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March 25, 2010

Ahead in the Count

Predicting BABIP, Part 3

by Matt Swartz

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In Part One of this series, I updated my model for projecting BABIP with new 2009 data, and in Part Two, I explained what makes BABIP Superstars and BABIP Trouble-Makers. In this final part, I will discuss some of the hitters where my Expected BABIP (E-BABIP) projections and PECOTA’s BABIP projections differ most, and discuss which number you might want to trust. PECOTA incorporates a lot of information that my model simply does not, but the batted-ball information can be particularly important for certain hitters, and those are the ones where you should place some faith in E-BABIP.

Andruw Jones
Expected BABIP: .287
PECOTA BABIP: .248
2009 BABIP: .221

PECOTA is particularly pessimistic about Jones in 2010, but E-BABIP seems to expect a solid rebound. The problem with E-BABIP in this case is that it is not using any data other than 2009, because Jones failed to get 300 plate appearances in 2008, but had a disastrous BABIP of .229 then and a .242 BABIP the year before. However, PECOTA does not know the breakdown of Jones’ batted balls.  Jones had only a .543 BABIP on line drives, well below the league average of .730, and Line-Drive BABIP is notoriously inconsistent. If Jones had a normal LD-BABIP, he would have had an overall BABIP around .260. Jones had a low, but reasonable line-drive rate of 17 percent last year. He has good power, but a poor contact rate.& He also isn’t all that slow, all of which combine to indicate he should have a nearly average BABIP. His pop-up rate is a little high (10 percent) and his ground-ball rate is a little low (34 percent), both of which indicate he has an upward plane to his swing and is prone to somewhat low BABIPs. My best guess is that Jones’ true BABIP skill level probably lies somewhere between these two projected numbers. On one hand, he has batted-ball numbers that indicate he should only be slightly below average, but several years of BABIP problems indicate a trend. I think .270 would be a good guess.

Casey Kotchman
Expected BABIP: .303
PECOTA BABIP: .275
2009 BABIP: .283

The numbers all seem to indicate that Kotchman should be about average at BABIP, but PECOTA sees him as worse than 90 percent of the league at BABIP skill. He has somewhat of a downward plane to his swing (with a ground-ball percentage ranging from 51-53% and a pop-up percentage ranging around seven) but he also isn’t especially good at hitting line drives (16-19 percent the last three years). He makes good contact but doesn’t have much power. He isn't very fast, as evidenced by his infield reach rates ranging between 6.7-8.6 percent, well below league average of 11 percent, but still gets balls to land in the outfield pretty well (.284, .193, and .250 outfield fly-ball BABIPs the previous three years). Part of the reason that his BABIP has been low is too few ground balls reaching the outfield, but that is not an especially persistent statistic. All in all, I think PECOTA is probably low here.

Jerry Hairston Jr.
Expected BABIP: .298
PECOTA BABIP: .271
2009 BABIP: .266

PECOTA knows more information than E-BABIP here, because Hairston only got over 300 PA last year (433), after several years under that cutoff. His pop-up rate was only nine percent but ranged between 14-18 percent in 2006-08. He is good at reaching on infield ground balls (17 percent last year, and 14 and 15 percent the previous two years, all above the league average of 11 percent). His BABIP was partly low last year because so few of his ground balls made it to the outfield (just 11 percent; league average is 17 percent), but primarily low because of his .589 BABIP on line drives (league average .730), which is also not all that persistent. Just 10 extra hits on line drives would make his LD-BABIP average and give him a league-average BABIP. Overall, I’d take E-BABIP here.

Lyle Overbay
Expected BABIP: .308
PECOTA BABIP: .282
2009 BABIP: .305

Overbay is able to get a lot of line drives (22-23 drives the last three years) and avoid popups (5.2, 3.2, 3.9 percent the last three years). A bad sign is his declining speed (infield reach rate just 4.2 percent last year), as is his rate of getting ground balls to reach the outfield (13 percent last year), but Overbay might look like he is struggling to make contact too because of his strikeout rate jumping (from 16 percent to 18 percent to 19 percent the last three years), but that is actually because he is swinging less. His contact rate has remained steady and high. E-BABIP is probably high here, as Overbay is getting older, but .282 seems way too low.

Ivan Rodriguez
Expected BABIP: .316
PECOTA BABIP: .290
2009 BABIP: .294

Pudge still has a solid downward plane to his swing, even today, generating ground-ball rates of 53, 56, and 54 percent over the last three years, all while keeping his pop-up rate low at 3.9, 3.9, and 2.7 percent. His ground-ball rate is less useful because of his virtually non-existent speed (6.5, 6.3, and 7.3 percent infield reach rate the last three years). His line-drive rate fell last year to 17 percent from 21 percent in 2008, and he is rather old. I would guess that much of his BABIP decline is due to aging, so PECOTA probably has the right idea here. However, it also probably is not quite aware of the downward plane of his swing, so I would say he’ll split somewhere in between the two estimates.

