2019 BABIP Decliners

Yesterday, I compared my xBABIP to actual BABIP to identify eight hitters with significant BABIP upside this season. Today, I’ll check in on six of the biggest xBABIP outperformers from 2018. These guys are at serious risk of dramatic BABIP downside, which would pull down their batting averages without an improvement in strikeout rate and/or jump in home run rate.

BABIP Decliners
Willy Adames 0.378 0.301 0.077
Renato Nunez 0.315 0.238 0.077
Jorge Alfaro 0.406 0.349 0.057
Jeff McNeil 0.359 0.305 0.054
Justin Smoak 0.297 0.248 0.049
Adam Engel 0.322 0.275 0.047

Willy Adames entered 2018 as one of the Rays top prospects and he was more than respectable, posting a .328 wOBA with 10 homers and six steals in about half of a season. He has actually made a living posting high BABIP marks in the minors, combining line drives and few pop-ups. But xBABIP suggests his inflated MLB debut mark was a complete fluke. His LD% was well below the average and his minor league days, his Spd score declined, and he actually grounded into the shift more than you would expect for a right-handed hitter. Basically, he did absolutely nothing special that could possibly result in a sky high BABIP. He could certainly improve those underlying skills driving his BABIP, as clearly he owned such skills in the minors, but I wouldn’t pay for it.

With new life on the Orioles, Renato Nunez was fairly respectable, showing some power and cutting down on his strikeout rate. But man was this BABIP a fluke. Given his high fly ball rate, a near 20% IFFB% is absurd, especially paired with a well below average LD%. How he managed a BABIP above .300 is a miracle. I’d buy him hoping for the power he showed at Triple-A in 2017, but be aware of the real potential he’s a batting average killer.

Could you believe that a catcher who batted more than 300 times posted a BABIP over .400?! Jorge Alfaro actually owns a .405 career BABIP now in 467 at-bats, which is craaaaaaaaaazy. Interestingly, while he does appear here as a potential BABIP regressor, a .349 xBABIP does suggest he owns excellent BABIP skills. That’s thanks to the glorious combo of lots of liners, few pop-ups, and rarely grounding into the shift. Unfortunately, the move to Miami is going to hurt his offense.

Jeff McNeil is a nice little sleeper, as he now looks like a near full-time player. The power never manifested in his debut, but he did show power in the minors before his callup that could reappear. I also love his low strikeout rate, which would really boost his homer total if he got that HR/FB rate into double digits. However, don’t expect another stratospheric BABIP with those skills. Though he showed good speed, he was basically average all around and undeserving of an inflated mark.

It’s pretty amazing that after nine seasons, Justin Smoak just set a new career high in BABIP, and yet that high was just .297. This was the first season his BABIP was above the league average! It barely was, but it counts. Oddly, while he just posted a career best BABIP, his xBABIP plummeted to its lowest mark on my spreadsheet, which goes back to 2012. A myriad of factors contributed — the second lowest LD% of his career (lowest going back to 2012), his highest rate of grounding into the shift, and a decline in Hard% to the lowest mark since 2012. You weren’t counting on Smoak to contribute in batting average, but if he doesn’t improve those skills, he could deliver another .215 to .220 mark, which really hurts.

Thanks to his speed, Adam Engel was rosterable in deep leagues last year, but he hits way too many harmless popups, and too few line drives, to sustain a BABIP above .300. I also don’t understand how he even keeps a job, as his defense has been perfectly average, while his career wOBA stands at a measly .253. What gives?

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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