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Our new baseball stat feature: The inside scoop on BABiP

Carlos Corporan Bryan LaHair

Carlos Corporan, Bryan LaHair

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Updated: July 3, 2012 12:09PM



It’s been said by sabermetricians that there are three true outcomes in any pitcher vs. batter confrontation: home runs, strikeouts and walks — if you lump hit batters in with those bases on balls. Anything else is a ball in play, and defense becomes a factor.

BABiP, or batting average on balls in play, is one tool sabermetricians use in separating out what happens when the contest moves beyond pitcher vs. batter.

You can look at it both from the batter’s side and the pitcher’s. Through Monday’s games, Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair’s hot start was fueled in part by a higher-than-normal BABiP, while White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy has benefitted from an opponents’ BABiP that’s below his usual level.

A normal BABiP hovers around .300 — in 2011, the major-league average was .295. Flyball pitchers tend to have lower BABiPs than groundball pitchers, and it helps if the pitcher is backed by a go-get-’em defense. BABiPs are highest when the balls in play are line drives, lowest on fly balls. With extreme differences from the norms, there’s some luck involved. Are batters hitting ’em where they ain’t, or where they are?

Take LaHair. Back on May 9, when he was hitting .384, his BABiP was .510. That’s not a sustainable level — not even close. In 2011, the major leagues’ BABiP leaders were the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and the Red Sox’ Adrian Gonzalez, both at .380. LaHair couldn’t keep that up. No one could.

Through Monday’s game, his batting average stands at .312 and his BABiP at .405 — still high despite some leveling off. The difference between LaHair’s current BABiP and the .346 he posted in two previous big-league trials is five hits. Without those five hits, his batting average would be right on his major-league career average of .277.

Peavy, who stands at 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA, has an opponents’ BABiP of .251 that’s 36 points below his career average. If balls had been falling in at his career norm, that would mean five outs turned into hits, and that would put a little upward pressure on his ERA.

BABiP isn’t destiny. In his best years with the Padres, Peavy posted BABiPs of .303 when he was 15-6 with a 2.27 ERA in 2004 and .276 when he as 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 2007. What happens when the ball isn’t put in play matters, too, as in Peavy’s 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and LaHair’s 10 home runs so far this season.

It’s just one useful little tool in the sabemetric kit, one that gives us a quick glance at when happens when the hitter puts the ball into play.

GLOSSARY: BABiP, or batting average on balls in play: The percentage of base hits on balls hit where fielders must make a play. Subtract home runs from hits. Then subtract home runs and strikeouts from at-bats, but add sacrifice flies. Divide the first result by the second to get a percentage.



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