5 Players Who Should Improve Next Season Based on Their Expected BABIP
Over the course of an individual season, players can benefit from a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), thereby getting "lucky".
A ground ball can be just out of a fielder's reach, or a fly ball can be "perfectly placed" where an outfielder just can't quite get it. But over time, this luck will even out, and even the fortunate ones will regress back towards the mean.
Players with high BABIP compared to the league average (.300) will eventually regress to the mean and stop getting lucky over the course of multiple seasons. In other words, a player who has a .382 BABIP one year can be expected to regress back towards the average the next. And at the same time, a player who has .238 BABIP will likely improve the next season, as he gets luckier himself.
Of course, there are other factors that come into play. Bryce Harper and other hard-hitting sluggers will continue to have plus-.350 BABIPs year after year, but there's a strong correlation between a hitter's BABIP and their line drive percentage (LD%).
numberFire's Jim Sannes looked at the correlation last year, finding upwards of a .45 correlation between the two. And again this year there is a significant correlation -- .48 to be exact -- so using the best-fit line, we can find a hitters' expected BABIP and in turn figure out who should improve at the plate and who will regress.
Using the best fit line -- BABIP = 0.572(LD%) + 0.1873 -- I calculated every qualified hitter's expected BABIP and took the difference between their expected and actual BABIP. Those with highly negative expected-actual BABIPs should regress, while those with positive expected-actual BABIPs should improve next season (we'll get to them in the next article). You can find the entire data set, via FanGraphs, here.
Here are five players who should improve next season based on their expected BABIP.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox
BABIP: .264 | Line-Drive Percentage: 21.4% | Expected BABIP: .310
Alexei Ramirez was very unlucky this past year. After posting upwards of 3.0 fWAR in four out of the past five seasons, Ramirez posted a negative fWAR, -0.5. Ramirez hit just .249/.285/.357 with a .279 wOBA and 72 wRC+. But the good news for any team that signs the free agent shortstop is that he's due for some improvement next season. With an expected BABIP about 50 points higher than his actual BABIP, Ramirez was, in fact, unlucky. Even with his just above-average line-drive percentage, Ramirez should still see some improvement.
Streamer projections peg a 16 point increase in Ramirez' BABIP, to .281, yielding a .260/.293/.366 slash line with a .287 wOBA and 72 wRC+. It's only a modest improvement, but for a 34-year old on the downside of his career, it might be enough to land him one last contract.
Wilson Ramos, C, Washington Nationals
BABIP: .256 | Line-Drive Percentage: 19.6% | Expected BABIP: .299
Entering the prime of his career at age 28, Wilson Ramos' career took a turn for the worse last season as his BABIP dropped 34 points from the previous year. Ramos hit just .229/.258/.358 with a .265 wOBA and 63 wRC+, posting a lowly 0.5 fWAR. With a 43-point difference between his BABIP and expected BABIP based on his line-drive percentage, the BABIP gods were not kind to Ramos this past year. And Ramos' line-drive percentage is below average he was unlucky enough last season for the model to predict some improvement in 2016.
He won't improve dramatically like some other players might, but being unlucky coupled with being in the prime of his career should push Ramos into a decent season for the Nats. He's projected to hit .252/.291/.358 with a .301 wOBA and 88 wRC+ next season, as his BABIP improves 20 points to .276.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
BABIP: .294 | Line-Drive Percentage: 26.0% | Expected BABIP: .336
The BABIP gods didn't even curse Adrian Gonzalez much this year, as he posted a .294 BABIP on the season. But with an above-average line-drive percentage of 26.0 percent and an above-average hard-hit rate of 36 percent, Gonzalez should have gotten even luckier. The model predicted he'd have a .336 BABIP, 40 points higher than his actual BABIP. On the season, Gonzalez hit .275/.350/.480 with a .354 wOBA and 129 wRC+ and at 33-years-old, if he's able to keep it up, he should even improve next season.
Streamer projections predict just a 4-point increase in Gonzalez' BABIP, up to .298 from .294, but theoretically a larger improvement is plausible. Projected to hit .272/.338/.456 with a .340 wOBA and 119 wRC+ next season, Gonzalez, even at the age of 34, could be in for another fine season with the Dodgers.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, New York Mets
BABIP: .278 | Line-Drive Percentage: 21.2% | Expected BABIP: .309
Is it possible that playoff Daniel Murphy is the real Daniel Murphy? Probably not, but over the course of the 2015 season, Murphy was actually unlucky. With an average line-drive percentage and hard-hit percentage, Murphy had a BABIP of just .278, hitting .281/.322/.449 with a .325 wOBA and 110 wRC+, a mighty fine season in itself, but still an unlucky one. Murphy's BABIP was 31-points lower than his expected-BABIP based on his line-drive percentage.
And Streamer projections agree, predicting a 39-point increase in his BABIP, even larger than the difference between his actual and expected this past season. Streamer predicts Murphy to hit .296/.341/.430 with a .331 wOBA and 109 wRC+ for whichever team signs him in free agency. And for the 30-year-old, that would be another excellent season in the books.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
BABIP: .272 | Line-Drive Percentage: 27.2% | Expected BABIP: .346
If Ryan Howard can stay health next season, he may actually be due for some improvement after a few abysmal seasons. With a 27.2 line-drive percentage and a 37.3 hard-hit rate, both above average, the model absolutely adores Howard, giving him the highest difference between his expected and actual BABIP. Last season, Howard hit .229/.277/.443 with a .308 wOBA and 92 wRC+ with just a .272 BABIP. However, his expected BABIP was 74 points higher than his actual BABIP, the largest difference between the two by almost 15 points.
Howard staying healthy is a big if, but if he can, he could be a solid contributor, especially if the Phillies trade him. Streamer projections predict a 11-point increase in his BABIP, so not as substantial as the best-fit line's prediction, but enough to improve his slash line a bit: .229/.292/.412 with a .304 wOBA and 90 wOBA. But with his above-average line drive percentage and hard-rate it could be even higher.