Why a Low BABIP Doesn't Necessarily Signal a Good Buy-Low Candidate

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Why a Low BABIP Doesn't Necessarily Signal a Good Buy-Low Candidate
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The term "Batting Average on Balls In Play" (BABIP) has become one of the most popular stats among fantasy managers in recent years. 

To put it simply, BABIP measures the number of batted balls that fall safely for a hit (excluding home runs).

According to The Hardball Times Glossary, the exact formula for BABIP is: (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR+SF).

The major league average for BABIP is usually around .300. Last year it was .299. Through nearly three months this season, it's .298.

Generally, if a player’s BABIP is well-below the major league average, we can conclude that he has experienced some amount of bad luck. Sometimes the player is making good contact, but his batted balls simply aren’t finding holes in the defense. However, that’s not always the case.

Here are the 10 lowest BABIPs (among qualified batters) through games played on Sunday, June 27:

PLAYER BABIP AVG
Aaron Hill .183 .192
Jose Bautista .220 .230
Carlos Pena .221 .201
Carlos Quentin .225 .229
Pedro Feliz .227 .216
Carlos Lee .231 .234
Mark Teixeira .241 .229
Adam Lind .241 .203
Gordon Beckham .245 .204
A.J. Pierzynski .248 .242

 

Aaron Hill might be viewed as a buy-low candidate because of his major league low .183 BABIP (career .296), but the more revealing stats are his drastically high fly ball rate (52.0 percent) and MLB-low line drive rate of 8.4 percent. His BABIP is a direct result of these unlikely numbers.

So what can we take from this? It’s simple to understand, really.

Hill is hitting more fly balls in an effort to match his lofty home run total from last season. Because his HR/FB rate is just 10.5 percent, it’s fair to assume most of the remaining 89.5 percent of his fly balls are being caught for outs.

If Hill can level out his swing and raise his line drive rate closer to his career mark of 19.1 percent, his average will begin to rise as well.

Jose Bautista is tied for the major league lead with 20 homers, but his BABIP is a paltry .220. Is anyone buying low on the 29-year-old because of this? Absolutely not.

Bautista’s problem is the same as teammate Aaron Hill; his fly ball percentage is 55.3, the second highest total in baseball.

Because the formula for BABIP excludes home runs, a player who has high fly ball rates and home run totals is unlikely to post a respectable batting average.

Carlos Pena’s fly ball rate is actually down from recent years, but so too is his line drive rate (12.1 percent this year, 18.0 percent career). When Pena hit .282 in 2007, his line drive rate (18.0 percent) aided his BABIP (.297) and was the guiding factor.

Other players on the list such as Carlos Lee, Mark Teixeira, and Adam Lind all have line drive rates over 17.0 percent. Therefore, they are more likely to post higher averages in the near future (and thus, are better buy-low candidates) than the players mentioned above.

When evaluating a hitter, it’s important to look beyond BABIP. If his low BABIP is accompanied by a high LD rate—such as the case with Justin Smoak (.255 BABIP, 23.5 LD rate)—he’s a prime buy-low option.

The combination of a low BABIP and low LD rate—such as the case with the aforementioned Hill and Bautista—is one you probably want to avoid.

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