The Lucky Riot

Continuing our series of lucky/unlucky players, today we take a look at the other side of the coin: the players who benefited from great luck on their batted balls in play. In this series, I’ll refer you to Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton’s insightful article on the role of luck/skill on BABIP. In it they define BABIP with the following formula:


They also formulate a new version of xBABIP that takes into account a number of components of the hitter and models the way their BIP should be converted to outs/hits.

Last year Ryan Theriot had his best season as a big-leaguer. He was at worst a decent play at SS in most fantasy formats, and a very good play in 5×5 formats. He hit for a good average, got steals, and played a pretty scarce position (with a lots of flexibility). His average on the year was .308, he got 22 steals, and scored 85 runs. Among SS he was second in average, 9th in runs scored, and 4th in SBs (his numbers aren’t quite as good compared to 2B/3B, but the flexibility is helpful). Looking at these numbers it’s hard to argue against Theriot as a average-to-above-average SS. The one hidden aspect of his success, though, is his reliance on luck to achieve his numbers.

Since Theriot doesn’t hit for much power (IsoP of only .052 with 1 HR), most of his value is derived from his ability to get on-base. Since he can’t drive himself in or steal first he has to walk or get a hit to get the steals and runs your fantasy team needs. Last year Theriot coupled a good BB-rate, relatively low K-rate, and extraordinary luck to get on base at a .387 clip. Where does the extraordinary luck come from? Well, Theriot had a BABIP of .330 and an xBABIP of .291. If we account for this “luck” and control his statistics for the hits he “earned,” then his statistical record has an astonishingly different look.

Rather than a slash-line of .307/.387/.359/.745, his slash line is a more pedestrian .266/.348/.309/.657. The loss of 24 hits or 24 trips to the base-paths hurts his two other good categories, as well. His R and SB drop from 85/22 to 77/20. This season wouldn’t make Cubs fans or Theriot‘s owners (if he even has any at that point) very happy. I would expect something a lot closer to these numbers for Theriot next year than the numbers he put up this year.

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5 Responses to “The Lucky Riot”

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  1. steve says:

    I’m assuming that all of this is predicated on Theriot’s lack of power? Don’t all players that have good offensive years post a high BABIP? So should we expect a drop off for all offensive players this year as they all regress to a xBABIP? I know, however, that that is total hyperbole.

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    • Ryan Glass says:

      Power (as measured by homers) has no effect on BABIP or xBABIP. Things like the way the BIP are distributed and speed play into BABIP. Not all players that post great offensive years have good BABIPs. Some players never strike-out, so they can survive a lower BABIP, some players hit enough homers to overcome Ks, some do both. The issue here is that Dutton and Bendix’s xBABIP model does a great job of putting BABIP into context. If one is tremendously outperforming his true-talent than the smart move is to bet against him the next year. A player isn’t “doomed” to have a bad year, but it is unlikely that they will experience the same luck next year.

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  2. Isaac says:

    Why is his isolated patience lower in his adjusted line than his real line? I understand that his average should have been lower, but he didn’t luck his way into walks.

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  3. Andrew says:

    One thing that needs to be taken into account is how effective Theriot is at hitting to the right side and how his lineup position will influence his overall stats as a result. I can’t count how many times I watched him lace singles through the gap created by the first baseman covering a runner on first, so if he ends up somewhere without a decent OBP guy in front of him I don’t know how well he’ll do.

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