Batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, is usually associated with offensive players. After all, it's primarily an offensive statistic. Nonetheless, BABIP against is the adaption of that statistic for pitchers and it's just as useful for them as it is for offensive players. As you probably would expect, below is official definition, as per FanGraphs:
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. A ball is "in play" when the plate appearance ends in something other than a strikeout, walk, hit batter, catcher's interference, sacrifice bunt, or home run.
BABIP = (H - HR)/(AB - K - HR + SF)
Even though offensive players arguably have more control over this statistic than pitchers, there's a pretty strong case to be made for BABIP being an even more telling statistic for pitchers than it is for hitters. If a pitcher has less control over an outcome, it means talent becomes a smaller piece of the puzzle. If talent is less of a factor, it means lesser players have an opportunity to post better overall numbers than they should, while better players could post worse overall numbers.
Much like any statistic we use, BABIP against is simply a launching point for us to identify specific players to hold up to the light and examine their underlying numbers a little more closely. Did player A overachieve while player B underachieved? How do we know? What do his underlying metrics like hard hit rate and barrel % allowed say about the results?
League average BABIP in 2019 was .296. For a player to support a league average BABIP, one would also expect to see a hard hit rate allowed around the league average rate of 38% and a league average barrels per plate appearance allowed around 5%. It's when you see discrepancies in these numbers that raise the red flags in terms of performance. For example, if a player posted a better than average BABIP, yet worse than average hard% allowed and barrels/PA% allowed, it's reasonable to draw the conclusion that favorable luck may have played a part in the strong BABIP number. The reverse is also true and it's important to realize BABIP has three main component - talent, defense and luck. Since pitchers control less of their BABIP by talent, focusing on the luck and defense component becomes quite important when trying to project player performance moving forward.
To get started, below is a dashboard of all qualified starting pitchers from 2019 sorted by BABIP, best to worst:
Listen into our SiriusXM Fantistics Insider Baseball Show (Ch.87 Saunday 10-1pm ET) as we discuss these players and what to expect from them with their overall numbers in 2020.
The following notes can be found in our 2020 Player Projections Player Projections and Draft Program:
Verlander, Justin At 36 with a 94.7 MPH average fastball, we're in Nolan Ryan territory. His 2.58 ERA/.80 WHIP/21W/300K CY Young season was arguably the best in his career. Incredible, but at some point someone will be holding the bag. Although he typically maintains a BABIP 20-25 points below league average, his .218 BABIP from a season ago with one of the highest 42% Hard Hit rates, simply does not correlate. This despite an insane 16% SwStr%. Despite his status as a top 5 fantasy pitcher, there will be regression! | 2019 BABIP: 0.218(-0.054)| SwStr%: 16%(2%)| Avg FB: 94.7(-0.4)| FB/Chg Split: 7.1(7.7)| HR Distance: 390ft(9)| Strand%: 0.88(0.08)| HardHit%: 41.8%(12.7%)| Avg Velocity: 87(-0.5)| Elevation%: 18.2(-3.2)| Barrels%: 7.8(1.6)| HR/FB%: 16%(5%)| GB Rate: 0.36(0.07)| xFIP: 3.18(0.60)| xSLG: 0.355(-0.006)
