Advanced statistics can be just as cruel as they can be kind. The "hidden value" of some players can shine through, but meanwhile many others are just looking for where the other shoe can stop, drop, shut 'em down and then proceed to open up shop.
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is one of the first signs where a hitter is potentially doing better or worse than he should be expected to do. Plus it's also really easy to understand: It's the batting average on balls you put in play! For easy reference, just think of BABIP as the elephant in the room and then name that elephant Babar.
Boom - that's an... onomatopoeia? Not it's a mnemonic device. I remembered that from my own mnemonic device, aka the episode of Full House where Stephanie loses a spelling bee by not correctly spelling mnemonic. Thanks, television.
Players have different "expected BABIP" (xBABIP) based on a very special set of skills. Some could say that Ichiro has "Taken" more bases than the average player because pop-quiz-hot-shot... he's got "Speed." Also, Point Break was a good movie. So a slap-happy, infield-singler like Ichiro has a career BABIP of .345. However, he's also much older now, so in recent years his BABIP has been steady in the high .290's and one could expect that's just what he is now.
A younger fast player like Brett Gardner has a BABIP of .344 this season and that's getting him a .280/.349/.426 line, already amassing 3.0 WAR in 2013.
You can use this tool to perhaps identify "sell high" candidates with the trade deadline in many fantasy leagues "fast" approaching. I'm using a lot of things having to do with speed, you see? But speed isn't the only kind of player that has a high BABIP. Also, good hitters naturally do better on balls hit into play because those balls are hit so damn hard or in the sweet spot, but rarely can a .387 BABIP last forever. A little less luck equals a little less hitting. Not that any of these players are due for a dramatically awful second half -- in fact these players are all pretty good. But it's something worth noting.
So what of it?
Joe Mauer -
The career BABIP of Mauer is .348, so leading the league isn't completely out of the norm for him. He had exactly a .348 BABIP in 2010 and he hit .327/.402/.469 that season. What's interesting this year is that his 18.6% strikeout rate is the highest of his career by far.
Mauer is making 87.8% contact when he swings on pitches inside the zone, the first time in his career that he's been under 90% in that category. His overall contact rate of 83.0% is also a career-low, and his 6.3% swinging strikes is a career-high. Meanwhile his 29.6% line drives is a career-high, while his 43.9% groundballs is a career-low.
It's been a weird year for Mauer, but hitting .320 is nothing new for him. He just took a new path this year.
Jhonny Peralta -
A career .267/.330/.424 hitter with a career BABIP of .315.
Now his BABIP is .385 and he's hitting. 305/.363/.447. Last year, Peralta posted a BABIP of .275 and hit .239/.305/.384. Not good.
He's hitting line drives 26% of the time, up from a career mark of 20.7% and that's something to be noted. He's hit .347 against LHP and .346 at home, which means that on the road against RHP he's hitting .243.
I don't know why one of those things means the other thing, but I can tell you that I'd just bench Jhonny against Felix Hernandez in Seattle. /files that under "Doy, No."
I suspect that this one is coming back to earth. Jhonny has struck out in 27.4% of plate appearances in July and his hitting .265/.315/.382 this month.
Michael Bourn -
If you've ever heard of the Bourne Identity book and movie franchise, then you'll know that there's a pun here.
A .380 BABIP still hasn't helped Michael Bourn play at the levels he was playing at over the last four seasons. He missed some time this season with a hand injury, but that won't change the fact that he's walking almost half-as-much as he did last year, hitting for less power, stealing fewer bases, and posting his lowest wOBA since 2010.
I'd be fearful of what happens if that BABIP actually does come down to his career mark of .346.
I would have to "identify" him as a risk! Boom, baby.
Allen Craig -
The BABIP might be upping his batting average (and therefore, his OBP) but the bigger concern is that his ISO has dropped from .215 to .155.
If Allen Craig was a hoverboard he wouldn't be able to work on water. He'd need more power.
Joey Votto -
He's a really good hitter. You don't care what I have to say about BABIP, nor should you.
Mike Napoli -
When he had his career-season for the Rangers in 2011, his BABIP was .344 and he hit .320/.414/.631. But a player like Napoli just shouldn't be expected to maintain these high BABIPs and his career mark is .308 in over 3,000 plate appearances.
He's still striking out a ridiculous 33.7% of the time and now walking only 10.3% of the time, down from 13.4% in each of the last two years. If you're ever expecting Napoli to play again like he did in '10, you're a fool, my friend.
Freddie Freeman -
A .372 BABIP is far too high for Freddie. Though his slugging percentage is a career-high .476, his ISO is down to .166 from .196 last year. He's on pace for like 17 home runs, and when his BABIP falls, he won't be hitting over .300 anymore.
One day you might have to "Free" this "man" from your fantasy roster get it haha I was also thinking of a Freddie Mercury pun but it never came to me.
Miguel Cabera -
Michael Cuddyer -
So far, Cuddyer is having just about the best season of his career. As expected, his ISO since becoming a Rocky (Rockie? Rockies'?) has gone way up, but this year he's also hitting .329/.392/.563. Easily the best line of his career.
But will it last?
With a .282 BABIP in July, Cuddyer is hitting .255/.387/.431. That's actually not too shabby. If he can find a way to maintain value (such as that 17.7% BB rate this month) while his BABIP drops, well that's the key to baseball, baby.
Freddie Mercur-free... man.
Carlos Gonzalez -
Again, this doesn't matter.
Does any of it matter? Sure. Or not. You tell me!