Last summer, Jeff Zimmerman updated the xBABIP formula and provided a spreadsheet calculator to perform the dirty work. So with a month of the season in the books, let’s take a look at the hitter’s who have outperformed their xBABIP marks the most. It would be easy to simply sort by BABIP and note that the .400+ guys won’t maintain that pace, but it’s very possible that their batted ball profile supports a BABIP above .350. You wouldn’t know that without the calculator.
|Player||Career BABIP||2013 BABIP||xBABIP||Diff|
I was shocked to see Lance Berkman‘s name atop the list with an xBABIP of just .232. I had to immediately check his player page to see if it made any logical sense, since I thought there was at least the possibility I entered the numbers incorrectly. But alas, it is not a mistake after all. His line drive rate is just 14%, which is perhaps the most significant driver of a hitter’s xBABIP. Aside from hitting far too few line drives, he has hit pop-ups at an inflated 19% rate. To complete the trifecta, his fly ball rate is at a career high of 46%. So not enough liners and too many fly balls and pop-ups? Who does he think he is, Mike Moustakas? While there’s no telling how long he’ll remain healthy and on the field, I’d chalk this up to early season random variation. Hitting third in the Texas lineup is a prime spot and he should continue to earn value in even shallower mixed leagues. But of course, that batting average is going to dive below .300 sooner or later.
Ohhh Chris Johnson, the man who strings together a whole bunch of singles and fools fantasy owners into thinking he’s worth picking up “while he’s hot”. The xBABIP tells us that he does deserve a better than league average mark, and that’s supported by a high line drive rate and nary a pop up. He has also maintained high marks in the past. But c’mon folks, the balls have been falling in, but they won’t continue to at this pace, and once they stop, he’ll go right back to being worthless in all the leagues he was added in. And then of course, Fredi Gonzalez, who would probably be that fantasy owner who makes 300 transactions every season based on hot and cold streaks, is going to bench Johnson in favor of Juan Francisco. On the positive side though, he’s striking out at the lowest frequency of his career. Unfortunately, he’s swinging and missing just as often, so don’t expect the improved contact rate to last.
Last season, Torii Hunter drank the BABIP juice and posted a .389 mark that easily set a new career high. That hid the fact that both his power and stolen base attempts were his lowest since 2000. Well, he’s up to his new tricks again, hitting even more line drives than he did last year when he posted the highest rate of his career. Perhaps he realizes he no longer possesses the power from his younger years and has instead changed his approach to emphasize line drives instead of fly balls that would simply find outfield gloves. It makes sense and that’s what the stats are telling us. Of course, that only suggests that he should be able to beat his career BABIP mark of .309, but another mark above .350 is asking for too much in all likelihood.
All that had been missing from Carlos Santana‘s potential to finish the season as the top fantasy catcher was good BABIP skills. In two and a quarter seasons, he has never exceeded a .278 BABIP, which has held down his batting average, despite pretty strong contact rates for a hitter with his power. The only real difference in his batted ball profile this season is that he has yet to hit a pop up. Obviously, that won’t continue, so he’s just been making solid contact over this first month. Santana has been a pretty strong pull hitter throughout his career, which hurts a hitter’s BABIP potential. I thought maybe he has been going to the opposite field more frequently this season that would explain some of the BABIP improvement, but that hasn’t been the case. Since his previous season BABIP marks were all below league average, he’s definitely the type of hitter to gamble on for a random BABIP spike.
Alex Gordon has been a line drive machine in recent years, while posting pop-up rates below the league average. With his power and speed, that’s a perfect combination that would result in a high BABIP. This year his line drive rate is down, but so is his pop-up rate. His ground ball rate is also at a career high. All together, it probably leads to a slightly lower xBABIP because of the LD%. Gordon has posted BABIP marks in the mid-.350 range the past two seasons, so his fall may not be as far as some of the others.
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