BABIP: A Deceiving Statistic

Jason Sarney Correspondent IFebruary 21, 2008

By:   Brett Greenfield

BABIP can be defined as batting average on balls in play. This is a measure of the number of batted balls that safely fall in for a hit (not including home runs).

A typical BABIP is about .290 for a pitcher. Today we'll examine certain pitchers who strayed from the mean in 2007.

While the mean is typically around .290, 65 percent of starting pitchers in 2007 had a BABIP between .270 and .310. Those guys aren't far off the average. However, 35 percent of pitchers were. Who were they and what should you expect in 2008?

Two pitchers had BABIP's that were extremely low: El Duque and Chris Young.

You'd have to go back to the '90s to find someone who had a BABIP as low as Hernandez did last year. His .214 BABIP was absurd. Once some of those balls in play start finding holes, his ERA should rise to a more normal range. Don't expect much from the aging vet.

Young's.235 BABIP might worry some. Not me though. Last year, Young led the majors with a .220 BABIP. That makes two years in a row way below the norm. I had to think for a minute...but then some things became clear.

1. He moved from Arlington to Petco. Petco keeps Tiger Woods from driving the ball from home plate over the right-field wall. 2. Young's rate of fly balls vs. ground balls strongly favors fly balls. In fact, he was No. 1 in the majors last year in Fly Ball Rate. He led the league in that department in 2006, too.

Some parks just mesh so well with certain pitchers. If he were smart he'd sign a 10-year deal right now. With the amount of fly balls he gives up, it’s no surprise that his BABIP is so low. In other parks, they may be home runs, but in PETCO they are lazy flies.

Of the 10 homers Young gave up last year, nine were on the road. If someone knows who hit the one homer off of Young in 2007, please let me know. I'll send that hitter a care package from greener on the other side.

So, expect Young, despite a very low BABIP, to maintain his low BABIP and remain a quality bet in 2008.

After El Duque and Young at .214 and .235, the next grouping starts at .252 and ranges to .269.

Some pitchers worth noting on the list who have low BABIP's, usually implying a higher ERA the next year include...

Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Barry Zito, and Johan Santana.

Hold on a second. Anybody notice anything here?

Amongst the 19 pitchers who were in the 35 percent "outliers," is it a coincidence that four are Cubs and three Blue Jays?

While it might be, I think there has to be more to this. After checking the teams' fielding percentage and amount of double plays turned, I was still unable to find a rhyme or reason for having two teams comprise such a large percentage of pitchers who have low BABIP.

No individual defenders seem to stick out on either team. Could ballparks play some sort of role?

In an effort to dig deeper into this mess, I decided to pull up some split stats on the situation. Using home/road splits, I noticed that not only did Marcum, Burnett, and McGowan have low BABIPs, but at the Rogers Centre, their low BABIP's remained just as low, if not lower. Roy Halladay, who wasn't in the top 40 lowest BABIP's, now appears in the top 15 when we only look at home BABIP's.

This adds to the assumption that the Rogers Centre has something to do with the low BABIP. Maybe it doesn't...but maybe it does.

Upon further examination of Zito, Santana and Zambrano, I noticed that, like Young, they all have a knack for low BABIP's annually.

With the number of pitchers who annually have low BABIP's and the amount of Blue Jays and Cubs on the list, I don't think BABIP gives us enough insight to help in fantasy baseball. It is extremely unpredictable, extremely variable and seems to have some patterns that are unable to be explained.

During the season, it may be useful around the All-Star break to identify which pitchers have high or low BABIP's that may regress towards the mean during the second half of the season.

Until then, we should be focusing most on DIPS, ERC and K/9.