Explaining BABIP and the 5 Unluckiest Hitters in Baseball

At this point in the season, it’s reasonable to start to think that trends are more than just trends. A prolonged slump might mean a lost season for a guy and a bust of a draft pick. This may very well be the case, but as we see every year, guys go off in the second half after struggling in the first.

Why is that? Well for some, it is just a long stretch of bad luck. The statistic Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is the stat that tells how much of a player’s level production is a result of either good or bad fortune. Now is that true? The answer is sort of. Let’s explore below.

What is BABIP?

In regards to hitters, BABIP is the percentage of hits a batter gets that are not home runs, strike outs or walks. The top 5 most common types of hits in baseball are in order:

  1. Medium hit line drives
  2. Soft hit line drives
  3. Hard hit line drives
  4. Hard hit ground balls
  5. Hard hit fly balls (remember, homeruns don’t count)

The most important measure by far here is line drive rate followed by hard hit rate. The third most important would be pull rate. Opposite field rate is considered a negative. Lastly, a high strikeout and/or walk percentage is not good as it gives less chances for hits as they do not count since they are not in play.

If a player has at or above the league average in line drive percentage (23.9%), hard hit percentage (39.9%), and pulled ball percentage (30.1%) they should be at least within 30 points of the league average BABIP of .299. If their BABIP is lower, it can genuinely be attributed to bad luck.

Does low BABIP always indicate bad luck?

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The short answer is no. Some players having low BAPIP has nothing to do with luck. The hitters with the worst BAPIP out of all who qualify are Kyle Schwarber, Max Muncy, and Pete Alonso. These players rely on homers and most of of their contact is fly balls. BABIP doesn’t matter in relation to the production you are looking for out of these guys.

Other examples are Adam Frazier‘s low hard hit rate and Jean Segura‘s high groundball percentage explaining their poor BAPIP. Other guys are very close but have one improvable category holding them back. Anthony Volpe cutting down on strike outs can improve his overall output significantly based off of the advanced stats. The same goes for Rafael Devers with needing to improve line drive rate.

5 Unluckiest Players According to BABIP

Without further or adieu, the following hitters can be deemed the “unluckiest” in the league this season and fantasy owners should expect an increase in production as a result.

5. Ozzie Albies: BABIP .257

The only reason Albies isn’t on the list is because his BABIP is notably higher than the others on the list. However, he is still over 30 points below the league average. All of the key advanced statistics indicate he should be putting up better numbers. His hard hit rate is a mere 1% lower than the league average which is negligible. His strikeout rate is very low at 12%. Albies is right at the league average line drive rate at 24% which should indicate he should have a much higher BABIP. But that’s not all, he has a 41.7% pull rate, over 10.5% more than the league average. He is hitting line drives, hitting them pretty hard and to the best part of the field for hits. This is just sheer bad luck.

4. Alex Bregman: BABIP .243

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Bregman owners likely snagged him because of his low strikeout rate which has held true for this season. So why has his output been so underwhelming? It appears to just be bad luck.  His line drive percentage of 25% is higher than the league average. His pull rate is just around the league average as well. Where Bregman is lacking a bit is his hard hit rate of 36.8% percent. That still isn’t low enough to explain such a precipitous drop in production. Fantasy owners should expect him to improve.

3. Daulton Varsho: BABIP .249

Although he’s started to turn it around lately, the Blue Jays prize off season acquisition hasn’t lived up to expectations. Varsho has exclusively played the outfield this season, but still has catcher eligibility in fantasy. This distinction led to him being a hot commodity during draft season and was being taken around the fifth round. The numbers seem to indicate that Varsho’s performance so far could be a fluke. Strikeout and walk rate are solid. Line drive rate is better than the league average and his pull rate of 43.4%. That is second best IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE! This quite simply does not make sense. Not only should there be an uptick in production here but it could be massive.

2. Keirbert Ruiz: BABIP .222

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This is a surprising one. To be completely honest, when I saw the Nationals catcher among the worst in the league in BAPIP, I assumed there was going to be some obvious explanation but there wasn’t. His strikeout percentage is only 7.3%! The league average is three times higher than that. Hard hit rate falls right around the league average as does line drive percentage. His pull right is actually quite above average. There is really no explanation for this, just lot of bad luck here. Ruiz’s production in previous seasons, or lack there of, is likely why this is going largely unnoticed. Given that Ruiz is already the number 10 catcher in fantasy, you can expect there to be a decent chance he can finish top 5.

1. Francisco Lindor: BABIP .234

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Here we have it. The unluckiest player in the league, Francisco Lindor. I would actually go as far to say that he is the unluckiest player by far. Mets fans and fantasy owners alike are incredibly disappointed with Lindor’s so far terrible season. That should definitely change. The line drives and strike out rates are exactly at the league average. He is the only person on this list with an above average hard hit rate and its a notable 3.5% higher. Pull percentage is also over the league average with 34%. There isn’t a single significant category where Lindor isn’t at or above the league average. He is the only one on this list to whom this applies to. Pair that with the fact that he not only has a bad babip but it is a measly .234. That is 10-20 points lower than some others on this list who didn’t have these numbers across the board. Lindor just seem to not be able to catch a break.

Note: Vinnie Pasquantino (.250 babip) could have definitely made this list around the 3 or 4 spot. His percentages were in line with league averages and actually had a higher line drive rate than anyone mentioned above. The reason he was left off of the list is he will not be returning this season due to injury. His bad luck is irrelevant to fantasy managers. 

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

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