BABIP isn't as luck-driven as many suggest, not after you drill down into the numbers.
If you don’t put your bat on the ball, you’re not going to get a hit, and if you don’t hit the ball over the wall, someone might catch it. This series begins with what happens the rest of the time as I develop a model to predict a hitter’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). In Part 2, I will explain some of the current BABIP superstars then some of the players where my system differs from PECOTA will be the topic of Part 3.
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Rob McQuown tracks the shifting outfielders of the Cubs, Brewers, and Indians.
The big news in the Cubs outfield this spring isn't on the radar (or Heater's Radar Tracker) yet, and that's because former first-round pick Tyler Colvin is still a longshot to make the opening-day roster. PECOTA forecasts him hitting .231/.289/.400 if given playing time, which seems somewhat pessimistic, given his .300/.334/.524 performance at AA last year with a reasonable .328 BABIP. Manager Lou Piniella is tempted, however, since Xavier Nady won't be able to throw well enough to play the outfield until June.
That turns the outfield spotlight on Sam Fuld. Fuld is a good defensive centerfielder. He bats lefty with enough of a platoon advantage that he could probably survive as a platoon leadoff hitter (his career minor-league OBP is .370 and he's hit righties with a typical platoon split) and could almost certainly play frequently as fourth outfielder for a team overloaded with righty bats. Despite his age, he's risen through the minors at a good pace after making his professional debut in 2006 at high-A ball. Obviously, hitting .150 in spring training so far is undermining his chances to grab the available playing time.
Saving the West for last, a few exciting fights for position-playing roles, plus the usual mulling of aspiring fifth men.
To complete my perhaps overly terse-for me, at any rate-series review job battles for starting jobs in the majors, we now turn to the NL West. Admittedly, part of the exercise here for me was to make sure that I turn over to positions and considerations that, too often, do not comprise core considerations for Transaction Analysis: the guys who get punted from Triple-A and back again, the damned and doomed who need to adapt to a shuttle-born existence between the dubious glory of third lefty-dom, spot starting in the rotation because some high-maintenance thirtysomething needs skipping, or the outfielder who plays because somebody's hammy's barking or the like. That's the stuff that, admittedly, is relatively minor stuff, the endless churn that I can't help but find fascinating on one level, but also have to admit impacts a season, a team, or your fantasy squad very little, if at all. Or, as another way to put it, if you're concerned about the whereabouts of Doug Slaten, you're with me in the ranks of the few, the proud, the players in the deepest of leagues, or the folks who don't play Wii in their spare time.
Will the Yankees put both Joba and Phil in the bullpen?; what will the Red Sox do with Mike Lowell?; and other spring questions.
Outright job battles in spring training might not seem quite so common or epic these days, but a number of interesting fights loom as camps open. Several of them figure to be zero-sum contests, where it's not just a question of who gets the slightly larger share of the playing time, but who gets the job outright. Since big elements here are the organization's valuation of the player's present and future as well as how much they've invested in employing him, with camp performance playing an inevitable if sometimes overstated part, some of these battles are less obvious than others. While I usually end up talking a bit too much about benches and bullpens and spare parts on the transactions beat, here are the job fights I know I'll find interesting in the weeks to come, starting with the AL East:
Projecting who's reliably good at getting happy outcomes on balls in play.
It is well known that pitchers have little control over Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), and that an easy way to know a pitcher is due to improve or regress is to look at his BABIP and see whether it is significantly different than the league average of about .300. If he has surrendered hits on balls in play at a rate significantly above .300, he is probably going to see that come down, and if his BABIP is significantly below .300, he is probably going to return from whatever depths. It is also well known that hitters have more control over their BABIP, but not that much; a starting position player will hit about 500 balls in play per season, meaning that the standard deviation of his yearly BABIP is probably about .020, meaning that much of observed differences in hitter BABIP are fleeting, as one-third of players' BABIP marks belie their true skill level by .020 points or more. Even still, there are many hitters who consistently put up high BABIP rates.
Jump into an evaluation of the top programs in the country as Bryan ranks the NCAA Top 25.
This spring, while I continue to search for new ways to cover college baseball, I will nevertheless do one traditional exercise for anyone on this beat by ranking the national landscape to provide you with my own top 25 list. Yet, as I spent the offseason searching for the best schools to fill out the list and the best way to organize them, I began to see a few clear separations. More than specific rankings, there are what I see as relatively clear-cut tiers. Six programs stood out as the cream of the crop, 12 more are schools that are just a break or two away from contention, and after that initial 18 the final seven that make up my list are interchangeable with the bevy of near-misses that I'm sure will gain consideration or make it onto the list at some point during the season.