued to begin with, and then to eliminate even from that the very best-hit balls?

Jose Bautista is doing surprisingly well overall considering that he’s doing very poorly when he doesn’t either fail by striking out, or succeed by drawing walks or hitting home runs (two of the things he does best).

But I still think it’s a fun article.

Paul
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Paul
4 years 2 months ago

I am a generally very wary of use of BABIP on this site because it almost invariably follows that regression must be possible, player X is lucky, a low BABIP has nothing whatever to do with his horrible plate discipline, etc.

That’s clearly not what this is. If we delve inside the numbers we know it’s not just that Bautista has a really high HR%. It’s a list of skills that are uncommon and somewhat under-appreciated. He has an extremely high FB rate, along with a high IFFB%, low SO%, high BB%, and while I have not hopped over to BBREF to find out, it must also be true that he hits a huge percentage of his LDs and GBs into a shift or is incredibly unlucky on those particular balls in play.

It’s not just because outliers are what really tells us about the nature of a statistic. Bautista completely re-made himself into a player whose skillset is historical. I want to know how to use it to convince Eric Hosmer to follow instead of shooting groundballs over the the SS on every single first pitch he sees.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
4 years 2 months ago

Bautista’s batting average (I know, fangraphs hates BA) last year was really an aberation to his career overall. His lifetime BA is .253, he is hitting right around his career marks this year with the obvious marked increase in HR and walks.

Paul
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Paul
4 years 2 months ago

Not really arguing with the overall point, but I think the emphasis is slightly overdone because the wOBA – BABIP parameters are set so extreme. Mark McGwire had a few seasons that were very close both. I’m guessing that if you merely re-set the BABIP parameter to Bautista’s 2010, the net will catch a whole bunch more seasons. Not that the phenomenon/feat is THAT much less rare, but it would make Bautista’s full season low-lying outlier look a little less crazy and more possible due to randomness.

YourFriendHarold
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YourFriendHarold
4 years 2 months ago

What seems strange to me is that his K% isn’t all that high either, meaning he is making contact at a pretty high clip. Usually when guys make contact at that rate, with power like him, isn’t hitting for a higher than average BABIP the norm? I have nothing to back this up, but if I had to guess I would think there is some kind of correlation between Contact %, .ISO and BABIP. Am I wrong in thinking this? Or maybe this is well known and I am late to the party.

No
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No
4 years 2 months ago

Bautista is an extreme fly ball hitter (~50%), has a large percentage of those go for HRs (>20%) , hits very few line drives (~15%), and has around average speed. Those four things combined mean that you would expect him to have a lower than average BABIP (though not this low, more like ~.250-.260 I think)

MetsKnicks49ers
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MetsKnicks49ers
4 years 2 months ago

Seriously, you brought up Gus Triandos? Who can see that name and even finish the article without their head filled with Herc admitting that is who he would bang? “Gus Triandos, catcher for the O’s, poor sad fuck.” Or whatever he says to Carver in that scene.

jcxy
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jcxy
4 years 2 months ago

Carv: “Both Oslen Twins. Ashley. Kate”

Herc: “Mary kate. And yeah, I mind their body of work.”

Dozerman
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Dozerman
4 years 2 months ago

I actually looked up the stats on Gus Triandos. Power hitter, right?

Slartibartfast
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Slartibartfast
4 years 2 months ago

I want to give this so many thumbs up right now.

Clay Davis
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Clay Davis
4 years 2 months ago

With a sub-.200 BABIP, no wonder Gus looked so sad

jcxy
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jcxy
4 years 2 months ago

sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit

Bighead Burton
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Bighead Burton
4 years 2 months ago

What’s his xBABIP?

Anon
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Anon
4 years 2 months ago

Using slash12, around .270. If you reset the intercept lower to match the overall league BABIP, it’s closer to .250. That’s what I’d expect going forward, assuming a similar batted ball profile, and would push the overall season line to around .225.

Danny
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Danny
4 years 2 months ago

Could this have to do with a high number of HRs, walks and strike outs? Combined with the shifts teams are using on him?

Dickie
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Dickie
4 years 2 months ago

The first three have no impact on BABIP whatsoever. Blaming his home runs for his low BABIP is like blaming his HBPs for his low batting average.

Travis
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Travis
4 years 2 months ago

Career BABIP of 270 means his current mark is 70 points off his avg, not the 100 or so points you mentally calculate. Seems disingenuous to not mention that in the article.

Mark
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Mark
4 years 2 months ago

During the periods when Bautista’s BABIP is suffering, he seems to pop out a lot. This, I think, bodes poorly for a serious recovery in BABIP — I haven’t done the research, but pop ups are probably less likely to fall for hits than line drives, fly balls and grounders.

Sniderlover
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Sniderlover
4 years 2 months ago

He popped up a lot last year too and the year before that… and his whole career really.

Last year: 15.2 IFFB%
This year: 15.5 IFFB%

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
4 years 2 months ago

Since practically everyone else is too young to remember him, let me just say that Gus Triandos was probably the slowest runner I ever saw – not limiting it to major league baseball players, either.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
4 years 2 months ago

This raises an interesting point: Were all these guys slow? I looked up runs from baserunning on baseball reference. Bautista surprisingly has a +1 this year, despite being -6 (i.e., slow) for his career. Here are the others:

Maris +3
Kiner -1
Cullenbine 0
Cash -2
Pafko -1

Maris is the outlier here, and it’s no fluke season either. He’s +18 for his career, making him either fast or a genius on the basepaths.

