Using BABIP to Track Free Agent/Trade Targets

Using BABIP to Track Free Agent/Trade Targets

A Lesson from Dad

For those of you that follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I like a bargain.  I think it comes from my upbringing. My dad was always a hustler, trying to stretch a dollar as far as he could and finding unique ways to make a buck.

And boy oh boy, he loved a bargain.

I remember being a little boy and my dad would drive an extra 2 miles to a convenience store just to save $0.10 on a fountain soda. But as he saw it, he was saving $0.30, $0.10 each for me, my sister, and himself. At that time, gas was less than a buck per gallon so the sacrifice was both justifiable and economical.

Another Lesson from Dad

As a fan of a team that is a mid-tier spender, it’s really good to have a little bit of my Dad’s philosophy inside, but it’s also important to know when things are cheap…and for reasons.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2017…our family went to my parents’ house and was really looking forward to some good home-cooking… and of course, turkey.  Well, Dad was in charge of the turkey and he went driving to look for a bargain and he found it!  Turkey for  $0.59/lb! But when he got to the turkey, it wasn’t a full turkey, merely turkey breast with the real turkey right next to him for double the price. Well, Dad failed us all, grabbed the breast that had this weird jelly-like substance surrounding the outside that I’m sure is still affecting my ability to think clearly (which is my excuse for writing this piece). When eating it, I felt like I was eating some weird combination of Tofu and your everyday household sponge, yet marinated with all the normal turkey stuff. Verdict? AWFUL. It fed more canines than humans and 2017’s Cothran Thanksgiving will forever be known for Sponge Turkey.

So, how do we separate the bargains in the bargain bin from the trash in the bargain bin? Well, it’s good to have a measuring tool and that I have!  Is it foolproof? Dear heavens, heck no.  But it is a tool that can provide perspective on up and down years and why it happened.

What is BABIP?

I wrote about BABIP in my first article at Walkoff Walk (please give it a click if you’re unaware of the stat as it’ll provide value to the rest of the reading) and really believe that the lack of paying attention to this stat has caused the front office to make a slew of bad decisions.  Whether it’s mere speculation from the Braves fam on Twitter, beat writers, analysts, etc., certain free agents or trade targets have been passed around as potential pieces for the Braves. I’m going to look at some of these guys and make an analytical decision on whether Braves should or should not target said person based on their BABIP.

Atlanta Braves Free Agent/Trade Targets: Third Base

Low BABIPs from 2017

Todd Frazier, .226 BABIP–  Probably the most linked name for the potential filling of 3B until Austin Riley is ready to take over, the Toddfather had a career-low BABIP in 2017, the 2nd lowest among all qualified hitters in the MLB. The likelihood of him having a repeat BABIP that low again is very low, however don’t expect the Toddfather to be league average (.300), rather .250ish is more likely. He’s not that fleet of foot, his hard contact rate has dropped in the past few years, and he’s a pop-up artist.

Diagnosis: Fluky. Frazier could see a .015-.030 uptick in BABIP in 2018 that would move all of his offensive categories up.

 

Ian Kinsler, .244 BABIP- Kinsler is in his last year of his contract (10MM option picked up) and Detroit is indeed selling off assets therefore Kinsler has been discussed as a 3B option in some circles. His .244 BABIP is the 3rd lowest in his career and his career rate is .286. While it’s not impossible for Kinsler to duplicate a low BABIP in 2018, the career numbers say that it’s unlikely. However, Kinsler’s offensive numbers have taken a dive because his hard contact rate is seriously dropping (56.5% in 2015, 47.4% in 2016, and 44.3% in 2017) and that makes the diagnosis difficult.

Diagnosis: Slightly fluky. Due to the hard contact rate dropping, I could see the BABIP rate increasing .020 points but the power rate to continue decreasing which really makes the overall numbers a bit of a wash.

 

Yangervis Solarte,  .258 BABIP- Similar to Kinsler, Solarte has had his hard contact drop significantly and that doesn’t bode well for BABIP. Solarte is really difficult to strike out so that likely means he makes a lot of contact, but not always in a solid fashion. Still, it’s more likely than not that more balls find the hole in 2018.

Diagnosis: Slightly fluky. A swing upward similar to Kinsler’s could happen, however if he’s traded away from Petco, he could have more home runs which will push his numbers up but keep BABIP low. No matter what, I expect an uptick in his offensive slash-line.

