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xBABIP-BABIP Leaders and Laggards

How’s that for a nerdy title. At least you know what you’re going to get. Using slash12’s updated xBABIP formula outlined by Jeff Zimmerman yesterday (with the 2009-2011 constants in place), we can look at players that ‘should’ be showing better BABIPs than they are right now. Since the constants in the formula change a little from year to year, let’s use the list as a general guide to batted ball luck instead of a specific prescription for doom or boon for each player.

First, the laggards. With the way we’ve defined our list, these are the players that have enjoyed the best luck so far this season. Their xBABIPs are lower than their actual BABIPs, and the ball might not bounce their way as much in the coming months.

Mark Trumbo 0.368 0.294395833 -0.073604167
David Wright 0.39 0.328930481 -0.061069519
Paul Konerko 0.391 0.330159763 -0.060840237
Andrew McCutchen 0.37 0.311959538 -0.058040462
Melky Cabrera 0.399 0.347390135 -0.051609865
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 0.388 0.337238095 -0.050761905
Bryan LaHair 0.396 0.345792453 -0.050207547
Joey Votto 0.432 0.38387037 -0.04812963
Miguel Montero 0.321 0.275167939 -0.045832061
Mike Moustakas 0.315 0.269212121 -0.045787879

The first two names on this list encapsulate perfectly why this sort of analysis is worth doing. If you just looked at straight BABIP and didn’t figure in the player’s batted ball mix, you’d think that David Wright was worse off than Mark Trumbo. But Trumbo has hit almost half as many line drives as Wright, and he while they’ve hit exactly the same amount of fly balls, Wright has hit 17 more ground balls… and is faster to boot. Basic BABIP theory holds that faster guys that hit the ball on the ground more can have higher BABIPs. Uh-oh Trumbo.

Even though Wright, Andrew McCutchen and Melky Cabrera fit this mold — fast ground ball hitters — you have to be skeptical of their ability to keep it up all year. And in the case of Cabrera in particular, if his BABIP falls closer to his .347 xBABIP, his fantasy value will plummet. He’s a bit of an empty batting average.

In some cases, this analysis piles on. We know Kirk Nieuwenhuis has a bad strikeout rate, and that his glove is iffy in center field, which might mean less playing time when his whole outfield is healthy. Seeing the disparity between his xBABIP and BABIP underlines the fact that he’s more of a deep leaguer than a mixed leaguer. He’s not going to play everyday, and when he does, he might strike out too much, or see his balls in play find gloves more often.

In other cases, this list is almost mitigating. Bryan LaHair strikes out too much and almost has a .400 BABIP! But look, he actually hits more ground balls than fly balls, which is rare for a slugger. That alone could keep his BABIP around .340 if we believe his xBABIP. The slide might not be as bad as some think. In some leagues, he’s a sneaky acquisition if the price has fallen far enough.

Let’s look at the leaders, or the least lucky.

Eric Hosmer 0.222 0.314083744 0.092083744
Todd Helton 0.248 0.328020134 0.080020134
Ichiro Suzuki 0.263 0.337031373 0.074031373
Freddie Freeman 0.298 0.371503311 0.073503311
Orlando Hudson 0.24 0.313051948 0.073051948
Jose Bautista 0.199 0.271729282 0.072729282
Curtis Granderson 0.278 0.346567901 0.068567901
Justin Morneau 0.25 0.317463235 0.067463235
Jemile Weeks 0.252 0.312791262 0.060791262
Carlos Santana 0.264 0.321655405 0.057655405

Eric Hosmer was the inspiration for all of this, and with his 113 ground balls to 59 fly balls, he really should have a better BABIP. Jose Bautista is another name that leaps off the list, with his .199 BABIP, but his 18 infield fly balls have been bad to his xBABIP. Instead look at Freddie Freeman! He’s got a decent-looking .298 BABIP — what’s the problem. Well, he hits more ground balls than fly balls, and has the second-most line drives on this list. He’s only hit two infield fly balls, and he’s still young enough that his feet aren’t going to fail him now. At least not completely.

Do we trust this completely? Curtis Granderson and Justin Morneau don’t have great career batting averages anyway, and yet this analysis puts them as unlucky currently. Maybe this is why it’s a good idea to use this as a general guide. Yes, Todd Helton and Ichiro Suzuki have better xBABIPs than Eric Hosmer and Curtis Granderson, but wouldn’t you rather go with the younger legs?

Finally, we close with two young players that have disappointed in Jemile Weeks and Carlos Santana. Both have hit more ground balls than fly balls, and while Weeks has 14 more line drives than Santana, it’s the catcher that has more power — and also one more infield hit than the speedster! Both could be sporting better BABIPs, though, and the primary problem with each is their batting average. They’re useful in all leagues, with upside to be better than useful.