April 29, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Early Hitter’s BABIP Edition

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Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers, OF

It’s still awfully early in the season. Almost to early to take any of these numbers seriously. BABIP is best used when we have years of data to look at. The ideal sample size is around 1500 plate appearances. So, why should we care about 80 or so plate appearances in April? Aren’t these numbers completely useless? Yes and no. For some guys(Jose Bautista, we’re looking in your general direction), a low BABIP simply means fantasy GMs need to practice patience. For others, (cough, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cough) a high BABIP means that regression is mere weeks away from sending them back to the waiver wire.

1. Matt Kemp .479
2. Ryan Sweeney .460
3. David Ortiz .458
4. Kirk Nieuwenhuis .452
5. David Freese .442
6. Jason Kubel .439
7. Jose Altuve .435
8. Adam LaRoche .415
9. Buster Posey .413
10. Derek Jeter .411

This feels like someone put on a DVD of Matt Kemp’s 2011 season. Same hot start, same high BABIP, same elite production. Kemp is likely to see his BABIP come down from .479, but he’ll still produce elite numbers. Nothing to see here…other than one of the best hitters in the game and the frontrunner for the 2012 MVP.

Ryan Sweeney is a really intriguing option right now for owners who have either suffered an injury or drafted Jeff Francouer. Sweeney has always shown flashes of competent play, but he would either get injured or be forced to play half his games in Oakland. Sweeney has a path to a job in Boston thanks to the injuries to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury. He should be fine as a short term add. The problem is that Sweeney doesn’t really offer much other than a few batting average points and some runs scored. There are other options out there that can offer batting average and runs, but will also steal a few bases. He’s likely to regress from his .460 BABIP and there is a very good chance that we’ve already seen the best part of his season. He’s a guy to add and monitor closely, if you’re desperate.

Big Papi is very likely to suffer a batting average regression. The highest BABIP David Ortiz has ever posted for a full year is .355. .458 is unsustainable for a guy of Papi’s skill set. The good thing is he’ll still post solid power and run production even when he starts to regress back to his career average.

Congratulations, Kirk Nieuwenhuis! You won the lottery for “guy most likely to get picked up in every league and dropped before the end of May.” Somewhere, Sam Fuld is refusing to hand over his trophy. Kirk’s K-rate is a crazy high 28.8% in his first 73 MLB plate appearances. That’s going to catch up with him when all the grounders he’s been hitting (2.10 GB:FB ratio) start finding gloves. He’s a ground ball hitter with poor plate discipline who has managed to get hot in his first chance at regular playing time at the MLB level. Regression is hanging over him like a pair of desert vultures.

David Freese spurred a lot of off-season debate. Some felt that he was an undervalued sleeper and some felt that he wouldn’t be fantasy relevant. He’s been fantasy relevant, but it’s been due to his over-inflated BABIP. Oddly enough, he does fit the high BABIP profile. He owns a career LD % of 22.6% and a GB % of 50.2%. He doesn’t hit very many fly balls, so he should be able to maintain a higher than average BABIP.His .372 career mark isn’t that ridiculous. The part that is ridiculous and will actually have an impact on Freese’ production is his 5.6% BB% and his 26.8% K%. One of those numbers is too low and the other is too high. His plate discipline has actually gotten worse. He doesn’t draw walks and he does strike out a ton without offer much in the power department. His production will fall off dramatically when his luck on balls in play runs out. A .442 BABIP is too high, even for a guy like the Ice Man.

Jason Kubel’s .439 BABIP is a function of his insane 38.% LD %. His career average LD % is only 20.7%. He’s due to regress and there’s not much else to write about here.

Jose Altuve may very well be legit. His .435 BABIP is insanely high and will regress into the .300’s, but there aren’t any alarm bells ringing. Altuve’s BB % (8.5%) and his K % (14.6%) are consistent with what he posted in the minor leagues and he takes advantage of his speed by putting the ball on the ground (46.0% GB %). He’s also a couple of all-star games away from some idiot talking head calling him the “best pound for pound baseball player in the league!” 220 pounds of Matt Kemp will always be better than Jose Altuve at any weight.

Adam Laroche’s .415 BABIP is 103 points over his career average. Laroche’s hot start is directly linked to his 30.4% LD %. His career LD % is 20.6%. He’ll likely end up closer to his career averages than the numbers he has now.

Buster Posey is likely to regress to his .323 career average, but he should still provide solid run production and batting average even while he regresses. The number that’s more alarming for Posey is his 33.3% HR:FB ratio. Posey has 12 fly balls and four of them have left the ballpark. We call that outperforming career averages in an extremely small sample size. Don’t expect the power numbers to continue for Posey.

