The 2015 Hitter xBABIP Overachievers

Yesterday, I used Alex Chamberlain’s xBABIP formula to determine which hitters most underperformed in the BABIP department, if you believe in xBABIP, of course. Today, I check in on the other side of the coin — those hitters whose xBABIPs were well below their actual BABIP marks. Since we’re dealing with an equation here that still has much room for improvement (it’s r-squared is the best I’ve seen, but still only in the mid-0.40 range), it’s possible, heck quite likely, that it’s missing things.

So let’s not take what it says as gospel, but it would be foolish to ignore what it suggests. Though you might not agree that these hitters all have the type of downside xBABIP hints at, everyone should agree that there’s far more downside here than upside and elevated risk if fantasy owners are paying for a repeat BABIP, or close to it.

2015 Hitter xBABIP Overachievers
Name BABIP xBABIP Diff
Chris Colabello 0.411 0.334 0.077
Kris Bryant 0.378 0.316 0.062
Miguel Sano 0.396 0.334 0.062
Odubel Herrera 0.387 0.332 0.055
Randal Grichuk 0.365 0.312 0.053
Dee Gordon 0.383 0.335 0.048
Bryce Harper 0.369 0.323 0.046
Addison Russell 0.324 0.280 0.044
Xander Bogaerts 0.372 0.329 0.043
Nelson Cruz 0.350 0.312 0.038

This is a real fun group, much more exciting than yesterday’s bunch. It’s littered with young future stars that most fantasy owners are drooling over. But perhaps one should step on the brakes instead.

Duh, you don’t need a formula to tell you that Chris Colabello isn’t going to BABIP .400+ again. What’s interesting though is that his xBABIP is still fantastic, so although he was the recipient of great fortune, he was still legitimately good. Since he also appears atop the list of hitters with major HR/FB rate downside, he’s an obvious bust candidate. Though again, even a 17% HR/FB rate is excellent. So he actually presents an interesting conundrum. It’s possible that us statnerds overcompensate for the expected regression, actually making him undervalued. Ultimately, this might be a case in which he’s undervalued in stat-savvy leagues, but overvalued in more casual leagues.

Gahhhh!!! Blasphemy!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! How dare I include Kris Bryant’s name in any negative post!!! Yeah, we’re all expecting him to become an MVP candidate in his sophomore season already, but calm down. There’s little, if any, chance he repeats that BABIP. Here’s the deal — you can’t hit fly balls as often as he does and also sustain a high BABIP. Take a look at the top 20 in FB% last year and then observe their BABIP marks. Bryant’s mark sticks out like a sore thumb, outperforming everyone in the group by a significant margin. Only six (including Bryant) of the 20 in the group posted a league average BABIP (which was .299 in 2015) and only one other, besides Bryant, posted a mark above .319. Sure, he’s posted sky high BABIP marks in the minors, but extreme fly ball hitters simply don’t post inflated BABIP marks.

Over the last 10 years, the highest average BABIP for a player with a FB% of at least 40% is .329 by Justin Upton. That’s it, just .329. Out of 150 players, the absolute highest was just .329. Next was Giancarlo Stanton at .328. Until Bryant proves it, I ain’t betting that he has even greater BABIP ability than the best BABIPer of the fly ball hitters of the last 10 years. My Pod Projection calls for a .330 BABIP, if you were curious, which is below both Steamer and Fans.

Through June 18 of last year (when Minor League Central died), Miguel Sano had sported a career minor league BABIP of a meh .318. It’s not often a player’s BABIP rockets after climbing the ladder from the minors to the Majors. But that’s exactly what happened here. His batted ball profile was better than Bryant’s, but he was also a 40%+ fly ball hitter, which makes such an inflated BABIP completely unsustainable. I don’t know what he’s costing in drafts this year, but there’s serious regression possible in various areas that is unlikely to be priced in.

Who was more surprised by Odubel Herrera’s 2015 performance, the Rangers, Phillies, or fantasy owners? Even more amazing is that he made the leap straight from Double-A to the Majors! The real problem here is that a hitter with such limited power has no business striking out nearly a quarter of the time. Since he fails to supplement all those strikeouts with a respectable walk rate, he could easily be out of a job if his BABIP slips considerably. It makes him a serious risk in NL-Only leagues where the price will be much higher than in 12-team mixers.

I love Randal Grichuk’s power, but with all those strikeouts, he needs to maintain a high BABIP to not kill you in batting average. Unfortunately, maintaining such an inflated mark is going to be quite difficult. He was even more unimpressive than Sano in the minors, as he actually posted just a .299 minor league BABIP! He was also an extreme pull hitter, rarely going the opposite way, hit more fly balls than grounders and popped-up more frequently than the league. His batting average is at risk of crashing down and I’m actually forecasting just a .249 mark, which really cuts into his value.

No, we cannot just justify any BABIP because of Dee Gordon’s speed (ask Billy Hamilton about that). He basically posted the best batted ball profile he could given his skills (which Hamilton should also adopt), but with absolutely no power, there’s a limit to how high that BABIP should get. And apparently that limit is well under the actual mark Gordon posted.

