Hitter BABIP Laggards

On Monday, I took a look at the hitter BABIP leaders and tried to determine how sustainable those marks were for 2013. Today, I will check in on the bottom dwellers in the metric. This could be your initial list of undervalued hitters in next year’s fantasy drafts.

Justin Smoak 0.207 0.188
Jose Bautista 0.215 0.241
Brian McCann 0.228 0.230
Adam Dunn 0.235 0.207
Casey Kotchman 0.241 0.238

Now with over 1,000 Major League at-bats, Justin Smoak holds a career .214 batting average. One would simply assume that he has struck out a ton and/or his power has been MIA. But that has not been the case. While his strikeout rate is a bit worse than than league average, it’s actually quite reasonable for a power hitter. And his HR/FB ratio for his career sits just above 11%. While the .150 ISO is certainly a disappointment, it’s really the low BABIP that has killed his average and performance.

The problem so far has been two-fold: a lack of line-drives and too many pop-ups. Since last season, it’s been the line-drives. This year and his rookie year in 2010, the issue was too many infield flies. Another problem is that he has been a fly ball hitter, yet he is in one of the worst hitter’s parks in baseball, so instead of all those fly balls going over the wall, they just get caught for outs. While his away games BABIP is still below league average, it has still been much better than what he has been able to muster at SAFECO Field. His minor league track record was relatively short and didn’t exactly hint at a great hitter to begin with. As long as he remains a Mariner, I think he can be ignored in fantasy leagues.

Throughout his career, Jose Bautista had never posted a BABIP above .284. Even during his power breakout in 2010, he still only managed a .260 average thanks to a pathetic .233 BABIP. Then finally last year luck was back on his side, as he posted an above league average mark of .309 for the first time. But that appeared to be a one-time favor, as his BABIP has dropped all the way back to his current .215 mark. Bautista is an extreme fly ball hitter (he ranks third in baseball in FB% just behind Mike Moustakas and teammate Edwin Encarnacion) who hits a low percentage of line-drives and hits pop-ups all to often. Even with his gargantuan power, that is a recipe for a low BABIP. While his BABIP is going to fluctuate in the mid-.200’s, he’s unlikely to ever enjoy another .300+ mark, meaning he’s not going to contribute positively in batting average again.

Brian McCann‘s career BABIP is pretty close to the league average at .293, and his career low was only .282 back in 2007. So he has never suffered quite this much when it comes to balls in play falling for hits. Back in June, Jeff Zimmerman looked at the effect defensive shifting had on players who were shifted on regularly, which included McCann. He calculated an xBABIP at the time, and it was nearly .100 above what McCann’s mark was then. McCann’s line drive and pop-up rates are all normal and close to his career averages. And his power is right where it always is. As such, he looks to be the biggest fluke on this list and I would expect a full rebound next year. If his low batting average reduces his cost in drafts, you will have a good chance to earn a profit.

Adam Dunn is making up for last season’s disaster by posting a career high HR/FB ratio. That’s great for his fantasy owners in need of his power, but unfortunately that has also come with a career worst BABIP. Dunn has suffered through some rather poor BABIP marks in the past though, posting a .237 mark in 2003, .258 in 2008 and .240 just last year. Aside from the extreme fly ball tendency, it’s not obvious why his BABIP has jumped all over the place. His career mark isn’t too far below the league average though, so he has just experienced serious volatility from year to year. The problem for next year is that Dunn’s contact rate has barely improved from last year’s career worst mark. Since there is little chance he sustains a 30%+ HR/FB ratio, then when the power drops, it will likely offset any increase in BABIP and his batting average will barely move.

Casey Kotchman may be done as an everyday player as the Indians give Matt LaPorta (possibly) one last chance. Kotchman’s batted ball distribution is pretty terrible for the type of hitter he is. He hits too few line drives, too many ground balls for a players with little speed and pops up way too often. It’s really as simple as that. If you’re not fast enough to beat out ground balls for an infield base hit, it just doesn’t pay to pound the ball into the ground as frequently as he does. He’s still just 29 years old, so maybe at some point in his career he’ll find a hitting coach that rejiggers his swing and gives him a better chance to succeed at the plate. Until then, last season’s .335 BABIP will remain a distant memory.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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There should totally be an xBABIP stat based on Speed, LD%, GB%, and FB%.


Don’t forget that it should also take into account bunting tendencies, IFFB% (and really HR/FB% with HR distances to estimate if some HR should have been in-play outs, and vice-versa), not to mention whether a player is likely to face a shift and hit “in-play” balls off the Green Monster or the like that will always yield a 1.000 BABIP.

I have to image this sort of thing is what in-house stat guys have built for MLB teams… but even better, since I’m sure there are publicly-available factors I’ve missed in addition to proprietary information they have at their disposal.

So it’d be a huge mess to do properly, but it seems like a good xBABIP model that would output to every FanGraphs player page (or whatever site) would be a huge hit — I’m really surprised it hasn’t happened already.