 

Mike Moustakas, .263 BABIP- Moose’s career BABIP is .265. Years that he’s been a 3+fWAR player, it was above the career norm. Years that it was below? 0.5-2.2. There’s a chance that Moose can push .290, but it seems equal a chance that he could dive all the way down to .220. Since he’s a big guy that relies on over the fence power, pinpointing his BABIP going up or down is a guess, and not an educated one, at best.

Diagnosis: Not Fluky. A team signing Moose for 4-5 years will likely get some form of Moose from the past 2-3 years, averaging out to a 2 fWAR player.

 

Luis Valbuena, .210 BABIP- Valbuena has not mastered the art of carrying a high BABIP, but 2017 was really low. His contact rates stayed pretty much the same as 2016 but there was a .105 point drop in BABIPs. There’s no way to overlook that.  In fact, at a minimum of 300 plate appearances, Valbuena’s BABIP at .210 was the lowest in the entire Major Leagues.

Diagnosis: Very fluky. I’m not expecting his BABIP to approach MLB norms, but a serious increase I would expect, more than any above. Adding .050 points to Valbuena’s BABIP would greatly increase his slash-line and put him in the 2.5-3 fWAR range in about 100 games started.

 

High BABIPs from 2017

Chase Headley, .341 BABIP- There are some players that square the ball more regularly than others and Headley is one of those guys. With a career .328 BABIP, .341 isn’t that far from his norm.

Diagnosis: Not fluky. Headley’s BABIP might fluctuate .010-.020 points but that’s more due to more or less home runs in any given year. He’s not the monster hitter he was in the early parts of his career, but his contact rates have normalized to where one can expect an OPS in the range of .720-.780. The Nick Markakis of 3Bs.

 

Eduardo Nunez, .333 BABIP– Nunez posted his highest career BABIP in 2017, .025 points higher than his career norms. However, there’s not much difference in his 2016 and 2017 with exception being 2016 had more over the fence power.

Diagnosis: A little fluky.  I’d expect the BABIP to drop a bit bringing the overall slash-line down, making the OPS in mid .700s, but wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed in same range.

 

 

Atlanta Braves Free Agent/Trade Targets: Outfield

Low BABIPS from 2017

Curtis Granderson, .228 BABIP- A career .292 BABIP doesn’t tell the whole story as Granderson’s BABIP has dropped considerably as he’s slowed down. Still, at .228, it’s the lowest among qualified outfielders.

Diagnosis: Very fluky. Some team is going to sign Granderson based on his 2017 numbers for a 1-2 year deal and I’d bet they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. At the least, his BABIP comes up .020 points, but I’d expect a bigger rise.

 

Jose Bautista, .239 BABIP- Putting my personal distaste aside, Joey Bats BABIP was low but it’s always been low. In fact, he’s had years where it’s been as low as .215. He’s had a huge hard contact rate decrease and will have to bring that up to continue carrying a low BABIP and be successful.

Diagnosis: Neutral. I think Bautista will go into 2018 with a chip on his shoulder as he’ll be moving on from the Jays, but he’s 37 now and I wouldn’t expect a huge swing one way or the other.

 

Alex Gordon,  .261 BABIP- Gordon’s 2017 BABIP was .058 points below his career norm and .027 points below 2016. He did see a significant decrease in hard contact, but even that wouldn’t justify a career anomaly like this.

Diagnosis: Very fluky.  Gordon isn’t the all around player he was from ’11-’15, but he’s better than the 2017 version. I expect a fairly large increase in offensive production that’ll mirror his 2016.

 

High BABIPs from 2017

Avisail Garcia,  .392 BABIP-  Throughout his career, Avisail has carried a high-BABIP, but this is entering Chris Johnson territory and like Johnson, all of his value is tied into his bat. However, unlike Johnson, Avisail is entering his prime and could see an increase in over the fence power and hard contact.

Diagnosis: Fluky. I didn’t go very fluky here as I do think Avisail is entering his prime and will increase his power over the next few years, but a .030 point drop in BABIP wouldn’t be surprising making him a 2ish fWAR player rather than a 4.

 

Austin Jackson, .385 BABIP- AJ was a defensive monster playing for the Tigers and has even had really good offensive seasons, one of which he carried a .396 BABIP (WOW!) for a full year’s worth of at-bats. However 2018 Austin Jackson isn’t as fast 2010 Austin Jackson and duplicating a .385 BABIP is nearly impossible.

