We talk a lot about batting average on balls in play (BABIP) here, because it (and related metrics including FIP) is one of the most important semi-recent developments in baseball analysis. Humans are conditioned to look for patterns and find logical explanations for things, and luck doesn't mesh that that conditioning very well. It's hard for many us to believe that so much of what happens is largely on account of dumb luck... but it is.
If you're not very familiar with BABIP, FanGraphs has an easy-to-read primer that can get you started.
This year LGT has been especially interested in BABIP, because the Indians have been an outlier on the wrong end of it for both hitters and pitchers. Tribe hitters have a combined BABIP of .266, which ranks 29th among MLB's 30 teams. Tribe pitches have allowed a combined BABIP of .317, which also ranks 29th among all teams. That 51-point difference is easily the biggest of any team, with the Astros a distant second, at a 37-point difference.
Not all of BABIP is luck, especially for hitters. If you hit a lot of balls hard, it's to be expected that you'll get more hits. If you're fast, it's to be expected that you'll get more hits. This means that you can't just point to a hitter with a low BABIP and say he's been unlucky.
Jeff Wiser at Beyond the Box Score has a post up today, in which he (with the help of data compiled by Jeff Zimmerman, who writes at FanGraphs, Royals Review, and Baseball Heat Maps) looks at which players have the largest gap between their BABIP and their xBABIP, the latter being what we should expect their BABIP to be, based on two factors: hard hit ball percentage and player speed.
Included in the post are charts showing the 20 players with the largest positive and negative differences. One group can be seen as the 20 luckiest, the other as the 20 unluckiest. It should be no surprise that there are no Indians on the lucky list. The unlucky list though, includes three Indians:
|Hard Hit %
These findings provide more evidence to support the idea that we're going to see better production from all three of these guys as the year goes on. Even Santana's expected BABIP is low, because he isn't hitting the ball quite as well as usual (and he continues to be slow), but even a .268 figure would give him strong overall numbers, when combined with his elite walk rate and good power. Cabrera has one of the highest hard-hit ball percentages of any qualified player, which I would not have predicted. Those of us down on him (myself included) should maybe hold out a little more hope that he bounces back during the rest of his walk year.
There's no certainly that luck will even out, but if it does, we're going to see much better things from the offense going forward. Let's just hope things even out soon, or it will be too late to make a real difference for the team.