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Ozzie Albies, the wizard of grounders and flies

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Seriously, make a superhero movie franchise about this guy.

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies
Ozzie Albies showcasing his Psycho Crusher, which he learned from good friend M. Bison.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

[Note: this article was written before Thursday’s rout of the Mets. Some stats may be marginally different.]

Here’s an exceptionally weird stat in a month that’s been full of them: Ozzie Albies currently has a .171 ISO on ground balls. ISO is just slugging less batting average; Albies has a .514 slugging percentage and a .343 batting average on ground balls. How did he manage this? Well... he’s hit 35 grounders so far this year. Of these, seven have been singles (normal), four have been doubles (less normal), and one has been a triple (even less normal).

Last year, the league hit .244/.244/.265 on grounders, with a .021 ISO and a 30 wRC+. This year, it’s .242/.242/.264, with a .022 ISO and a 35 wRC+. The league averages a double about every 50 groundballs, and a triple one every 1,000ish. Ozzie Albies has 35 grounders, four doubles, and one triple.

There are a lot of ways that you can describe the ridiculousness of this stat, but they really all just end in one place: one of those meme images where Jackie Chan’s brain is imminently going to explode. Fangraphs allows us to tabulate, by month, the stats on grounders for every player, going back to 2002. Across that entire span, his BABIP/OBP/average of .343 on grounders isn’t really too special. But, that ISO, that’s what’s striking. In 12,010 player months that have featured 30 or more grounders going all the way back to 2002, there have only been two other players to exceed Albies’ ISO on grounders:

  • Charlie Blackmon, May 2017, .390/.390/.610, .220 ISO, 143 wRC+; and
  • Marlon Anderson, April 2002, .390/.390/.585, .195 ISO, 159 wRC+.

That’s it. Third out of 12,010. Not too shabby, as far as strange, unlikely occurrences go. Notably, though, Albies does have one key advantage over Blackmon: in the last calendar year, he actually out-ISOs Blackmon (and teammate Raimel Tapia) on grounders, with a far-less-notable-but-still-insane .083 ISO. Since Albies’ debut, he is fourth (Wil Myers, Mike Zunino, Alen Hanson) in grounder ISO, and first among all players with 65 or more grounders. He’s 17th in wRC+ on grounders, but no player with as many grounders as him over this period has a wRC+ better than his 92 on grounders. He’s a wizard: his robe is his uniform, and his hat is his helmet, which just won’t stay attached to his body. (All wizards need a quirk like that, I think.)

So that’s one weird thing about Albies, but there’s another, more obvious one that you’re probably aware of: Ozzie Albies currently has nine home runs. Only eight other players in MLB have more. Home runs are generally not hit on grounders. Has Albies’ wizardry extended to yet another demesne?

Well, sort of. Albies has a .255/.250/.894 line on fly balls so far in 2018. (His 2017 line on flies was unremarkable, with a 78 wRC+). His wRC+ on flies so far this season is an even 200. League-average wRC+ on flies this season? 128. He’s beating the league on grounders, he’s beating it on flies. The thing is, a 200 wRC+ on flies isn’t too remarkable these days. Even in the early days of this season, of the 205 players with 20 or more fly balls hit, Albies is 51st in wRC+ and 46th in ISO on those types of struck balls. It’s still good, it’s just not insane.

So, where does the wizardry part come in? Well, if nine homers from his bat weren’t enough, consider this. According to Statcast, Albies is 24th in wOBA on fly balls (.534) so far in 2018, among all players with 20 or more such outcomes. But, when you factor in only velocity and launch angle, rather than actual outcomes, he slides to 55th. Here’s where it gets mystical, though. Let’s flip the criteria from flies to homers. There have been 62 players to hit five or more homers this year. Albies is 55th in xwOBA on homers in that group. Statcast’s wOBA weight for homers at present is 1.980. Albies’ xwOBA on homers so far is 1.290. That’s basically like saying Albies should have five or six homers so far, instead of nine. But, he has nine. Magic!

Actually, this gets into a broader issue of Albies’ proficiency in the mystic arts. Statcast now has this really sweet leaderboard that calculates wOBA and xwOBA for you. You can access it here: The default view shows you only players with 25 or more PAs. Do me a favor, go there and don’t do anything yet. Just switch it to 50. (Or just click here: Now, click the rightmost column to sort it by “Diff” — the difference between a player’s expected wOBA (xwOBA) and his actual wOBA. Ozzie Albies is sixth! That’s a lot of wOBA overperformance. Out of the 300 players on that leaderboard, he’s 45th in wOBA and 165th in xwOBA. Presto change-o, or something.

Overall, here’s what we know about this outperformance from Statcast:

  • Albies’ Statcast-derived wOBA for grounders is .361. His xwOBA for grounders? .199. That’s the fourth-biggest gap among any player with 20 or more grounders this year.
  • Albies’ Statcast-derived wOBA for flies is .534. His xwOBA for flies? .477. That’s the ninth-biggest gap among any player with 20 or more flies this year.
  • Albies (surprisingly?) does not have an interesting wOBA-xwOBA gap on liners, as it’s .697 for wOBA and .690 for xwOBA.

Albies probably won’t continue this going forward. Magical energies fade, leylines get extinguished, insert some other wizard metaphor here. The magnetism of regression to underlying quality of contact is too great. Still, the projections did not expect Albies to exceed average offensive production this year. Even if he only puts a .330 wOBA up going forward, he will still have exceeded expectations, much like you would have gladly taken it if someone had told you Albies would have five or six homers by the end of April (and not nine, which seems outlandish).

At one point when he was in the minors, we had something called the “Great Ozzie Albies BABIP Debate.” It was a good time. Now that he’s in the majors and playing his first full season, Albies has done his faithful fans one better: he’s given us a new debate. Will Albies regress? On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, don’t tell Ozzie Albies, Warlock what he can’t do.

Okay, one final thing. You know how I asked you to flip the filter from 25 plate appearances to 50 plate appearances before sorting by the “Diff” column? Okay, now go back, filter by 25 plate appearances and sort by the “Diff” column once more. Done? Well, how about that?