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Thread: The Myth of BABIP

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  1. #1
    Winning the Human Race TheBigLebowski's Avatar
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    The Myth of BABIP

    Our resident stat mongers here at RZ frequently refer to a pitcher's BABIP during discussions about his effectiveness.

    Until about 2 weeks ago, I had no idea what BABIP even was.

    For those of you in the dark like I was, BABIP = Batting Average of Balls hit In Play.

    Those that explained it to me were also quick to point out that a pitcher has no control whatsoever of his BABIP.

    I respectfully and calmly disagree.

    Consider:

    Theoretically, a batting tee and Johan Santana both have measurable BABIP.

    I do not think anyone here will disagree when I assert that it is obvious on its face that a batting tee will have a higher BABIP than Santana should all other variables be constant. The degree of difficulty in hitting a Santana changeup is quite bit higher than that of hitting a stationary baseball off a waist-high tee.

    Taking that line of thinking a step further, it is then logical to believe that Johan Santana will have a lower BABIP than Dave Williams as Johan is 100x the pitcher Williams is and, it is therefore more diffucult to hit his pitches well.

    I do acknowledge that BABIP does not consider walks and strikeouts, and I do know that most pitcher's ultimate goal is to miss bats. However, accepting the tack that a pitcher does not have any control over his BABIP means that one has to accept that a pitcher who pitches to contact using good location and changing speeds cannot ultimately succeed. Greg Maddux is a perfect example.

    Can it not be logically inferred that well-pitched balls are more difficult to hit than poorly pitched balls? Many here are actually using Majewski's high BABIP as a mitigating factor towards his performance to date a Red. "Hell, he's been unlucky! Check his BABIP! It's bound to come down!"

    While I do agree that his ERA & BABIP are both likely to come down, I assert that (warning, overused RZ phrase following) it would be due to GM "regressing to the mean." The guy simply will not maintain this 19.00 ERA (or whatever the hell it is). He will eventually get more guys out, and his ERA and BABIP will see a resultant drop. I fear many are confusing the effect for the cause.

    That's my thought on the matter. It seems too obvious to me, which tells me there might be something else used to calculate BABIP of which I am unaware. However, if I am understanding it correctly, it seems to be a bit of a Straw Man.
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  2. #2
    Box of Frogs edabbs44's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Good post...but let the flood of negative rep points begin.

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    Winning the Human Race TheBigLebowski's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    I don't know why I'd be negged...I didn't call anyone out or state that anyone that disagrees with me is stupid for doing so...I actually want more posts from those who disagree b/c I fear there's a lot about this stat that I may not know.
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    TBL - I agree with you and I use that stat a bit too. Like Ramon Ortiz, his BABIP seems to be relatively higher because he just doesn't miss bats well (off the top of my head, haven't look this up). Then guys like Harang, with the same fielders last year would have a lower number because he strikes out guys, and odds are, someone who strikes out a lot of guys doesn't give up a lot of solid shots. So when contact is made, it is weaker.

    Again, that was just off the top of my head, so that is more of a guess and opinion than anything.

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    Member SteelSD's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by AvesIce51
    TBL - I agree with you and I use that stat a bit too. Like Ramon Ortiz, his BABIP seems to be relatively higher because he just doesn't miss bats well (off the top of my head, haven't look this up). Then guys like Harang, with the same fielders last year would have a lower number because he strikes out guys, and odds are, someone who strikes out a lot of guys doesn't give up a lot of solid shots. So when contact is made, it is weaker.

    Again, that was just off the top of my head, so that is more of a guess and opinion than anything.
    That's not how it works. BABIP is independent of K rate.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by SteelSD
    That's not how it works. BABIP is independent of K rate.
    I understand that. Please read it a bit more carefully.

    because he strikes out guys, and odds are, someone who strikes out a lot of guys doesn't give up a lot of solid shots. So when contact is made, it is weaker
    What I'm saying is that weaker contact is usually made off of a strikeout pitcher because he misses bats in the first place. So unless it is an awful mistake, chances are it isn't hit that hard.

