Batting average isn’t everything. Neither are home runs. These stats often give an incomplete assessment of how well a hitter is seeing and hitting the ball.
I discussed in my previous article the importance of looking at hard hit ball rates to find undervalued hitters instead of relying on the classic AVG/HR/RBI. Numerous alternative statistics exist that can tell us a lot of information about a hitter – including how lucky he is getting.
One of my favorites is BABIP – batting average on balls in play.
Today’s hitters either strikeout or walk in 25-35% of their plate appearances. This means the ball is being hit 65-75% of the time. Some of those batted balls are home runs which never had a chance to be fielded.
If we say 5% of batted balls are home runs (roughly the league average), that leaves us with a good 60-70% of plate appearances in which the ball is put into play with a chance to be fielded.
BABIP simply measures a player’s batting average on these plays. If all 70% of those batted balls fall for hits, your BABIP is .1000. This does not mean your batting average is .1000. It means you were never put out on a batted ball.
The league average BABIP is right around .300. Whether you are a ball-mashing corner infielder or a weak-hitting platoon player, your BABIP is likely to be near .300.
Some hitters maintain a BABIP north of .300 for years while others can never seem to get it that high. This is because hard hit ball rates and BABIP are related.
If you consistently smoke the ball you are more likely to get hits on your batted balls – pretty simple. Likewise, singles hitters without any pop are going to have a more difficult time finding holes in the defense because their batted ball is not traveling as fast.
BABIP – What to Look For
A telltale sign a hitter is getting lucky is when his current BABIP is much higher than his career mark.
— Mark Lathrop (@mlathrop3) April 25, 2017
When a mediocre hitter with a career batting average of .260 and a career BABIP of .295 gets hot and posts a two-week stretch with a batting average of .415 and a BABIP of .375, we should double check a couple of stats before rushing to scoop him up and put him in our starting lineups.
Look at how his ground ball, line drive, and fly ball rates over these two weeks compare with his career marks. If he is hitting more ground balls and fly balls than usual but is posting an astronomical BABIP, he is getting lucky.
Also check out this player’s hard hit ball rates. If he has begun hitting the ball harder than usual, maybe he has made an adjustment to his swing and is in the process of breaking out into a better form of himself.
If this player in question is not hitting more line drives than usual and is not hitting the ball harder than usual, his .415 batting average is a fluke. We should not expect it to continue.
Tim Anderson’s Early-Season Inflated BABIP
To close out, here is one perfect example of a player whose current BABIP is unsustainable given his track record of batted ball tendencies.
Who has the highest batting average in the American League right now? White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson with a .422. Who has the highest BABIP in baseball right now? White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson with a .479.
A career .264 hitter, Anderson is mashing to a .422 clip through his first 66 plate appearances of 2019. Did he come into this season with a revamped swing? Is he hitting the ball with more authority? Nope.
Anderson’s 2019 line drive rate is 2.5% lower than his career average. Equally as concerning is the fact that Anderson’s 2019 hard hit balls rate is 6.7% lower than his career average.
The guy’s batted ball measurements have actually regressed a bit this season. Before you offer Scherzer, Archer, and a first-round pick for Anderson, remember that he is reaching base on nearly half of his batted balls. This is extremely unsustainable.
Stay diligent, boppers. See you on top!