With rankings season upon us and which is soon followed by draft season and then the real season which is actually our fake season, there are two things to take note of. One, it’s ‘upon’ us and not ‘up on’ us. The first one means ‘I’m snooty’ the second one means ‘I still use 90’s hip hop slang when referring to coitus’. Sadly, both could describe me. But since we’re not here to talk about knocking boots, let’s take note of the second note: BABIP can change the scope of how we view a player for the better or for the worse. Since BABIP is such a combination of things – player speed, hitting style, plain old luck, etc – it’s good to take a peak at some of those who topped the 2014 season and whether or not we can expect the trend to last. One thing of note: I’m looking at players with a minimum of 350 plate appearances. Why 350 PA you ask? Because I started at 200 and worked my way up until I couldn’t see Justin Turner’s name near the top. Sound, scientific reasoning if you ask me. With that, let’s get down to business. Here’s me breaking down a few players that seem primed for a BABIP regression for the 2015 fantasy baseball season…
Danny Santana – 2014 BABIP .405, Career BABIP .405, last three years BABIP N/A: Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? Danny had the highest BABIP of any player with a minimum of 350 PAs in the last 15 years and the 20th highest of all time. The last closest player was Joey Votto in 2012 with a .404 BABIP. The thing about Votto is his BB% was almost quintuple of Danny’s (4.4% vs 19.8%) that year and he struck out 5% less of the time (22.8% vs 17.9%). Since Danny is a speed guy, it’s very likely he will have a high BABIP for most of his career. That said, let’s just expect something above .340 BABIP as being a reasonable expectation and not stare too long at his .319 batting average from 2014 when considering him in drafts this year.
J.D. Martinez – 2014 BABIP .389, Career BABIP .333, last three years BABIP .335: Another ‘easy’ call but with an M. Night Shamallamadingdong twist! JD Martinez was dead the whole time prior to 2014. I say this in jest, of course. Martinez altered his batting stance prior to the 2014 season to make more contact without losing power and it appears to have worked. He finished 2014 with 23 home runs, 5 of which went to center and 9 apiece to left and right. This is a drastic shift when considering his other 24 career homeruns are split from left field to right: 15/4/5. That said, it’s not like Martinez has much speed on the basepaths to talk about so believing in his 2014 BABIP would be pretty foolhardy and his BB%/K% suggests a player who isn’t a .300 hitter without ample luck. Given he can and does hit to all fields and doesn’t sell out as a pull hitter to gain his power, I’m inclined to believe he could hit .290 but that would be his high watermark; he’d need major improvement in his peripherals to hit .300 again.
Juan Uribe – 2014 BABIP .368, Career BABIP .288, last three years BABIP .326: Deep league shoutout, snitches! Yeah, not like you were drafting him in a regular league but this is me warning you in those leagues where Joe Panik is gonna get drafted to 1) not draft Joe Panik and 2) don’t draft Uribe. I don’t think this one needs much cajoling. Moving on…
Jose Abreu – 2014 BABIP .356, Career BABIP .356, last three years BABIP N/A: Might as well talk about the elephant in the room, I always say. Yes, that’s a joke about how big Abreu is. I see Jose as an interesting case because his splits between the first and second half showed overall plate approach improvement at the expense of losing power. That said, here’s my main reason for my expectation for regression: 73.2% contact rate. That put him 131st in the league in that category, 5 spots behind Nelson Cruz who had a similar batting profile but hit .271. This is not to say I don’t like Jose Abreu but I don’t think he’s a .300 hitter and think he’ll most likely finish around .280 if everything falls right. Unless of course his second half splits become a reality. Then he’s hitting 18 HRs…eh, let’s just hope for BABIP regression.
Corey Dickerson – 2014 BABIP .356, Career BABIP .340, last three years BABIP N/A: This one has a lot less to do with his actual BABIP and more to do with how will the Rockies utilize him in 2015. The Rockies did not let him bat much against lefties on the year (only 91 AB against vs 345 ABs against RHP) and for good reason: he batted .253 against and struck out against them 7% of the time more than against a righty. He also has massive home/road splits in terms of his BABIP (.387 vs .313). Now of course, when betting against a Rockies BABIP, you’re already fighting uphill but I’d be more inclined to believe with such a pull hitter as Dickerson that we don’t see a BABIP above .340 in 2015 without a different approach. Given his massive splits, you’re either going to get a reduced quantity or reduced quality. I’ll bank on the latter.
Marlon Byrd – 2014 BABIP .341, Career BABIP .326, last three years BABIP .335: Byrd had a bit of a career renaissance the last two years after altering his approach to hit for more power. With this change in approach, though, also came an increased K% in 2013 (24.9% vs 19.3% for his career) and that ballooned even higher in 2014 to 29%. We are looking at an outfielder who will turn 38 in August with back to back solid HR seasons who might not be looking at a .250 batting average in 2015. My reason for saying this? There were 15 players with higher K% than Byrd in 2014 with a minimum of 350 PA. Of those, only one player (Drew Stubbs), hit above .250. The next highest BA was .241. You get the picture. Oh and let’s just pretend we talked about Stubbs regressing from his .404 BABIP while we’re at it, m’kay?
Regression Bonus Round!
Kennys Vargas – 2014 BABIP .340, Career BABIP .340, last three years BABIP N/A – I just couldn’t fit him in because Justin Turner ruins everything. Curse you, Turner! Vargas only had 234 PAs so he was pretty below the cutoff as it was. That said, as much as I like Vargas long term, I’m not entirely on Grey’s Kennys Vargas Sleeper wagon. Though the power is for real (as it should be…I mean he’s 6’5″ and 275 pounds guys), I think too many will see his .274 average and not realize it’s a bit of a mirage and draft him higher than he should go. The biggest worry for Vargas is contact rates. His zone contact percentages are just fine but his overall plate approach shows someone who swings at almost everything. If he were a slap-hitter or a speedster, that’s a fine approach but if you’re a power hitter and trying to barrel everything up, being more selective makes sense. For him to be a solid .250+ hitter, either he starts to lay off pitches outside of the zone or his K:BB profile needs to vastly improve. Or both. I’m not picky.