Colby Rasmus
Expected BABIP: .298
PECOTA BABIP: .271
2009 BABIP: .282

E-BABIP only has one year of data to work with to project Rasmus’ BABIP, while PECOTA also has his minor-league numbers. As he was not especially good at getting hits on balls in play in the minors, PECOTA sees a particularly low BABIP for Rasmus. His ground-ball rate was just 37 percent last year, but his pop-up rate was only 6.7 percent. He is fast, reaching on 17 percent of infield ground balls, but his outfield fly-ball BABIP was just .084 (about half the league average). He has some power, and he does hit the ball hard. Overall, perhaps E-BABIP is a little high here, but there isn’t much about Rasmus that looks like a hitter who is going to be among the bottom of the league in BABIP. He might be a little below average, but he’s not slow, he has power, and he does not seem extremely pop-up prone.

Matt Wieters
Expected BABIP: .299
PECOTA BABIP: .330
2009 BABIP: .356

PECOTA was notoriously high on Wieters, and indeed sees him as a borderline BABIP Superstar to this day. His batted-ball rates were pretty much average as a rookie last season, but he had an extraordinary BABIP because of the rate at which his ground balls reached the outfield (23 percent) and his BABIP on outfield fly balls (.263). Wieters had high BABIPs in the minor leagues (.381 in 2008, and .358 in 2009), but is unlikely to maintain one with average batted-ball rates, a relatively high strikeout rate, and not enough power to justify a huge BABIP. E-BABIP is probably a little low, but PECOTA is very likely too high here.

Martin Prado
Expected BABIP: .293
PECOTA BABIP: .324
2009 BABIP: .331

Prado has fairly average batted-ball rates all around. He isn’t especially good at reaching on infield ground balls, but he has gotten quite a few ground balls through to the outfield. He also makes good contact, which is indicative that he is squaring up the ball well. Even so, he does not have much power, and without being a speedy player who hits a lot of ground balls, .324 is way too high. E-BABIP is probably closer to the truth here.

Bill Hall
Expected BABIP: .272
PECOTA BABIP: .302
2009 BABIP: .281

Hall has somewhat of an upward plane to his swing, with ground ball rates ranging between 37-41 percent in recent years, while his pop-up rate has ranged from 10-12 percent. He is slowing down, too, reaching on only 5.3 percent of infield ground balls last year. His contact rate is falling as well, down from 75 percent and 74 percent in 2007 and 2008 to 69 percent in 2009. His BABIP was only as high as it was this year because his line drives were hits at a .780 rate. E-BABIP is probably right here, too, and PECOTA is probably too high. There is nothing about him that indicates he is league average at BABIP skill.

Nick Punto
Expected BABIP: .278
PECOTA BABIP: .305
2009 BABIP: .276

Punto has a somewhat high ground-ball rate, ranging from 53 to 48 to 52 percent over the last three years. However, Punto has particularly low line-drive rates (12, 15, and 15 percent), and fewer of his ground balls have reached the outfield over the last three years (15, 18, and 12 percent). He did have a .787 BABIP on line drives last year, which certainly indicates some luck. Punto has a light bat, and that’s why he is not very good at getting hits on balls in play. Although he may be fast, it’s not enough to justify an above-average BABIP. E-BABIP seems right here, too.

Dexter Fowler
Expected BABIP: .317
PECOTA BABIP: .345
2009 BABIP: .351

PECOTA sees Fowler as an elite BABIP Superstar, but E-BABIP sees him as merely above average. PECOTA has a tendency to lump speedy players in with each other, but Fowler has an average batted-ball profile. He is above average, because of his speed; he reached on 24 percent of his infield ground balls last year, double the league average. However, he also had a BABIP of .224 on outfield fly balls, which he probably won’t maintain with his low power numbers. He also is somewhat strikeout prone, so he is not necessarily squaring the ball up too well. E-BABIP seems much more realistic here.