Man, Bryant and now Bryce Harper?! You’re killin’ me Smalls. Oddly, Harper greatly underperformed his xBABIP in both 2012 and 2013, but has now significantly outperformed his xBABIP the last two seasons. I think everyone just assumes that while regression will obviously take its toll, it will be minor, because, ya know, Harper was supposed to be this good. It’s dangerous to simply fall back on his prior elite prospect status…okay, perhaps one of the best prospects ever? I’m curious to see how he follows up his historic offensive performance. And seriously, as a baseball fan first and foremost, DON’T GET HURT.

Yuck, that .280 xBABIP for Addison Russell is by far the lowest on this list and the only one below .312. At least everyone else was legit good, just not as good as their actual BABIP suggested. In this case, xBABIP claims that Russell should have posted weak results. Unlike some of the other hitters who I referenced minor league BABIP for, Russell actually posted a .357 career mark down on the farm, which is good to see. But in the Majors, he hit over 40% fly balls, didn’t hit enough line drives, and posted an IFFB% well above league average. I’m sure he’ll improve on that batted ball distribution as he’s just 22 years old, but you need to reset your BABIP baseline and he was fortunate to escape 2015 with a respectable .324 mark. His fantasy potential is severely reduced hitting ninth, with seemingly little chance to move up in the lineup outside of an injury.

Is Xander Bogaerts the most overhyped player this season? He certainly might be. How does a guy who combined for just 17 home runs and steals become so attractive to fantasy owners? He dramatically improved his batted ball profile from a BABIP perspective (though it really hampers his power potential), but will it last? He may have to choose between hitting for average and posting an inflated BABIP or hitting for power, but not both. Double digit steals is no given given his lackluster speed history. How exciting is 10-15 homers, 5-10 steals and a .280 batting average? It’s not. But that’s what I’m projecting and it’s nowhere near worth the price you’ll have to pay to secure his services. Sure, he’s young and any young player could conceivably break out. You could blindly pay the going rate and cross your fingers. You may end up being rewarded! But there’s no evidence that such a breakout is on the horizon and it’s not worth the cost to find out.

Who saw a career high home run total, HR/FB rate, and BABIP for Nelson Cruz as a 34-year-old who just joined the Mariners? The answer is no one. He did almost nothing differently this year compared to years past, except hit a bunch more grounders and line drives, at the expense of fly balls. That’s normally a good thing for BABIP, but for a guy with below average speed like Cruz, those extra grounders don’t make a whole lot of difference. And a three point jump in line drive rate certainly isn’t enough to explain his entire BABIP surge. He’s likely to be overvalued in the majority of leagues.

Well that was enjoyable and should hopefully stir up some nice debate. You don’t agree with everything I said, do you?! Anyway, here’s the rest of the xBABIP list and all the overachievers:

