BABIP slumpers and surgers

When it comes to evaluating players one of the go to stats, for better or worse, is BABIP. A high BABIP can signify regression while a low BABIP can point to bad luck. Granted you need to dig a little deeper to see if either holds true, but it is a nice starting point. With the month of April in the books and most players having at least 100 at bats it is a good time to take stock and assess the hitters on your team.

For today’s article I took a look at hitters at each end of the BABIP spectrum to see which players may be playing over their heads and which ones  could be in line for a decline. I focused on players with a BABIP above .370 since only three finished at or above this mark in 2017, and players below .220 since no qualified hitter finished below .223. If you do not see a hitter listed here that fits that criteria and would like to know more feel free to make a request in the comment section below and I will look into them for you.

Slumpers

Carlos Santana: .169 BABIP, .164 BA

Everyone assumed Santana would flourish with his move to Philly, specifically because of his new home park. Obviously that has not happened. His walk, strikeout and contact rates remain unchanged compared to recent years. He is posting his highest hard hit and fly ball rate as well as his lowest ground ball rate since his debut in 2010. In fact, with the exception of a career, and almost league low line drive rate, one would think Santana would be posting numbers similar to last season, or at the very least in line with his 2014/2015 seasons.

It would be easy to say it is just a case of bad luck, and it probably is. But we have also seen some other big name hitters change teams in the past only to struggle in their first full season with their new team. Factor that into your decision when deciding how much you are willing to pay if you decide to buy-low on Santana.

Anthony Rizzo: .179 BABIP, .174 BA

Like Santana, and most low BABIP guys, the first thing we assume is bad luck. The strikeouts have increased slightly but the swinging strikes have declined. The contact rate has improved, specifically inside the zone. With the exception of a slight drop in line drives and decrease in soft contact his batted ball profile remains unchanged. The only real negative we can point to is a single digit walk rate which is half his career average, which is surprising since he is chasing less outside the zone and cut his swings overall. Unless there is an undisclosed injury there is no reason to panic. Unlike Santana there are no .231 averages in Rizzo’s recent past to suggest he can’t fully bounce back.

Ian Desmond: .208 BABIP, .183 BA

The common assumption is that any player who moves to Colorado will automatically improve. After disappointing in his final two years with the Nationals Desmond found new life in Texas, and when he moved to Colorado in 2017 the average was good, but the rest of his numbers fell short. Maybe we gave Desmond and the Coors Field affect too much credit?

His contact rate is up to league average, but his zone contact is down even with an increase in swings. The contact outside the zone is also up with an increase in swings there, but those extra swings have contributed to a career low walk rate (4.3%). The fly ball rate fell yet again, from 20.8% to 17.3%, and considering the hard hit rate and ISO were only average, that doesn’t bode well for future power. On top of that the ground ball rate is insane right now (71.6%) and his soft contact increased from 24.8% to 28.4%. While a bounce back is not out of the question it would take a complete overhaul of his swing. That doesn’t happen overnight and is even harder to accomplish in season. Outside of a mid-season turnaround it appears Desmond is done – time to cut bait.

Ryan Zimmerman: .203 BABIP, .194 BA

Zimmerman came into the 2017 season with little value, was unranked on many industry list, and was available on waivers to start the season in most leagues. He went on to have a career year and his first relevant and healthy season since 2013. While “experts” were skeptical they gave him the benefit of the doubt this year when ranking him. Was this a mistake? In hindsight it may appear so, but let’s double-check the numbers anywhere – that’s why we’re here… right?

It’s true not much has changed. His batted ball profile is the same as in years past except with a few more hard hit ball. The plate discipline also remains unchanged; the overall contact is a little lower but the rest of the numbers remain static. If he had more years like 2017 this might be a sign a turnaround was in order. Unfortunately Zimmerman has produced similar underlying metrics throughout his career. Other than an injury there is no real difference between his 2016 and 2017 season. He could have that one great month surrounded by mediocrity or turn things around completely. I’m betting on the former, and when you combine the injury potential his chances decline further.  You should still get the customary 25 home runs, but little else with them.

