Every year, some players start hot, others start cold. In the past, when a player had a high BABIP to start the season, we said, “Oh, well he’s lucky. His numbers will come down.” But now we can say with greater certainty, using Fielding Independent wOBA (or FI wOBA), what a player’s wOBA would actually regress to, given their performance in other areas.
Let’s look at the top five BABIPs in the league with FI wOBA regressed to career BABIP rates (or CaB-FIw for Career BABIP FI wOBA).
David Wright: .536 BABIP, .503 wOBA, .424 CaB-FIw
Even if/when Wright’s BABIP comes back to his career .342 BABIP, his peripherals are off the charts. He is on pace for 30 homers, which is nothing miraculous for Wright, but he is also walking and striking out at a 12.5% rate.
Will that kind of patience continue? Eh, probably not to that extreme, but it certainly means Wright is seeing the ball well right now and could be poised for a really good year.
David Freese: .500 BABIP, .458 wOBA, .417 CaB-FIw
The St. Louis Cardinals third baseman has started the season with not just a high BABIP but a high home run rate. Freese, like Wright, has a high career BABIP (.372), but unlike Wright, his FI wOBA numbers are exceptionally high due to an unusual home run rate. Just 42 PAs into the year, Freese has 3 homers for a 42 home run pace (per 600 PAs). Last year, he hit 10 HR through 363 PA.
It’s not unreasonable to expect the 29-year-old to hit a few more dingers this year as he showed a fair share of power in the minors, but 42 is a bit much. If we adjust down the rate, we get these scenarios:
If we think Freese will hit 29ish homers = .374 wOBA
If we think Freese will hit 22ish homers = .352 wOBA
If we think Freese will hit 14ish homers = .330 wOBA
All in all, it appears unusual luck with his home run rate (or just early clustering in his home run events) has affected his wOBA more than the oddity of his BABIP.
Matt Kemp: .484 BABIP, .575 wOBA, .526 CaB-FIw
Wow. Kemp is actively transforming into what we in the soft sciences refer to as Super Saiyan. The man has 6 homers already and with the way he’s been playing, I can almost believe he is capable of maintaining his nearly-70 home run pace. But I cannot.
Using the FI wOBA tool, we can regress both his BABIP and home run rate. If both of those return to his career norms (maybe they won’t; I’m not advocating that they will) then Kemp would have a .392 wOBA. Good enough for the second-highest wOBA of his career, which will put him right back into the MVP conversation this year. In other words: It appears last year was no fluke.
Andrew McCutchen: .474 BABIP, .397 wOBA, .305 CaB-FIw
The CaB-FIw regression really does not like Cutch’s (may I call him Cutch?) lack of home runs. I doubt the 25-year-old outfielder finishes the season with 0 home runs, so let’s substitute in his career home run rate, which suggest he would have hit 1.4 homers by now.
The result is a .357 CaB-FIw — which would rate as a career-low wOBA for Pittsburgh brightest star. In short, his walk rate is way down, and he is swinging at a lot of pitches (+52% swing rate). I imagine when his BABIP comes down, his approach will change as well and he should be able to reach or exceed those career numbers.
Austin Jackson: .464 BABIP, .438 wOBA, .392 CaB-FIw
Another high-BABIP guy, Jackson sports a career .372 BABIP through 1397 PA. That does not make his current BABIP any saner, but it means he has less distance to travel for normalization — presumably. Through his career so far, Jackson has managed to hover around league average offensively, but his early season numbers — coupled with a 22 home run pace — make him look more impressive.
If we assume the home runs are more of a clustering issue than a change in talent level, then we would expect him to have hit only 0.6 homer so far, lowering his CaB-FIw (I really need a better acronym) to .344. That would still be a career high for Jackson, though, who is walking at a 14.8% rate. If he can start sustaining that rate in his age-25 season, then this year could be the start of some impressive production.