February 18, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Hitters’ BABIP Edition

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Emilio Bonifacio, CF , Miami Marlins

The whole “compare a hitters’ BABIP to league average” thing was a farce. League average really doesn’t mean anything. The way a fantasy GM should look at Emilio Bonifacio is not the same way fantasy GMs should look at Josh Willingham. They are two completely different types of hitters trying to accomplish different goals at the plate. It’s not reasonable to look at Bonifacio’s .372 BABIP and announce, “He was lucky because he posted a BABIP over .300!” nor is it reasonable to look at JWilly’s .287 BABIP and declare, “He was unlucky! His BABIP was under .300!”

The whole idea that guys regress towards league average is nonsense. Players regress to their career averages. Guys are who they are. A guy like Bonifacio, who puts the ball on the ground and can leg out an infield single, will have a higher than league average BABIP. Maybe not to the extreme of .372, but fantasy GMs should worry if he’s not putting the ball on the ground. A guy like JWilly, who tries to get the ball in the air as often as possible, will likely hit more homers, but also make a lot more outs.

Batters and their BABIPs need to judged individually against the hitters’ track record. They should not be judged against some arbitrary league average number.

1. Adrian Gonzalez .380
2. Matt Kemp .380
3. Emilio Bonifacio .372
4. Michael Bourn .369
5. Michael Young .367
6. Alex Avila .366
7. Miguel Cabrera .365
8. Hunter Pence .361
9. Alex Gordon .358
10. Dexter Fowler .354

It’s hard to call Adrian Gonzalez lucky, but it looks like he was lucky on balls in play. It’s hard to judge because not only did he change teams, but he changed leagues as well. His career average is almost 60 points below where Gonzalez ended up in 2011. He did post a career high 1.45 GB:FB ratio, but that’s not nearly high enough to keep a BABIP up that high. He did post a 21.2% LD rate, but his career average is 21.0%. Fantasy GMs might not want to expect another run at a batting title in 2012.

Matt Kemp isn’t nearly as likely to regress as much as Gonzalez is. Kemp owns a .355 career BABIP and he still has the speed to leg out a couple infield hits when he puts the ball on the ground. He posted a 0.90 GB:FB ratio in 2011, but he posted a 23.2% LD %. That line drive rate drove his high BABIP and he’s been over 20.0% for every year of his career. Kemp’s bump in power numbers is more scary than his BABIP is. He posted a 21.4% HR:FB ratio, but has a 15.9% ratio for his career. He also put more balls in the air in 2011 than in any other year. He won’t be a disappointment of Mauerian proportions, but fantasy GMs need to temper their expectations.

Emilio Bonifacio owns a career BABIP of .339, but he’s not necessarily lucky. He posted a 2.31 GB:FB ratio in 2011. A guy like Bonifacio depends on random bounces a lot more than players who spray line drives all over the field like Kemp or even Gonzalez do. He puts a lot of balls in play and will be a victim of the luck dragons.  He should maintain a high BABIP, but he’s likely to regress in 2012. A .372 BABIP is asking a lot, even for Emilio and he’s unlikey to sustain a number that high.

Michael Bourn outperformed his .341 career BABIP, but he’s not as likely to regress as long as his legs are healthy. Bourn puts the ball on the ground(2.22 GB:FB ratio in 2011) and use his legs to get on base. It would be unusual if he didn’t post a higher than average BABIP.

Want a name to stay away from in 2012? It’s Michael Young. Not only did Young stay healthy, but he outperformed his .338 career average. His BABIP was buoyed by a 26.2% LD %. That number was a career high. Fantasy GMs need to beware the luck dragon when it comes to Young. He’s due for a regression. Young isn’t worth a corner infield spot if he’s not posting a high batting average.

Alex Avila’s batting average is likely to regress, but he’s still worth a roster spot because he has some pop(.211 ISO in 2011) and can take a walk(13.2% BB rate in 2011). He outperformed his .329 career BABIP and posted a 0.93 GB:FB ratio. So, how did he post a high BABIP? His 21.7% LD %. If his disastrous 2010 season was one extreme, then his 2011 season was the other. He’ll likely be somewhere in the middle in 2012.

Miguel Cabrera owns a .347 BABIP for his career. He puts a lot of balls in play and tends to get a lot of base hits thanks to his 21.3% career LD %. He did post a 1.30 GB:FB ratio in 2011. That likely helped his BABIP stay above his career average. He might lose a few points in batting average if that number comes down, but fantasy GMs don’t need to shy away from Swiggy. He’s at the top of most draft boards for a reason.

Prospective Hunter Pence owners need to fear the luck dragon in 2012. Pence posted a .314 batting average that came with a .361 BABIP. Pence’s career average BABIP is over 30 points lower than his 2011 mark. He posted this high BABIP while maintaining a 1.67 GB:FB ratio. The only problem is that his career average is 1.60. He did manage a 17.9 LD %, but that number was the highest Pence has posted since his rookie year. It looks like Pence enjoyed a career year in 2011 and could be due for a regression in 2012.

Alex Gordon finally enjoyed a solid season, but he did it with a BABIP that was 40+ points higher than his career average. He bounced back from a .254 BABIP in 2010 and will likely regress towards his career average in 2012.

