Reviewing the 2017 BABIP Decliners

Last Thursday, I discussed the 10 hitters I identified in the preseason as potential 2017 BABIP surgers, due to xBABIP marks well above actual marks. Eight of the nine hitters that actually recorded an at-bat enjoyed a BABIP increase. Let’s see how the nine hitters I identified in the potential BABIP decliners list fared.

2017 BABIP Decliners
Name 2016 BABIP 2016 xBABIP 2017 BABIP – 2016 BABIP
Ryon Healy 0.352 0.277 0.319 -0.033
David Dahl 0.404 0.336
Devon Travis 0.358 0.297 0.299 -0.059
Hunter Pence 0.348 0.29 0.301 -0.047
Tyler Naquin 0.411 0.355 0.276 -0.135
Brett Lawrie 0.325 0.269
J.D. Martinez 0.378 0.323 0.327 -0.051
J.T. Realmuto 0.357 0.303 0.318 -0.039
Andrew Benintendi 0.367 0.316 0.301 -0.066

SUCCESS! Seven of the nine recorded a Major League at-bat, and all seven of them suffered a BABIP decline, by an unweighted average of .061, which is huge! That’s a drop from a .361 BABIP to just a .300 mark. And once again, xBABIP, the backwards-looking metric, did quite the job from a predictive standpoint. In 2016, the seven averaged a .367 unweighted BABIP, versus a .309 xBABIP. In 2017, the group’s actual BABIP mark came crashing down to .306, quite close to the group’s 2016 xBABIP mark.

Ryon Healy was one of 2016’s big half season breakouts, and part of that was due to his inflated .352 BABIP. He had no business sitting that high, but he still managed to keep his 2017 BABIP well above .300. With a near identical batted ball profile, he’ll likely find himself on this list once again heading into 2018.

Injuries prevented David Dahl from taking his place in the batter’s box with the Rockies this year, but at Triple-A over 70 at-bats, his BABIP collapsed to just .294. Their park is very hitter friendly as well. He still owns an intriguing blend of power and speed, so we’ll see if he gets another shot at a starting job. Since his price tag figures to be significantly lower, now he’ll probably be a good risk.

Devon Travis also saw his season cut short by injury, but while on the field, his BABIP fell back to almost exactly the level of his 2016 xBABIP. The funny thing is, his BABIP dropped despite a line-drive rate surge. His 2018 value will depend heavily on where he hits in the batting order.

What was the 33-year-old Hunter Pence doing posting a .348 BABIP mark in 2016, the third highest of his career?! Amazingly, in his long career, he has posted a sub-.300 BABIP mark just once. But he has typically been very consistent, with marks ranging between .301 and .320. His issue has always been a lack of line drives, but this year he set a new career low, which then begs the question of how he still managed to post about a league average BABIP. Given his age, waning power, and speed gone, he’s just an NL-Only option now.

Tyler Naquin came out of nowhere in 2016 to showcase some unexpected power and BABIP .411. We knew that wasn’t sustainable, but would he regress to .350 and still be a productive fantasy contributor, or slip fruther, causing him to lose his job? It ended up being the latter, as he lasted until just mid-April before getting demoted.

It’s still shocking to me to follow what happened to Brett Lawrie. How are all these weak players earning at-bats, yet no one was willing to even sign Lawrie?!

J.D. Martinez cared not for his BABIP decline as he simply made up for it by taking his HR/FB rate to the stratosphere.

Catchers don’t normally post .350+ BABIP marks, but that’s exactly what J.T. Realmuto did in 2016. But since he owned some power and surprising speed, even a decline in batting average wouldn’t have been enough to knock him out of the top 10 as preseason options. One of these years he’ll stop stealing bases, and when that happens, he’ll lose a big chunk of his value.

Though he hit just two homers and swiped one base in 118 plate appearances, Andrew Benintendi’s debut back in 2016 was exciting, in part thanks to a .367 BABIP. In his first full season, he swapped some line drives for grounders, which no doubt hurt his BABIP, but made up for it by delivering on the power and speed promise we were all looking forward to. He should remain a five category contributor for seasons to come.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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