Diagnosis: Fluky. AJ will likely carry a BABIP significantly higher than the MLB norm, but a .040 point drop would really put him in replacement level talk once again.

 

Jon Jay, .363 BABIP- Jay has carried a BABIP around .350 for his career. Yes it spiked this year, but it did the same last year.

Diagnosis: Not fluky. Jay knows how to get on base and it looks like he’s a “server” that can put the ball where the defense is not. While his BABIP might fluctuate a bit, I think he’ll stay a little above or below .350 in 2018.

 

Lorenzo Cain, .340 BABIP- This is going to be short. Cain’s career BABIP is .344.

Diagnosis: Not fluky. Cain’s BABIP will likely gradually fade a bit over the course of his career but he’s maintained his speed from year to year (for now) and I wouldn’t expect much of a change next year.

 

Final Analysis: Who to Target

3rd Base

  1. Todd Frazier- Number 1 on this list as I could foresee him having the most surplus value in the group. The BABIP bar is so low that there’s nowhere to go except up.
  2. Luis Valbuena- If there wasn’t a health issue, he’d be ahead of Frazier, but there is and that has to be a factor. As only a 1-year commitment, he makes a ton of sense. I wish Angels would give us him in a trade for Matt Adams.
  3. Ian Kinsler- Depending on the cost, Kinsler could be a target for the same reason as Valbuena: a good bounce back candidate that’s only a year’s commitment.

Outfield

  1. Curtis Granderson- Man, he really rubbed me the wrong way on a few lazy plays in the outfield, but if the Braves could get him on a 1-year deal, I’d be down like a clown.
  2. Alex Gordon- Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up anything in a trade for Gordon. However, if the Braves could pull off a deal that sent Kemp and Markakis to the Royals in exchange for Gordon, I’d do it today.

 

Thanks for reading!

Go Braves!

 

2 Comments

If Braves could pull off a trade for Alex Gordon that sent both Markakis and Kemp to KC, a defensive outfield of Ender, Gordon, and Acuna would rock! After that, grab a reliever and Todd Frazier and I’d be very happy!

Ryan,

Funny you should mention Chase Headley being the Nick Markakis of 3B’s. I recently read analysis somewhere of the Yankees’ infield situation with having young up-and-coming prospects being blocked by the likes of Starlin Castro and Chase Headley, and the writer proposed that Chase Headley might be the “most hated” current Yankee. At first, I scoffed thinking that had to be just some homer-isitic propaganda until the writer later summarized his blurb about Headley by stating that it’s not because Headley is a bad player. He went on to explain that he is hated because Headley is simply average. “Just some guy” in a city where stars are expected at all positions, but most importantly, he is “just some guy” who happens to be blocking the path of a potential future star in Gleybor Torres.

I think the same goes for Markakis. He sure does get a lot of heat, especially from people like myself who have held a lot of disdain about his contract from before he ever signed with Atlanta. However, it wasn’t ever because he was a bad player. He’s just ‘meh’, as Thomas like to put it. He was ‘meh’ at a time where we could’ve probably gotten ‘meh’ for a lot less money and less commitment, and now he’s exactly like Headley, in that he’s just ‘meh’ which happens to be blocking the reigning, defending, undisputed Minor League Player of the Year, the beast-in-making, Ronald Acuna.

Anyway…I can’t say that I disagree with any of the analysis based solely on BABIP studies, but I would like to clarify that these suggestions (at least I hope) are based mostly off of BABIP alone, while making some big assumptions briefly covered in the Final Analysis sections (like health, contracts, etc). If I had one thing I would personally change, I may not rank Valbuena so high on the suggested targets list. He’d certainly be worth a look if the Angels were dumping him, but Valbuena has been trending the wrong direction for quite some time, albeit slowly. His defense has been in decline, his strikeouts have been spiking and I may be wrong, but the last time I considered him a few years ago as an Atlanta addition, I recall a pretty gnarly platoon split. In Valbuena’s place, perhaps not surprisingly based on the rest of my comment, I’d probably insert Headley on the back end of the top 3 and move Kinsler up a slot. Sure, there may not be much more to expect from Headley, but he’s not likely to do a lot less either. As stated…he’s just some guy. The only reason we won’t hate him like a lot of people hate Markakis is because he won’t block Austin Riley if he’s ready for a trial in 2019.

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