Matt Carpenter: .197 BABIP, .161 BA

Even though I am not a Carpenter fan I have remained cautiously optimistic he can finish with numbers somewhere between his 2016 and 2017 season. Part of that has to do with his steady track record, plus I do like his multi-eligibility. Is my optimism justified?

Carpenter lost some of his contact skills when he sold out for power, going from the high to low 80s. This year he has dropped a full 10 percentage points and sits below league average at 70.6%. The slight increase in swings outside the zone is negligible, but it’s odd there has also been a decrease of swings inside the zone as well – a career low. The drop in contact outside the zone has increased his K% and SwStr% to career highs. To make matters worst, His ISO and hard hit rate are at the levels we saw prior to his sellout for power, back when he was a contact first hitter. On a positive note: his soft contact is a career and league low 6.3%, right there with the likes of J.D. Martinez, Harper and Trout.

A more aggressive swing approach and a slight increase in power and Carpenter could repeat his 2017 season. Judging by the walk rate there is still a patient hitter inside, and the losses of hard and soft contact are sitting on the fence right now capable of going either direction. Then again, age 32 is typically when we start to see a decline in players (in general) so maybe last year was a sign of things to come. All of a sudden I am not so optimistic.

Edwin Encarnacion: .208 BABIP, .202 BA

When asked about EE several weeks ago I pointed out his typical slow start. He has always hit bad in April with a career .237 average, and so far in May he is batting .421 with three home runs. Problem solved, right? It just might be that simple. Looking at his splits the numbers put up in April align with his career April line. As the calendar flips the strikeouts decrease and the average and power increase. He has only 20 May at bats so it’s hard to tell if everything is back to normal, and he is 35-years of age so I can see some reason for concern. However, to date we have seen little evidence that Encarnacion is someone to worry about.



Surgers

Yoan Moncada: .407 BABIP, .263 BA

Of all the high BABIP guys this is the one I worry about the most. Yes, Moncada is a highly touted prospect with immense upside, but that doesn’t always translate to major league success – or at least not immediately. While some may feel good about his 6 home runs and 4 stolen bases and are content with the average, how content will they be if that average drops down to .240 or lower?

Out of the players with a BABIP higher than .370 only one has a strikeout percentage over 30%, Matt Olson (see below). In fact, the only qualified hitter to best Moncada’s 37.1% strikeout rate is Miguel Sano. Moncada is also sporting a poor contact rate (68.5%). When looking through the names of players with poor contact this year you will see Harper and Judge listed, but the rest of the names (C.Davis, Sano, Olson, Brinson, Gallo, D.Santana) inspire little confidence with regards to batting average, and all (except Harper) have major strikeout issues. This is the career path that Moncada has chosen early on, and while some players can find success with this approach, more often than not you get either a 30+ home run guy with an average that will sink your team or worse yet, a 22-25 home run guy who is losing at bats as the season wears on.

Maybe Moncada will be the exception to the rule, but my guess is once pitchers have a book on him things will go south in a hurry. Given his trip to the DL (hamstring) we will have to wait and see what happens next. A DL trip does given owners 2-4 weeks to shop him without numbers changing so take advantage of that if you are pessimistic.

Matt Olson: .373 BABIP, .264 BA

Since Olson was mentioned above I decided to skip ahead and address him now. Olson is like Moncada in the fact that he strikes out too much (31.2%) and makes poor contact (63.8%). Yes, he hits the ball hard and in the air frequently, and that should aid the former first round pick to hit at least 25 home runs and approach 30. However, he was a .249 hitter in Double and Triple-A with a 24% strikeout rate. Is it realist to expect anything more with an increase in strikeouts of 6%? And that .249 average came with better contact and not his current rate which would rank him the worst in the league. I can see gambling on the power and pedigree, but there are safer players to place your bets on.

Aaron Judge: .400 BABIP, .305 BA

Judge was also mentioned when discussing Moncada. Judge also has some strikeout issues (28.1%) and his name sits right next to Olson at the bottom of the contact charts. And like the two players above Judge also hits the ball very hard and in the air a lot. But as I stated with Moncada, occasionally you will get a player that is an exception to the rule. Judge is one of those exceptions. His sheer size and strength make every fly ball a potential home run. He also hits a good number of line drives, and the force behind them get them through the infield more often than not. And his size takes away the outside part of the plate giving pitchers little room to navigate.

