Batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, is a tool most useful for evaluating pitchers. While batters do show some ability to consistently hit for BABIP above or below league average from year to year, we have almost no evidence that pitchers can control the results of balls put into play against them from year to year. This means that as we approach the end of the first third of the current season, BABIP is useful to help fantasy team owners determine which pitchers are for real and which pitchers are flukes so far.
Looking at pitchers with extreme and utterly unsustainable BABIP stats (over .350 or under .250), we can easily identify 5 pitchers who are performing way above their level, and 5 pitchers who have actually pitched quite well but do not have the stats to show for it. As a fantasy team owner, you should look to trade high on the former, before they inevitably crash back down to earth, and you should look to buy low on the latter, before their luck evens out and their stats return to their actual level of performance.
Sell High – 5 Lowest BABIPs
The chart at right shows the 5 luckiest pitchers in baseball, BABIP-wise.
Shaun Marcum has looked like an ace this season, tossing some absolute gems, such as an 8-inning, 2-hit, 0-run performance against a powerful Indians lineup on May 12, and a near complete game against the even more powerful Rays on May 7. But looking at his ridiculous .194 BABIP tells us that he has actually been the luckiest pitcher in all of baseball, upon which the difference between his 2.64 ERA this season and his 4.24 career ERA prior to this season becomes much more understandable. He’s not worth keeping – trade him if you can.
With a 5-3 record and a sparkling 3.22 ERA this season, Gavin Floyd has White Sox Fans thinking that he is finally blossoming into the ace everyone has long hoped he could become, but his gift-from-the-baseball-gods .198 BABIP suggests that he is actually much closer to the pitcher of prior years who had a career ERA in the high 5′s. Maybe a White Sox fan will bite on him.
Scott Olson has teamed up with Mark Hendrickson to be one of the co-aces of a surprising Marlins team, but Hendrickson has actually been the much better pitcher; Olson’s low BABIP portends an imminent return to mediocrity. Maybe you can get something for him before he crashes and burns.
After a several-year hiatus in the bullpen, Ryan Dempster has made a triumphant return to starting pitching, posting an astonishing 2.56 ERA in 11 starts. But his crazy low BABIP will soon regress, showing Cubs fans why he is just as mediocre a pitcher as he as always been. Sell him off to a Cubs fan now.
Joe Saunders is young and good, but he is not that young, and he is not this good. He’s definitely worth keeping on your team, but lower your expectations the rest of the way. His ERA will probably be in the mid 4′s from here on out.
Buy Low – Guys Who Have Been Unlucky
Here are the five pitchers who have been most snake bitten so far – bloopers falling in or slow rollers finding holes.
Andrew Miller of the Marlins has actually pitched very well this year, but nobody knows it because he has been the unluckiest pitcher in the game so far. He is probably not even owned in your league, so if you need a pitcher, go pick him up. He should give you decent strikeouts, and with that offense and in that park, decent ERA and wins as well the rest of the way.
Bronson Arroyo is another guy who is probably not even owned in your league. But don’t be fooled by his unsightly ERA and WHIP – he is pitching just as well as he did the past two seasons, when he put up near-ace-like numbers.
Ian Snell of the Pirates broke out last year with a strong ace-like season. This year the breakout secretly continues, hidden behind some horrible bad luck. He’s still good, and should be in your fantasy rotation if you can get him.
Ubaldo Jimenez is not as bad as his numbers have shown, but he pitches half his games in Coors Field, and half of the Rockies offense is on the DL right now, so I’d avoid him.
Miguel Batista is still the same old mediocre 4th starter type he’s always been. He’ll turn it around a bit when his luck evens out, but is probably not worth owning except in AL-only leagues, especially with that terrible Mariners defense behind him.
Other guys with low BABIP (Sell, sell, sell!): Daniel Cabrera, Todd Wellemeyer, Tim Redding, Jose Contreras
Other guys with high BABIP (Buy, buy, buy!): CC Sabathia, Andy Pettite, AJ Burnett, Manny Parra