Samardzija, Jeff After posting ERAs near 6.00 in May and June, Samardzija has posted a 2.67 ERA since the end of June. Samardzija has become significantly more reliant on his cutter over the past couple of months, but the rest of his pitch mix has been somewhat variable (Samardzija's fastball usage dipped in July before rebounding in August, and his sinker usage did the opposite), and his overall numbers suggest a significant decline in performance over the last month of the year. Although his hard hit rate has dropped over the last two months, it's still worse than the league average (37% in August and 42.3% in July) and most of Samardzija's other peripherals have remained largely in line with their full season numbers. Considering that Samardzija has benefited from a .186 BABIP and 3% home run rate over the past two months, he's unlikely to continue posting such strong results going into 2020. Combined with a roughly league average strikeout rate, Samardzija's likely to decline batted ball results make him decline candidate in 2020. - Phil Double | 2019 BABIP: 0.240(-0.047)| SwStr%: 9%(1%)| Avg FB: 91.9(-0.4)| FB/Chg Split: 6.7(92.3)| HR Distance: 404ft(2)| Strand%: 0.77(0.14)| HardHit%: 40.2%(8.7%)| Avg Velocity: 89(3.1)| Elevation%: 16.3(-2.8)| Barrels%: 8.4(-1.0)| HR/FB%: 13%(4%)| GB Rate: 0.36(0.07)| xFIP: 5.02(1.50)| xSLG: 0.472(0.061)
Flaherty, Jack The 23-year-old has been great in 2019 on the whole with a 2.75 ERA , 3.64 xFIP, and 10.6 K/9 in 196 innings. To the delight of his fantasy owners, Flaherty has really turned it on here down the stretch; he has posted an ERA of .1,22 and K-rate of 11.1 K/9 in his last 111 innings pitched. - dnachtigal | Of concern was the 242 BABIP against on 37% Hard Contact rate. Which will likely back up his ERA closer to xFIP showed in 2019. 2019 BABIP: 0.242(-0.015)| SwStr%: 14%(0%)| Avg FB: 93.9(1.2)| FB/Chg Split: 7.4(7.0)| HR Distance: 399ft(4)| Strand%: 0.83(0.08)| HardHit%: 37.2%(1.1%)| Avg Velocity: 86(-0.3)| Elevation%: 15.0(0.0)| Barrels%: 6.9(0.3)| HR/FB%: 14%(-1%)| GB Rate: 0.40(-0.03)| xFIP: 3.64(0.89)| xSLG: 0.364(0.029)
Gray, Jon Plays in Coors field, so the elevated 17% HR/FB rate is not outlandish, fortunately he's a heavy groundball pitcher (505) that actually pitches better at Coors than away. Solid 11.8% SwStr% shows upside in his 9 K/9. Very difficult to rely on a Coors field pitcher though so temper your expectations. 2019 BABIP: 0.314(-0.008)| SwStr%: 12%(-1%)| Avg FB: 96.1(1.3)| FB/Chg Split: 9.4(8.2)| HR Distance: 407ft(0)| Strand%: 0.76(0.11)| HardHit%: 39.8%(3.7%)| Avg Velocity: 89(0.0)| Elevation%: 7.5(-1.6)| Barrels%: 5.9(0.1)| HR/FB%: 17%(-1%)| GB Rate: 0.50(0.03)| xFIP: 3.89(0.05)| xSLG: 0.426(-0.011)
Castillo, Luis It is hard to argue that Castillo (15- 8record, 3.40 ERA, 1.19 whip) hasn't blossomed into one of the best arms in the National League. Castillo ranks 6th in the NL in K/9 (10.8 k/9) and 2nd in groundball rate (55.3%) ' a combination that will elevate him to ace status in 2020. He has taken his game to the next level in 2019 by inducing more swings-and-misses (66% contact rate, 16% swinging strike rate) and he will be a Top-10 Starting Pitching Option in 2020. - dbertolino | There will however be some regression as the 262 BABIP on a 37% Hard Hit rate is likely for some regression. | 2019 BABIP: 0.262(-0.020)| SwStr%: 16%(2%)| Avg FB: 96.5(0.7)| FB/Chg Split: 9.3(9.5)| HR Distance: 404ft(8)| Strand%: 0.77(0.06)| HardHit%: 37.3%(-1.2%)| Avg Velocity: 86(-1.7)| Elevation%: 5.1(-4.0)| Barrels%: 5.1(-3.7)| HR/FB%: 18%(0%)| GB Rate: 0.55(0.09)| xFIP: 3.48(0.08)| xSLG: 0.330(-0.013)
Kershaw, Clayton Kershaw finished 2019 at 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 28 starts. While the ERA is his highest since his rookie season in 2008, it's low enough that Kershaw will likely remain a hot commodity in 2020 drafts. The slight increase in ERA doesn't worry me, but his 3.52 xFIP, while still very good, is more indicative of a decline in performance. His walk rate is up a bit from previous years and his 42.5% Hard% is way above his career 27.3% mark. - mgreenfeld | His fastball lost another .5 MPH in 2019, but remains a plus pitch, as does his slider as a +1.5. There is some improvement expected in his 18.5 HR/FB rate which was the highest of his career, and his 13% SwStr rate remains intact. Although he historically forces lower BABIPs, his .262 BABIP with a 42% Hard Hit rate appears fortunate. | 2019 BABIP: 0.262(-0.011)| SwStr%: 13%(2%)| Avg FB: 90.4(-0.5)| FB/Chg Split: 5.3(6.3)| HR Distance: 406ft(-2)| Strand%: 0.84(0.05)| HardHit%: 42.0%(5.8%)| Avg Velocity: 87(0.1)| Elevation%: 11.2(2.4)| Barrels%: 6.8(1.4)| HR/FB%: 19%(6%)| GB Rate: 0.48(0.00)| xFIP: 3.50(0.47)| xSLG: 0.404(0.010)
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