The other interesting thing is that all these seasons were in the same era – between 1947 and 1962, when baseball teams valued the strategy of standing around waiting for someone to hit a home run.

Erix
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4 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned, but Jose has hit a ton of infield pop-ups this year, which obviously contributes to the low BABIP.

Dickie
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Dickie
4 years 2 months ago

He’s 16th in the major in infield flies. None of the guys above him have a BABIP below .253.

No

Mark
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Mark
4 years 2 months ago

Yes, but, on average over the last few years, it looks like IFFB (pop ups) are the only way to put the ball in play that actually has a negative impact on BABIP. Raw correlations between IFFB and BABIP are around .5. Using the data from full season qualified batters from last year, JB’s predicted BABIP (based on IFFB only) would be around .200. JB’s high pop out rate likely has something to do with his quite low BABIP.

Also, learned that Joey Votto almost NEVER pops out!

Mark
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Mark
4 years 2 months ago

of course, I meant -.5 is the rough correlation between IFFB and BABIP.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 2 months ago

What would his BABIP be if you included HRs? Pretend he’s not quite as strong and every single HR bounced off the wall. I’m guessing his BABIP would make a lot more sense in relation to his obvious talent.

.........
Guest
.........
4 years 2 months ago

Then you would be required to turn every HR in the league into a hit off the wall and the league average babip would rise causing a somewhat closer to average, but still very low babip.

Frag
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Frag
4 years 2 months ago

Jose Bautista’s career has been a strange one. Glad to have him on the Jays.

Adam
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Adam
4 years 2 months ago

He is an extreme pull hitter and teams are putting the shift on him so some of his hard hit grounders are turning into outs.

In april his timing was off and he was popping up and grounding out between walks so the low babip made sense.

If you look at may I bet you’d see a more normal batting line/ babip combo.

In June 12 of his fly balls have not landed in play but rather been home runs and he has been walking like a mad man so a greatly reduced number of ABs for the slash line to generate a high babip in between homeruns.

He is so on right now that a swing that might have been a double last month is now a line drive homerun… no loft at all.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 2 months ago

Doesnt this show that BABIP is completely useless for power hitters?
When over 1/3 of your hits are not even calculated as “hits”, then obviously something is wrong.

Stinky
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Stinky
4 years 2 months ago

babip in general is a lot more useless than a many people seem to give it credit for.

Down Undershoe
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Down Undershoe
4 years 2 months ago

are you people for real? I’m pretty sure that most of you, including the author of this statistic-influenced and acronym-laden article, haven’t watched to many Jay’s games this year. The fact is, Jose isn’t hitting as well as he could be. Other than HR’s, his extra base hits are lousy which has affected his SLG%. Only lately he’s hitting HR’s w/ runners on
which is increasing his RBI total. In my
opinion, he could easily be at 70+ RBI’s and
hitting 270 if he wasn’t popping up trying to it
HR’s in April and most of May; in many cases doing so with runners in scoring position. I enjoy watching Jose in a Jay’s uniform. I don’t enjoy him turning into Adam Dunn(at the plate that is). At least he’s an all-star calibre right fielder w/ a great arm; run’s the bases extremely well and is excellent at reading how a play is developing. Are there any statiscal acronyms for this?
So please, will all you wannabe Billy Beane’s
out there start watching and observing baseball games, instead of disecting irrelevant stats that have so many variables influencing them, you all simply choose to ignore b/c it’s just easier that way.
BTW… how many of you are paying attention to Ichiro’s stats the last couple of years? Not many. Why? He’s getting old, slowing down and most impotantly….he’s not hitting .330-.350 like he did his first 10 years. You don’t consider him one of the best hitters of all time? If you don’t you’re just ignorant… BA doesn’t matter. What a load.
Good hitters are good hitters whether it be power, gap, line-drive, average. They get drafted, get called up, get stupid money at
UFA time.
Jose got his big deal after 2010 – a stastical anomaly for the ages according to you guys.
Imagine he was a UFA in 2013. Can you say $20 mil/per. Save the math and science for unravelling true mysteries of the Universe.
Have fun watching Money Ball… again… and again… and again

Mrwalkerb
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Mrwalkerb
4 years 2 months ago

I think it’s important to not look at his career numbers since aside from having decent OBP he wasn’t really much of the same hitter, while he’s always had a good eye I think you have to assume that whatever changes in his swing caused him to start going yard as frequently as he does not would have similar changes to his approach. If you want to compare earlier seasons I think you have to start in 2010, I realize that’s going to illicit “Small Sample Size!!!” cries but isn’t SSS still better than irrelevant data?

Scott
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Scott
4 years 2 months ago

If you run a leaderboard for the last thirty days, Bautista’a BABIP is .154 which is less than half the BABIP for any other player, save 1. Crazy where his last month would be with merely less than average (rather than abysmal) BABIP

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