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    Member SteelSD's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by AvesIce51
    I understand that. Please read it a bit more carefully.
    I did read it carefully. You connected BABIP with K rate.

    What I'm saying is that weaker contact is usually made off of a strikeout pitcher because he misses bats in the first place. So unless it is an awful mistake, chances are it isn't hit that hard.
    High K rates have a very tiny correlation to low BABIP rates.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

    "The single most important thing for a hitter is to get a good pitch to hit. A good hitter can hit a pitch that’s over the plate three times better than a great hitter with a ball in a tough spot.”
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    The only problem with BABIP is it doesn't account for balls that are actually hit well. You may look at a pitcher and his BABIP may be really high and think "Oh, well he's hit unlucky." That might not be so. He may actually get hit hard. Balls may actually get smoked off the guy.

    When coupled with things like his Team's defensive effiency and his own SLG against, then it's very telling.
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    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by TC81190
    The only problem with BABIP is it doesn't account for balls that are actually hit well. You may look at a pitcher and his BABIP may be really high and think "Oh, well he's hit unlucky." That might not be so. He may actually get hit hard. Balls may actually get smoked off the guy.

    When coupled with things like his Team's defensive effiency and his own SLG against, then it's very telling.
    In most cases guys who are both "unlucky" with BABIP and are giving up a ton of line drives arent around long enough for it to truly matter....

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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by TC81190
    The only problem with BABIP is it doesn't account for balls that are actually hit well. You may look at a pitcher and his BABIP may be really high and think "Oh, well he's hit unlucky." That might not be so. He may actually get hit hard. Balls may actually get smoked off the guy.
    That's why SteelSD brought up Line Drive percentage.
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    He has the Evil Eye! flyer85's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigLebowski
    Taking that line of thinking a step further, it is then logical to believe that Johan Santana will have a lower BABIP than Dave Williams as Johan is 100x the pitcher Williams is and, it is therefore more diffucult to hit his pitches well.
    intuitively it would seem to but the data and the research doesn't support it. His better stuff results in less walks, fewer HRs and a lot more Ks (those things not subject to BABIP) and that is what makes him a great pitcher. The data certainly suggest that there is a randomness to BABIP that is not subject to talent. Both Johnson and Schilling had a season that was "bad" while in Arizona almost entirely due to a very high BABIP even though they had some of the best "stuff" in all of baseball.
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    He has the Evil Eye! flyer85's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    BABIP is what allowed people to predict that what the Reds were getting in Majewski and Cormier were not the pitchers their ERA suggested the Reds were getting. That was because they both had been BABIP lucky up to the point of their trades.

    Could their luck have continued? Sure but the odds very heavily against and much more in favor of a coming correction.
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    Winning the Human Race TheBigLebowski's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by flyer85
    BABIP is what allowed people to predict that what the Reds were getting in Majewski and Cormier were not the pitchers their ERA suggested the Reds were getting. That was because they both had been BABIP lucky up to the point of their trades.

    Could their luck have continued? Sure but the odds very heavily against and much more in favor of a coming correction.

    First of all, thank you for your constructive reply. I was worried that this thread may become a bit intractable.

    It just seems to me that BABIP is statistically insignificant. It can be argued that a high BABIP can forgive a bad ERA or be the nexus of it. It appears that people who pay a lot of attention to the stat are using it to defend positions both ways. My take is that bad stuff gets hit hard and good stuff doesn't. BABIP does not explain away the bad seasons for Schilling and Johnson you referenced. You can have good stuff and still pitch poorly. Conversely, you can have bad stuff and still put together a nice season (see: Haynes, Jimmy).

    To sum, BABIP is the result, not the cause and, therefore an insignificant statistic.
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    He has the Evil Eye! flyer85's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigLebowski
    BABIP does not explain away the bad seasons for Schilling and Johnson you referenced.
    You're missing the point. In essence it is in a simplistic form a measure of "luck". So when someone has a bad year, a bad stretch(or a good stretch), etc, it helps to assess if it was due to talent or did luck(BABIP) play a part in their success/failure.

