What do the five unluckiest men in the MLB have in common entering the second half of the season? You guessed it, low batting averages. What has sabermetrics linked together with these low batting averages? Batting average on balls in play, (In simpler terms known as BABIP.)
BABIP is essentially used to determine how lucky, or unlucky a hitter is getting on balls that they make contact with. BABIP excludes home runs, meaning a high BABIP paired with an average that is miles ahead of a player’s career average highly suggests that they’re due for some sort of regression at some point during the season, as you can’t expect a player to perform above expectations for an entire year. While the same can be said for someone who holds a very low BABIP that is miles below their career average, suggesting that this player can’t be this bad for a prolonged period of time because he is simply just getting unlucky. BABIP takes into account of these three major components:
Defense: Imagine a player smacks a hard-line drive down the third base line. If an elite defender is playing third base they most likely make a play on it and throw the runner out. However, if there’s a player who is below average defensively with poor range, the ball could just as easily roll through for a hit. The defenses players face are 100% out of their own control, which can only direct their contact to a limited extent. Sometimes, a batter makes good contact and a ball is hit extremely hard, but hits the ball right at a fielder.
Luck: A batter may sometimes turn a very well-thrown inside breaking ball that ties him up into a dribbler that sneaks past the first baseman, even though the hitter made poor contact. On the other hand, a ball that is hit well might go right to where a fielder is standing even though the batter hit the ball at a high velocity. Hits can fall in despite the best pitches and the best defenses due simply to luck.
Talent Level: The harder a ball is made contact with, it is simple knowledge that the ball is more likely to fall in for a hit than not. A good hitter could be able to get a hit on 35 percent of their balls in play with consistency, but BABIP will often fluctuate based on defense and luck, so using it to get a grasp on true talent is extraneous even if it does influence the number.
There is good number of major leaguers who are riding high BABIPs that would explain hitting outbursts like Jonathan Villar, Ian Desmond and Christian Yelich. Their BABIP to AVG differences and career averages are shown below.
With that being said, lets shift away from the “luckiest” guys and target in on the unluckiest ones. These guys are way more interesting to examine. What these next five players shown have in common are slow starts to their seasons. Their 2016 BABIP and AVG will be displayed, explanations of what to expect in the second half, and what is causing these players to get BABIP’d.