New Player Evaluation Method

As I was going through the Hardball Times statistical database, I came across an interesting set of stats that I think we could have some use for. These stats include the number of batted balls a player hits (line drives, fly balls, ground balls, etc.) — which we’ve already been able to look at — and also how often each player turns each type of batted ball into a hit. First, I’ll post the 2006 league average numbers to use as a guideline.

Type% of BIPH% on BIPH% as BABIP
Line Drive15.89%74.77%0.748
Fliner11.14%50.10%0.501
Ground Ball41.24%23.62%0.236
Outfield Fly Ball27.52%9.45%0.095
Infield Fly Ball4.20%0.29%0.003

We see that Line Drives fall for hits at the highest rate. Next come the Fliners (a new-ish stat that counts those balls that are somewhere between a Fly ball and a Line Drive). Ground balls are third, followed by Outfield Fly balls. Infield Fly balls, or Pop-ups, come in a distant last and can relatively be ignored. This matches what we already know, except that Fliners have been added. They are second best — between Line Drives and Fly balls — as we would expect.

Now, I’ll explain what I have in mind for these numbers. Let’s say we’re looking at a player… Player A. Player A has been known as a very good hitter, but has just turned 33 and is having a down year thus far. He is making contact and walking at the same rate as usual, but his Batting Average and BABIP are lower than his normal standard. Before this new data, it would be reasonable to say that since his Contact and Walk rates are the same, his early season slump could be attributed to bad luck. Now, I believe we might have a way of delving further into Player A’s numbers to see if it really is bad luck or a sign of declining skills.

Let’s say that Player A’s Line Drives, Outfield Fly balls, and Ground balls are falling for hits at a similar rate to last year, but his batting average on Fliners is much lower than last year. Because we see that he is hitting the other three types of batted balls well, there is a good chance that his low Fliner hit rate is a simple matter of bad luck. We could then justify our previous statement that he is getting unlucky. But, if all of his batted ball hit rates are down, it would seem that he isn’t hitting the ball as well as he did in the past and that he may or may not start hitting well again.

Let’s put this into practice for a few interesting hitters this year and see how the results turn out.

Lance Berkman

Not one of the more dramatic cases, but Lance Berkman is a guy I own in a couple of leagues and who I’ve been asked about by several people, so I feel obligated to use this method to evaluate him for everyone.

YEAR LAST FIRST AB CR BB% LD% FL% OF FB% GB% IF FB% LD H% FL H% OF FB H% GB H% IF FB H%
2006 League Average Line15.8911.1427.5241.244.20.748.501.095.236.003
2006 Berkman Lance 536 80.22 15.46 15.53 11.17 25.61 40.05 7.63 .737 .561 .128 .320 .000
2007 Berkman Lance 253 77.08 16.50 15.20 7.60 25.73 45.61 5.85 .885 .615 .091 .269 .000

Before looking at the new numbers, we see that Berkman’s Contact rate (CR) is down a bit this year, but that his Walk rate is up a point. Nothing too drastic, even though the drop from 80% to 77% seems more noticeable than if he’d dropped from 77% to 74%. His June Contact rate is only 78%. After hitting .315 last year, he is at just .258 this year. His BABIP in 2006 was .322, and it is at .298 now. That’s not a huge difference. His 25 AB/HR — down from 11 last year — is hurting his BA. That discussion is for another article, though. We’re here to talk about his drop in BABIP and whether we think he is hitting the ball worse now than last year.

His Line Drive and Outfield Fly contact rates are nearly identical to last year, but he’s hitting more Ground balls and less Fliners now. This will hurt his BABIP a little, but will by no means kill it. While his rate of Fliners is down, more are falling for hits than did last year. His Line Drives are also falling at a better rate. His Ground balls are worse than last year but still above league average. His hit rate on Outfield Flies, though, is worse than last year and worse than league average. It should come up. Overall, I think Berkman’s lowest BABIP since his rookie year is bound to increase, and because I also expect him to better his AB/HR rate, I think Berkman will be fine. He probably won’t hit .315 again, but I could definitely see him hitting .290 as he picks up his HR pace.

Buy low on him if you can.

Ian Kinsler

A more extreme case than Berkman, let’s see if we should expect an improvement from Ian Kinsler too.

