An Attempt to Explain Yasiel Puig’s BABIP

Been talkin’ about BABIP lately. Let’s talk about BABIP again. Let’s talk about Yasiel Puig, and his BABIP.

Last week, I wrote a post on Starling Marte, in which I examined his extraordinarily high batting average on balls in play. I had a hypothesis, and that hypothesis was confirmed. It was far from revolutionary. I knew that Marte was fast, and then I found out that he hits a bunch of line drives and never hits pop-ups. Then I also found out that those three things alone can explain more than 50% of the variance in a player’s BABIP. Again, that’s really nothing new.

The metric I created, BIP Score, featured Marte prominently near the top. Also near the top were a whole bunch of guys with BABIP’s above .330. Yasiel Puig is another guy with a BABIP above .330. It’s way above .330. During his time in the MLB, only two qualified batters have a higher BABIP than Puig. But he’s nowhere to be found in the top half of the BIP Score leaderboard. From the post:

Not everyone with a high BABIP scores well in BIP Score. Yasiel Puig, for example, owns a career .366 BABIP — higher than Marte’s — but actually has a negative BIP Score, thanks to his low line drive and average pop-up rate.

I felt like that warranted an examination of its own. This post is that examination.

I guess, first, we’ll take a look at that BIP Score. That’s how this all started anyway. To get BIP Score, I simply summed the z-scores of every qualified batter’s line drive rate, infield fly rate and speed score and scaled it so 0 was league average. It’s admittedly a quick-and-dirty metric, but the higher the BIP Score, the more likely it is that a player should be able to sustain a high BABIP.

With this methodology, Puig clocked in with a BIP Score of -0.3. To get a sense of the context, let’s look at the other guys around Puig who also clocked in at -0.3.

Name LD% IFFB% Spd zLD% zIFFB% zSpd BABIP BIP Score
Brandon Moss 20% 9% 3.8 -0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.291 -0.3
David Ortiz 20% 7% 2.3 -0.5 0.6 -1.0 0.289 -0.3
Yasiel Puig 17% 9% 5.6 -1.9 0.0 1.0 0.366 -0.3
Desmond Jennings 17% 11% 5.9 -1.6 -0.5 1.2 0.295 -0.3
Justin Morneau 22% 9% 1.8 0.3 0.0 -1.3 0.310 -0.3
Domonic Brown 20% 12% 4.3 -0.5 -0.8 0.2 0.278 -0.3
Pedro Alvarez 19% 7% 3.5 -1.1 0.4 -0.3 0.277 -0.3

So, you see why it makes sense to take a look at this. In Puig’s group, the closest BABIP to his is 56 points lower, and it’s from the guy who plays in Colorado. Of course, all this really means is, Puig has been slightly below average thus far in his career at a combination of hitting line drives, avoiding the pop-up and being fast. But shouldn’t that mean his BABIP should be… y’know, not .366?

The first thing I wanted to look at that isn’t included in BIP Score was batted ball direction. Going up the middle is the best place to hit. The ability to go up the middle or spray the ball to all fields is an indicator of someone with a “pure” swing, someone who can’t be shifted. Shifts kill BABIP. Think Joey Votto. Think Joe Mauer. I expected Puig to demonstrate this, to some extent. I was wrong.

  • PULL
    • League: 40%
    • Puig: 41%
  • CENTER
    • League: 35%
    • Puig: 35%
  • OPPO
    • League: 25%
    • Puig: 24%

Puig hasn’t yet demonstrated the ability to use the whole field any more than the league average, so we can cross that one off.

The next thing I wanted to look at goes hand-in-hand with speed, and it turns out it’s something Puig does quite a bit:

Puig

Probably not the best example, but really I just wanted to make a .gif of Yasiel Puig beating out an infield hit because damnit it’s February and I miss baseball. But, point is, Puig does this a lot. Since he entered the league, Puig’s got 42 infield hits. That gives him an infield hit rate of 12%. Last year, Billy Hamilton was at 11%. So was Dee Gordon. So was Jose Altuve. Part of it is that Puig’s fast. He’s not as fast as those guys, but he’s fast. The other part is that he hits a ton of ground balls.

