Batting Average and BABIP

Last Friday I had a post published at ESPN's TMI blog looking at Robinson Cano and his chances of putting up a batting average above his BABIP this year. Lefti had a FanPost about the concept recently as well, so I'll try not to rehash things too much. When you're looking at BA > BABIP - if you exclude sacrifices - you basically get down HR / HR + K > BA. That means that the players that are able to pull the trick - 11 a year, on average, since 2000 - tend to be guys that have some pop and don't strike out too often. After the jump is a neat graph of the home run and strike-out levels needed for various batting averages and some of the players who accomplished the feat this past decade, along with the answer to the following trivia question:

Which one of these batters managed a batting average above his BABIP (FanGraphs calculation) in the most (qualified) seasons since 2000:  Eric Byrnes, Jay Gibbons, Paul Lo Duca, Larry Walker.

 

Answer: Jay Gibbons, of course. He did it twice, in 2002 (.247 average, .233 BABIP) and 2005 (.277 average, .268 BABIP). Lo Duca did it once, in 2001 (.320 average, .295 BABIP). Byrnes and Walker took 0-fers. You're welcome for that very valuable bit of information.

 

Just using the HR / HR + K = BA equation, we can construct the following production possibilities frontiers:

Bababip_medium

For each number of home runs a batter hits with a certain batting average, you can see the (approximate) maximum number of strike-outs he can have. You can see how much harder it is to pull it off with the higher averages.

By my count, there have been 110 qualified player seasons with a batting average above BABIP since 2000, though the number has lower in recent years due to the decreased frequency of home runs. Several players have done it multiple times, including Albert Pujols (8), Gary Sheffield (7), Barry Bonds (5), Carlos Lee (5), Rafael Palmeiro (5), and Vlad Guerrero (5).

The highest batting average seasons to do it:

Todd Helton (2000) - .372 BA, .357 BABIP, 42 HR, 61 K. Coors Field aided, but still awesome.

Barry Bonds (2002) - .370 BA, .320 BABIP, 46 HR, 47 K. I think this was the year that Bonds decided he wanted to win a batting tile, so he did. 13.3 fWAR in 2002. 13.3! Ridiculous!

Barry Bonds (2004) - .362 BA, .310 BABIP, 45 HR, 41 K. Only 12.2 fWAR. Loser.

Albert Pujols (2003) - .359 BA, .346 BABIP, 43 HR, 65 K. 9.4 fWAR that year.

Albert Pujols (2008) -.357 BA, .340 BABIP, 37 HR, 54 K. 9.3 fWAR. He's pretty good.

Moises Alou (2000) - .355 BA, .338 BABIP, 30 HR, 45 K. I took it to six to get Alou in there. Career .303/.369/.516 hitter, dontcha know.

Flipping things around, the lowest batting average seasons:

Tony Batista (2004) - .241 BA, .225 BABIP, 32 HR, 78 K. He hit 41 home runs in 2000, and almost did it that year as well.

Jay Gibbons (2002) - .247 BA, .233 BABIP, 28 HR, 66 K. Jay drove in 100 runs for the Orioles' the following year. Oh, memories.

Chipper Jones (2004) - .248 BA, .246 BABIP, 30 HR, 96 K. The 7 sac flies got him just under the line. The season broke his streak of six straight season's batting over .300 (eight straight at .295 or above).

Eric Young (2003) - .251 BA, .249 BABIP, 15 HR, 44 K. He never hit more than 8 homers in any other season in his career.

Ian Kinsler (2009) - .253 BA, .241 BABIP, 32 HR, 77 K. Went 31-31 last year with the homers and steals.

Jason Giambi (2006) - .253 BA, .245 BABIP, 37 HR, 106 K. The 23.8% strike-out rate was the highest mark of any of the 110 player seasons. It's much easier when you don't hit for a high average and jack a bunch of homers.

One of the neater aspects is the biggest differences between batting average and BABIP:

Barry Bonds (2001) - .328 BA, .266 BABIP, 73 HR, 93 K. The 62 point difference is the highest I've found all-time. Didn't do a complete study, but the closest I saw was Roger Maris' 60 point disparity in his 61 home run season. For any reasonable number of home runs you almost have to strike-out less often than you go yard, and I didn't find any season that worked. Just a crazy year. He walked in almost 27% of his plate appearances, and that's still only the fourth highest mark of his career. The third of four straight years with a wOBA over .500. Absurd.

Barry Bonds (2004) - .362 BA, .310 BABIP, 45 HR, 41 K.

Barry Bonds (2002) - .370 BA, .320 BABIP, 46 HR, 47 K.

Albert Pujols (2006) - .331 BA, .292 BABIP, 49 HR, 50 K.

Barry Bonds (2003) - .341 BA, .304 BABIP, 43 HR, 65 K.

Barry Bonds (2000) - .306 BA, .271 BABIP, 49 HR, 77 K.

Bonds obviously displayed tremendous power and didn't strike out very much. I guess sometimes when you set some big records, you manage some lesser records in the process.

The list of best seasons (by wOBA, for example) pretty much mirrors the above. Lots of Bonds, a few sprinkles of Pujols, and a Todd Helton and Luis Gonzalez (his 57 home run season - yes people, that actually happened) mixed in.

Most of players that managed to post a batting average above their BABIP had good seasons - the average wOBA for the group of 110 is .393. That doesn't mean that it's a certainty though. One of the amusing things about the piece at ESPN is that they added in the line "if a player's BA is higher than his BABIP, it means he's showing true hitting prowess." Depending on how far you stretch the definition of "true hitting prowess", that may or may not be true. For example, in his 2003 season, Eric Young posted just a .323 wOBA.. There's also:

AJ Pierzynski (2004) - .272 BA, .268 BABIP, 11 HR, 27 K. He rarely struck out, but showed little power and never walked. He had a .314 wOBA, though that's still decent for a catcher.

Edgardo Alfonzo (2003) - .259 BA, .257 BABIP, 13 HR, 41 K. .318 wOBA.

Bengie Molina (2003) - .281 BA, .294 BABIP, 14 HR, 31 K. .318 wOBA
Bengie Molina (2008) - .292 BA, .285 BABIP, 16 HR, 38 K. .328 wOBA . Molina's actually done it a few more times, though he didn't get enough plate appearances in those season to qualify.

Jose Lopez (2009) - .272 BA, .270 BABIP, 25 HR, 69 K. .325 wOBA isn't half bad for a second-baseman. Or a third-baseman even.

Randall Simon (2002) - .301 BA, .286 BABIP, 19 HR, 30 K. His .331 wOBA made him a replacement level player that year, given his poor defense at first-base.

And that Tony Batista season where he hit .241, he had a .304 wOBA - easily the worst mark off all 110.

Hey look; Randall Simon and Barry Bonds both managed the same elusive feat! I guess that means they're equally awesome hitters! I'd like to see Bonds take a couple of swings at a running sausage to make sure though.

Generally speaking though, if a player posts a batting average (especially a good one) above his BABIP, he's probably had a pretty darn good season.

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