The "luckiest" and "unluckiest" hitters of 2013

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

The word luck is often thrown around when we talk about hitter's BABIP numbers. By looking at expected BABIP, though, we hopefully can identify which hitters have actually had the best and worst fortunes to this point.

In recent years, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has become one of the most interesting sabermetric measures available. 25 years ago no one focused on BABIP, until Voros McCracken and DIPS theory changed all of that. Now a large percentage of baseball fans have heard the term, and many (incorrectly) look at anyone with a BABIP above or below .300 as a regression candidate. However, we know that things like foot speed and line drive rate will affect BABIPs for hitters and that not every position player should be expected to have a league average rate. We also know that high and low BABIPs do tend to show gravitation towards the mean and career norms, both because of typical regression and adjustments made by players. Because of that we can look the largest gaps between expected BABIPs and actual BABIPs to examine if some cold or hart starts may be sustainable.

Before the actual analysis, though, it is worth mentioning that just last week I highlighted some terrific work by Russell Carleton regarding the necessary sample sizes for certain offensive and pitching statistics to stabilize. If you look at the table for hitters in his article, you can see that BABIP gives us meaningful results after 820 balls in play. Most hitters only have about 100-150 balls in play so far this season, so we need to take these leaderboards with a grain of salt. With that, let's get on to some hitters that "should" be getting more or fewer hits.

Using the formula for xBABIP (xBABIP = ((GB - IFH ) * (GB-IFH constant) + (FB-HR-IFFB) * (OFFB Constant) + LD * (LD Constant) + IFH + BUH ) / (GB + FB + LD + BU + - HR - SH)), here are the 15 "luckiest" qualified hitters in terms of BABIP thus far:

NAME

BABIP

xBABIP

xBABIP-BABIP

Lance Berkman

.341

.232122

-.10888

Joe Mauer

.436

.340614

-.09539

Carlos Gomez

.435

.351391

-.08361

Torii Hunter

.388

.305050

-.08295

Miguel Cabrera

.400

.321192

-.07881

Chris Davis

.354

.284927

-.06907

Kelly Johnson

.338

.271088

-.06691

Yadier Molina

.373

.311229

-.06177

Colby Rasmus

.368

.309175

-.05882

Evan Longoria

.373

.314706

-.05829

A.J. Ellis

.350

.292063

-.05794

Brandon Moss

.361

.304819

-.05618

Carlos Gonzalez

.351

.295553

-.05545

Starling Marte

.413

.358529

-0.5447

Adam Jones

.383

.330975

-.05203

No surprise to see Joe Mauer near the top of the list. The lefty with the sweet stroke currently has a sky high .436 BABIP, tops in the Major Leagues. While that number should drop some, his career BABIP of .347 is right in line with his xBABIP, and his line drive rate is an absurd 28%. So far this year he has only hit two fewer line drivs than fly balls and over his last 1127 plate appearances he has hit just 2 infield pop ups. This should yet again be a strong campaign for Mauer, and he very well may contend for another batting title.

Right below him, both in BABIP and in xBABIP-BABIP, is Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez. As of this morning, Gomez leads the Major Leagues in several offensive categories including wOBA (.451) and wRC+ (192). His BABIP has fueled a National League best .371 batting average, a large part of his offensive success. To his credit, this comes on the heels of a strong second half performance in 2012, which saw Gomez hit .278 with 14 home runs. We shouldn't expect this level of production to continue, but he has decreased his strikeouts while maintaining his walk rate, plus he is a speedy runner who is hitting more line drives. His .351 xBABIP may be a tad high for the full season, yet I expect a .330-.340 BABIP which will represent a new career high and a .300+ average.

Chris Davis is another hitter that has changed his approach, doubling his walk rate while simultaneously reducing his whiffs. Because of that I believe he is well on his way to a monster year and more than likely 45 home runs. Still those alterations have not changed the facts that he hits a ton of balls in the air and runs like a catcher. Expect the average to come back down in a big way, to the .275 range.

Now, the 15 "unluckiest" BABIP hitters of 2013:

NAME

BABIP

xBABIP

xBABIP-BABIP

Adam Dunn

.152

.276106

.124106

Jeff Keppinger

.205

.324937

.119937

Yunel Escobar

.200

.318100

.118100

David Murphy

.209

.317429

.108429

Will Middlebrooks

.247

.347438

.100438

Martin Prado

.233

.328263

.095263

Edwin Encarnacion

.207

.296901

.089901

Jonathan Lucroy

.228

.312630

.084630

Paul Konerko

.235

.319173

.084173

J.J. Hardy

.216

.295672

.079672

B.J. Upton

.213

.289693

.076693

Miguel Montero

.223

.299660

.076660

Everth Cabrera

.302

.373708

.071708

Trevor Plouffe

.262

.332762

.070762

Jon Jay

.297

.364119

.067119


The first name that jumps out at me is Edwin Encarnaction who is having somewhat of a weird season. Despite an AL-best 11 home runs, E5 is hitting .231/.313/.469. We can chalk his slow start up to some poor luck though, as all of his performance indicators are in line with what he did last year when his BABIP was .266 and he hit .280.

You have to feel bad for the White Sox since three of their players make the list. That offense, which ranks 29th (only ahead of Miami) as a team in wOBA, should see some improvements in the near future.

Everth Cabrera is a player that should regularly be among the league leaders in BABIP. He's fast, hits a ton of ground balls and line drives (13.6 FB%), and his plate discipline is improving. So it doesn't make sense to me that his BABIP and batting average are consistently lower than expected. As the season progresses I think his rates will gravitate towards the expectations and he will become a very good player for the Padres.

Lastly, there is hope for struggling offseason acquisitions Martin Prado and B.J. Upton, and for fans of those clubs. Sure they have been bad so far, but just know that they haven't actually been quite this bad.

All stats courtesy of our friends at Fangraphs. Stats are as of Monday, May 13, 2013.

Andrew Ball is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, Fake Teams, and Fantasy Ninjas.

You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.

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