Conclusion

One year of hitter BABIP certainly is mixed with a lot of noise, but the skills involved in having a good BABIP should be pretty apparent. Some of these skills are things that PECOTA knows about, such as speed, power, and strikeout rate. However, it does not know his batted-ball rates or which batted balls he got his hits on. These are the hitters where you can take on a projection system and find an area where there are gains to be made. Certain hitters have skills that are not immediately observable by BABIP. Each year, nearly every projection system has underestimated Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, because their skills are not apparent in a box score. PECOTA certainly seems to be getting it right with Ichiro this year, but there are still plenty of hitters where using this model will help you. I have put together a google doc where you can see the list of 2010 E-BABIPs. Keep in mind that this system does not incorporate park effects or aging, nor does it have the ability to look through tens of thousands of historical players like PECOTA. However, it has some information that should be useful to anyone who wants to truly go beyond what a projection system has to say.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

Related Content:  Outfield,  PECOTA,  Ground-ball Rate,  Ground Balls,  Babip

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

dianagram

google doc doesn't open in either Firefox 3.6.2 or IE7

Mar 25, 2010 04:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Looks like there is an extra three characters "

Mar 25, 2010 04:16 AM
 
dianagram

yes, deleting the

Mar 25, 2010 04:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

There's a quotation, a slash, and an A at the end. Somehow even typing that into comments cuts it off. Just delete those three characters.

I've emailed about this, so hopefully it can be corrected. Thanks and sorry!

Mar 25, 2010 04:42 AM
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I meant bracket, not quotation. So there's a bracket, a slash, and the letter A at the end of the hyperlink. Delete those, and that should work.

Mar 25, 2010 04:43 AM
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Now I'm not getting the link to work at all. Try this:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tMC8mqXiVL6gP9bnd74jrEw&single=true&gid=0&output=html

Mar 25, 2010 07:58 AM
 
robustyoungsoul

This series was fantastic, absolutely love the way you are taking a fresh approach to certain statistics and ideas that BP and its readers have taken for granted for awhile. Definitely looking forward to more like this - we need fresh looks at some of the assumptions the new school of analysis has made lest we quickly become the old school!

Mar 25, 2010 05:02 AM
rating: 5
 
LynchMob

I'm prolly a bit more superficial than most of your readers, but if you'd include what team a player is on in articles like this, I'd appreciate it. I'm an NL-only guy (perhaps even NL-only snob :-) who doesn't pay good enough attention to off-season moves until Opening Day ... just sayin' ...

Mar 25, 2010 08:20 AM
rating: -2
 
woodruff11

You mention that E-BABIP does not incorporate park effects. That is the first thing I thought of when I saw Dexter Fowler's BABIP on outfield flies. Could be a Coors effect.

Mar 25, 2010 09:14 AM
rating: 1
 
Brock Dahlke

Also going off of this wouldn't players in Boston have some strange effects on their BABIP because some balls are in play but have no chance of being caught?

Mar 25, 2010 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Definitely true. I think this would be more pronounced for hitters who are going to Boston. So, chalk up Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron for a couple extra points for example. There also could be some over-regressing to the mean for some other hitters though. I think it would explain some small trends in BABIP certainly, but maybe we're talking about .005 or so for most guys.

Mar 25, 2010 10:55 AM
 
McLovins

Park effect was also what I was thinking when you mentioned the low BABIP on line drives for Andrew Jones last year. Since he was playing in Texas and they have a notoriously higher rate of designating balls in play "line drives," that alone probably gives reason to move your expected performance in between E-BABIP and Pecota's figure.

Mar 25, 2010 10:51 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Hmm! Very interesting. I hadn't even thought about that fact. I would probably scale back what I said a little bit then. Texas' LD-BABIP last year was .708, and the league average was .729, so I'd bet you should cut short the "extra line drive BABIP" I gave Jones by .021, which would change his BABIP maybe .004. So maybe, he should have been around .255 last year instead of .260.

Mar 25, 2010 10:58 AM
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

The Colorado team BABIP on fly balls looks pretty normal, but the team BABIP on line drives seems pretty high. That could easily be one of Colin's classic press box heights or other scorer bias issues, though, and there could totally be more outfield fly balls that would fall in for hits anyway-- the size of the park certainly would suggest that. Clearly there are some park effects. However, Fowler is getting the same park effects in Coors in previous years as this year. If you just throw team=Rockies in as a dummy variable, you get about .009 of BABIP, but similarly for throwing it into old numbers. I would think maybe you've touched on something worth about .005 of BABIP or so for Fowler, but probably not enough to explain the .317 vs. .345 discrepancy. Very interesting thought, though. Thanks!

Mar 25, 2010 10:53 AM
 
TheRealNeal

Everyone knows that balls travel farther in Colorado, but the higher batting averages were also commonly attributed to the fact that the balls drop faster. If the BABIP advantage has gone away, since the stadium hasn't changed altitude, you would think it's either due to the famous humidor or that managers play better defensive players in Colorado than they would in a 'typical' road game.

