By now you have probably read countless articles warning you about April statistics and small sample sizes. This article will be slightly different as we examine the top 10 and bottom 10 players in BABIP through May 1st. You know, the stat you would expect to be ripe for regression with a larger sample size.
Which players' BABIPs are based on luck and which ones are off to a sustainable start? The following lists are almost certainly the former. Some stats, in particular LD%, need more than one month's worth of data to start showing more signal than noise. Let's take a look. All stats are from FanGraphs.
|Travis Shaw||Red Sox||0.419||20.0||26.2||40.0||33.9|
The BABIP leader is Martin Prado. His 2016 BABIP to date is well above his .313 from 2015. He has never had a BABIP above .357 (2008 with Atlanta), but his other batted ball data paint a different story. Prado's LD% and Soft % are on par with 2015. He is pulling the ball more to start 2016, which at this rate would be a career high at 39.4%. The current pace is unsustainable for him, but even as he regresses back to his career numbers, which is not a bad thing, the Marlins will be glad to have another typical Prado season after Dee Gordon's PED suspension.
As is typical for BABIP leaders, they often are hitting the ball hard. Two players in particular are absolutely smoking the ball - Miguel Sano and Daniel Murphy. Their line drive percentages are above 30% and well above their career averages - once again cause for caution with only one month's worth of data.
Sano has been going to the middle of the field often and with authority; his hard contact rate is lower than his 2015 rate of 43.2%. Murphy seems to have picked up where he left off in the 2015 playoffs. Murphy's LD and hard percentages have both increased and he is pulling the ball more, a key to his postseason success. There is little doubt that Murphy's numbers will stabilize, but will they stabilize enough to be an improvement from 2015? I think they will.
Mark Trumbo and Travis Shaw present an interesting case. Both of these players fall into the "lucky" spectrum to start 2016. They are in the top ten in BABIP but have low LD percentages. Also, they are the only two players to have a Soft percentage over 20 percent, leading their top ten counterparts. Contributing to Trumbo's luck are his results on grounders and fly balls, both of which have much higher BABIPs than usual for him. Trumbo has not hit grounders harder than usual or sprayed them more than usual, so that's a red flag. Shaw is under a similar phenomenon - high grounder BABIP, high fly ball BABIP, high liner BABIP. Look for Trumbo and Shaw to come back down to Earth as the season rolls on.
|Troy Tulowitzki||Blue Jays||0.182||6.7||15.0||55.0||30.0|
On the flip side, some players are off to a sluggish start to 2016 and looking to turn their seasons around. Nick Ahmed and Derek Norris are two examples of players hitting into bad luck through April. Ahmed has the highest line drive percentage of the bottom ten BABIPs and has improved his line drive rate and hard contact rate from 2015. Norris has the highest hard contact rate of the bottom ten; he is hitting the ball hard but not getting the results.
Both Kyle Seager and Troy Tulowitzki have ways to improve their batted ball data. A factor into the rough start to Seager's season may be his ability to hit when the shift is on. According to FanGraphs shift data, Seager is pulling the ball the majority of the time when hitting against the shift, 35 percent compared to only 22.2 percent when not hitting against the shift. While his LD percentage is not high against the shift, 18.6, it is much higher than his LD percentage when not facing a shift, which is 11.1. The shift undoubtedly has been a problem for Kyle Seager through the first month of 2016.
Tulowitzki has the opposite problem of Seager; he needs to go to the opposite field more. Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, for him, his line drive percentage is only 6.7 percent, which is unsustainably low and will improve. Throughout his career, Tulo has been at his best when he is hitting the ball from center to right.
Anthony Rizzo is perhaps the most surprising name on the bottom ten. There is no denying Rizzo is off to a solid start for the Cubs and smoking the ball. Already he has eight home runs, and out of his 20 hits 13 have been for extra bases. While his LD percentage is low, the fly ball percentage is not. A 51.4 percent FB rate explains all the extra bases Rizzo has so far. He may not be hitting the ball hard in a line drive capacity, but he is doing his damage through the loftier air instead.
Only one month, whether good or bad, is not enough to define a season. The above players are on the high and low end of the respective spectrum; the small sample size caveat is cacophony to one and music to another. Stars look terrible, and previously poor players look great. Regression will equalize them.
Carl Triano is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score.