YEAR LAST FIRST AB CR BB% LD% FL% OF FB% GB% IF FB% LD H% FL H% OF FB H% GB H% IF FB H%
2006 League Average Line15.8911.1427.5241.244.20.748.501.095.236.003
2006 Kinsler Ian 423 84.87 8.64 16.25 12.19 32.81 31.87 6.88 .788 .513 .105 .314 .000
2007 Kinsler Ian 254 83.46 11.81 17.11 11.23 35.83 28.88 6.95 .625 .571 .015 .278 .000

Kinsler started the year sizzling hot, but has since immensely cooled off. His Contact rate is similar to last year, and his Walk rate has improved a good amount since then. If anything, we’d expect an increased BABIP. This hasn’t happened as it has gone from .310 in 2006 to .240 in 2007. Why?

He’s taken a point off of his Fliner contact rate and added it to Line Drives: Good. His Infield Flies have remained constant: Perfectly fine. He’s taken a few points off his Ground ball contact rate and added them to his Outfield Fly rate: Not bad. So far, nothing to substantiate his decrease in BABIP.

His Line Drive hit rate is much lower than last year and substantially lower than league average. His Outfield Fly rate is also at an insanely low level… so low that there is little explanation other than bad luck. His Ground ball rate is also lower than last year, but still above league average. Could increase, but could just as easily be normal now. The only stat that is in Kinsler’s favor is his Fliners, which he seems to be hitting better than last year. When we consider this and the completely abnormally low Line Drive and Outfield Fly hit rates, I think we have to conclude that Kinsler is getting unlucky. His Walk rate is up, meaning he is being more selective, and it is just not showing up in the surface numbers yet. I fully expect it to in the coming months.

His early season power was somewhat lucky, but Kinsler is a good player and one that would be worth buying low right now.

Mark Teahen

A guy from the other end of the spectrum, Mark Teahen would appear to be playing over his head. Let’s see if he really is.

YEAR LAST FIRST AB CR BB% LD% FL% OF FB% GB% IF FB% LD H% FL H% OF FB H% GB H% IF FB H%
2006 League Average Line15.8911.1427.5241.244.20.748.501.095.236.003
2006 Teahen Mark 393 78.37 9.24 14.23 9.74 25.84 47.94 2.25 .816 .615 .087 .320 .000
2007 Teahen Mark 283 75.97 10.16 15.96 9.57 26.60 45.21 2.66 .767 .556 .240 .365 .000

All of Teahen’s batted ball contact rates are very similar to last year. His Contact rate is a little worse and his Walk rate is little better, but his BABIP is at .371. This is up from .331 in 2006, when it may or not have been too high, anyway. At the beginning of the season, I expected a BABIP regression based on his less-than-super Walk rate and high Ground ball rate. Looking at these numbers, we see that I would have been right if Teahen weren’t getting so lucky.

His Line Drive and Fliner hit rates are down from last year and are closer to — though still higher than, as expected because of his BB rate — league average. But when we look at his Outfield Fly rate, it is incredibly high and has nowhere to go but down. His Ground ball rate is also ridiculously high, and seeing as he isn’t Willie Mays on the base paths, I’d have to think that will come down too. When it does, Teahen’s BABIP will probably drop lower than last year (as I had originally predicted) and settle somewhere above .300.

Like Berkman, his HR/AB is down from last year (which we thought it would be looking at last year’s HitTracker data), but his high BABIP is keeping his BA at .293. The BABIP will worsen, the HR/AB will improve a little (since it is lower than even I expected — 57.4 — and he’s hitting the ball farther than last year), and the BA will drop.

I’d sell Teahen if I got a good offer, but would consider keeping him since his power production is likely to improve.

Concluding Thoughts

A few quick things I need to mention. This theory is as preliminary as can be. I haven’t done any tests on it yet. Logically, though, I think it makes perfect sense. I hope you do too and will tell me in the comments section.

I would like to include the 2004 and 2005 numbers, as well, but the data we have does not include Fliners for these years. That means if we include 2004 and 2005, we would only be able to look at Outfield Fly balls, Line Drives, and Ground balls. The problem that I see with this is the margin for error is much greater. If we are looking at balls in the air, without Fliners we only have Outfield Flies and Line Drives. If one is higher than usual and one is lower than usual, which one do we believe? With Fliners in the mix, it becomes much easier to tell. This is also something I’d like to have everyone’s input on to see if you’d rather I just look at 2006 and 2007 or look at more years but — in my opinion — inferior data. There’s also the option to further divide Fliners into Outfield Fliners and Infield Fliners. I’m not sure if we’d then be looking at too small of a sample size, but it’s something I’m considering and will look into. I feel like I’m forgetting something else, so if I think of it I’ll make another post.

I hope you guys find this stuff as interesting as I do. I see some potential in these numbers, and hopefully we’ll be able to come up with a nice little system for them. Again, any comments on this would be nice.

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