by Connor Henry
Slightly more than halfway through the 2018 baseball season and 13 qualified batters still hold a BABIP above .360. In 2016 there were only 8 qualified batters able to sustain a BABIP above that mark and in 2017 that number dropped to 7. While these numbers don’t directly speak to a regression coming for certain players, it leads me to believe that a few of those 13 batters might slip below that threshold in the coming months. In order to determine which players might have regression coming there are a couple of batted ball factors we should take a close look at:
- Line Drive % (LD%) < League Average of 21%
- Infield Fly Ball % (IFFB%) > League Average of 10%
- Hard Contact % < League Average of 35%
- Lack of ability to use all parts of the field (Pull, Center, Opposite)
If certain batters have most of those batted ball tendencies, it might be safe to assume that regression is coming. Let’s dive into a couple of high profile batters who are currently sustaining high BABIP, the first of whom actually resides in that group above the .360 mark:
Christian Yelich – OF – Milwaukee Brewers
One of the bright young talents in the game, Yelich seems to have a knack for getting on base. He owns a career batting average of .290 and OBP of .368, both well above league average. His .292 average for 2018 obviously fits directly into his career stats, just as his .363 BABIP is almost spot on with his career BABIP of .357. His 2018 batted ball tendencies may show exactly how he has continued to find success:
- LD%: 24.3
- IFFB%: 3.9
- Hard Contact %: 45.1
- P/C/O %: 32/40/28
As you can tell Yelich possesses elite, if not close to elite, batted ball data in the four tendencies we’re examining. He’s hitting the ball exceptionally hard to all parts of the field at an angle which allows it to fall into play more often than not. Add to that his 54% groundball rate and above-average speed and you have the perfect combination for a sky-high BABIP.
Verdict: Yelich is one of the few players in the league who has the batted ball tendencies to sustain a BABIP above .350. I would completely expect his BABIP to continue to hover at about the .350 to .360 mark and therefore fully expect him to sustain his batting average. It is worth noting that his BABIP-oriented tendencies can limit his total power output. Yelich may possess the power to hit 25 or 30 home runs but his miniscule 22% fly ball rate gives him no room to grow in the power category. As long as he continues to display elite batting average tendencies he will most likely continue to fall short when it comes to power output.
Willson Contreras – C – Chicago Cubs
The consensus #2 catcher taken off the board in NFBC drafts, Contreras has somewhat underperformed. Over halfway through the season he sits at only 7 HR with minimal counting stats, however he has managed to fall right in between his batting averages from the last two years (.282 and .276). A consistently high BABIP player, he is currently sporting the highest BABIP of his career at .344, leading me to believe that a closer look into his batted ball data is needed:
- LD%: 16.7
- IFFB%: 10.4
- Hard Contact %: 31.7
- P/C/O %: 40/30/30
He is unfortunately showing almost all of the signs that we look for when we expect regression. He’s hitting line drives at a rate much lower than league average while hitting the ball softer than league average. It should also be noted that his soft contact rate sits at 20.3% which is above league average by 2 percentage points. Luckily he does manage to spread the ball around, allowing many of his groundballs to find holes in the infield.
Verdict: The interesting point that should be mentioned is that these batted ball tendencies do not fall that far outside of Contreras’ career norm. He’s consistently been a groundball hitter with relatively few line drives and a below league average hard contact rate. Despite that, he consistently manages a BABIP at or above .320. Therefore I do not believe that his BABIP will be falling below .320, but I do believe some regression is coming.
Giancarlo Stanton – OF – New York Yankees
The 28-year-old slugger finds himself at a somewhat “disappointing” 23 HR at the All Star Break when many thought this could be the year he challenges 60 or even 65 HR. On top of that he has seen his strikeout rate rise above 30% and his walk rate fall below 9% for the first time since his rookie season. However, something that he has maintained is his batting average (.278). With the strikeout rate increase and lack of isolated power, the one thing driving his batting average is a .360 BABIP. How sustainable is that?
- LD%: 18.0
- IFFB%: 11.0
- Hard Contact %: 42.4
- P/C/O %: 37/39/24
At first glance you might see an over 40% hard contact rate and immediately want to verify his .360 BABIP. Much like our friend Christian Yelich, an elite hard contact rate can do wonders for your BABIP, especially when we all know that Stanton consistently sits atop the league leaderboard for exit velocities. I do want you to notice a line drive rate lower than league average, an infield fly ball rate above league average and a somewhat pull-to-center heavy approach. Not huge turn-offs, but information to keep in mind.
Verdict: The last three seasons Stanton has ran a BABIP of .294, .290 and .288. Similar to this season, each of those seasons he had an above average hard contact rate and below average line drive rate. Now I do want to point out that his groundball rate has increased each of those years and hard hit grounders tend to find a hole in the infield. However, I cannot look at his .360 BABIP and say it’s sustainable. I do not believe that he will regress back to a league average BABIP because he does call Yankees Stadium home, but I absolutely expect regression back toward the .320 or .330 range. I know you did not draft him for the batting average help but so long as his strikeout rate stays over 30% and his batted ball data continues as is, the batting average could regress closer to .260 rather than sustain at .280.
Sources: Fangraphs, NFBC
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