Batting Average on Balls in Play: Leaders and Laggards (Part One)
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a relatively new stat that has shed some light on pitching and hitting performances. Without context, this metric can be dangerous in jumping to conclusions about a player's production. 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.
In addition to BABIP, one can also view batting average on contact (BAC). The latter differs from the former in that it includes home runs. League-wide BABIP generally hovers around .300 while BAC is normally in the range of .320-.330. One of the many uses of BABIP and BAC is to determine how sustainable a player's batting average might be — and OBP and SLG (to the extent they are influenced by AVG). By studying BABIP and BAC, fantasy owners may get some insight as to when to buy low and sell high.
In today's article (the first of a two-part series), we'll take a look at the laggards and drill down deeper into the numbers to gain a better understanding as to the hows and whys for ten different players.
Bottom Ten in BABIP at the All-Star Break
BABIP PLAYER TEAM 2007 CAREER Richie Sexson SEA .210 .300 Julio Lugo BOS .215 .315 Jermaine Dye CWS .225 .301 Pedro Feliz SFG .230 .270 Pat Burrell PHI .239 .307 Andruw Jones ATL .241 .284 Ian Kinsler TEX .243 .285 Jason Kendall OAK .244 .317 Chris Young ARI .244 .249 A.J. Pierzynski CWS .250 .305
Except for Richie Sexson's injury-shortened season in 2004, he has never come close to hitting as low on balls in play as this season. His previous worst was in 1999 when he had a BABIP of .275. With a career-low strikeout rate, he's putting the ball in play more than ever and perhaps that is working against him to some extent. But, more than anything else, Sexson is a notoriously poor first-half performer.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP 1st Half .247 .328 .478 .806 .278 2nd Half .290 .372 .573 .945 .322
Sexson put up a .205/.299/.413 line before this year's All-Star break, remarkably similar to his first half last season when he hit .218/.288/.418. How did he fare in the second half in 2006? Try .322/.399/.613. Although I wouldn't want to bet on a repeat perfromance, I would be surprised if the righthanded slugger doesn't light it up over the balance of the campaign.
Julio Lugo's BABIP is 100 points below his career norm. That is a huge difference. Put another way, his BABIP in 2007 is 32% under his lifetime rate. Prior to this season, the Boston shortstop's all-time low was .313. How can that be? That's a good question because Lugo's BB rate is at its highest level ever and his SO rate is the second-lowest of his career. The main culprit appears to be an abnormally poor line drive percentage of 14.5% (the 12th worst in MLB) compared to his career rate of 19.4%.
What's troubling is that Lugo began his precipitous fall last year when he joined the Dodgers at the trading deadline. He hit .219/.278/.267 during the final two months in 2006 and .197/.270/.298 in the first three months in 2007. Are these rate stats the real Julio Lugo? Is he hiding an injury? Or is there something else going on?
Other than his injury-plagued year with the Oakland A's in 2003, Jermaine Dye has never been as unproductive as he has been this season. Over the course of his career, Dye has been pretty consistent from the first half (.269/.332/.478) to the second (.278/.340/.486). The 33-year-old outfielder needs more than a slight uptick to get his current rate stats (.214/.271/.402) back to respectability at year's end.
Of all the players on the list above, Pedro Feliz is the least surprising. He has never hit .300 on balls in play, partly because the 32-year-old is so slow but mostly owing to the fact that he doesn't hit enough line drives (17.0% for his career). His SO% is at a career low and his HR% is about the same as it has been since he became a full-time player in 2004. As a result, Feliz is putting the ball in play more than ever even though he has little to show for his efforts. Why? Well, more than one-fifth of his batted balls have been infield flies. Hitting pop-ups is about as productive as striking out. As a result, Feliz's low K rate is misleading.
Count me as someone who has no idea why Feliz gets as much playing time as he does. His single-season best OBP is .305 and he has never had an OPS of .800. Did I mention that he is a third baseman?
Pat Burrell is hard to figure. The #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft has walked as much as he has struck out this year and is on pace to posting a career high in BB and a career low in SO. However, his isolated power is hovering near his single-season lows in 2003-2004, primarily due to the fact that he is hitting more fly balls (third highest rate in MLB) but fewer HR/FB than ever (12.0% vs. 16.2% career norm). Burrell doesn't run or field well and will likely wind up on an AL team as a DH. He's not known as Pat the Bat for nothing.
In the midst of a nightmarish free agent season, Andruw Jones is putting up career lows in AVG (.211), OBP (.310), and SLG (.410). In the meantime, his SO% is as high as it's been since his 19-year-old rookie season in 1996 and his HR/FB (13.9%) is well below his career average (20.5%). At the age of 30, I don't think Jones is done. However, unless he returns to form, I wouldn't be rushing out and offering him a 5 x $15M+ type contract either.
Ian Kinsler's BABIP was .310 in his rookie season in 2006 with virtually the same LD% (20.6%) as 2007 (20.2%). Although the second baseman's .241 AVG is well off the pace last year (.286), his .334 OBP and .452 SLG are almost identical to the previous campaign (.347 and .454). As such, Kinsler has been as productive this year as last. Kinsler's problem is that he just isn't as good as his overall numbers suggest.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP Home .297 .366 .531 .897 .306 Away .242 .318 .378 .696 .255
Take Kinsler out of Texas and one would have a hard time justifying his presence in any starting lineup. However, he just turned 25 so it would be unwise to write him off prematurely. Kinsler has a few tools and could very well become a valuable player. In the meantime, be careful in not getting swept up in his unadjusted stats.
When a 33-year-old catcher records seven consecutive seasons of 143 or more games, it may be time to begin wondering how much fuel he has left in his tank. The man in question, Jason Kendall, has put up career lows in AVG (.227), OBP (.263), and SLG (.280). His .543 OPS is 123 points below his previous worst season and sits 227 points under his lifetime mark of .770.
Kendall's GB and LD rates are down and his FB rate is up. That's not a good thing for any hitter, much less one who rarely goes yard. Only 2% of his flyballs (2 out of 100) have turned into HR. His BABIP — and AVG by extension — will continue to suffer if he lifts the ball in the same manner as the first half.
As a rookie, Chris Young hasn't developed much of a track record for us to get a handle on his batted ball types. Suffice it to say, the Arizona center fielder is hitting too many FB (48.3%, 11th highest in MLB) and not enough LD (12.8%, 3rd lowest). His BB rate (5.0%) is less than desirable as well. Young is a tool box and his power and speed combination is a major plus. He just needs to make some adjustments at the plate in order to fulfill his potential.
A.J. Pierzynski is another former All-Star catcher who is struggling this year. He has put up career lows in AVG (.244), OBP (.287), and SLG (.376). Like Kendall, he is hitting fewer GB and LD and more FB than ever. Unlike Kendall, A.J. has deposited a reasonable number of those fly balls (8) into the seats. His BABIP took a turn for the worse when he left Minnesota and his lack of speed only adds to Pierzynksi's challenge of hitting for a high average.
I will take a close look at the leaders in BABIP in Part Two next Thursday.