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What is BAbip? March 16, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The first stat we all learned about as kids was the batting average, where you calculate what proportion of at-bats end with getting a hit. Then, of course, we start thinking about why there are weird exceptions – why doesn’t getting hit by a pitch count? Why don’t walks count? Why doesn’t advancing to first on catcher’s interference count? OBP, or on-base percentage, fixes that. (Well, maybe not the catcher’s interference part…)

Batting average has some interesting properties, though. It captures events that have unpredictable outcomes – when you walk, it’s basically impossible to be put out on your way to first. Ditto being hit by a pitch. Of course, BA does have some of those determined outcomes, too – home runs and strikeouts don’t have much dynamic nature to them, although you’ll occasionally see brilliant defense save a sure homer (a la Carl Crawford’s MVP performance in the or a sloppy catcher mishandle a third strike and forget to tag the batter. (I’m looking at you, Josh Paul.) Nonetheless, balls in play – balls that the batter makes contact with, forcing the defense to try to make a play – are a major source of variation in the game.

BAbip is measured as \frac{H - HR}{AB - SO - SH + SF}, meaning it takes the strikeouts and home runs out of the equation and (like all sane measures should!) includes sacrifice flies.

Since the ball is out of the pitcher’s control as soon as it leaves his hand, BAbip measures things that the pitcher isn’t responsible for – that is, it’s handy as a measure of pitching luck, or, teamwide, as a measure of defensive effectiveness. The NL team BAbip average was .299, and AL average BAbip was about .298.

Use Cases for BAbip:

Evaluating hitting development. If a batter has had a stable BAbip for a while and his BAbip increases significantly, be suspicious! Particularly if his walk rate hasn’t increased, his home run rate hasn’t increased, and his strikeout rate hasn’t decreased, this might be a function of lucky hitting against bad or inefficient defenses. If the biggest part of an increase in production has been on balls in play, your hitter may not have actually improved. On the other hand, if you can see physical changes, or you have an explanation (e.g., went to AAA to work on his swing), you may see a more balanced improvement in OBP.

– Evaluating pitching luck. Most of the time, all the pitchers for the same team pitch in front of the same defense. Even with a personal catcher in the mix, expect most pitchers on a team to have similar batting averages on balls in play. If you have one pitcher whose BAbip is much higher than the rest of the pitchers, he may be pitching against bad luck. With that in mind, you can expect that pitcher to improve going forward.

– Comparing defenses. In 2014, Oakland had a .274 BAbip and allowed 572 runs – the best in the American league in BAbip and 18 runs behind Seattle – while Minnesota had a .317 BAbip and allowed 777 runs, the worst in both categories in the league. Defensive efficiency (a measure of 1 – BAbip) tracks closely with runs allowed. BAbip can operate as a quick and dirty check on how well a defense is performing behind a pitcher.

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