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The Luckiest BABIPers Mid-Season Update

At the end of April, I used Jeff Zimmerman‘s updated xBABIP spreadsheet to determine which players’ BABIPs exceeded their xBABIPs by the greatest amount. Of the five players listed in the initial look, all of them did indeed experience a decline in BABIP, nearly all being a significant falloff. Of course, four of the five were sporting .400+ BABIP marks, so of course even without a formula, you would assume regression was coming. We now sit a bit further along than the exact mid-season mark, so BABIPs are much more reasonable at this point. These are the 10 hitters whose BABIP marks exceed their xBABIP marks by the greatest degree.

Player Batting Avg Career BABIP 2013 BABIP xBABIP Diff
Evan Longoria 0.292 0.306 0.335 0.274 0.060
Yadier Molina 0.346 0.296 0.369 0.312 0.057
Carlos Gonzalez 0.303 0.349 0.362 0.311 0.051
Carlos Gomez 0.315 0.313 0.375 0.328 0.047
Lance Berkman 0.254 0.295 0.295 0.249 0.046
Miguel Cabrera 0.360 0.347 0.378 0.333 0.045
Jhonny Peralta 0.307 0.314 0.386 0.343 0.043
Seth Smith 0.273 0.306 0.346 0.304 0.041
Mike Napoli 0.257 0.307 0.370 0.329 0.041
Manny Machado 0.315 0.344 0.368 0.328 0.040

In 2010, Evan Longoria posted a BABIP identical to his current mark, so this isn’t unprecedented. In addition, on first glance, a .335 BABIP is certainly not high enough to stick out and automatically assume regression. It probably surprises many that he actually appears atop the list. Although Longoria has avoiding hitting the dreaded popup, his line drive rates sit below the league average and he has hit a ton of fly balls, which is likely the primarily culprit of his poor xBABIP. That FB% is a career high, and while it’s good for his home run power, it means that he is unlikely to sustain a BABIP well above .300. Of course, even a batting average decline shouldn’t move him out of his top three rank at third base.

Remember when Yadier Molina used to be an excellent defensive catcher who struggled to supply much offense or even a .100 ISO? Molina’s BABIP is significantly higher than anything he has previous posted — his current career high sits at just .316. Normally, he might be considered a strong sell high candidate, but given that he has shown better power in the last two seasons and continues to hit in a good slot in an excellent batting order means he should be able to maintain his overall fantasy value. That value pie just might be sliced a bit differently in the second half.

Carlos Gonzalez is hitting significantly more fly balls than he ever has, which is behind his home run barrage and lower xBABIP than one might expect. Since his career BABIP isn’t that much lower, it would be easy to assume this is sustainable. It probably isn’t, and when you combine a lower BABIP with an increased strikeout rate this season, you get some hidden downside to CarGo’s batting average.

Carlos Gomez is essentially doing exactly what he did last year, with the only difference coming from a .375 BABIP versus a .296 mark in 2012. He is hitting more line drives and fewer popups and fly balls, which is the exact recipe for a BABIP increase. But of course, that doesn’t mean a .375 mark is sustainable. Even the increased line drive rate still stops short of reaching the league average mark. Since he never walks, he’s a consideration to sell high in OBP leagues, though admittedly it’s hard to find that power/speed combo to replace the lost production.

Is Miguel Cabrera so good that he breaks the formula? Perhaps. There is nothing I see in his batted ball profile, aside from the obvious lack of speed, that screams a real BABIP decline is coming. But remember, his career rate is about .030 points lower, so as unsurprising as it may be to see him finish the season hitting above .350, it probably won’t happen. Of course, that’s not exactly earth shattering analysis.

Suddenly, Jhonny Peralta is hitting line drives like mad, while avoiding popups like usual. xBABIP gives him credit for his strong batted ball profile but thinks a .386 is still way too high to sustain. His power remains pretty meh, so that good batting average should prop up his perceived value and makes him one of the better sell high guys on this list.

In my preseason bold predictions, I predicted that Mike Napoli would be the most valuable fantasy catcher this season. That was predicated on the assumption that he would be banging doubles off the green monster and enjoy a strong BABIP, although his power might take a bit of a hit. So was I right so far? Well, kinda. His home BABIP is an inflated .356, while his ISO is just .156, but his away BABIP is even higher at .388. He’s hitting a ton of line drives though, actually ranking seventh in baseball in the category. xBABIP still likes his batted ball mix, but clearly a .370 mark is just not sustainable. But any BABIP decline should be offset by an increase in power as his HR/FB rate sits near his career low.

In single season leagues, Manny Machado makes for a pretty good sell high candidate for this very reason. He is hitting too many popups, and although his line drive rate has been good, that BABIP is going to decline. He still hits in a good lineup spot, but without the power you want from your third baseman, he could lose his fantasy value quickly.