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March 6, 2007
Every year, picking from the mélange of thirty or so hitters for your first two draft picks is an inexact science. Using injury risk to balance your decisions should be a major factor, as should consistency of high-level performance, but try not to stop there. You need to know everything. For example, if you took Andrei Kirilenko early in fantasy basketball drafts, how unhappy his wife was living in Salt Lake City should have clearly been a key element in your thinking.
One stat some of your leaguemates will ignore at their own peril is Batting Average on Balls in Play. BABIP for hitters isn't a complicated statistic, and just a basic understanding can be a fantasy boon. (Rumor has it that if it weren't for the efforts of the Dharma Initiative, it would have occupied baseball box scores when they first appeared in newspapers.) The "formula" breaks down like this:
BABIP = (H-HR)/(AB-HR-SO)
BABIP for hitters is more consistent than BABIP for pitchers, but regression to the mean is still the most useful idea to keep in mind when viewing a particular player's major league BABIP. Marc Normandin's profiles of high level hitters-Derrek Lee, Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Guillen-are a great starting point for investigating the particular value of those players in regular leagues and keeper leagues alike.
[H]itters whose hits include higher percentages of home runs and a modicum of strikeouts will tend to have a large difference from year to year, thereby increasing the correlation. By the same token, hitters who hit few home runs and don't strike out much will tend to have similar AVG and BABIP and consequently will have consistently small differences in the two. At the other end of the spectrum hitters who tend to strike out a lot will consistently have higher BABIP than they do AVG, since strikeouts make up a larger percentage of their at bats.
For our fantasy purposes, there are those who have shown a consistent ability to hit for average-Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Jeter-as with many in this top ten for last season. There are also those who show a consistent ability to...not hit for average. The rest of the league lies somewhere around the mean. Here I focused on full-time players:
Best BABIP, 2006: Worst BABIP, 2006: 1. Derek Jeter .394 1. Clint Barmes .246 2. Miguel Cabrera .382 2. Jason Giambi .251 3. Bobby Abreu .375 3. Frank Thomas .251 4. Freddy Sanchez .370 4. Craig Biggio .257 5. Joe Mauer .370 5. Eric Chavez .262 6. Reed Johnson .367 6. Troy Glaus .266 7. Robinson Cano .363 7. Pedro Feliz .267 8. Ryan Howard .363 8. Carlos Beltran .268 9. Carlos Guillen .355 9. Adam Everett .268 10. Matt Holliday .354 10. Andruw Jones .270
The presence of a high line-drive rate often drives a higher BABIP, as in the case of Freddy Sanchez. There is reason to believe both extremes will regress to the mean somewhat. Even the great Jeter had a BABIP of .317 as recently as 2004, an unfortunate event that resulted in a .292/.352/.471 line on the season, and a series of broken fantasy-minded hearts in the New York metropolitan area.
Year BABIP EqA 1997 .270 .259 1998 .301 .282 1999 .296 .280 2000 .313 .295 2001 .274 .262 2002 .290 .298 2003 .297 .285 2004 .305 .277 2005 .243 .302 2006 .270 .302
To a certain extent, low BABIPs are part of his package, but Jones has hit for impressive power in his last two seasons, posting back-to-back career high Equivalent Averages. It's possible a change in approach lowered Jones' BABIP over these past two seasons, and/or that adding strength gave back in other areas. Going into his contract year, a lucky BABIP season combined with his prodigious power could make Jones one of the best fantasy bargains out there.
Year BABIP EqA 2001 .313 .291 2002 .254 .233 2003 .287 .268 2004 .307 .306 2005 .293 .303 2006 .274 .299
Ramirez's power makes him a fantasy standout, even at a deep position, and a healthy Derrek Lee and newly-arrived Alfonso Soriano are only going to help his performance at the plate. As a player who depends on his average to be classified as a superstar, his 2007 has a chance of developing into an MVP candidacy, possibly a greater chance than the player receiving his throws from third.
