5 Hitters Bound to Improve Moving Forward Based on Expected BABIP
Baseball can be a real pain in the tushy sometimes. A person who hits a ball on the screws gets a batting average of .000 if that ball is caught. If another guy hits a lazy little duck snort (still the greatest term in the game) that drops between the left fielder and the shortstop, he gets a batting average of 1.000. Lame? Lame.
This means that stats can be misleading sometimes. I know it's shocking that the geek with the computer and double-pocket-protector shirt is saying that numbers lie. Well, it's true, and it's an injustice we should work to reverse. These backward-looking numbers don't provide a complete picture of how a batter may fare in the future. But we can change that.
Prior to this season, I looked at the relationship between a player's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and their line-drive percentage to see if we could use it to predict their BABIP moving forward. The results actually haven't been terrible this year (even though it predicted Yasiel Puig would regress, and he has taken a dump on that notion). Outside of that, though, I thought it would be interesting to revisit this now that players are starting to accumulate a significant number of plate appearances.
Now, while this method can provide an expected BABIP for a player, it's far from perfect. Derek Carty of The Hardball Times created a much more sophisticated expected BABIP calculator that is way more awesome than mine. I recommend you use that one if you're interested in delving further into the subject (or if you're a huge nerd like me and need something to do on a Friday night). This one will simply give us a look at where that BABIP should be simply based on their line-drive percentage.
The formula I'm using is derived from a line-of-best-fit on a graph of all of the BABIP's and line-drive percentages of players with at least 300 plate appearances last season. The correlation coefficient between the two measurements was .455 last year, which is significant enough to make this little practice worthwhile. The formula for that line-of-best-fit was BABIP = LD%*.5534 + .1837. So, if I refer to a player's "expected BABIP" from now on, it'll be based on that formula.
Obviously, there are other factors than line-drive percentage that affect a player's BABIP. A faster player will naturally have a higher BABIP than a slower player, and their ground ball and fly ball percentages both affect it, as well. I have tried to factor those variables in when selecting the following five players so that it can actually be a representative list of who should be due to pop some bottles in the near future. Let's get to it, y'all!
1. Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
BABIP: .277 | Line-Drive Percentage: 30.2% | Expected BABIP: .351
I had been tracking Castellanos most of the season because of this stat. I flipped on Detroit's game against Texas Saturday to see Castellanos come to the dish with the bases loaded and one out. He proceeded to hit a rocket shot that could have easily scored all three runs, but instead Rougned Odor snagged it at second base and doubled Alex Avila off of first. End of inning. Beginning of utter sadness.
In his rookie season, Castellanos is hitting .233/.276/.360 with a .281 weighted on-base average (wOBA). This is all despite his 30.2 line-drive percentage, which is the second highest total in the league behind Freddie Freeman.
On the season, Castellanos has a .132 batting average on ground balls and a .089 batting average on fly balls. The league average in these two categories is .226 and .132 respectively. If his actual BABIP were at his projection, he'd have seven additional hits on the season, giving him a .280 batting average. Dude is getting jobbed, and it is wrong, brethren and sistren!
At the same time, some of these struggles have been self-inflicted for Castellanos. Dude never saw a pitch he didn't like with his 57.3 swing percentage (the sixth highest in the league). If he can cool his jets a bit, increasing his 5.5 walk percentage and bringing down his 22.7 strikeout-percentage, he could be in for a killer end to the season.
2. Alejandro De Aza, Chicago White Sox
BABIP: .211 | Line-Drive Percentage: 24.2% | Expected BABIP: .318
It's not exactly the boldest claim in the world to say that a guy hitting .177/.240/.286 is going to improve moving forward. The Mendoza Line would be improvement. But De Aza has been Lady Luck's punching bag as much as any other guy in the league.
This season, De Aza is hitting .406 on line drives, .179 on ground balls, and .147 on fly balls. Last season, those totals were .733, .231 and .156 respectively. That shouldn't happen. The poor guy can't catch a break right now.
If De Aza's actual BABIP were as high as his expected BABIP, his average would be at a much more acceptable .246. This isn't going to burn the house down, but it's certainly better than his current .175. Like Castellanos, he could benefit from swinging less (he has swung at 31.1 percent of pitches outside the zone this year compared to 25.1 percent last year), but De Aza should be in for some serious improvement for the rest of the year.
3. Brian McCann, New York Yankees
BABIP: .214 | Line-Drive Percentage: 20.6% | Expected BABIP: .298
The McCann experiment in New York hasn't exactly been a flying success. Through 46 games, McCann is hitting .218/.275/.370 with a .286 wOBA. The seven home runs have been nice, but McCann hasn't been nearly the player he was in Atlanta.
That said, not all of this is McCann's fault. As you can see above, his BABIP should be much higher based on his line-drive percentage. McCann is batting only .563 on line drives, .146 on ground balls and .179 on fly balls, so he should be due for a bit of a rebound in the near future. Based on his expected BABIP, McCann should be hitting .284 instead of .218.
Does this mean that I expect McCann to hit .284 from here on out? Not a chance. The guy hasn't had a batting average that high since 2008, his third full year in the league. The point of this exercise isn't to predict where a player will be by the end of the season, but rather to show that they are hitting the ball harder than their results would indicate. McCann is doing exactly that, but his stats don't come close to reflecting it.
4. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
BABIP: .267 | Line-Drive Percentage: 24.8% | Expected BABIP: .321
Man, Posey is such a scrub. What kind of catcher has just a .348 on-base percentage? Next thing you know, he'll only be hitting fifth for the team with the best record in the league. Can you say overrated?
Obviously, Posey has still been very good this year. He's hitting .264/.348/.411 with a .329 wOBA. But compared to what he has done in the past, it looks as though he has taken a major step backward. Not exactly the case, bromigo.If he were to be at his expected BABIP, Posey would have a .305 batting average on the season. This would be right between his .336 mark in 2012 and .294 last season. However, because Posey is only hitting .615 on line drives, .164 on ground balls and .200 on fly balls, his stats just look good rather than great. That should change fairly soon.
In his first four seasons in the league, Posey has never had a BABIP lower than .312. His .267 mark this year comes despite the highest line-drive percentage of his career, including his 2012 MVP season. I realize it doesn't seem as though he's struggling too much right now, but brudduh finna get his numbers crunk up in here.
5. Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres
BABIP: .218 | Line-Drive Percentage: 20.70% | Expected BABIP: .298
Last year, Alonso was able to get by without any power for the Padres because he got on base at a .341 clip. This year, that number has dropped to just .247, and a large part of that decrease is because of his BABIP.
In 2013, Alonso had a .306 BABIP coupled with a 20.5 line-drive percentage. This year, his BABIP has plummeted to .218 despite a similar line-drive percentage at 20.7 percent. This doesn't account for a slight increase in both his flyball rate and infield flyball rate, but Alonso is due for a pretty serious uptick in production soon.
If I were to tell you based on the previous sections of this article that Alonso were hitting .224 on a certain type of batted ball (either line drive, ground ball, or fly ball), you would assume that number was associated with either his ground balls or fly balls. Nope. That's his batting average on line drives. The league average on line drives is .714. Alonso has just 11 hits on 49 line drives. I don't know who in the heck he ticked off, but we need a live rooster to take the curse of Yonder's bat stat.
Based on his expected BABIP, Alonso should be be hitting .272 instead of .205. That's such a huge difference for a guy with limited power. Eventually, though, those balls he spanks will fall in, and then maybe the poor guy will get some results.