Derek Jeter is actually due to outperform his career averages and the stretch he’s currently is Jeter’s luck changing in action. Jeter has posted a BABIP under his career average for the past two seasons. Jeter has gotten off to a hot start, but he is likely to regress towards his .355 career average BABIP. Jeter has put a lot of balls on the ground(3.62 GB:FB ratio). For now, they’re missing gloves and Jeter is producing. Jeter also has four homers in only 13 fly balls. He’s been enjoying a run of good luck, but regression back towards his career average is looming.

1. Ike Davis .140
2. Casey Kotchman .140
3. Jose Bautista .169
4. Brendan Ryan .171
5. Eric Hosmer .175
6. J.J. Hardy .177
7. Clint Barmes .178
8. Marlon Byrd .189
9. Ryan Roberts .196
10. Miguel Olivo .204

Ike Davis is putting a lot of balls on the ground(1.60 GB:FB ratio) and a lot of those balls are finding gloves. His power numbers(20.0% HR:FB ratio) is still there, so it’s not like he’s forgotten how to hit baseballs. He’s just been unlucky on balls in play.

Casey Kotchman is so awful at hitting baseballs, but he’s not a .140 BABIP awful. He’s really not fantasy relevant and shouldn’t be on a roster in most formats, but he is a candidate to bounce back from an awful start. His career average is .277. That’s awfully low for a guy with a career 1.89 GB:FB ratio, but Kotchman simply isn’t good at hitting baseballs.

Jose Bautista owners need to practice patience. Joey Bats is still getting on base(.341 OBP), but he’s had horrific luck in the first few weeks of the 2012 season. Bautista’s BABIP is almost 100 points lower than his career average. He’s actually shown solid plate discipline(17.% BB% and 12.1% K %) and his 1.00 GB:FB ratio isn’t that far off his 0.85 career average. His 16.1% LD% is also in line with his 15.2% career average. There really aren’t any red flags with Bautista. His luck will change and he will produce.

You could read about how Brendan Ryan is likely to rebound from his poor start to post something similar to his .290 career BABIP, but you really shouldn’t have Ryan on your fantasy roster in any format. The only major league level skill Ryan possesses is the ability to make outs. He is drawing walks at a 16.7% rate in 2012, but this could just be an anomaly due to the small sample size.

Eric Hosmer was overdrafted in most leagues and has made a lot of fantasy GMs look very, very foolish. They need to be patient. Hosmer’s 19.4% LD % is higher than last year’s 18.7%. His 1.35 GB:FB ratio is closer to what fantasy owners should want to see from a guy with Hosmer’s power than the 1.57 ratio he posted last year. The underlying metrics are good and Hosmer has simply been unlucky. He’s a solid bet to rebound soon.

J.J. Hardy hits a lot of fly balls(0.93 GB:FB ratio last year) and should maintain a lower than average BABIP, but .177 is a crazy low number even for him. Hardy is likely to regress from his 2011 power numbers, but his BABIP should rebound.from an unlucky start to the 2012 season and end up closer to his .277 career average.

What’s amazing about the start to Clint Barmes’ season isn’t his low BABIP. It’s his 0.08 BB/K ratio. His walk % is only 1.5% and his K % sits at 20.5%. Clint Barmes should not be on a roster in anything except the deepest NL only leagues.

The problem Marlon Byrd has had may not be related to his metrics. Byrd supposedly dropped a lot of weight in the off-season in an effort to stay healthy. Apparently this dramatic weight loss has left Byrd unable to swing a bat. The best part is that his early season stats are more useless than usual because he’s been traded to a different league that plays under different rules in different ballparks. Byrd currently owns a 2.45 GB:FB ratio, but a lot of those ground balls are finding gloves. He does own a 26.9% LD %, but there aren’t any metrics that will tell us if those line drives are screamers to the warning track or soft liners at a second baseman. Byrd is a fringe major league player at this point and doesn’t appear to have a full time job. He’s not fantasy relevant at this point in most formats.

The difference between Ryan Roberts from last year to this year is his LD %. Roberts turned in a career year with a 24.5% LD %. Roberts’ LD % has plunged to 8.5% so far this year. He’s also been unlucky on balls in the air(50.5% FB rate, 4.2% HR:FB ratio). Roberts still strikes out a ton(18.2% K %), but he’s maintained his competent walk rate from last year(10.6% BB %). His slow start is likely due to bad luck mixed with a small sample size. Roberts is still essentially the same guy he’s been, but if he may lose playing time if he can’t pick it up soon.

It’s still amazing that Miguel Olivo ended 2010 with a .346 BABIP. He hits a ton of fly balls and should maintain a lower than average BABIP. Olivo is the same free-swinging, out-making guy he’s always been and always will be. He’s a borderline second catcher in mixed leagues and a borderline starting in AL only leagues. His BABIP should be closer to the .270 mark he posted last year, but he’ll always maintain a gross batting average with mediocre power production.


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