The Fantasy Lookout: Pitcher’s BABIP Uncovered; Skill Or Luck?
With the 2017 campaign still shy of its one-month birthday, we are still dealing with small sample size issues. It is still much too early to be overly concerned with hot and cold starts of any player on your Fantasy roster. Coming to irrational conclusions this time of year can be costly and we should do our best to avoid making rash decisions.
Do not let a two-week sample override a player’s career track record. Prior to the season, I am sure that your research and opinions of certain players were based on a number of factors. All of those conclusions should not be erased by what has happened in the early going.
However, this does not necessarily mean that certain players are not at the start of a new trend. It just means that it is not yet statistically significant. To put things into context, if a specific hot hitter had a 12 to 15 game stretch in the middle of June, it may go unnoticed. Production at the beginning of the season tends to get too much attention and publicity, when at the end of the day it is merely just a small percentage of the season and not much else.
In last week’s Fantasy Lookout we took a look at the intricacies of a power hitter. This week, we are going to delve into the mysterious world of BABIP from a pitcher’s perspective. Is it mainly skill? What role does luck play? Or is it a combination of both?
We will now attempt to find correlations between BABIP and other significant pitching statistics.
The Fantasy Lookout: Pitcher’s BABIP Uncovered; Skill or Luck?
For our analysis, we looked at statistics from last year and we narrowed the field down to pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. We then split the 144 qualified pitchers into quartiles. A comparison was then made between the simple average of the pitchers in the top quartile to the simple average of the pitchers in the bottom quartile. We need to keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, but understanding the norm should help to better increase our odds going forward.
The top quartile (lowest BABIP) of hurlers compiled an average BABIP of .262, while the bottom quartile (highest BABIP) registered a BABIP of .329.
Batted ball by type
When we look at the data with respect to batted ball type, we can see that the lowest BABIP pitchers tend to limit line drives and groundballs, while allowing more fly balls than their higher BABIP counterparts. This makes sense as the BABIP per batted ball type in 2016 was as follows: line drives-.682, ground balls-.239, and fly balls-.127. The top quartile of BABIP pitchers also recorded the highest popup rate, which makes sense as popups are basically free outs. Finally, the top tier of BABIP suppressers also have a materially lower home run to fly ball ratio, which is likely indicative of not allowing the hitter to make solid contact.
Batted ball to field
There does not seem to be a correlation between BABIP and which part of the field that the batted ball goes. Pitchers in all of the quartiles have very similar percentages when it comes to hitters pulling the ball, hitting it up the middle, or going the other way to the opposite field with it.
Quality of contact
The lowest BABIP pitchers, unsurprisingly, have the envious combination of allowing the highest soft hit rate coupled with the lowest hard hit rate. This definitely falls into the skill side of things where the top pitchers are much tougher to square up.
In general, the more skilled and successful pitchers should throw more first pitch strikes, have a higher swinging strike rate, and post a superior strikeout less walk percentage than their inferior competition. This seems to be consistent with the BABIP rankings, as our quartile breakdown shows that the lowest BABIP pitchers also have the better first strike rate, swinging strike rate, and strikeout less walk rate when compared to the highest BABIP pitchers.
There is no question that luck plays a role in BABIP, especially over small sample sizes. This includes factors such as seeing eye hits and Gold Glove plays by the fielders. However, when you look at the bigger picture, it is clear to see that the game’s best pitchers also post a lower BABIP than the weaker pitchers.
To provide a little proof, if we look at the same 144 pitchers that threw at least 100 innings last year, and break them down into quartiles based on FIP, the pitchers in the lowest quartile (3.38 FIP) allowed a BABIP of .277, while the highest quartile (4.71 FIP) allowed a BABIP of .317. We also have to remember to compare a pitcher’s BABIP to their career mark as well as a relative comparison to the rest of the league.
Next time we reconvene we will start analyzing 2017 statistics and see which hot and cold starts are for real and which are about to go up into smoke. Until the next Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games!
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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