Fingers not pointed

About 20 games into the regular season, some players are outperforming preseason expectations, some are under performing, and others are playing at the level expected of them.

Many fantasy experts are quick to cite players doing well that have higher than expected BABIPs, saying how they will come back to Earth. And they do the same for struggling players as well.

Not so quickly mentioned are the players that are doing well despite lower BABIPs and poorly performing players with higher BABIPs. I chose to use the words “higher” and “lower” because no player that is playing well right now is going to have a low BABIP and vice versa. By identifying those with BABIPs on the lower end of the spectrum however, we can determine which players are less likely to regress towards their expected level of production.

I did not do this systematically but instead simply scoured the leader boards for anomalous players. Here are some players I found noteworthy in each category, sorted randomly:

High Production, Lower BABIP (greater chance high production level is maintained)

Note that stats in this article are through Tuesday’s games

image
Whether man or machine, nothing about Pujols is lucky. (Icon/SMI)

1) Albert Pujols — Mr. Automatic is off to a terrific start, batting .320 with seven homers, 25 RBIs, and even three stolen bases just for show. And all of this is being done with a .279 BABIP, which is 44 points lower than his Marcel’s projected BABIP (mBABIP). I am aware that nobody thinks Pujols’ season is fluky, but knowing that he is getting a little unlucky on balls in play makes it all the more impressive.

2) Torii Hunter — Torii’s surprising .319 batting average is not inflated by a high BABIP as some might expect, but instead is unaffected by a neutral .300 BABIP. I am not blind to what is really happening with Hunter so far this year, though. Although his BABIP cannot account for his surprising average, it is inflated by his ridiculous 24 percent HR/FB rate. If you normalize his HR/FB and flyball rate—when the smoke clears—his new average is .275 and his home run total drops to three. So even though I listed Hunter here because he fit the criteria; I do think his season is more of a fluke than the others listed.

3) Andre Ethier — Ethier is picking up where he left off at the end of last season, batting .301 with 5 home runs and 21 RBIs. With a BABIP of .317 (.330 mBABIP) his numbers are not being nudged up by an inflated BABIP. If anything, they are being pushed down slightly, so his stats shoudl not be looked at with arched eyebrows.

4) Nelson Cruz — Think Nelson Cruz’s hot start is a fluke? His .280 BABIP is 29 points lower than his mBABIP. Cruz looks like he is in the majors for good this time.

5) Adam Dunn — Usually when a player sees a 90 point jump in his batting average, people are skeptical. Dunn has seen just that with his average rising from last year’s .236 to .328, but BABIP luck has had very little to do with it. His current .333 BABIP is not that far off from his mBABIP of .290. With the necessary adjustment made to his batting average, he would still be batting around .285, which I’m sure would still be acceptable to his owners.

Low Production, Higher BABIP (greater chance low production level is maintained)

1) David Wright — I like David Wright as much as the next guy and of course I believe he will have another great season, but the issue with him right now (.282 average, one home run) is himself, not luck. He is actually getting lucky on balls in play; his BABIP is above .400(!) at .404.

All I am saying about Wright and the players that follow is that BABIP unluckiness does not have to do with their slow starts. Maybe it is just too early in the season, they are getting unlucky with home runs, or are hiding an injury; I don’t know for sure. What I do know, however, is that a lack of BABIP luck is not what has been keeping them down. Therefore, you should be slightly more concerned about these players.

2) Carl Crawford — From a fantasy perspective Crawford is not doing all that bad, batting about .275, scoring runs, and stealing bases (7). From a “real baseball” perspective, however, Crawford is performing unexceptionally with an wOBA at .326, which is just below league-average. Holding him back is his lack of home runs and anemic .071 Isolated Power.

What concerns me is his batting average’s dependency on an inflated .354 BABIP. When you adjust his BABIP to the projected .330 level, his batting average drops to the .255 range. And now instead of Carl Crawford, you’ve got Michael Bourn on your team.

3) Kevin Kouzmanoff — I am not sure if anyone still believes in the Kouz but to those who still care, things are not going too well. He has hit only one home run and the one semi-positive of his season so far—his .270 average—belies his true ability as it is buoyed by his .340 BABIP.

4) Jhonny Peralta — One of the slowest players out of the gate this year, Peralta has no home runs or steals this year and is batting a mere .238. Not responsible for these early season woes is his above-projected .330 BABIP. Possible future Disgraceful List member.

5) Russell Martin — Another early disappointment, Martin and the above Peralta have eerily similar stats. Both are without any home runs or stolen bases and both are batting .225. A lot of their other stats are close too, including their BABIPs with Martin’s checking in at a somewhat high .308. Whenever a player is around neutral in balls in play luck and is batting just .238, concern should arise.

I will reiterate that the players on the first list are not guaranteed to keep their production level up, as they could be getting lucky elsewhere and the players on the second list could certainly start playing as we expect, possibly even as soon as tomorrow.

When you have two players struggling in the early goings as J.J. Hardy and Peralta are, but Peralta’s BABIP is .330 and Hardy’s is .188, I would say there is a greater chance Hardy will rebound. That is all I’m trying to say with this exercise.

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Comments

  1. Mike said...

    What about guys that are not producing because of a low BABIP (i.e. should be expected to do better in the long run)?

  2. Kevin Orris said...

    I know that FanGraphs.com has BABIP and shows the projected BABIP from multiple websites.  Click on players on the top of the page, and then go from there.

  3. James said...

    Shouldn’t that mBABIP be lowered since it seems Ethier’s game has changed (lower LD% and higher FB %)? This doesn’t change your suggestion, but it would probably mean his stats are legit and not lower than should be expected.

    In addition, how did you normalize Hunter’s numbers? Is there a formula or rough estimation I could use?

    Thanks

  4. Paul Singman said...

    @Mike: Those types of players tend to be talked about a lot by fantasy experts; I wanted to highlight a lesser discussed type of player.

    @James: While true that Ethier’s FB% is up, it is more likely his LD and FB rates will regress towards his career average than the 09 rates maintained. Therefore, this early in the season I would not alter the mBABIP too much.

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