July 9, 2012
The Blind BABIP Test: Results and Revelations
On Friday, many of you took the blind BABIP test. I gave you 18 GIFs, in nine sets of two, each set comprising two batted balls. One was a hit. The other was an out. You guessed which was which, but you couldn’t see the outcome; the GIFs cut off at the frame just as contact was made, or just before contact was made. This was supposed to tell us something. I’ll get to the big result first: We’re the worst at this!
I tallied 82 full sets of answers, which is 738 individual guesses, of which 387 were correct. That is 52 percent correct. Closing our eyes and pointing would theoretically have earned us 369 correct answers. All the wisdom of the 82 of you was worth 18 extra correct answers. So that's the big thing first.
Here are the correct answers:
1. The hit is on the right (73 percent of you were correct)
It is helpful to see the results broken down like this. If I just tell you that you got 52 percent correct, you might conclude that your guesses were basically random. You might think that there was nothing significant that distinguished one pitch from another, to your educated-but-amateur eyes. But in fact, as a group, you were not random, and you did not guess with 52 percent accuracy on each set. We actually spotted certain features that we thought were significant, and in some sets those features perhaps were significant. In others, we were wildly misled.
Part of the challenge of this exercise was that a lot of hits in baseball aren’t hit as well as a lot of outs in baseball. But for the most part, in these sets, the hits corresponded to the best-hit balls. In six of the nine sets, the hit was also clearly the best-hit ball of the two. In two of the sets, there’s not a clearly superior hit. (In the third set, both balls were medium grounders, but Mauer got the hit when his bounced off Jake Peavy’s glove. Mauer went up the middle with his, so I’d say that is the better hit, but it’s not clearly the better hit. And in the eighth, Jamey Carroll’s out was a decently hit grounder up the middle that was fielded, while Plouffe’s single was a sort of soft liner to first base with some weird spin.) The only set with a result that didn’t reflect the quality of hit at all was the fourth set. Drew Butera doubled on a soft line drive to center field; here is a relevant screen image: