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Sabermetrics: Since When Is a Home Run Not a Batted Ball in Play?

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Sabermetrics: Since When Is a Home Run Not a Batted Ball in Play?
TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 14: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats in a MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on August 14, 2011 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

I understand that there is no defense against a home run.

I understand that BABIP (Batted Average Balls in Play) is an attempt to measure the chances of a hitter making contact, putting the ball in play and getting a hit.

Isn't a home run a ball that the batter puts in play and gets a hit? I have been under that impression for quite a few years.

By the way, how does BABIP account for an inside-the-park home run?

Some claim that a low BABIP average might indicate a hitter who makes poor contact quite often. A pitcher who has a low BABIP is a pitcher against whom batters don't hit the ball solidly.

Batters make good contact on even "cheap" home runs. Anyway, it makes sense to count home runs as balls put into play for a simple reason. They are balls put into play.

For those who don't want to contaminate the current formula, refer to it as BABIP + HR. That sounds nice, although it is a little long.

A few examples illustrate the real chances of a batted ball becoming a hit.

The 2011 American League MVP (am I getting ahead of myself? I think not), Jose Bautista, is batting .314. His BABIP is .313.

But pitchers better keep Bautista-hit balls in the park. When Bautista puts a ball in play, it falls safely 39.1 percent of the time..

Call it anything you want, but counting home runs as balls in play is a revealing statistic.

Last season, Bautista batted .260 with a .233 BABIP. This is a player who hit 54 home runs. When he put a pitch in play, it was a hit 32.4 percent of the time.

When baseball's greatest hitter set the single-season record of 73 home runs in 2001, his BABIP was .266. That is crazy.

If pitchers thought that not preventing Bonds from making contact would produce a safe hit only 26.6 percent of the time, they wouldn't have walked him 177 times.

When his home runs are incorporated into the calculation, a Barry Bonds ball put into play was a hit 40.5 percent of the time.

Yes, BABIP is an attempt to determine how the defense helps or hurts a batter or pitcher, but explanations all attribute much of the deviation from the typical 30 percent of balls in play being hits to either luck or exceptional defense.

Steve Slowinski of  Fangraphs explains that "Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits. While typically around 30 percent of all balls in play fall for hits, there are three main variables that can affect BABIP."

He goes on to write that the three variables are the defense, luck and changes in talent level. The latter is a fancy way of referring to slumps or hot streaks.

Implicit is the fact that there is no defense against a home run, but that is not the point. Jose Bautista's and Barry Bonds' low BABIP's are the point.

It is contradictory to have a statistic called Batted Balls in Play but not include home runs as a batted ball in play.

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