Saturday, May 31, 2008

Extreme Career BABIP

If you're unfamiliar with the acronym in the post title, it stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. Basically it can be used to judge how lucky or unlucky a particular hitter or pitcher has been. You can read a very good overview of BABIP here, but suffice it to say that guys who hit a lot of line drives will have a higher BABIP and those who hit a lot of fly balls and pop ups will have a lower BABIP.

Now, I don't have information on batted-ball types for years and years of baseball history, so I can't speculate why some guys in the past have high or low BABIP's, but I'd guess it follows the same principle. The actual formula for BABIP looks like this,

BABIP = \frac{H-HR}{AB-K-HR+SF},

but strikeouts have only been consistently recorded by all major leagues since 1913. Sacrifice flies have only been recorded by both leagues since 1954. Since there are a lot more strikeouts than sacrifice flies, I've looked at the numbers recorded after 1913. I don't believe sacrifice flies would make a big difference for players caught in the period 1913-1953, but consider this a disclaimer.

Here is a chart of BABIP in the majors since 1913. The vertical line midway through is the year SF's were first recorded.

(click to enlarge in new window)

With all of that in mind, I want to look at the guys who posted the highest and lowest career BABIP, just for kicks. I'm going to use a standard minimum for leaderboards: 3000 career plate appearances (after 1913; any stats from earlier are thrown out). I haven't included any 2008 numbers. I'm also going to list each player's BABIP out to four decimal places just to try and avoid ties due to rounding. Finally, I haven't adjusted any of the numbers to reflect league averages for each player's era so guys from the 1960's, especially from the AL, are at a disadvantage.

Highest Career BABIP, Minimum 3000 PA, 1913-2007
  1. Ty Cobb, .3785
  2. Rogers Hornsby, .3655
  3. Derek Jeter, .3613
  4. Rod Carew, .3585
  5. Ichiro Suzuki, .3572
  6. Miguel Cabrera, .3538
  7. Harry Heilmann, .3511
  8. Joe Jackson, .3507
  9. Tris Speaker, .3503
  10. Bill Terry, .3500
  11. Bobby Abreu, .3489
  12. Ron LeFlore, .3466
  13. Riggs Stephenson, .3459
  14. George Sisler, .3458
  15. Kiki Cuyler, .3456
  16. Ross Youngs, .3454
  17. Wade Boggs, .3438
  18. Roberto Clemente, .3429
  19. Kirby Puckett, .3421
  20. Tony Gwynn, .3414
Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, and Tris Speaker all played before 1913, but like I said, I threw out their stats before that season. This bumped Cobb's BABIP up and Jackson and Speaker's down. There are an awful lot of good hitters on this list, but that's to be expected. Ron LeFlore had the lowest OBP of everyone on that list at a respectable .342.

Lowest Career BABIP, Minimum 3000 PA, 1913-2007
  1. Wayne Gross, .2393
  2. Dave Duncan, .2400
  3. Jim King, .2403
  4. Curt Blefary, .2430
  5. Buck Martinez, .2434
  6. Graig Nettles, .2454
  7. Ossie Vitt, .2455
  8. Eddie Miller, .2457
  9. Bob Swift, .2481
  10. Ed Herrmann, .2483
  11. Del Crandall, .2486
  12. Bobby Wine, .2489
  13. Eddie Lake, .2496
  14. Joe Pepitone, .2498
  15. Darrell Evans, .2499
  16. Ed Brinkman, .2500
  17. Ron Hansen, .2501
  18. Gorman Thomas, .2507
  19. Clay Dalrymple, .2509
  20. Gus Triandos, .2510
On this list, Ossie Vitt is the only player who had time in the majors before 1913 but over 3000 career PA after the start of the 1913 season. Graig Nettles and Darrell Evans both had over 2000 career hits. Granted they played in the 1970's and 1980's when league average BABIP's weren't very high but I wonder how many hits they would've had if they had upped their number to even .275 or so. Well, maybe it's possible to figure it out. Using the denominator of the BABIP formula, we can find out how many plate appearances resulted in a ball in play. For Evans, he had 7239 such PA and 1809 of them resulted in hits. If we bump up his BABIP to .275, which would still be below league average for his career but not as much, he winds up with 1991 hits in those plate appearances, or a new overall total of 2405. If we do the same for Nettles, raising his career BABIP to .275 as well, he would wind up at 2446 career hits. Of course this is all hypothetical and just for fun but what would baseball be without having fun with numbers?


Bruce said...

Great work! Thanks for doing it.
Do you have a season-by-season list of
best and worst BABIP?

Theron Schultz said...

Unfortunately right now I don't, but I'll probably try putting one together soon. Thanks for reading!

B-Double said...

Great topic! I was just discussing BABIP with my friend at the Brewers game on Friday -- wondering what Cameron and Weeks' BABIPs are and how much they would be helped by perhaps shortening their strokes and using their speed a bit more.

Theron Schultz said...

One place to find BABIP for players is through their Splits page on For example, here is Cameron's info. Weeks' BABIP is a measly .228, but, expanding on what the article about BABIP I linked to says, his low line drive rate (you can find that info and BABIP, actually, here) means it's not too far out of line with what you could expect him to put up. I'm glad you found the topic interesting.