Considering most people look primarily at the previous year’s statistics when drafting a player, one place to gain an edge on the competition is to attempt to put last year’s statistics in context. By this, I do not necessarily mean the run-scoring environment the player played in, but rather why their statistics seemed to vary from their usual numbers. To do this, I will start with a series of good luck and bad luck players. The luck comes in the way their batted balls in play are turned into outs or hits. Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton did some great research on defining how we should look at BABIP and what drives it.
Over the next week or so, I’ll go through some players that were on the extreme ends of the luck spectrum with the idea that those players who were very lucky last year will probably come back to earth and those that were unlucky are due to breakout. This can be very helpful when deciding to draft one player or another. The first player in the series is Ryan Howard.
Last year, Ryan Howard had arguably his least productive year as a Phillies player (don’t tell the BBWAA). His BA was a down to a career-low of .251. His OPS was also the lowest of his career at .881. He maintained his ability to hit for power and drive in runs (48 HR and 146 RBI), but his average made him a slightly better version of Adam Dunn to fantasy players. He usually more closely resembled a top 10 fantasy player.
Looking at his new xBABIP and his BABIP we see where some of his batting average was lost. He seemed to be incredibly unlucky on balls put into play.
His BABIP of .289 was .019 below his new xBABIP of .308. He was robbed of roughly 7 hits, and his average should have been closer to .262. While this difference doesn’t seem all that great, it really is. Every single has a large effect on OPS as they are double-counted in the formula because your OBP is increased by one more time reaching base and SLG increases by one more additional base gained. The SLG is even more affected by these missed hits because if they turn into 2B or 3B (pretty unlikely with Howard) they could add 2 or 3 bases.
In Howard’s case, if you add these 7 hits broken down the way his hits were over the season his OPS goes up to .906. His slash line would increase to .262/.349/.557. He might have also seen an increase in his league-leading RBI totals. If you play in almost any league Ryan Howard is a good player to have on your fantasy team. He may be able to had for a more reasonable price than in years past because of his “down year” last year.