We are one-third of the way through the season which is a good time to check in on some of the player on the leaderboard, specifically BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Some players have the skills to maintain a high BABIP while others produce a high BABIP due to other factors like defense and luck. In 2014 there were 11 players who finished the season with a BABIP of .350 or higher. In 2013, 16 players finished above the .350 mark and in 2012 that number was 13.
As of Saturday there were 27 players with a BABIP above .350 and several over the .400 mark; this is a ridiculously high number and one that is due for a correction. When that correction comes, some of those players we have praised for their production early on could become an albatross around the neck of your team. Instead of waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop, fantasy owners may want to consider trading some of these players before the bottom falls out. With that said, here are the early BABIP leaders and recommendations for what to do with them.
1. Dee Gordon (.423): Last season Gordon finished the year with a .346 BABIP and .289 batting average. He is the type of speed player that is capable of producing and maintaining a high BABIP, but with the lack of power (.067 ISO) there is no way his current BABIP or batting average (.364) will hold. While a correction is coming, the fall will not be that hard. There will be a few down months for batting average, but it will not be bad enough that Gordon is unplayable. You can sell high if you want to capitalize on his hot start, but there is no need to panic with Gordon (unlike some of the other names on this list). He is on pace to finish the year with numbers similar to what he produced last season. That means he has about 35 to 40 steals in him and should finish in the top 5 for runs scored among second basemen; that alone can be a difference maker. HOLD
2. Anthony Gose (.405): There are all sorts of red flags here. The batting average is only .296 and you would expect better with such a high BABIP (his minor league average was .259, ML average .248). Next is a 26% strikeout rate which is an improvement over his ML average but still way too high. His ISO sits at .112 so the power production moving forward will be minimal. The walk rate is below 6% and when the average declines (and it will) we will see that .335 OBP come down close to or below .300. Add in the fact Gose sits against lefties and the future doesn’t look too bright. If I’m a Gose owner I am looking to sell and sell Now. I would trade him at a discount or even use him as a throw in to sweeten a deal. When the bottom falls out you will be looking at a .260 hitter (at best) whose numbers will be below what you will find on waivers. If you can’t trade him then ride him until he bucks you, and then drop him without giving it a second though. SELL (if you can)
3. Paul Goldschmidt (.397): Godly has been a top BABIP guy for the past two seasons with a .368 last season and .343 in 2013. We will see some regression in his batting average with a minor slump here and there, but overall there is nothing to worry about. Goldschmidt should finish the season in the top 10 for BABIP once again. HOLD
4. Brandon Belt (.391): The .301 batting average is 30 points higher than his career average. His .225 ISO is 40 points above his career totals. Average fly ball distance this year is 293 feet, up from 279, 283 and 279 the previous three seasons. HR/FB% is at 18 and in line with last season when he was poised to breakout, but the FB% is down to 32 which is 10% lower than last season. The strikeout percentage is also high at 26%. Part of the increase in batting average this year could be traced to his swing percentage; he is swinging at more pitches inside the zone and has greatly cut down on the number of pitches he chases outside the zone.
There are some question marks here. Belt has some new-found power and has added some distance, but he has also reduced the number of fly balls hit and is still striking out way too much. A drop in batting average should be expected; ZiPS and Streamer has him hitting .270 from here on out which is acceptable, but they also call for him to hit only 10-12 home runs for the remainder of the season. Overall a solid season but not a .300/20+ home run season. I would say sell Belt now if you can a reasonable return for him. There is a small part of me that realizes this is his age 27 season and we could actually be seeing a breakout; we have heard the breakout chatter before so it is hard to accept, but it is possible so I would not condemn anyone that wanted to hold him. SELL or HOLD
5. DJ LeMahieu (.390): He put up a .353 BABIP in 2012, but for the most part LeMahieu has had a BABIP in the .320 range. While a drop in BABIP is in order here, the batting average may not come down as much as you think. LeMahieu holds a career .284 ML average and .321 minor league average. His contact skills help him keep the average high; this year he is being a little more selective at the plate and swinging at fewer pitches in and outside the zone while maintaining the same contact rate. While he has been in the league for a number of years, LeMahieu is only 26 so it’s possible his skills are just catching up. Some regression is coming here, but not enough to warrant fantasy owners to panic. Expect the batting average to end up close to .300 with solid numbers all around. He doesn’t have enough power or speed to bring much back in a trade so holding LeMahieu is the best course of action. HOLD
6. Jorge Soler (.383): Before being placed on the DL (due back next week), Soler was having a decent season – on the surface. A .265 average isn’t bad for a rookie, but when you factor in the BABIP, a 32% strikeout rate (15% swinging strikeout rate) and a .138 ISO you can’t help but wonder if things can get better. His plate discipline isn’t very good either with a contact rate just below 68%. There is a chance he turns things around, but he would need to do a complete 180 for it to make a difference in fantasy. If I’m a Soler owner I’m looking to sell him to one of the prospect hounds in my league (every league has a few of these guys). He is a nice player to own for keeper/dynasty leagues, but for the remainder of 2015 there will be nothing but growing pains. SELL
7. Brett Lawrie (.383): With a BABIP 80 points higher than his career average and 60 points higher than his best season, this has all the makings of a Humpty Dumpty story. Lawrie is batting .291 which is nice to see. Unfortunately his strikeout rate is close to 27% and the walk rate is under 4%. His contact skills have slipped as well; the contact percentage is down to 73 which is a 9% drop from last season, yet his swing percentage has not changed at all. While he has 5 home runs and a HR/FB% in the double digits, his FB% is down and the ISO sits at .128. Once the BABIP comes down the average will drop down to replacement player levels and you will be looking to the waiver wire for a replacement. If you can sell Lawrie now I would; he is ranked at #15 on ESPN’s player rater so there should be a few takers. You had a good ride with Lawrie, now it is time to move on. SELL
8. Kris Bryant (.380): Some of what I said about Soler applies here. Bryant has the power (.176 ISO) to maintain a high BABIP and he draws a good number of walks. Just like with Soler though, the strikeout rate is trouble at 30% (15% swinging strikeout rate). His swing percentage is just below 47 and his contact rate is right there with Soler at 68%. There are signs that say you should sell, but there are also signs that Bryant could still be a productive fantasy asset for the remainder of the season. Currently his average sits at .271. If you drop the BABIP down 25 points we are looking at an average in the .250 range (ballpark estimate). Even if it drops down to .240 he is still playable given his power potential. The problem is if the average drops he may increase the number of swings which could lead to even more strikeouts and an even bigger drop in batting average (see George Springer last year).
