BtB Mailbag: BABIP, Adam Dunn, and Hot Sauce

One of the new weekly features introduced by Justin is a Beyond the Box Score mailbag in which we answer your questions about baseball, sabermetrics, baseball players, and anything else you may have on your mind.  Each week we'll dip into that trove of questions and do our best to answer whatever is on your mind. Send your questions to btbquestions@gmail.com and include your name and hometown.

BtB Mailbag, Volume I

Starting our first mailbag will be Roger:

For fly balls and/or line drives, is there any correlation between ISO and BABIP?  So does ISO (or ideally, ISO on fly balls) influence fly ball BABIP, and the same for line drives?  It seems intuitive to me that if a player hits a fly ball (or any ball, but ISO on groundballs doesn't tell us much) with more power, the BABIP will be more favorable.  Perhaps comparing ball-off-the-bat speed and BABIP could be better.  And if so, couldn't utilizing this be a useful refinement of xBABIP?

Others have looked into the issue in the past, and I'm just going to reference them directly:

At The Good Phight a couple years ago, Matt Swartz ran some regressions on BABIP for different batted balls. For line-drives, he found "it seems that most of what it comes down to is that hitters with higher LDBABIP hit the ball hard—and that is best captured with homeruns" LDBABIP was not terribly strongly correlated from year to year though. For flyballs - which had a somewhat stronger year-to-year BABIP correlation - Swartz found that that largely has to do with infield fly rates; "What I’m guessing is happening is that those hitters who consistently hit deeper flyballs are harder to defend against, and so they have fewer infield flies and fewer flyballs caught in general."

At the beginning of 2010, there was a roundtable discussion at Baseball Prospectus on BABIP (which Swartz participated in), where some of the above points were brought up.

The expected BABIP model developed by Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix at The Hardball Times included the variable pitches per extra-base hit which "is a measure of how often a hitter makes solid contact", which they found to be significant.

Finally (though I'm sure there is much more on the topic out there), the xBABIP tool made available by Dutton and Derek Carty - which is what I generally use - includes home runs per flyball as a proxy for power, which gives the batter a boost as Roger suggested (not a huge one, but it's in there).

More questions from the BtB mailbag:

Joe: Which team would see the biggest difference in wins by adding Adam Dunn?

First, I'd think we'd need to figure out which position would be best for Dunn, or at least how big of a difference in value he'd provide between first-base and DH (assuming he'd be willing to accept such a role). The usual positional adjustments used are -12.5 runs per season at first and -17.5 runs at DH. Defensively, I think it wouldn't be unfair to say that Dunn is somewhere from "not good" to "terrible" defensively at first. Over the course of 347 games at the position, his full season numbers (per 150 games or so) are -14.4 UZR, -16.3 DRS, and -10.1 Total Zone. Dunn posted better numbers last year - one could argue he improved given more time at the position (especially since he played there exclusively) - but something in the -5 to -8 range for next year seems reasonable to me. That means - assuming the same amount of playing time either way - that Dunn would be almost as valuable at first-base as at DH. A multi-year deal pushes things further in favor of DH though, since his fielding would be expected to get worse. It's not a full, in-depth projection, but a +30 run bat, -15 runs for position + defense, and a half win of aging would make Dunn around a 3 WAR player next year.

So which teams most need a first-baseman or DH (to skip to the answer ctrl+f for "positionally challenged")?

The following clubs got below average production at first last year (less than 2 fWAR):

Blue Jays, Rays, Rockies, Dodgers, Pirates, Cubs, Indians, Rangers, Orioles, Mariners

These had below average DHs:

Tigers, Indians, Athletics, Royals, Mariners, Rays, Blue Jays, White Sox

The Rays seem to have both spots open with Carlos Pena leaving and no DH. Dunn seems like he'd be a relatively significant upgrade over whoever the Rays already have on hand at either one or the other spot, but I'm not sure he'd fit into the picture financially.

The M's are near the bottom of both lists, but have Justin Smoak at first. No real DH (Mike Carp or a "healthy" Milton Bradly it seems), a (very) weak offense, and a park that plays friendlier to lefties than righties would seem to make Dunn a welcome addition.

The O's have Luke Scott at DH for the time being (though some of us Birds fans think he could handle first if need be), but no one they expect to plug in at first-base. This would be mostly full value, though it's probably not as good of a fit as a known DH spot. A resurgence from Nolan Reimold would also crowd things up a bit.

The Blue Jays are hoping for a bounceback from Adam Lind at DH, but have no current first-baseman. If they release Edwin Encarnacion and move Jose Bautista back to third-base, that would open a spot for Travis Snider in the outfield and leave a hole at first. In that case Dunn would be an option, but I'm not sure that's an optimal arrangement.

The White Sox don't seem to have a DH in place, and would have first-base open if Paul Konerko left. The other Chicago team lost (ie, traded) their first-baseman during the season and I'd imagine they'd look to add a slugger there.

The Indians have Matt LaPorta and Travis Hafner, so I don't see Dunn as a massive upgrade or a realistic option.  The Pirates have Garrett Jones and potentially Pedro Alvarez for first-base. The Dodgers have James Loney. The Rangers, Mitch Moreland. The Rockies, Todd Helton. The Tigers can DH Ryan Raburn. The A's, Jack Cust. The Royals, Kila Ka'aihue.

They're not on the list, but the Braves have an opening at first as well (assuming Freddie Freeman isn't given the job). The Nationals would also do well - compared to in-house options - to re-sign Dunn. The Red Sox could have an opening if they move Youkilis to third and don't bring up Lars Anderson, while the Yankees don't especially need a DH but that doesn't always stop them.

Of all these options, a DH spot with no slugging and positionally challenged prospects in sight would be the best bet. If money wasn't an option, the Rays would seem like a good spot for Dunn. In reality, I think they'll go for 80% of the production at 40% of the cost (if possible).The White Sox, Mariners, and Orioles seem like the next best fits (I'd say in that order.)

Given that Dunn has said in the past that he doesn't want to DH and so wouldn't go to an AL club though, the Cubs look like a solid fit (with about the full 3 WAR upgrade), with the Nat's coming in second. Given that the most recent reports are that Washington isn't likely to bring Dunn back while Chicago is interested, the masher ending up on the North Side makes a lot of sense to me.

Rob: It's wrong to take a bottle of Tabasco from Chipotle when you're getting a burrito to go, right? Don't you think they expect it? Why not have big jugs of it with a pump like Wendy's has for ketchup?

Well, if they expect it then the cost of the bottle is already priced into your burrito and so it would be crazy not to take it. To be honest, I don't remember ever going to Chipotle. It's possible that it's more cost effective for them to have the occasional person take the bottle and just replace it with another than to have someone have to refill the pumps constantly.

Craig: Which team deserves Cliff Lee less than the Yankees? Why does this seem so predictable?

I think he'll stay with Texas - I'd take the field over the Yankees in signing him - but if he does go to New York I'm OK with it.

2010 Cliff Lee vs. not the Orioles: 2.84 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 3.09 xFIP
2010 Cliff Lee vs. the Orioles: 6.14 ERA, 6.65 FIP, 4.44 xFIP

Not really though. I'll probably cry.

So that's our inaugural mailbag. Send your questions for next week's edition to btbquestions@gmail.com.

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