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Indians were unlucky on batted balls last year, which could be good news for 2015

Almost everyone's BABIP underperformed in 2014, and that might be good news for 2015.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A little over a year ago, I took a look at the Indians luck on balls in play in 2013 to get a sense of whether the team had been lucky, unlucky, or none of the above - and to try to project what that might mean for 2014. I thought that topic was worth exploring again this offseason.

As a quick reminder, the concept of xBABIP is that a batter has some control over whether he hits a fly ball, line drive, or ground ball, and that those three types of balls in play have vastly different likelihoods of becoming hits. So while we expect league average BABIP to sit somewhere just below .300, an individual player may be likely to be much higher or lower. Power hitters, for example, tend to hit lots of fly balls and have very low BABIPs, while slap hitters keep the ball down and post higher BABIP figures. What we are looking for is the gap between BABIP and xBABIP; basically, how many hits did a batter "lose" or "gain" because a line drive was unexpectedly snagged or a blooper managed to drop in.

Here's the 2014 data, showing BABIP and xBABIP for the returning regulars (150+ PA) and one newbie:

Player BABIP xBABIP Difference
Nick Swisher"]">Nick Swisher 0.273 0.342 0.068
Ryan Raburn"]">Ryan Raburn 0.245 0.307 0.062
Carlos Santana"]">Carlos Santana 0.249 0.302 0.053
Jason Kipnis"]">Jason Kipnis 0.288 0.335 0.047
Mike Aviles"]">Mike Aviles 0.271 0.305 0.034
Jose Ramirez"]">Jose Ramirez 0.297 0.320 0.023
Michael Bourn"]">Michael Bourn 0.337 0.351 0.014
David Murphy"]">David Murphy 0.285 0.296 0.010
Michael Brantley"]">Michael Brantley 0.333 0.340 0.007
Yan Gomes"]">Yan Gomes 0.326 0.329 0.004
Brandon Moss"]">Brandon Moss 0.283 0.284 0.001
Lonnie Chisenhall"]">Lonnie Chisenhall 0.328 0.314 -0.014

The first thing that jumps out to me is that almost all the differences are positive, which in this case would seem to mean every one of these players had bad luck on balls in play, other than Lonnie Baseball. (and let's be honest, no one would have believed Lonnie had BAD luck last year after that scorching start)

We saw a similar phenomenon in 2013, where seven of the 11 regulars in our study had posted xBABIPs higher than their BABIPs. Last year, I predicted that this meant regression should work in Cleveland's favor - we should expect the team's luck to be neutral and, if that happened, the team would have improved. Instead, things got worse. After a long discussion in the comments about what great news this was, V-Mart Shopper offered an alternative: "Or...Maybe we're just unlucky." I noted that this was about as Cleveland a sentiment as there is. Turns out, it was closer to the truth.

That said, two years like this in a row is far more likely to be a fluke than a pattern (with 30 MLB teams, we'd expect about 7-8 to have back-to-back bad luck, and 3-4 of those to suffer again in 2015). Hopefully this ends in 2015.

As for specific players, a few worth noting:

  • Lonnie was the least lucky Indian in 2013 and the luckiest Indian in 2014. I have no idea what that means, except that his true production probably lies somewhere between 2013 and 2014 (though 2014 looks much more reasonable than 2013).
  • In 2013, Kipnis put up a stellar season with a .345 BABIP and we noted that he wasn't super lucky - his xBABIP was .340. Well, this year his BABIP slumped majorly, but his xBABIP didn't. I am getting more and more comfortable with the idea that a healthy Kipnis is going to keep posting BABIPs in the .330-.340 range.
  • I think Swisher's xBABIP is a bit over-stated. He is not the swiftest of foot, and the xBABIP calculator I used only looks at batted ball types. The good news is he hit the ball better than the results would indicate. But I can't imagine him posting such a high BABIP in 2015. But even getting back up over .300 would be a huge win.
  • Last year, Gomes posted an xBABIP much lower than his BABIP and we discussed in the comments his propensity for high BABIPs even in the minors. Well, his BABIP came down this year, but was still pretty high, and this time his xBABIP lined up. Maybe that minor league track record was a better indication than his batted ball types in 2013?
  • If Carlos Santana gets even reasonable luck on balls in play, he could be an MVP candidate. Like Swish, I think his lack of speed will keep his BABIP below his xBABIP, but even getting 75% of the way back to his xBABIP would be huge, huge, huge.
  • I am getting a little excited about the (potentially short-lived) Jose Ramirez era. It would be great to see him play well enough to give the Indians a nice little trade chip (either moving him to a team that needs a SS, or moving him to 3B and sending off Chisenhall) when Lindor is ready. Imagine hitting mid-June and getting a boost with Lindor at SS and at the same time filling another need with a trade? Awesome.

What jumps out at you?