As we near the All-Star break, there are some genuine concerns with the Rays offense. But like everything in baseball, a player’s actual numbers may not accurately portray how well a player has performed. Sometimes a player a gets lucky and finds holes in the defense and sometimes a ball is hit hard and finds a glove.

So let’s look at who has been lucky and who needs to adjust their superstitious routines.

To do this, we are going to look at each player’s Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), which just asks “how often does a player get a basehit on a ball he hits fair.” But some players hit the ball harder more often, and those players should have higher BABIPs. So we will compare each player’s BABIP to their expected BABIP (xBABIP).

If a player’s xBABIP is significantly higher than their actual BABIP, that is a good indication that the player has been unlucky. In other words, he is hitting better than his stats might indicate, but maybe his linedrives are finding gloves more often than they should (check this link for an explanation of xBABIP).

Notes on the table are below…

We defined a player as “lucky” or “unlucky” if their BABIP differed from their xBABIP by more than 40 points. And what we see is that almost every player on the team (minimm 40 PAs) has a BABIP lower than what it should be. And no player has been excedingly “lucky.”

On the other hand, several key players have been very unlucky so far, including Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Ben Zobrist, and *gulp* Jose Molina. It should be noted that speed is not factored here. So a player that is VERY slow *cough*Molina*cough* he will likely have fewer actual basehits than would be expected.

Still, this does give us some hope moving forward. If these players continue to hit the ball the same way, we may start to see more basehits. And at the same time, there aren’t any players that we would expect to significantly regress.

All data via Fangraphs.com

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7 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    If I started running to first base in Nationals park right now, from Tampa, I'd beat Molina by three steps

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  2. Beth says:

    I understand that "luck" here is used as a shorthand for "under" or "over" the expected performance, but I wish there were a better, or more precise word for this variation.

    While some players have clearly been truly unlucky, others are in patterns that are likely to be repeated. If you don't hit the ball hard, it's more likely to get caught - and BABIP doesn't differentiate between the smoked line drive and the lazy fly ball.

    Also, BABIP doesn't account for defensive positioning. Players like Pena and Scott, who pull the ball with regularity, are likely to continue to have low BABIPs as teams defend them with a shift. We can say that the many hard hit balls caught by the shifted second baseman standing in short right field are "unlucky," but they are also quite predictable.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      That's where xBABIP comes in. It is calculated using linedrive rates, flyball rates, etc. So it is factoring how hard a player is hitting the ball.

      However, yes, defensive positioning is something to consider here. If Luke Scott and Hideki Matsui are facing more shifts than the average player (probably) they are going to get fewer hits than expected. How much? I dont know. But, my guess is that shifts wouldn't account for this much difference.

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      • Beth says:

        Sorry, I simply didn't focus on your explanation of xBABIP, so much of my comment is based on a faulty assumption.

        It is interesting to think, however, how more precise defensive positioning will influence the game moving forward. i would think that a hitter who uses the whole field will become a more valuable player. I wonder whether that will start affecting draft picks and trades, and trickle down to player development?

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  3. Dave L says:

    If you take the very unlucky guys, I will give my un-saber opinion.

    Matsui has a a small sample size and has actually been flat out unlucky. He has been hitting the ball hard but alot of atom balls its only based on 53 at bats so its only like 10 games. Thats why im not ready to toss him overboard as many here already are.

    Rhymes on the other hand just hits the ball rather weakly for a Major Leaguer I think that contributes to his penchant for outmaking.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Good point on both. one player that comes to mind is Dioner Navarro. People used to say he was unlucky because he hit a ton of line drives. But he also had almost zero bat speed, so his "line drives" weren't the same as most players. That, and his lack of any speed, was a recipe for disaster.

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