Last week we looked at pitcher BABIP and strand rate to determine which pitchers had been fortunate so far this year and who was due to see their luck turn around this season. This week, we'll focus on hitter BABIP with the goal of making the same determination. Of course, hitter BABIP cannot be considered in a vacuum.
Too many smart baseball people make the mistake of quoting BABIP as an end-all, be-all statistic. Player X has a .390 BABIP? That's bound to come down. Player Y's BABIP is just .250? Some of his bloopers will start dropping in sooner or later. While that's true to a certain extent, it ignores the fact that hitters actually do have some control over BABIP. Line drives are more likely to go for hits than fly balls or ground balls. Additionally, fast players who can leg out infield singles can post higher-than-average BABIPs that might appear to be unsupported by other numbers. When evaluating a player's BABIP, you have to consider his line-drive rate, ground-ball rate and fly-ball rate, as well as his speed.
You also have to take into account a player's career BABIP. Some players have demonstrated a skill to post high BABIPs year after year. Once a player has that track record, a high BABIP can't be a fluke.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at the players with the highest BABIPs (through June 17) this year, and, by using their batted-ball stats -- including infield-fly-ball rate -- project who can keep it up and who may regress.
So what does this mammoth chart tell us? Well, a number of these guys, including Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Votto, Braun and Gonzalez, regularly post high BABIPs. Not only are they not interesting for this column, but they're also not going to be involved in many trades this time of year. Other guys who appear on this list most seasons include Freeman, Kendrick, Howard, Gordon, Fowler, Craig and Goldschmidt. While you might not expect it, these guys have a track record we should be willing to honor at this point. And in the interest of whittling away at the list, let's go ahead and get rid of anyone with a line-drive rate of more than 25 percent.
Davis has a 30.4 percent HR/FB ratio, which is not included in balls in play. He has turned into one of the league's best power hitters, so we can bet on him keeping up a higher-than-average BABIP this year. Everth Cabrera, Marte and Blanco are all fast players with high infield-hit percentages.
That gives us our possible regression player pool. My best bets to come back to earth, based on all the numbers at hand, are Gomez, Smith and Longoria. Let's take them all one-by-one.
Gomez has a ridiculous .370 BABIP that isn't totally backed up, thanks to a 19.1 percent line-drive rate and 7.7 percent infield-hit rate. He's striking out more than 20 percent of the time and walking less than 5 percent of the time. If Gomez is going to sustain his value, he'll have to keep blasting homers on 16.2 percent of his fly balls. I'd rather sell high than bet on him keeping up that pace.
Despite a .352 BABIP, Smith is hitting just .273. A lot of that has to do with a 24.7 percent strikeout rate. While Smith has had BABIPs of .324 and .320 in the past, he also posted a .256 BABIP in 2010 and .285 BABIP last year. Most players, especially ones with 2,000 career plate appearances, don't stray too far from their career BABIP. Smith's is .305. Chances are he'll end the season a lot closer to that number than to .352.
Finally, Longoria's 19.7 percent line-drive rate and 46.2 percent fly-ball rate are out of line with a .351 BABIP. His career BABIP is also .307, so as he works his way back to that, his rates will come down. I'm not suggesting you go out and sell him simply because of this. He's still a top player at a shallow position and he has 14 home runs. I'd just recommend that you're open to putting him on the market and seeing what sort of return he can net you.