BABIP Validations Using xBABIP – The Laggards

Last week, I discussed the two month BABIP underachievers, identifying names whose marks fell significantly below my xBABIP. Now let’s take a look at some of the hitters whose low BABIP marks are actually validated by xBABIP. These are the guys who at first glance, your knee-jerk reaction might be to expect a dramatic rebound, but the underlying skills that drive BABIP suggest there has been little bad fortune involved. That’s not to say that the hitters are going to maintain such weak skills, but that looking backward, the poor results have been legitimate.

BABIP Validations – The Laggards
Name LD% True FB% True IFFB% Hard% Spd Pull GB While Shifted% % BIP Shifted BABIP xBABIP BABIP-xBABIP
Kyle Schwarber 11.8% 39.3% 7.9% 34.4% 1.3 22.4% 87.1% 0.197 0.205 -0.008
Luis Valbuena 9.2% 34.2% 10.5% 29.0% 1.5 19.6% 73.6% 0.219 0.183 0.036
Mike Napoli 13.4% 40.4% 6.7% 33.6% 1.3 5.9% 22.4% 0.222 0.237 -0.015
Anthony Rizzo 16.4% 38.5% 4.1% 30.6% 4.0 23.6% 81.8% 0.235 0.241 -0.006
Rougned Odor 16.7% 30.7% 10.2% 35.1% 4.5 22.1% 79.4% 0.235 0.244 -0.009

Despite missing nearly the entire 2016 season and also losing his catcher eligibility in most leagues, fantasy owners were still willing to pony up a hefty price for Kyle Schwarber this year. While strong power has been there, his batting average remains well below the Mendoza Line. Who knew that Schwarber actually deserves a near .200 BABIP?! It’s easy to identify the problem — he forgot how to hit line drives and he’s pulling tons of ground balls into the shift. Oh, and the balls that aren’t being pulled into the shift are typically fly balls, or, gasp, pop-ups. The line drive rate will probably rise, but the rest of the issues he faces that have destroyed his BABIP are likely here to stay. He’s going to kill your batting average no matter what, though exactly how much is the only question.

I doubt you’re counting on Luis Valbuena, but if you’re in an AL-Only league, you certainly have to be starting him. He has never been much of a BABIP guy, but he did post a .315 mark last year. His current .219 would mark a career low, but get this — according to xBABIP, he has seemingly been fortunate to even post that high a BABIP mark! That’s INSANE. It’s actually the lowest xBABIP mark among all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, with Ryan Schimpf just after him. He has essentially been an extreme version of Schwarber with an even lower line drive rate and more pop-ups! Valbuena missed the first month of the season with a hamstring strain and you have to wonder if he’s truly healthy. His power has disappeared as well, so something smells fishy here.

Mike Napoli has never been much for hitting line drives, but he’s taken his inability to new heights this year. Not to the same degree as the above two, but still bad. Since he hasn’t cured his sudden pop-up problem that cropped up in 2015, that fly ball rate that has increased for a third straight season to its highest mark since 2008 is a real problem. It’s nice that the power has still been there, but he’s 35 folks, let’s just ignore last year.

Anthony Rizzo is doing some really good things this year — he’s walked more than he has struck out, while he has pushed that strikeout rate down to a career best, and a mark typically reserved for light-hitting slap hitters. When you strike out just 11% of the time and still display .200+ ISO power, you are officially part of the elite. Except, of course, when you still can’t hit for batting average. In March, I warned Baseball HQ First Pitch Forum attendees that Rizzo’s 2016 BABIP significantly exceeded his xBABIP, but you may not have assumed it to be the case because his BABIP was a reasonable .309. Most of the depressed xBABIP is due to a career low line drive rate which will likely improve. But he’s hitting oodles of grounders into the shift and that looks to finally be taking a toll.

If you were expecting a repeat of Rougned Odor’s 2016 performance, you’ve been quite disappointed so far. His power was a bit fluky, but a .260-.270 average seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t learned how to hit line drives at a league average clip and this year he has become a pop-up fanatic. His IFFB% ranks second in baseball and he leads baseball in total pop-ups…by FIVE! Oh, and like many lefties, he’s getting shifted a ton, and he’s obliged, hitting grounders to be gobbled up over 20% of the time. In 2015, Odor faced the shift just 9.1% of the time, but that rate spiked last year to a whopping 54.8%, and it has surged again to 79.4%. Teams have clearly figured out how to defend him and now it’s Odor’s turn to adjust.

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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Would you still buy low on Odor? In an OBP league, I lost Villar to injury so I just traded Carlos Santana for Odor and then immediately picked up Alonso.