Surprise! You Believed Their 2016 BABIPs, But Shouldn’t Have

So it’s been an xBABIP two weeks and we’re just about through analyzing every aspect of my new equation. Over the last couple of days, I’ve looked at the 2017 BABIP surgers and BABIP decliners, but the majority of the names were fairly obvious. If you posted a .230 BABIP in 2016, you’re probably going to find yourself on a potential surger list, while a .380 BABIP is likely going to get you onto the decliner list. Commenter Tom Cranker suggested cherry-picking a list of fantasy relevant hitters who posted 2016 BABIP marks around the league average (.300) who xBABIP actually believes should have performed significantly better or worse. These guys you wouldn’t think twice about believing their BABIP marks since they aren’t out of the ordinary, but their underlying skills suggest otherwise. Let’s take a look at some of those names.

I generally chose hitters with at least a 0.030 gap between BABIP and xBABIP (.300 BABIP vs .330 or .270 xBABIP) with an actual BABIP not too far from league average. I ended up with a selection of six from either side.

Don’t Believe It — More 2017 BABIP Surgers
Name LD% Tru FB% Tru IFFB% Hard% Spd PGWS%* BABIP xBABIP BABIP-xBABIP
Joe Mauer 26.8% 21.3% 0.0% 31.3% 3.6 5.5% 0.301 0.350 -0.049
Howie Kendrick 19.4% 19.6% 0.0% 33.8% 4.8 0.7% 0.301 0.344 -0.043
Justin Turner 23.9% 37.4% 2.6% 37.6% 3.8 1.5% 0.293 0.327 -0.034
Buster Posey 21.5% 28.4% 1.5% 36.1% 4.1 0.9% 0.303 0.335 -0.032
Gregory Polanco 24.0% 33.0% 4.1% 35.7% 5.6 7.8% 0.291 0.323 -0.032
Alex Gordon 24.2% 35.9% 2.0% 36.9% 5.0 16.2% 0.288 0.315 -0.027
*Pull GB While Shifted%

I often mention Joey Votto as owning the most pristine batted ball profile in baseball. However, Joe Mauer is essentially his twin. Mauer has hit just 25 pop-ups in his career, spanning 5,076 balls in play. That equates to just 0.5% of his balls in play. To put that into context, Todd Frazier led all of baseball with 39 just this season in 433 balls in play, or 9% of his batted balls. Yeah, Mauer doesn’t exactly contribute anywhere else, but when you hit that many line drives and few or no pop-ups, there’s no reason to expect a league average BABIP will continue.

I just completed my first draft of the season, battling wits with Paul in the LABR Mixed league on Monday night, and as usual, Howie Kendrick was undervalued. Has he simply become boring? The over-30 veteran bias? He hasn’t hit a pop-up since 2013! He’s hit just three since 2011. He’ll flirt with double digits in both homers and steals, and should return to helping your batting average too.

It’s amazing that like many players before him, Justin Turner’s offensive game exploded immediately upon leaving the Mets. While his ISO has been on a two-season upswing, his BABIP has tumbled since his ridiculous .404 mark in 2014 (.343 xBABIP by the way). His 2016 xBABIP is close to his 2015 mark when he posted an actual BABIP of .321. I think fantasy owners are still unwilling to believe this new level of offense. Believe it…with a better batting average than 2016 to boot.

Buster Posey suffered his worst offensive season of his career, which is impressive considering it was still well above average and he plays at the most offense-starved position. Blame a lot of it on the BABIP, which fell to a career low, which is baffling since, get this…his xBABIP hit a new high. Perhaps Posey comes at the cheapest cost he has in years?

You loved Gregory Polanco’s power spike, but this year he’ll push that average above .260 finally. Then he won’t just be a four-category contributor, while hurting you in one category, but instead be neutral at worst in batting average.

It’s official — fantasy owners hate Alex Gordon. Yes, there are issues not to be ignored here, but this was his lowest BABIP mark over a full season in his career and completely undeserved. He’s likely to be a bargain in drafts.

Don’t Believe It — More 2017 BABIP Decliners
Name LD% Tru FB% Tru IFFB% Hard% Spd PGWS%* BABIP xBABIP BABIP-xBABIP
Anthony Rizzo 20.3% 37.7% 3.6% 34.3% 3.2 21.5% 0.309 0.268 0.041
Luis Valbuena 21.2% 38.0% 4.3% 35.7% 2.4 16.0% 0.315 0.276 0.039
Carlos Beltran 20.9% 32.8% 4.2% 35.8% 1.8 16.1% 0.315 0.280 0.035
Aledmys Diaz 15.6% 33.7% 5.2% 31.5% 4.3 0.8% 0.312 0.279 0.033
Yasiel Puig 16.4% 27.1% 8.0% 31.2% 4.8 5.0% 0.306 0.275 0.031
Nelson Cruz 18.1% 34.3% 3.2% 36.4% 2.8 7.5% 0.320 0.290 0.030
*Pull GB While Shifted%

Shocked to see Anthony Rizzo’s name atop the surprise BABIP decliners list? He’s actually only been above a .300 xBABIP once in his career, and that was back in 2012. As you might have guesses, he has been just another victim of the shift, though his BABIP hasn’t tumbled like some other ground ball pull-happy lefties. He also hits more fly balls than grounders, which is another negative. He’s as consistent as it gets and a relatively safe investment, just be wary of a bit of batting average downside.

Is Luis Valbuena fantasy relevant? Sure! This was literally the first time he has ever posted a BABIP above .300 over seven seasons in which he has recorded at least 300 plate appearances. I guess that alone makes him an obvious regression candidate.

So much regression potential for Carlos Beltran, I don’t even know where to begin. Coming off his best fantasy performance since 2012, he’s the lockiest lock to be overvalued in drafts.

Aledmys Diaz enjoyed a surprise breakout season, but a .312 BABIP didn’t look suspicious at all in fueling it. Unfortunately, he hit too few line drives and too many pop-ups, so he was quite fortunate to post a BABIP mark above the league average. The low LD% is probably a fluke though, so he probably won’t experience regression all the way down to his xBABIP.

Yasiel Puig has outperformed his xBABIP every season so far, and significantly in three of his four seasons. He’s a head-scratcher in oh so many ways. I want to just ignore everything and add some shares given what we think is his upside, but I feel like there’s still at least one other in your league that is holding enough hope to keep him from being a bargain.

One of these seasons, Nelson Cruz owners are going to be very disappointed. Not only is a high 20% HR/FB rate going to fall, but is dropping below .300 sooner or later. His price fails to account for any of that risky downside.

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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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Thanks, Pod!