Batting Average on Balls in Play: Leaders and Laggards (Part Two)
In Part One of this series on Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), we focused on the laggards. Today, we will take a close look at the leaders.
As I pointed out in the previous article, "there are many factors that affect BABIP, including batted ball types, ballparks, team defense, foot speed, and, yes, luck or randomness. As with any stat, sample size is also an important consideration here." Hitting for a high BABIP — especially over a long period — is more of a skill than not. That said, it is still enlightening to measure a player's BABIP, in conjunction with batted ball stats, vs. his career norms to determine the sustainability of one's AVG/OBP/SLG.
Interestingly, all ten leaders have career BABIP above the league-wide average (which tends to run at or near .300 most years).
Top Ten in BABIP Through 7/17/07
PLAYER TEAM 2007 CAREER
Derrek Lee CHC .406 .326
Jorge Posada NYY .393 .320
Hunter Pence HOU .385 .385
Ichiro Suzuki SEA .383 .357
Dmitri Young WAS .382 .328
Matt Holliday COL .382 .352
Magglio Ordonez DET .380 .314
Willy Taveras COL .379 .348
Chase Utley PHI .373 .329
Reggie Willits LAA .371 .367
From a batted ball perspective, the only thing that is really different with Derrek Lee this season is his HR/FB%. At 8.1%, it's well under half of his average for the past five years (17.7%). Not surprisingly, Lee's ISO (.166) is lower than it's ever been for a season in which he has played at least 100 games. His AVG (.337) and OBP (.422) are almost identical to his
MVP season in 2005 (.335 AVG, .418 OBP). (Tell me again how Lee missed out on that award? You say he won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove but lost out to another first baseman? Hmmm. I know, I know. Alex Rodriguez lost out to Miguel Tejada under the same circumstances in 2002. Well, that doesn't make the snub any better in my mind. Oh well, it was close and Albert Pujols wasn't a bad choice by any means. It was just a strange one.)
Lee dropped his appeal and began serving a five-game suspension Wednesday for his part in a fight with the Padres on June 16. How convenient. Lee fouled a ball off his left ankle Tuesday night and, in his words, will be "limping for a few days." Baseball needs to re-examine its policies with respect to appealing and serving suspensions to prevent players and teams from picking their spots. Now.
Jorge Posada turns 36 next month, yet is putting together one of his best seasons ever. His home run power is down a bit but he's swatting doubles like they are going out of style. Thanks to a career high BABIP, his .332 AVG is 45 points higher than his previous best. The switch-hitting catcher is doing his job from both sides of the plate.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP
vs RHP as LHB .322 .407 .507 .914 .365
vs LHP as RHB .354 .418 .542 .960 .448
Although Posada's .448 BABIP from the right side is unsustainably high, he has always hit lefties better — be it AVG, OBP, SLG, or BABIP.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP
vs RHP as LHB .263 .375 .464 .839 .302
vs LHP as RHB .301 .383 .502 .885 .348
Hunter Pence may be the front runner for the NL Rookie of the Year although I sense that Ryan Braun is going to blow by him, if he hasn't already. I'm also partial toward Troy Tulowitzki, who is leading the majors in clutch hitting and all shortstops in John Dewan's Plus/Minus fielding system. In any event, Pence is off to a great start (.334/.360/.578) despite owning the seventh-lowest walk rate (3.6%) in the majors.
Let's compare Pence's rookie season vs. Jeff Francoeur's inaugural campaign in 2005:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Pence 69 296 42 99 24 6 12 44 8 4 11 58 .334 .360 .578 141
Francoeur 70 257 41 77 20 1 14 45 3 2 11 58 .300 .336 .549 124
Pretty scary, huh? I mean, check out those BB and SO totals. It seems to me that Francoeur drew a lot more criticism for his lack of patience and failure to walk than Pence, yet the latter is actually drawing fewer bases on balls as a percentage of his plate appearances. As much as I like Pence (full disclosure: he's on my fantasy team), I'm highly skeptical of his success thus far. He's a good player but probably not on par with Francoeur. Sure, Pence plays the more difficult position (for now), but he's putting the above numbers up at the age of 24 whereas Francoeur was just 21 when he was a rookie. Oh, did I mention that both players are 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds?
I hesitate to mention Willy Taveras and Reggie Willits in the same sentence as Ichiro Suzuki, but there are some similarities in their styles. All three outfielders are among the fastest runners in the game and they hit a lot of balls on the ground. Ichiro is the poster child in this regard. Only a quarter of his balls in play are flies. Ground balls and line drives, coupled with being fleet of foot, mean lots of hits and a high BABIP and AVG. Don't ever think his average is flukish. Instead, recognize that it is a formula. And Ichiro does it better than anyone. Granted, the two-time batting champion is a singles hitter, but he has produced more than 200 hits every season and a .332 average over his MLB career.
Although Dmitri Young has been a pretty consistent hitter since his breakout season in 1998, very few baseball people saw him rebounding after putting up career lows in AVG, OBP, and SLG last year. Give Jim Bowden, the GM of the Washington Nationals, credit for giving Young one more chance. The 33-year-old first baseman has responded in kind, hitting .341/.389/.523 as a replacement for the injured Nick Johnson.
Matt Holliday has been hitting ever since he broke in as a rookie in 2004. He took his numbers up nicely in 2005 and 2006 and has leveled off a bit in 2007. However, it would be disingenuous to suggest that his production has not benefited by playing his home games at Coors Field.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP
Home .362 .422 .642 1.064 .388
Away .268 .321 .439 .760 .310
The 27-year-old outfielder has been a superstar at home and nothing more than an ordinary hitter on the road. His walk and strikeout rates, as well as his batted ball stats, have been steady throughout his four-year career. Holliday is what he is and should continue to put up big numbers as long as he calls Colorado his home.
What can you say about Magglio Ordonez? The 33-year-old outfielder is having a career year and is a prime candidate to earn his first MVP award. Ordonez (.357/.435/.589) is leading the AL in AVG, OBP, and doubles. He is in the top five in SLG, OPS, OPS+, H, XBH, TOB, TB, R, and RBI. Maggs doubled and homered against Johan Santana yesterday while driving in all three runs in Detroit's 3-2 victory over Minnesota. Voters will be partial toward Ordonez if he keeps it up and the Tigers win the AL Central.
Speaking of MVPs, nobody is having a better season in the NL than Chase Utley (.338/.408/.589). He is unquestionably the premier second baseman in the game and his margin over the next best is arguably wider than the #1 and #2 at any other position. Utley hits like a first baseman or corner outfielder and is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman, ranking first in Dewan's Plus/Minus system at his position. The $85M contract he signed in January for seven years is looking smarter from the Phillies' perspective every day.