xBABIP Updates, and a Strategy for the Hopelessly Hopeful

I committed Matt Holliday to my disabled list Monday, marking the 14th(!!!!) DL move I’ve made for my primary team this season. Perhaps the state of my team is implied by the length of its disabled list. If not, I’ll make it clear: my team has been bad. Pretty darn bad.

All of my drafts were especially poor. I drafted the same terrible, injured, underachieving players in every league, so it has been generally a nightmare all around. The hole I dug for myself is deep. Kyle Lohse broke ground on said hole with an 8-run Opening Day outing that lasted all of 3-1/3 innings, and we never looked back. Woe is me. Alas, it’s barely the second week of June, and I have already resorted to my Hail Mary play: buy low on everyone in sight.

Calling it “buying low,” however, is a bit misleading. It’s a shallow league, so there is arguably a stronger incentive for owners to cut bait on underachieving name-brand players in order to ride the hot streaks of unknown quantities, given they crop up more abundantly. What I’m actually doing, then, is loading up on underachievers from waivers. My team is already underachieving. These guys are already underachieving. How much worse could it get?

I targeted (and am still targeting) established players, all of whom eventually dropped by their respective owners, who were or still are slumping but possess considerable upside. As far as hitters are concerned, I have added Evan Gattis, Jimmy Rollins and David Ortiz. Gattis, since I added him, has hit 11 home runs and raised his batting average about 75 points. Rollins has been a little slower to follow suit, and I just added Ortiz, so the jury is still out.

Still, I like the play so far. Gattis was a bit riskier, but after an incredibly tumultuous first couple of weeks, his strikeout rate stabilized and his power stroke caught up with his batted ball profile. Rollins still boasts upside, as his expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP), per this equation based on BIS batted ball data, leads his actual BABIP by more than 60 points. If one optimistically expects Rollins to arrive at his xBABIP by season’s end, as this author does, then he can be expected to hit closer to .260/.340/.400 for the rest of the season. For a shortstop who can threaten to post another 20-HR, 20-SB season, I’ll settle for the lukewarm batting average.

Ortiz is a bit more enigmatic. He undershot his xBABIP by about 45 points last year (.256 BABIP versus .300 xBABIP), and he’s undershooting it again this year by more than 70 points (.232 BABIP versus .303 xBABIP). He has historically maintained average-or-better BABIPs, but he’s also getting old — dude’s almost 40 — and the xBABIP equation is not perfect, leaving a good deal of variance left to be explained. If, for whatever reason, Ortiz continues to betray his xBABIP through the twilight of his career, at least the aforementioned batted ball profile portends modest gains in power. His expected isolated power (xISO) leads his current ISO by about 40 points, and Steamer and ZiPS expect his rest-of-season ISO to be anywhere from 55 to 75 points better than it is now. Basically, I’m expecting surges in all offensive departments for Ortiz, which I hope will contribute to powering my team through the second half.

Ultimately, I targeted guys for whom I can reasonably anticipate positive regression, and a good deal of it to boot. I would rather own a slumping hitter who’s starting to get hot than a hot hitter moments from cooling down. It is not a mind-blowing nor revolutionary strategy by any means, but sometimes a hitter’s slump can obscure the rational evaluation of his rest-of-season projection. I’m here to take advantage of such shortsightedness as often as I can while I flounder at the bottom of the standings.

Please find below a table of the BABIPs, xBABIPs and batted ball information of all 2015 qualified hitters. Underachievers and their varying degrees of underachievement are highlighted in shades of red; overachievers, in blue.

Here are five hitters who could potentially streak through the season’s second half.

Ryan Zimmerman, WAS 1B
xBABIP differential: -.081

Call it lip service, but Zimmerman sagely reminded the Washington Post that it’s a long season. Indeed, it is, and Zim’s decent hard-hit rate, microscopic true infield fly rate and near-perfect batted ball distribution points favorably to the months to come. His downside, however, rests almost entirely on the state of his foot, which has been plagued by plantar fasciitis all year.

Chase Utley, PHI 2B
xBABIP differential: -.076

Utley is having a miserable season, which is demonstrated somewhat ironically by a batted ball profile that constitutes baseball’s ninth-lowest xBABIP. Still, he’s not this bad, and he could string together a few months of hot hitting and high on-base rates, even if his glory stats continue to underwhelm.

Elvis Andrus, TEX SS
xBABIP differential: -.055

Andrus seems an unlikely candidate and, compared to Utley, an equally underwhelming one. Still, it appears there’s nothing out of the ordinary with Andrus’ batted ball profile. A nice batting average surge combined with a five-year peak in his walk rate spells good things for his on-base percentage (OBP), which should buoy his stolen base totals.

Brad Miller, SEA SS
xBABIP differential: -.055

I’ve always been a Miller fan, seeing him as a kind of Ian Desmond Lite. (His five homers and steals apiece pace out to 16 each through 600 plate appearances.) He has underwhelmed since his 2013 debut, but he always posted very strong BABIPs in the minors. We know now that that’s not necessarily a fluke. Unfortunately, his batted ball profile has remained relatively stable, yet he has perennially posted below-average BABIPs. He’s a riskier play until his strikeout rate improves, but if you’re still rolling out Alcides Escobar at shortstop, I see no harm in gambling.

Robinson Cano, SEA 2B
xBABIP differential: -.052

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cano also cracked the list of notable names for last week’s xISO update. The .280 BABIP is not unreasonably low, but he has always bested the mean. Indeed, xBABIP appreciates Cano’s robust line drive and hard-hit rates and expects more of the norm from him. You can probably trade for Cano and salvage some of his value, but his eroding plate discipline will make it hard for him to replicate his former self.

Oh, and FYI: Rollins and Ortiz rank among the 12 largest differentials between actual and expected BABIP.

We hoped you liked reading xBABIP Updates, and a Strategy for the Hopelessly Hopeful by Alex Chamberlain!

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Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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Teddy Wolvesevelt
Teddy Wolvesevelt

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