    It allows one to assess whether success/failure is likely to continue or if their is a likely correction coming. Someone can have a "bad or good" year due to their BABIP and in contrast to their talent level.

    When deciding who to target and acquire I would say trying to assess whether luck has played a part would be a big factor.
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    Member SteelSD's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of BABIP

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigLebowski
    First of all, thank you for your constructive reply. I was worried that this thread may become a bit intractable.

    It just seems to me that BABIP is statistically insignificant. It can be argued that a high BABIP can forgive a bad ERA or be the nexus of it. It appears that people who pay a lot of attention to the stat are using it to defend positions both ways. My take is that bad stuff gets hit hard and good stuff doesn't. BABIP does not explain away the bad seasons for Schilling and Johnson you referenced. You can have good stuff and still pitch poorly. Conversely, you can have bad stuff and still put together a nice season (see: Haynes, Jimmy).

    To sum, BABIP is the result, not the cause and, therefore an insignificant statistic.
    Nope. BABIP is a driver, not a result.

    When identifying pitchers who may be "ERA lucky", we look at BABIP and DIPS rates. A DIPS rate above 1.00 means that the pitcher has produced an ERA that's lower than his DIPS rate. BABIP is independent of DIPS ERA, but it isn't ERA-independent. Knowing what a pitcher's DIPS Rate is important because it allows us to drill down for a cause. We can identify that cause by using BABIP. For 2006, here are the correlations for the 2006 MLB ERA title qualifiers:

    BABIP to DIPS Percentage: -0.70

    That tells us there's a very strong correlation between low BABIP and high DIPS Rate. That's "driver-level" correlation.

    Knowing that, how do you get a high BABIP? High Ground Ball rates, contrary to popular belief, won't do it. The correlation is only 0.18 between high GB rates and high BABIP rates this year. High K rates (the "stuff" argument) isn't it either as there's only a 0.17 correlation between high K rates and low BABIP rates. That isn't the answer either.

    But here's something interesting:

    Line Drive Percentage to BABIP: 0.49

    That's a pretty strong correlation. Pitchers who produce high LD% tend to be less "BABIP lucky". Considering that line drives fall in at about a 75% clip, that's about as intuitive as it gets from a "quality contact" perspective. K's, HR, and BB take the defense out of the mix. But low line drive rates also limit the effect defense has on the game because they're so seldom caught.

    That being said, do we see a plethora of pitchers who can consistently produce much better than average LD percentages? No. We don't; just as Voros McCracken didn't see a huge sampling of pitchers who could- independent of their defense- produce low BABIP rates. There's no "myth" and it's why McCracken is currently working for the Red Sox.

    I questioned McCracken's studies about BABIP randomness a long time ago. Same as you, I mused that there was some counter-intuitiveness to his findings because low-quality balls in play should be able to produce lower-than-average BABIP rates on a consistent basis. McCracken then revised his research (due to no intervention on my part, of course) that he'd found that very rare LHP and Knuckleballers may produce lower BABIP rates as a trend.

    I suggest that certain exceptionally rare RHP are capable of doing the same (possibly prime-season Greg Maddux, current Brandon Webb). But for pitchers to actually project high DIPS percentages, I'd also suggest that they also need to produce reasonably high K/9 rates and better-than average HR rates. Those pitchers are, of course, outliers. They simply don't exist in any kind of numbers among the current MLB pitching crop. What we have is maybe one guy per 20 years who can consistently do what you see as intuitive.

    BABIP is not a "myth". Does it deserve scrutiny? Sure. And such scrutiny has produced more studies on what drives BABIP- including Defensive Efficiency and LD%. But it's a stone cold indicator telling us we need to look deeper into the numbers to determine how a player actually projects. And, when we do look into the numbers, the one question we're asking ourselves is whether or not the player we're looking at profiles as an historical outlier.
    Last edited by SteelSD; 08-07-2006 at 02:00 AM.
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    "The single most important thing for a hitter is to get a good pitch to hit. A good hitter can hit a pitch that’s over the plate three times better than a great hitter with a ball in a tough spot.”
    --Ted Williams


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