Year BABIP EqA 2001 .311 .266 2002 .277 .251 2003 .310 .253 2004 .309 .272 2005 .310 .271 2006 .284 .279
Rollins started off slow after finishing 2005 with a hitting streak. It would be weird to alter your approach the next year after raking for .402/.455/.648 in September. After a career's worth of inconsistency against lefties, the switch-hitting Rollins slugged .500 from the right side in 2006, and there's not much reason he can't do that again in a division with plenty of homer-prone lefties to spare.
Year BABIP EqA 2000 .287 .236 2001 .349 .296 2002 .307 .286 2003 .324 .311 2004 .265 .305/.310 2005 .296 .265 2006 .268 .325
His best-ever season at the plate combined with a very low BABIP is a strange combination, but his walks and power were what made him a fantasy standout. Health woes plagued his 2005 season-if he stays healthy, he'll be productive in fantasy.
Year BABIP EqA 1996 .330 .286 1997 .298 .298 1998 .331 .329 1999 .289 .310 2000 .366 .364 2001 .303 .321 2002 .309 .325 2003 .332 .339 2004 .293 .304 2005 .338 .334 2006 .276 .307
Delgado's long swing means that when he slumps, he slumps, as evidenced by a .208/.300/.406 May. That the Marlins expertly backloaded his contract isn't much concern for fantasy players, who just want what they pay for. What you need to know about Carlos is that he wasn't just a great hitter before his still-very-good 2006, at times he was an unbelievable hitter. His BABIP is a full major league season career-low; he should rebound.
Year BABIP EqA 1999 .261 .264 2000 .297 .288 2001 .302 .298 2002 .294 .295 2003 .291 .295 2004 .294 .311 2005 .301 .284 2006 .262 .281
Year BABIP EqA 1999 .272 .267 2000 .320 .321 2001 .272 .305 2002 .284 .286 2003 .274 .285 2005 .287 .294 2006 .266 .293
Although granted shortstop eligibility in many leagues, Glaus' health history isn't great, and he's never hit for average since hitting over .300 in his last full season in the minors. A low-average, high-power guy like Glaus has a history of low BABIPs, and if he can stay healthy, a future chock full of them.
Year BABIP EqA 1999 .317 .262 2000 .326 .277 2001 .281 .270 2002 .265 .290 2003 .299 .283 2004 .314 .300 2005 .265 .276 2006 .287 .300/.306
In 2004, a high BABIP fueled a particularly good batting average season for Lee; he hit .305/.366/.525 that year. Not much changed with his K/BB ratio the next year in Milwaukee, but a .265 BABIP lowered his average, bringing his on-base percentage down to .324. Not good. You can bet that Kenny Williams had seen enough of Lee by 2004 to know he wasn't likely to repeat that kind of a season, but if he didn't, the BABIP numbers would have told him the same thing as a decade of observation.
Minor leagues BABIP are usually all through the roof, and aren't very telling, but I wanted to see Howard's BABIP history (using the level at which he had the most number of at bats during a given year):
Year Lvl AB BABIP AVG/OBP/SLG (untranslated) 2002 A 493 .361 .280/.367/.460 2003 A+ 490 .398 .304/.374/.514 2004 AA 374 .355 .297/.386/.647 2005 MLB 312 .358 .288/.356/.567 2006 MLB 581 .363 .313/.425/.659
Any 58-homer season is to some extent a fluke season, but Howard's mashing has only gotten more profound. He hits in a forgiving home park, but even if he hovers around a .290 average with a normal BABIP regression, he's hitting so many homers, it hardly matters if his BABIP comes down as pitchers figure him out a little bit more. Keeper league owners, take note of this sneak preview of Baseball Prospectus 2007:
Ryan Howard is a big, really big, reason why the Phillies need to go for broke in the short term. Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods. Their legs just couldn't carry that much mass for very long, and around 30 their defense plummeted, their playing time dropped due to nagging injuries, and their singles dried up and disappeared. The Phillies should have a three-year window in which they can expect this kind of production from Howard, but should not plan beyond that. He'll be fun to watch in the meantime.