Dexter Fowler basically was who he has always been last year. He posted a .796 OPS. His career average is .767. His batting average was .266. His career average is .262. His BABIP was .354 and his career average is .342. That’s a guy playing to his career averages. The problem with Fowler is that he only stole 12 bases in 21 attempts. Fowler needs to steal bases in bunches if he’s ever going to be worth having on a roster.

1. Vernon Wells .214
2. Alex Rios .237
3. Mark Teixeira .239
4. Evan Longoria .239
5. Ian Kinsler .243
6. Kurt Suzuki .244
7. Casey McGehee .249
8. Dan Uggla .253
9. Yuniesky Betancourt .259
10. Carlos Santana .263

It’s hard not to call Vernon Wells unlucky. Any time a batter suffers through a season with a .214 BABIP, he’s probably going to be called unlucky. Wells career average sits at .282 and he’s likely to have a season close to that number. He did post a 12.3% LD rate. That number was a career low for Wells and likely contributed to his crazy low BABIP. He posted a 0.82 GB:FB ratio, so he was putting a lot of balls in the air. He managed to pop 25 homers, but he also made lots and lots of outs. He could very well post another ridiculously low BABIP in 2012 unless he makes a significant change to his approach.

Watching Alex Rios dig his fingers into his skull after making another out was the perfect image to sum up the frustration he felt while suffering through a horrible 2011 campaign. Rios is likely to return somewhere close to his .306 career average in 2012. He doesn’t fit the profile of a low BABIP guy and was really, really unlucky in 2011. He posted a 1.08 GB:FB ratio with an 18.4% LD rate. He tends to put a lot of balls in play and happened to hit a lot of those balls directly at fielders. There’s nothing in his peripherals that indicate he was this bad and he’s a solid bet to bounce back.

Mark Teixeira has changed his approach to hit in New Yankee Stadium. He’s gone from a GB:FB neutral hitter in Texas, Atlanta and Los Angeles to an extreme fly ball hitter in New Yankee. He posted a 0.68 GB:FB ratio at home versus a 0.81 GB:FB ratio on the road. He’s trying to put the ball in the air as often as possible at home and fits the low BABIP profile. He should have a lower than average BABIP because he hits a lot of fly balls. He’ll hit a lot more homers, but he’ll also make a lot of long outs. There’s nothing wrong with Teix, he’s simply altered his approach to take advantage of his ballpark.

Evan Longoria also fits the low(er) BABIP profile, but he was unlucky in 2011 and is a solid bet to rebound in 2012. He posted a 0.84 GB:FB ratio in 2011 and owns a 0.88 rate for his career. He probably should maintain a sub .300 BABIP, but he shouldn’t be on this leader board. It’s a safer bet that his return to health could also signal better fortunes ahead for Longo.

Ian Kinsler would be a solid bet to get a “BABIP bounce” in 2012, if he wasn’t trying so hard to hit lots and lots of fly balls. Kinsler posted a 0.74 GB:FB ratio in 2011 and owns a 0.75 ratio for his career. His 2011 season was remarkably similar to his 2009 season and his 2007 season. He’s a much safer bet in OPS leagues than traditional leagues that use batting average. He’s perfectly fine to draft high as long as you’re prepared for the hit you could take in batting average. The only way Kinsler has delivered a solid batting average is if his GB:FB ratio is closer to 1.00(like in 2010) or his LD % is over 20%(like in 2008). Those two seasons appear to be the outliers and years like last year seem to be the norm.

Last year was Kurt Suzuki’s second consecutive season with a sub-.250 BABIP. It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Kurt return to his .271 career average. He posted a 0.81 GB:FB ratio, but only managed a 8.0% HR:FB ratio. He hit more fly balls than any season since his rookie year, but most of them found outfielders’ gloves instead of the cheap seats.

For some reason, Casey McGehee was convinced that hitting baseballs on the ground was the best way to get out of his season long slump. McGehee posted a 1.48 GB:FB ratio in 2011. That’s really high for a guy without any speed. McGehee will likely continue to underperform unless he can alter his approach to maximize his power potential. He’s stuck in a two-year trend of increasing GB:FB numbers and declining production. He’s an end of the draft flyer until he can reverse that trend.

Hmmm, Dan Uggla posted a career high .330 BABIP in 2010 and then followed that with a .253 BABIP in 2011? No way. There’s no way a batter could regress like that. Uggla got really lucky in 2010 and was really unlucky in 2011. He’ll likely be around his .294 career average in 2012 and is perfectly safe to bet on for having a solid season. He’s already outperformed and regressed.

Yuniesky Betancourt should be on this list because he makes lots and lots of outs. He’s either hitting a towering fly ball to the warning track or beating a baseball into the ground. He doesn’t draw walks. He doesn’t have speed. He doesn’t have much power. He shouldn’t be on your roster. This isn’t luck. This is called ‘bad at hitting.”

We don’t have a lot of data to go on with Carlos Santana with him only having one full season in the big leagues. Given the amount of balls he put on the ground(1.12 GB:FB ratio), it’s a safe bet that he was unlucky in 2011, but the question should be, “Why is a guy with Santana’s talent struggling with batting average?” The answer is likely found in his 15.4% LD rate in 2011. He also really struggled against right handed pitchers. Santana posted a .202/.315/.420 slash line with 106 Ks in 441 PA’s. His BABIP against righties was only .213. It’s safe to chalk it up to bad luck until we have more data, but fantasy GMs might want to exercise caution and not get too over the moon for this guy.


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