Bryant’s stock couldn’t be any higher right now and if I could flip him for someone like Arenado, Machado or even Matt Carpenter in some sort of package deal I would. There is a lot of reward potential here, but there is also a lot of risk. I would sell, but I can’t blame owners for holding on for hopes of a big second half. Those in keeper leagues should hold on to Bryant, while I see struggles short-term, his future is Bright. SELL
9. Jimmy Paredes (.376): Paredes struggled to find that player with a career .292 minor league average – .300 in AAA over 1,235 at bats with a .366 BABIP. Seems he was waiting in Baltimore all along. There is some luck here, but it isn’t all luck. Like many of the players above, Paredes strikes out a little too much (close to 26% – 19% SwStr%) and doesn’t like walks (4.5%). His ISO (.179) and home run total (6) says there is a little power here, but don’t expect more than 15 with an average fly ball distance of 177 feet. Paredes has a FB% just under 25 but a HR/FB ratio just over 19%. Fortunately he has a LD% just over 25 and has a history of hitting doubles (9 doubles-2 triples this season). Contact percentage is low at 67% which doesn’t even rank him in the top 150.
The reason for much of the success is his swing percentage which is second in the league at 59.2%. Swing at a lot of pitches and you should get a lot of hits – that is until you stop seeing the pitches you favor. There are a few high-profile players at the top of the Swing% leaderboard (Arenado, A.Jones), but there are also some batting average drainers (Howard, Byrd) so Paredes could go either way as the season wears on. Paredes’ average is right at the .300 mark; while a high BABIP is possible, a .376 isn’t going to hold. A slight drop to the .350 range would mean an average around .270/.275; something more drastic would place the average in the .250 range (right where ZiPS and Streamer see it).
I would say sell, and you might get a decent return since he is a top 10 player for second or third base depending on where he qualifies in your league. You will have to work at moving him though since he isn’t a name brand player so use his minor league numbers as a selling point. Given the low power numbers, once the average drops out you could be looking at a player whose value is in the neighborhood of David Freese. SELL
14. Avisail Garcia (.371): Remember when I said Jimmy Paredes was second in the league in swing percentages, well this guy is number one. Garcia has somewhat given up swinging for power (.141 ISO – 22.7 FB%) and is focusing on being a line-drive hitter (26.5 LD%). Sure he has 6 home runs, but a 20% HR/FB ratio isn’t going to last. Strikeouts remain the same and he has sacrificed some walks (5.8 BB%) being more aggressive at the plate. Garcia was once thought of as a speed guy, but it looks like he has abandoned the running game. Eventually the average should drop back to his career .278 mark. What should owners do with Garcia? Not much you can do here since he is not putting up numbers in any specific category that will entice a prospective buyer to want to part with anything useful. Garcia is a sell candidate; unfortunately I don’t think anyone will be buying. All you can do is ride him until something better comes along. Sell (if you can)
15. A.J. Pollock (.370): I’m not too worried about Pollock. He has basically matched last year’s totals in 50 less at bats. When I say matched, I mean down the line from the fantasy totals we all use right down to plate discipline. Last season he ended the year with a .302 average and .344 BABIP so a drop in both his current totals would put him here. There is a slight drop in FB% but that extra numbers went into his LD%. Normally I would be skeptical of a player with a GB% over 50, but he did that last year as well. Pollock is also running more this year; like I said earlier, some speed guys can maintain a high BABIP. Pollock is more than a hold, he is a buy candidate. If there is an owner in your league who doesn’t appreciate him or believes he will come crashing back to earth, make him an offer (preferably one of the sell candidates listed above). HOLD
The rest of the top 20 are professional hitters that will see their BABIP drop and maybe see a drop in batting average, but you will not have to worry about their production falling off. Matt Holliday (.376) has lost some fly balls so the home runs will be down, but his LD% is at the highest of his career. Nelson Cruz (.375) will see his average come down and he could be considered a sell candidate since he has already given you half his home run total over the first two months. He will still be a solid player if you keep him though. Adrian Gonzalez (.373) and Miguel Cabrera (.365) will continue to play like they always do and Prince Fielder (.272) is back to his old self. Freddie Freeman (.366) is right between where he finished in 2013 and 2014 so no worries here. Jason Kipnis (.364) is no stranger at the top of the BABIP list (top 20 in 2013) and is having a solid season. Bryce Harper (.363) is finally living up to his potential that only an injury could derail *jinx*. With the exception of Cruz and maybe Holliday (age is always a factor); all of these players are safe to own from here on out.
BABIP numbers should start to normalize over the next month so if you own one of those high BABIP guys listed early on, now would be the time to act before the window of opportunity closes. Looking for low BABIP guys to maybe target? Doug Anderson wrote an article about this very thing the other day for So Called Fantasy Experts; you may want to give it a look.
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