2019 Review — Surprise! You Believed Their 2019 BABIPs, But Shouldn’t Have

Today, I move on from xHR/FB rate and its components to my xBABIP equation. Every year, there are some seemingly obvious candidate to regress (like the guy who just BABIP’d .390) or improve (like the guy who just BABIP’d .210). But what about the guys hovering within range of the league average of .298? Just because their BABIP marks were close to average doesn’t mean their skills supported such a mark. So let’s discuss hitters who posted a seemingly sustainable BABIP, but xBABIP suggests the mark was either way over their head or actually below what their skills suggested.

For a hitter to qualify for this list, he must have posted a BABIP between .280 and .320.

Normal BABIP? NOPE! They Deserved Better
Yadier Molina 0.289 0.357 -0.068
Lorenzo Cain 0.301 0.359 -0.058
Justin Turner 0.304 0.360 -0.056
Jesse Winker 0.286 0.339 -0.053
Dansby Swanson 0.300 0.353 -0.053
Ronald Guzman 0.282 0.334 -0.052

Yadier Molina’s BABIP falls right in line with previous seasons, so it would have been easy to chalk this up to just another season. But his 27% line drive rate and second highest career Hard% really should have produced a much higher BABIP. So expect much better in 2020? Not so fast. Just because he posted the skills that produced a much higher BABIP in 2019, it doesn’t mean he’ll replicate those skills. I certainly ain’t betting on a 37 year-old-catcher to post that LD% or Hard% again. But if he does, that BABIP should climb back over .300, easily.

For all you Lorenzo Cain fans, you can now breathe a sigh of relief that last season’s big drop in BABIP was essentially all just bad luck. In fact, this was the second highest xBABIP he has posted since I have tracked it going back to 2012. He should bounce back and return to the solid all-around contributor he had been previously in 2020.

This was Justin Turner’s highest xBABIP on my spreadsheet, though much of that was driven by a career best 50.4% Hard%, which I wouldn’t count on again. He should be a strong performer again in the middle of another elite Dodgers lineup.

Jesse Winker apparently traded BABIP for HR/FB, which is funny, because my xMetrics suggest he actually owned the opposite skills. Either way, he should do at least one of the two very well. But the biggest question is how much he’s going to play, which is not answerable at the moment.

It looked like another small step forward for Dansby Swanson, but both his LD% and Hard% surged, and his BABIP should have gone along for the ride. Seems there’s more upside here.

Ronald Guzman is easily the sleeperiest of the names here and exactly the kind of guy I hope to uncover on these lists. Guzman lost his starting job and spent some time at Triple-A, but he enters 2020 as the likely starter at first, at least against righties. The team does have alternatives and just signed Greg Bird, but that’s why he’ll come quite cheap. The caveat here is the xBABIP is largely driven by an impressive 28.9% LD%, which ain’t going to be repeated, and like most lefties, he grounds into the shift a lot. So he’s obviously no slam dunk, but I’m definitely speculating in a deep league.

Normal BABIP? NOPE! They Deserved Worse
Francisco Mejia 0.319 0.265 0.054
Gregory Polanco 0.316 0.283 0.033
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 0.308 0.280 0.028

As you could see, there were far more underperformers than overperformers in this BABIP range. I’m not sure why, but I’m thinking it’s because Hard% has gone through the rood and wreaking havoc on my equation. Still, this is all a relative analysis anyway, so the absolute over- or underperformance is less important than how it compares to other hitters.

The catching crop always stinks so Francisco Mejia is likely to be a favorite cheaper sleeper option for those who miss out on the top tier. But don’t let that BABIP fool you into thinking he’s on his way into that top tier if he got the at-bats. While he certainly could (thanks to a power surge), he hit wayyyyyy too many pop-ups and fly balls, and grounded into the shift far too often, to deserve a BABIP above .300.

With power and speed, Gregory Polanco sure seems like the type to consistently post above average BABIP marks. But he only had once in his career (in 2015, and just barely) until his small sample mark in 2019. xBABIP says this is the same Polanco he has been for the last three seasons. Alarmingly, he has been grounding into the shift more and more, which is a bad combination with his affinity for the pop-up.

Oh no! Not Vladimir Guerrero Jr.! He was a bit of a disappointment during his highly anticipated debut, but it could have been worse if his BABIP fell below the .300 mark like his underlying skills suggested. A lack of any speed, a high pop-up rate, too few line drives, and a mediocre Hard% all contributed to that xBABIP.

It’s unfortunate that he had such unbelievable hype leading up to his debut, because he would have almost assuredly been a nice post-hype sleeper and undervalued in drafts if he hadn’t been. Instead, he’s still going 57th overall in NFBC drafts. That’s just ahead of Eugenio Suarez (HOLY COW!), who is coming off a 49-homer season (and yes, Vlad was still ahead even before news of Suarez’s shoulder surgery in late Jan), Manny Machado, who also has SS eligibility, and Max Muncy, who also has second base eligibility. Seriously, I just don’t get it. He literally has to hit 30-35 homers just to break even for his owners!

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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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Particularly for the rookies, I’d love to see how xBABIP changed throughout the year. Mejia had a much better second half, for example, which could mean he adjusted well or could mean he got lucky (or both).