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Entries in BABIP (7)

Wednesday
Feb052014

Chris Johnson: Junk-Ball Hitter Extraordinaire

Chris Johnson isn't what most would deem a "lethal threat" in the batter's box. With a career slash line of .289/.328/.438, 108 OPS+ and 6.7 offensive wins above replacement over his five years in baseball, the statistical output from the former fourth round selection of the Houston Astros has been more toward that of league average production (.263/.331/.418 since Johnson's 2009 rookie campaign) than anything close to lethal. But last season did shed some light on his most 'lethal' attribute as a hitter: Hitting bad pitches.

While Johnson has maintained a reputation for finding holes in defenses (owning a .361 BABIP since his entrance into the league in 2009), he was exceptional in his respect in 2013, posting a .394 BABIP that ranks as the highest single-season in-play average among qualified batters since 2008 -- second only to Austin Jackson's .396 mark in 2010. But Johnson's insane in-play average mark last season was considerably higher than his .354 mark two seasons ago. As we're about to find out, this increase is confusing for a few reasons.

Two seasons ago, Johnson garnered a .354 BABIP thanks in large part to his 24.4% line drive rate. This LD% was not particularly dominant, mind you, but it did narrowly miss (by 0.4%) the cut to be among the top 10% of all qualified batters that year. Last season, Johnson posted a league-best .394 BABIP, but his line-drive rate actually decreased to 24.3%.

If you can recall past research, no other factor correlates to a player's BABIP better than his line-drive rate. In fact, since 2008, for every 3% increase in line drive rate, a player's BABIP increases by roughly .020 points. Boost your LD% by 6%, and you're looking at a .040 BABIP jump. Considering this, I bet you're wondering: How the hell did Johnson's BABIP rise despite a steady (albeit minimally decreasing) line drive rate? This is where those 'junkball' hitting skills come into play.

Comparing Johnson's out-of-zone BABIP over the last two seasons

Johnson's BABIP on pitches in the strikezone last season was .385, up from .361 in 2012. This again defies logic, as his line-drive on pitches in the zone two years ago was 26.4% compared to 25% last season. But when we shift our focus to pitches out of the zone, we begin to understand his overall BABIP increase. On non-zone pitches last season, Johnson posted a 21.3% line drive rate en route to a .434 out-of-zone BABIP -- second only to Carlos Gomez (.452) among qualified batters. This is a stark increase from 2012, when only 17.6% of Johnson's out-of-zone hits were line drives, giving him a .329 in-play average that was much closer to the .278 league average BABIP on non-zone pitches since 2012.

Call him 'lucky' if you must -- I certainly think luck has at least something to do with it -- but Johnson showed last season that he's getting better at hitting bad pitches, which gives reason to believe his career .361 BABIP mark is sustainable.

Plate discipline be damned.

Friday
Jul122013

Bill Shanks is Right, Even if he is Kind of a Jerk

Earlier this week, Bill Shanks wrote an article. Which is nothing new. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. He writes articles on a regular basis. It's his job. It's what he does. The article, Statheads see a different game" was in response to the response he got to this article, "Heyward following Francoeur’s career path" in which he dubs Jason Heyward the new Jeff Francoeur. Which is a really quick way to ruffle up the feathers of both Atlanta Braves fans and statistics-minded fans alike. 

Note #1: Do not ruffle the feathers of a statistics-minded fan. They are smart, snarky and generally lack any sort of brain-to-mouth filter

Note #2: The first "Note" can also be read as "disclaimer."

Of course, what I could do here is systematically take apart and tear down his tering down of "Statheads." It wouldn't be too difficult with hidden gems like this.

I did the unthinkable -- criticized a player adored by statheads, those who prefer to look at the game with a more analytical view instead of just enjoying the game of baseball.

Or this:

Statheads only respect people who watch the game the way they do, with a slide rule and more stats with acronyms than you can ever imagine. They even make up their own stats, mainly so they can fully make their argument about what they believe about a particular player.

Or the classic go to line for every anti-stats columnist:

Stats are fine, to a point. I like seeing what a player’s batting average is, how many home runs and RBI he has and can even stomach seeing what the on-base percentage is.

But I'm not going to do that.

Taking the high road

I prefer to take the high road in these types of situations. I am not going to resort to the kind of name calling that the close-minded Bill Shanks has already engaged in. In fact, I'm going to agree with him.

To a point.

One particular point. 

That point would be the one that he made about Heyward being nearly useless against left-handed pitching.

Because, he is.

Heyward currently has a career slash line against lefties of .223/.302/.363. Which is bad. His walk rate is four points lower against lefties than it is against righties (7.4% to 11.5%) this season. A similar difference resides in his career marks of 9.5% against lefties to 12% against righties. And his walk rate is what is championed within the sabermetric community.

But I ask of you this: What good is an above-average walk rate, when your OBP is 12 points below the league average?

Some say that Jason Heyward is unlucky. Pointing to his .256 BABIP as their proof. These same people may want to look at each of Heyward's four seasons seperately then, and come to the conclusion that he is simply inconsistent. Posting BABIP's of .335, .260, .319 and now .256. An inconsistent corner outfielder is not the kind of player that you build a winning franchise around. It is cherry-picking at it's best when you claim a player is unlucky but fail to mention that his swing rates are well above his rookie year numbers (2013 - 43.6%, 2010 - 38.6%).

Jason Heyward is still only 23 years old, and just because Jeff Francoeur was busting by then, doesn't mean that you give up on a young kid because recent history within the franchise says you should.

Manny Machado is only 20 years old. Who knows what he will be like in three years.

But Braves fans - and stats lovers - should look hard and long at the stats that they are using to build up Heyward. Because, if I were Heyward's manager, I would have started platooning him yesterday. 

Wednesday
Jun192013

The Power of BAbip and Runs

  • The average team in the American League has a .295 Batting Average for balls in play.
  • The average team in the American League has scored 307 runs. 

  • The Red Sox have a .321 BAbip and have scored 371 runs, to lead in both categories.
  • The Tigers at .317 and 342 are second in both categories
  • But scan over the Astros and the Royals and you can see two teams that have not taken advantage of their high BAbip to put runs on the board.
  • On the other hand, the Rays and the A's are scoring above average despite having lower than average BAbip. Both teams know how to move runners around the bases.
  • You have to know that both the Yankees and the White Sox are counting on progressing to the mean in both categories.

National League

  • The average team in the National League has a .295 Batting Average for balls in play.
  • The average team in the National League has scored 287 runs.
  • Despite the lack of DH, the BAbip is the same, but there is a 20 run per team differential

  • As you can see, the the Cardinals have a .321 BAbip, the best in the NL and they have scored 355 runs, tied for the most in the NL with the Rockies.
  • This means that the Cards and the Red Sox, the two teams with the best records in their leagues are both doing this with their bats.
  • What impresses me is that the Reds, who have an average BAbip have scored 327 runs, third best in the NL.
  • Note that the Pirates are the only team of the eight below 300 runs scored in the NL with an over .500 record. Every other team, from the 36-35 Padres on up have scored over 300 runs and are above average in BAbip.

Keep watching

Regression and progression to the mean in BAbip may bring the Red Sox and the Cardinals back to the field and a number of other teams will be back in play.