Judge has a lot in common with teammate Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton also has contact issues, strikes out a lot, has tremendous power, and is also a big guy (only 1″ shorter). Stanton has posted some solid batting average seasons, but if you look back you’ll also see some that sit between .240 and .265. Injuries have stood in the way of Stanton recording more 30+ home run seasons. As long as Judge remains healthy we can expect the power to continue, and using Stanton’s average as a measuring stick we have a somewhat realistic expectation for the batting average. It is unlikely Judge hits .300, but he will not fall to the point fantasy owners need to worry.

Tommy Pham: .391 BABIP, .327 BA

I was one of the doubters prior to the start of the season. In general I am always skeptical when a 29-year-old breaks out. That means I will occasionally miss out on a few players – Pham being one of them. Typically this is where I would break down the numbers, but in Pham’s case there is no need. Every single one of his metrics is basically in line with what he did in 2017. There is not one thing I can point to, not even to nitpick. Pham finished with a .368 BABIP last year and a .306 batting average. A slight drop in BABIP puts him there which means there is little reason to doubt Pham will not repeat his .300/20/20 season. If only they were all this simple.

Jed Lowrie: .402 BABIP, .356 BA

Sometimes you just look at a player and know things are too good to be true. That was my first impression when I saw Lowrie’s name, and I’m sure those that have been burned by him in the past feel the same way. So is there something different this year, or is it just luck?

With the exception of posting a career high hard hit rate (43.8%) and ISO (.258) there is no difference between this Lowrie and the ones we’ve seen in year’s past – except this Lowrie is now 34-years old. That extra power has resulted in 8 home runs so far (17 total extra base hits) and given some oomph behind those line drives. While the contact rate is the same, and solid, he has needed some extra swings this year to accomplish that – a common occurrence as a player ages. One other interesting tidbit is that Lowrie is playing for a contract; money and job security is always a good incentive, especially in today’s stingy free agent market.

History suggests full regression, but a career year or even two or three career months cannot be ruled out. He has zero trade value so if you own him enjoy this as long as possible.

Jorge Soler: .406 BABIP, .309 BA

Soler was one of my waiver wire recommendations the other day, although it did come with a short-term warning. As I stated, both his walk and strikeout rates are major league highs for him and he is hitting the ball harder than ever. However, a 65.8% contact rate (down two points from Thursday) plays against his .309 average. And so far most of that extra power behind the ball has only translated into doubles.  If the hard hit rate and ISO stick we could be looking at an average around .280. A slight dip would put him in the .267 range similar to what we saw in Triple-A in 2017. If the hard hit rate drops to the mid to high 30’s, though – combined with the contact you’ll be lucky if he hits .250. My money is on one of the two final outcomes which means little fantasy value. Like Lowrie, ride this until it crashes.

Eric Hosmer: .380 BABIP, .292 BA

I’ve mentioned poor contact and strikeouts several times in the article so it only seems fitting we end on that note. Hosmer has dropped from a career 80% average down to 71. 8% with no change in swings. Both his SwStr% (12.7) and K% (23.7) are career highs, and this is the first time he has been over 20% in the majors (both within acceptable limits by today’s standard). I’ll take the increase in hard hit rate with a grain of salt since this is not the first time he has been there, but it is the first time he has had a strong ISO (.195) to combine it with. The sad thing is his fly ball rate which has been in the low 20s the past three years is now down to 19.5%. That extra juice is going towards line drives – a 28% career high. That’s great for his average but devastating for home runs.

The hard hit and line drive rate should cancel out some of the strikeout and contact damage which should minimize any huge regression. Plus Hosmer had a .350 BABIP last year and posted several years in the .330 range so he is not in unfamiliar territory. I don’t see the average going below .280. Without a few more fly balls we can expect power numbers similar to 2014/15 as opposed to 2016/17. In comparison with past season’s the regression should be minimal, but in comparison with the 2018 first base class it drops Hosmer from a top-12 option to a solid CI play. Now might be a good time to test the trade market.

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com