Even though we are over a month into the season, a hitter’s BABIP and resulting batting average are still rather meaningless. In fact, neither statistic stabilizes within 550 plate appearances. That means that it has little predictive value at this point and should have limited weight when evaluating a player now. Therefore, hitters with extremely high or low BABIPs should potentially be looked at as trade bait or acquisition targets, respectively. Let’s first look at the possible targets, or those with abnormally low BABIP marks.
Jose Bautista sports just a .272 career BABIP and posted a low .233 mark during his breakout 2010 season, so he is no stranger to BABIP struggles. You can see from his batted ball distribution why he has had problems maintaining a league average rate. He hits a low percentage of liners, is an extreme fly ball hitter and pops it up more often than the league average. While his BABIP and average will obviously rise, it is going to be tough for him to post another .300+ BABIP the rest of the way like he did last year, even given an expected improvement in power. Of course, if you stumble upon an owner who suddenly feels he is no longer a first round value, then he’s worth targeting in trade.
Eric Hosmer has generally performed exactly as projected, except for his BABIP and batting average. Our own Jeff Zimmerman recently looked at how teams are employing a shift against him like they do against other left-handed pull hitters such as Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard. While that would certainly explain why Hosmer’s BABIP has declined, the magnitude of the drop cannot possibly be entirely due to the shift. One of the major drivers of value for Hosmer in fantasy was his ability to steal bases. He has only stolen one so far in two attempts, but given his .252 OBP, it isn’t surprising that he hasn’t stolen more yet. While it is less likely Hosmer posts another .300+ BABIP the rest of the way, better luck should rear its head sooner or later.
Adam Lind has suddenly become a ground ball hitter, which is not a good thing when you have little speed. All his other numbers are not too far out of line, though. However, with the signing of Vladimir Guerrero, if his slump continues, he’ll have to worry about losing playing time as the team has a number of alternatives to play first base, including current designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Lind’s fantasy upside isn’t very high, which means he could come quite cheap in AL-Only leagues.
Like Lind, Ike Davis has also taken to the ground ball, having posted a mark above 50% that is more closely associated with speedsters. The good news is that his HR/FB ratio has been just fine, so he is still hitting the ball hard. Throughout his minor and Major league career, Davis has always posted a high BABIP, as it has never dipped below .318 at any stop. That provides more optimism that the balls will start dropping in sooner rather than later. Of course, his strikeout rate is up and he is swinging at more pitches outside the zone. So his batting average may still very well disappoint through the rest of the season even assuming his BABIP rebounds.
When you strike out as much as Rickie Weeks and already post mediocre batting averages even with a league average BABIP, it looks disastrous when the BABIP luck fairies disappear. Weeks’ problems this year are fairly obvious from the surface – he has hit a very low percentage of liners, instead hitting pop ups like a mad man. That is the opposite of the recipe for a strong BABIP. Weeks has never been much of a line drive hitter and always had problems popping it up, so this is nothing new, but it has been more extreme than usual so far this year. His power is also down, but at least he is walking at a career high pace. The injury risk will always remain, but there’s no reason to think that Weeks won’t rebound and start turning his pop ups into line drives shortly.
Amazingly, Brian McCann currently sports a higher line drive rate than BABIP. You don’t see that very often. Actually, even more incredible is that he hasn’t even hit one pop up all season! His walk rate sits right at his career average, his strikeout rate is actually down and his power is normal. This all screams out that an improvement is coming, and fast. Of all the hitters on this list that I discussed, McCann is the clearest candidate to see his BABIP rise rapidly.