Mar 25, 2010 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Last year, there was a .323/.298 BABIP difference at home vs. on the road for Colorado hitters, and a .311/.297 discrepancy for their hitters, so there is clearly some park effect, probably around .020 points. I'm not convinced that it's necessarily outfield fly ball BABIP that is getting the biggest effect, but probably some of it. Fowler's outfield fly ball BABIP probably is being regressed causing his overall BABIP to go down about .003-ish more than it should be regressed.

The humidor may make balls sink quicker, causing more hits, or it could be that there is more space in the outfield than outfielders can cover. There are a lot of possible effects. I don't think defensive usage is going to move it much. How often do teams really rest an outfielder that would have failed to get to a ball that game and replace him with someone who would get to the same ball? A lot of stars need to line up for that to happen.

Mar 25, 2010 11:24 AM
 
Alan Nathan

Line drives hit with backspin stay in the air longer due to the upward Magnus force. Opposite is true for line drives hit with topspin. The Magnus force is reduced in Colorado relative to other parks, for a given amount of spin. So, balls hit with backspin will fall faster and balls hit with topspin will fall slower than a comparably hit ball at sea level. Having said all that, I took a look at batted ball trajectories from some games last year. I think I can come up with a reasonable definition of line drive from the speed off bat and launch angle. I then look at the full trajectory and use a fitting procedure to estimate the spin on the ball. I find that line drives are predominantly hit with backspin. If such is the case, then I agree with the statement that line drives drop faster in Colorado than at sea level.

Sorry for being so wordy about this. Mostly it was a stream of consciousness exercise.

Mar 25, 2010 14:31 PM
rating: 2
 
Jim Humdingding

I'll follow that with a purely anecdotal comment about how it seems that OF defenders seem to play deep in Coors due to it's size and above average power park factors (I share season tix there). If that observation is correct (I'm not all that observant, so may be way off), it seems like that would also leave a lot of room for line drives and short flyballs to find the terra firma rather than leather.

Anyone know where one could look at OF positioning trends. I live to see a graphical representation of defender positioning at various parks.

Mar 25, 2010 15:11 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Seems like this is also the Glavine/Taveras at Coors argument... that the outfield at Coors is somehow more vast that Glavine gives up tons of outfield hits in an All-Star game and the Rockies needed someone with Taveras's range to go get 'em.

Out of curiosity, I know the humidors make the balls heavier/sink quicker/etc.. I wonder if it also affects the speed at which a ball rolls on the ground. Does a humidified ball de-humidify and get a slicker skin, or does it bounce along the grass quicker in a rock skipping off a pond fashion?

Mar 25, 2010 16:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Alan Nathan

The humidor has very little effect on the flight of a baseball, as researched and reported in this article:
http://webusers.npl.illinois.edu/~a-nathan/pob/humidor.pdf.
It does have an effect on the bounce of a ball off the bat (http://webusers.npl.uiuc.edu/~a-nathan/pob/COR-humidity-kagan.pdf). I am not aware of any studies of the effect of humidity on the bounce off the ground. I suspect the time for de-humidifying is long compared to the length of a typical game. Overall, I am guessing that there is very little effect of the humidor on the bounce of the ball off the ground.

Mar 25, 2010 21:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Brock Dahlke

Matt, once again great work. One quick question. How do you think the shift that some defenses put on dead pull hitters effects BABIP for individual hitters?

Mar 25, 2010 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Tons, actually. Ryan Howard, for example, had a BABIP in the majors of over .350 through 2006, and even higher in the minor leagues. Then the shift came, and now he's projected for about .313, which is where he has been recently. Fortunately, that is already built into the projections for guys who have been shifted against. A young pull-happy lefty slugger might need his BABIP regressed as teams notice his pull-happy ways though, beyond even what E-BABIP would regress.

Mar 25, 2010 11:02 AM
 
McLovins

Thanks Matt, I too really enjoyed this series. When looking over your total list; a name that really stuck out at me was Ian Kinsler's low E-BABIP. I went and looked up his historical stats, and sure enough he is a well below average BABIP producer. Considering that he possesses both the speed and power skills that would normally lead one to expect a high reading; perhaps at some point you could do an article on players like him who come up short and why? Thanks again.

Mar 25, 2010 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Definitely a good idea for an article. Thanks! As far as Kinsler himself goes, it's definitely his swing which is clearly a bit of an uppercut. He only had 32.1% ground balls last year (league average = 45%) and about 13.4% pop ups (league average = 7.8%). That seems pretty close to his old rates too. Numbers like that actually would imply a .265 BABIP or so I think, if not for his power and speed which bring him up to .279.

Mar 25, 2010 11:15 AM
 
OonBoon
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this is a test

Mar 25, 2010 12:32 PM
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OonBoon
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This is also a test

Mar 25, 2010 12:34 PM
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