2015 Hitter xBABIP Overachievers
Name BABIP xBABIP Diff
Chris Colabello 0.411 0.334 0.077
Kris Bryant 0.378 0.316 0.062
Miguel Sano 0.396 0.334 0.062
Joey Butler 0.377 0.319 0.058
Odubel Herrera 0.387 0.332 0.055
Randal Grichuk 0.365 0.312 0.053
Enrique Hernandez 0.364 0.313 0.051
Dee Gordon 0.383 0.335 0.048
Bryce Harper 0.369 0.323 0.046
Addison Russell 0.324 0.280 0.044
Xander Bogaerts 0.372 0.329 0.043
Andres Blanco 0.335 0.295 0.040
Nick Hundley 0.356 0.316 0.040
Nelson Cruz 0.350 0.312 0.038
Jimmy Paredes 0.369 0.331 0.038
Billy Burns 0.339 0.304 0.035
Miguel Cabrera 0.384 0.350 0.034
Tyler Flowers 0.320 0.286 0.034
Jose Altuve 0.329 0.296 0.033
David Peralta 0.368 0.335 0.033
Paul Goldschmidt 0.382 0.350 0.032
Eugenio Suarez 0.341 0.309 0.032
Jonny Gomes 0.293 0.261 0.032
Francisco Cervelli 0.359 0.328 0.031
Ryan Raburn 0.361 0.331 0.030
Ben Paulsen 0.351 0.321 0.030
Francisco Lindor 0.348 0.318 0.030
Jonathan Schoop 0.329 0.300 0.029
Ketel Marte 0.341 0.312 0.029
Jose Iglesias 0.330 0.301 0.029
Scott Van Slyke 0.299 0.271 0.028
Blake Swihart 0.359 0.331 0.028
Dustin Pedroia 0.308 0.281 0.027
Jose Reyes 0.301 0.274 0.027
Marwin Gonzalez 0.326 0.300 0.026
Jorge Soler 0.361 0.335 0.026
Sean Rodriguez 0.325 0.299 0.026
Melvin Upton 0.348 0.323 0.025
Danny Valencia 0.329 0.304 0.025
Joey Votto 0.371 0.347 0.024
Eddie Rosario 0.332 0.308 0.024
Travis Shaw 0.310 0.286 0.024
Chris Johnson 0.353 0.329 0.024
Derek Norris 0.310 0.286 0.024
Nick Markakis 0.338 0.314 0.024
Gregor Blanco 0.338 0.314 0.024
Andrew Romine 0.328 0.305 0.023
Yunel Escobar 0.347 0.324 0.023
Chris Young 0.283 0.260 0.023
Carlos Perez 0.292 0.269 0.023
Alex Gordon 0.327 0.304 0.023
Corey Dickerson 0.367 0.345 0.022
Stephen Piscotty 0.372 0.350 0.022
Troy Tulowitzki 0.331 0.309 0.022
Prince Fielder 0.323 0.301 0.022
Logan Forsythe 0.323 0.302 0.021
Colby Rasmus 0.305 0.285 0.020
David Murphy 0.300 0.280 0.020
Delino Deshields 0.334 0.314 0.020
Tyler Collins 0.324 0.305 0.019
Jose Abreu 0.333 0.315 0.018
Maikel Franco 0.297 0.280 0.017
Wilin Rosario 0.329 0.312 0.017
John Jaso 0.336 0.319 0.017
Yasmany Tomas 0.354 0.337 0.017
Ian Kinsler 0.323 0.307 0.016
Mark Trumbo 0.313 0.297 0.016
Jung-ho Kang 0.344 0.328 0.016
Chris Denorfia 0.351 0.335 0.016
Asdrubal Cabrera 0.306 0.291 0.015
Mitch Moreland 0.317 0.302 0.015
Christian Yelich 0.370 0.355 0.015
Lonnie Chisenhall 0.288 0.273 0.015
Starlin Castro 0.298 0.284 0.014
Devon Travis 0.347 0.333 0.014
Anthony Gose 0.352 0.339 0.013
Evan Longoria 0.309 0.296 0.013
Brock Holt 0.350 0.337 0.013
J.D. Martinez 0.339 0.326 0.013
Shin-Soo Choo 0.335 0.323 0.012
Eduardo Nunez 0.314 0.302 0.012
Brett Lawrie 0.320 0.309 0.011
Jason Kipnis 0.356 0.346 0.010
Justin Bour 0.294 0.284 0.010
C.J. Cron 0.293 0.283 0.010
Mike Moustakas 0.294 0.284 0.010
Adam Eaton 0.345 0.335 0.010
Jeff Francoeur 0.297 0.288 0.009
Matt Wieters 0.328 0.319 0.009
Cody Asche 0.304 0.295 0.009
Rougned Odor 0.283 0.275 0.008
Alejandro De Aza 0.331 0.323 0.008
James McCann 0.325 0.317 0.008
Joe Panik 0.330 0.322 0.008
Andrew McCutchen 0.339 0.332 0.007
Chase Headley 0.317 0.310 0.007
Yoenis Cespedes 0.323 0.316 0.007
Brayan Pena 0.303 0.296 0.007
Mark Reynolds 0.300 0.293 0.007
Josh Harrison 0.336 0.329 0.007
Derek Dietrich 0.303 0.296 0.007
Steven Souza 0.318 0.311 0.007
Ian Desmond 0.307 0.301 0.006
Kevin Pillar 0.306 0.300 0.006
Jason Heyward 0.329 0.324 0.005
Jake Lamb 0.344 0.339 0.005
Danny Espinosa 0.299 0.294 0.005
Josh Phegley 0.283 0.278 0.005
Carlos Gomez 0.307 0.302 0.005
Kendrys Morales 0.319 0.314 0.005
Carlos Beltran 0.297 0.292 0.005
Josh Donaldson 0.314 0.310 0.004
Adeiny Hechavarria 0.325 0.321 0.004
Eduardo Escobar 0.301 0.297 0.004
Wil Myers 0.302 0.298 0.004
A.J. Pierzynski 0.310 0.306 0.004
Mookie Betts 0.310 0.306 0.004
Anthony Rendon 0.321 0.318 0.003
James Loney 0.298 0.295 0.003
Brandon Belt 0.363 0.361 0.002
A.J. Pollock 0.338 0.336 0.002
Travis d’Arnaud 0.289 0.287 0.002
Andre Ethier 0.330 0.328 0.002
Martin Prado 0.313 0.312 0.001
Johnny Giavotella 0.301 0.300 0.001
Jake Marisnick 0.310 0.309 0.001
Matt Holliday 0.335 0.334 0.001
Scooter Gennett 0.309 0.308 0.001
Starling Marte 0.333 0.332 0.001
Ben Revere 0.338 0.337 0.001

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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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Have you released the xHR data for all players the way you did for xBABIP? I couldn’t seem to find it. It makes intuitive sense to me that xBABIP underachievers might be xHR over achievers (hard hit balls that might sometimes be a double, and therefore increase BABIP, sneaking over the fence) and vice versa and I was curious to see if there was any correlation there.