Quantifying luck in baseball has never been an exact science, but in recent years two stats have surged to the forefront in this area. Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and Line Drive Percentage.
The former stat shows how often a batter reaches base on balls put into the field of play; minus walks, hit by pitch, sacrifices and even home runs; while the latter is a great indicator of just how much a batter is squaring up on balls on a regular basis.
Last week I took a look at some pitchers who were off to hot/cold starts, but now we will take a look at some hitters who may have been a little lucky or unlucky in this first three weeks of the season. I created a quick exercise to determine BABIP luck, which was to subtract a batter’s line drive percentage from his BABIP. Usually a higher line drive percentage equal a higher BABIP, so generally the larger the gap then the luckier the hitter has been.
Of course, I say generally because this doesn’t account for speed, ballpark or anything else, but it’s a good, quick way of giving us a snapshot of who has and hasn’t been lucky.
Top 20 Luckiest Batters
- Bryan LaHair‘s line drive percentage is a nice 24 percent, but his .545 BABIP is absolutely ridiculous right now. The 6’5, 240-pound first baseman is 5-for-9 (.556) on ground balls so far this season.
- I’m a little worried that Jayson Werth is due for some regression. His 12.5 LD% is very bad, but, like LaHair, he’s batting an absurd 9-for-19 (.474) on ground balls.
- How does Erick Aybar have a 6.4 percent line drive rate? That’s pitiful.
- Emilio Bonifacio won’t have a BABIP of .391 at season’s end, but he could end up somewhere north of .350 thanks to his speed, especially given how his 17.5 percent line drive rate isn’t all that bad.
- David Freese has an unsustainably high BABIP (.432), but that’s also the product of a 22.5 percent line drive rate. He’s crushing the ball right now.
Top 20 Unluckiest Batters
- Curtis Granderson‘s 40.4 line drive percentage is absolutely ridiculous, but it hasn’t resulted in the kind of BABIP you’d expect.
- I’m buying hard on Marlon Byrd. That doesn’t mean I think he’s worth an add in all leagues, but he’s completely fallen off the table in fantasy leagues due to his poor start. Now he’s in Boston in a good ballpark and a great lineup, and he has the center field job to himself while Jacoby Ellsbury is down for another month or so. Plus, his line drive rate is 24.4 percent. He’ll start hitting very soon.
- Ben Zobrist will turn around. I maintain that he’s a top-40 player given his power/speed combo, and I wouldn’t worry about his sub-Mendoza .175 average. Buy on him in all leagues, especially via trade. He’s a streaky hitter so owners might be frustrated right now.
- Neil Walker has his strikeout rate down to 10.2 percent, his line drive rate is 28.3 percent, yet he’s batting just .222. He will come around. Given the early struggles of second basemen on the whole, Walker is definitely someone to buy right now.
- One of my major criticisms of Carlos Santana last season was his 15.4 percent line drive rate. This year he’s doubled that. Unfortunately he’s traded fly balls for the extra liners, so hopefully that balances out, but he still strikes out too much to contribute in batting average. That said, he’s walking over 20 percent of the time, too. That’s crazy good and means he’s getting great pitches to hit.
- Matt Wieters is hitting line drive 27.5 percent of the time but has a .265 BABIP to show for it. I say this for two reasons: (1) He’s finally getting on the right track, and he’s hitting .294 on the season despite the low-for-his-line-drive-rate BABIP, and (2) he won’t maintain that line-drive rate all season, but his BABIP will go up so expect the .290 average to stick.
Any way the ball rolls it will be interesting to see how some of these guys numbers shake out by the end of the year.