Since he hasn’t hit any line drives, those extra balls in play have to go somewhere, and more often than not, they’ve gone on the ground. Puig’s ground ball rate since he entered the league is the same as guys like Denard Span and Jon Jay, and he’s done a better job than those guys of beating them out.

Grounders, paired with speed, are often a good thing. It’s weird, though, Puig hitting so many grounders. For someone with his strength, it seems wrong to have his name mentioned around guys like Gordon, Altuve, Span and Jay. Feels like we should want him to hit less grounders. Feels like we should want him to hit more line drives and elevate the ball. Then again, it’s worked, and a low line drive rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Qualified hitters, over the last two years, with the lowest line drive rates: Hunter Pence, Mark Trumbo, Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista. All good hitters, those guys! Really good hitters. In fact, it gives us a pretty perfect comp for Puig, in someone that’s gotten by as a very good hitter with the same unique skill set. These are career numbers:

Name LD% GB% FB% IFFB% IFH% Spd HR/FB% BABIP
Hunter Pence 16% 51% 33% 11% 10% 5.1 15% .319
Yasiel Puig 17% 51% 32% 9% 12% 5.6 15% .366

By all accounts, it’s essentially identical, and this should be almost everything that could reasonably explain one’s BABIP — luck excluded. Puig pops out a bit less than Pence, and is a bit faster, but Pence also goes up the middle more often than Puig (not pictured). Yet, in the end, we still have nearly a 50-point difference in BABIP.

So what gives? My gut tells me Puig can’t keep this up. Of course, I’m not exactly going out on a limb by saying the guy with the .366 BABIP can’t keep it up. But with a guy like Marte, you see a strong line drive rate, you see an avoidance of pop-ups, you see the speed, and you see a .350+ BABIP that actually seems pretty reasonable. With Puig, all you really see is the speed. He doesn’t hit line drives, he doesn’t avoid the pop-up, he doesn’t spray the ball. All he’s really got going for him, in terms of his BABIP profile, is the speed that leads to infield hits.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Yasiel Puig is going to fall off a cliff. This isn’t even to say that Yasiel Puig isn’t going to continue being a great hitter — he probably is. After all, Pence has still sustained a .320 career BABIP with essentially the exact same profile, and Puig’s strength and athleticism make him unlike almost any other player in baseball. But there’s still something that gives me pause, in that it’s pretty tough to explain Yasiel Puig’s BABIP.

We hoped you liked reading An Attempt to Explain Yasiel Puig’s BABIP by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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michael
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michael

As a dodger fan this bummed me out. Something that i’ve kind of noticed just by watching him all the time is that the grounders he hits are a lot of times hit in unanticipated places. What I mean is that I’ve seen countless times him being able to pull a ball a foot off the plate and slice it right through the 5 6 hole, particularly breaking balls. I think his strength / deception in standing relatively far off the plate causes teams to leave the 5-6 hole open and yet pitch to him in spots that for normal hitters wouldn’t lead to a hard grounder in the 5-6 hole. Just something i think I’ve noticed; no idea if its really accurate.

GMH
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GMH

If your anecdotal observation means anything, it helps support Fagerstrom’s thesis. A hitter who is badly fooled on a breaking ball, pulls off the ball, but still manages to find the hole between short and third, is not engaging in a repeatable skill. It’s dumb luck. And it will always be dumb luck even if you’ve observed it “countless times,” which we know is a vast overstatement since Puig has had all of 940 Big League at bats. No hitter intends to pull off the ball. If pulling off the ball is by design, it is a design that will end your career early.

michael
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michael

Yes you are probably right. But I also think his repeatable skill sets are far from plateauing. I think its very possibly he continues to improve his plate discipline with experience. His adjustment from his first year to second year was pretty encouraging.