If you have been following along with Mark's "Braving New Territory" series, you likely came across his piece centered around BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play). I won't rehash the points he made, but if you are unfamiliar, go back and take a read because he did a really thorough job of it.
Today, I wanted to take a look at BABIP v. xBABIP. xBABIP is simply a player's "expected BABIP" after taking into account their batted ball profile. Below is a chart of what each of the batted ball's BABIP was from this past season:
This becomes useful because we can break down how often a player hits grounders, flyballs and line drives and even infield flyballs (which rarely go for hits, aka .000 BABIP) and spit out what their expected batting average on balls in play is. If a player hits a lot of line drives, you can "expect" a lot of his hits to fall into play and therefore have a higher BABIP. Flyballs and ground balls stabilize at a fairly quick rate (~80 balls in play or close to half a season for a full time player) compared to other baseball outcomes and statistics. While I'm not in favor of a solidified number being attached, it gives us a reference point to look at when these stats become reliable and we can start drawing conclusions about a player. In the case of batted balls, relatively quickly. At the end of the day, xBABIP is just another tool to help us finding the true talent level of a player.
Below are players, who will be coming back next year, that received over 100 PA in 2013, sorted by the difference in BABIP-xBABIP:
From the chart you can see there are a couple of extremes, as well as a couple of guys who preformed as expected.
- Chris Johnson: Ahh yes, Mr. BABIP himself. Johnson did survive most of the year on getting lucky on balls in play, carrying a .400 BABIP for most of the season. I think it has been well-documented there is a concern for Johnson this upcoming season about what might happen if his lucks runs out. You can see he still carries one of the highest xBABIPs on the team because of his phenomenal contact skills. Over the past two season's he has the 4th highest LD% in the league. He also rarely hits infield flies (IFFB), so expect him to still hit in the .280-.300 range even with an expected drop in luck.
- Freddie Freeman: Very similar to Johnson. He is helped by a very high LD% (3rd in the league over the past two season) as well as a very low IFFB%. He did also get lucky last season but, it was mostly with singles. He his 2B+3B/PA and HR/PA were at almost identical rates to 2012, but his singles per plate appearance had a noticeable spike. Does he has an advanced skill of poking singles through holes in the infield with two strikes? Or did more of his line drives fall of hits that usual? Something to keep an eye on in 2014.
- Jordan Schafer: About what you would expect from Schafer accruing to his batted ball profile. Schafer also gets a boost because of his speed; he will beat out more ground balls for hits than, say, a Gerald Laird. Speed is not factored into with xBABIP, but is something that can be seen when looking at a players career BABIP
- Justin Upton: Had neutral luck with balls in play. Upton had a career high LD% and a career low number of IFFB.
- Gerald Laird: Also neutral luck. Laird has really increased his LD% and GB% over the past couple of seasons. Probably a fluke of playing part-time, but it is the reason behind his relatively high BABIP for a man with his speed.
- Evan Gattis: Not much to go off of here. A below average LD% was the reason for a low BABIP even though he hits the ball with remarkable force. For a man with his power, you want a lot of flyballs because of the chance of the increased chances of a home run, even if it lowers his BABIP overall.
- Jason Heyward: The story for much of the beginning of the season was how unlucky Heyward was getting on balls in play. It was scary. I remember it being around .100 when his xBABIP was over .300 after a month in. After it was all said and done, he jumped his LD% to over 21%, a career high in 2013, but also sported a IFFB% that was higher than you'd like to see (16.7%). Even with the bouncing around in numbers, he posted a .314 xBABIP for the second straight year.
- Ramiro Pena: Small sample here, but he's been a relatively solid contact guy. He's done a good job of limiting the number of flyballs, something you don't want to see because of the absence of power.
- BJ Upton: Ohh man. Well, the good news is we can say he was unlucky with balls in play. The bad news is, he has much bigger issues. Upton's issues stemmed from actually being able to put the ball in play. His batted ball profile was consistent with career norms aside from the atrocious 19.3% IFFB%.
- Andrelton Simmons: Last but not least, and maybe the most interesting case. Many people cite Andrelton's low BABIP as a result of a plethora of IFFB. Yes he did hit 38 of the this year and has the highs rate among qualified batters, but xBABIP still puts him at at right around league average. I think that is fair after looking at his 2012 and minor league numbers. If he can cut down on the IFFB, expect his average and offense overall to jump with natural improvement and some added luck.