Baseball Stats 101: How to Use BABIP to Cheat Your Friends

The GooseCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2008

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Not everyone likes math, but unfortunately for some, in fantasy baseball, knowledge of statistics is a necessity.  We are about to be barraged by projections in the coming weeks. While some may be generated using fancy computer programs, others may be compiled by just eyeballing a player’s career statistics.  There is no way of telling who to trust. 

There are many statistics you should look at prior to evaluating the future of a player, but one I have found success with is Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP).

For those of you familiar with my site, I am a big proponent of BABIP.  I discovered it two years ago, and I feel it is a great way to determine whether a pitcher or hitter had legitimate success or a luck-aided, career year.  Either way, you can use this analysis to pawn off a player that won't repeat last year's performance or grab that player that had an unlucky 2008 from an unsuspecting fellow owner.

Here is a very simplistic look at BABIP and how it can be your evaluating friend. 




The Basics


How is BABIP calculated?  Well, it is the measure of the number of batted balls that safely fall in for a hit (not including HRs).  The exact formula used is:


     Hits - HR


Don't worry, you don't have to calculate it for yourself, as the best place to find a player’s BABIP is at, just below the Standard statistics.  Baseball Prospectus claims that the typical BABIP is roughly .290, but the average over the last decade is closer to .300.


In other words, a typical player would hit .300 if he put the ball in play every AB, never striking out.  On the other hand, an average pitcher would have a Batting Average Against of .300 if he never struck out a single batter. 


So, how can you use this newfound knowledge?  It is slightly different for pitchers and hitters, but it can be a useful tool in ripping off your friends/league-mates. 




For Pitchers


You may be thinking that a pitcher’s BABIP has to do with the quality of his stuff, so the better the pitcher, the lower the BABIP.  Well, do you know who had the lowest BABIP in the Majors last season with a minimum 185 IP?  Roy Halladay?  Tim Lincecum?  Johan Santana?  Nope, Dave Bush of the Brewers at .245.


Compare that to CC Sabathia’s .306, and you can see that luck is a factor in the success of a pitcher (those bloop hits add up). 


As a case study, let’s look at A.J. Burnett, who had a solid year in 2008 with the Blue Jays.  While he won 18 games, he carried a subpar 4.07 ERA.  What can we expect next season?


Well, looking at his .327 BABIP (career .293 BABIP), you would expect that number to regress to the norm, thus he should give up fewer hits, lowering his WHIP and ERA.  A.J. Burnett was actually unlucky last year and still won 18 games.  Now if you could only count on him for 200 innings every season...


On the flip side, our friend Dave Bush can expect his BABIP to increase toward the .300 level.  Therefore, expect a rise in WHIP and ERA in 2009.  Dave Bush was lucky last season...and still went 9-10 with a 4.18 ERA.  In other words, take a pass on him this season—I see bad things.




For Hitters


Hitters are slightly different, because as we all know, the odds of a ball smacked by Manny Ramirez (career .344 BABIP) turning into a hit is a bit different than for Henry Blanco (career .255 BABIP).  So for a veteran hitter, it is best to use his career BABIP as a baseline.  For younger hitters, .300 should be used as the baseline until a minimum of three to four full seasons of statistics are available.


Looking back at Ramirez, even for him, that .373 BABIP last season was a bit excessive.  He remains one of the best hitters in fantasy baseball, but even he played a bit over his head in 2008.  He’s not going to maintain a .396 batting average over a full season in LA...right? 


Using the .300 baseline for younger hitters is a simple way to determine whether he will maintain, improve, or regress at the plate.  Take Hunter Pence, for example.  He burst onto the scene in 2007 aided by a .378 BABIP.  Considered a disappointment in 2008, Pence produced a .303 BABIP.  If you noticed the high 2007 BABIP, you would have been able to predict Pence’s regression.




Fantasy Rundown


If you take anything away from this, here is the most simplistic way to use BABIP to your advantage.


IF HITTER’S 2008...


BABIP > .300 = Likely will be worse next year

BABIP < .300 = Likely will be better next year


IF PITCHER’S 2008...


BABIP > .300 = Likely will be better next year

BABIP < .300 = Likely will be worse next year


Now let’s look at how line drive percentage fits into this...maybe next time.