I talk about Batting Average on Balls in Play all the time. It's not the panacea of batting by any means, but it can often help to get us a bit closer to the truth when it comes to discerning if a hitter has been producing a batting average that is in line with his performance, or if he's maybe been hitting in a bit of bad or good luck. Here are some names and numbers to keep a close eye on over the last two months of the season.
NOTE: The big league average is usually in the .290-.300 range. That does not mean all players should regress or improve to that range. Some players routinely put up numbers in the .270's while others are often in the .330's. Players basically set their own baseline with a rolling three-year average being a pretty effective baseline for each batter.
.423 – Andrew McCutchen
I feel like this is a McCutchen article (he is mentioned multiple times below too). He leads baseball with a .423 BABIP. No one posts a mark that high, it just does not happen. In fact, .400 is pretty darn rare (over the last decade only one player has ever finished a season over the magic mark and that was Jose Hernandez at .404 in 2002. The following year that number fell to .311). Therefore, you have to assume some regression is coming with that .373 batting average. Yes, they pay me to write such obvious things.
.399 – Mike Trout
The AL leader in BABIP, and not surprisingly the AL leader in batting average at .347. A .399 is huge and would lead baseball most years. Trout is “supporting” that mark with his nearly 25 percent line drive rate, but that too is a huge total. It is not that it is impossible to think that those numbers are attainable, they certainly are, but it is hard to think that a guy with less than 500 big league at-bats, no matter how talented he is, would be capable of keeping up that pace given some rather ordinary numbers in other places (0.47 BB/K, 1.18 GB/FB etc.).
.395 – Austin Jackson
Remember when I wrote that some players establish BABIP marks that are well above “average”? One of the keys to doing that is possessing the speed that allows you to leg out some hits that others might get thrown out on. Not only does Jackson have nice wheels, he has also established himself as a force in BABIP. The league leader as a rookie in 2010 with his .396 mark, he saw a regression last year down to a still elite .340. This year the number is back up in the .390's. Even though he has done it before, it is just so hard to predict that anyone will approach .400 over the course of a full season, so be a bit wary. It is very heartening though that Jackson has massively increased his walk rate while cutting down his strikeouts as his 0.57 BB/K mark is nearly double the 0.31 mark he had last season.
.388 – Melky Cabrera
The Giants leading hitter has a career BABIP mark of .309 and last season posted his best ever mark of .332. History does not support the level we are seeing right now from the Melk-man. He does have a career best line drive rate of 22.4 percent, but given that he has never finished a season above 20.9 percent there either we are left with one of two possible conclusions. (1) Cabrera is having a career best season. (2) He is not likely to keep this up. Given that he is pretty much just beating the ball into the ground, his GB/FB ratio is over two (career 1.57), and that his BB/K mark is below his career average (0.60), I'm gonna lean to #2 being the outcome here.
.211 – Justin Smoak
The worst mark in the majors.
.217 – Jose Bautista
The second worst mark in the majors. But wait, wasn't Bautista having a great season, so how could this be? BABIP leaves out homers since they technically are never in the field of play. Therefore, a guy like Bautista could always have a low BABIP and still produce all kinds of runs (his career BABIP is just .270).
.229 – Ike Davis
Entering the year with a BABIP that was literally .100 points higher than we have seen from Davis this year, it has been a rough year all-around for the Mets slugger. He has been productive with 20 homers and 60 RBI, but he has racked up 100 K's in just 345 at-bats, and he has also taken fewer walks this season than his first two campaigns in the bigs. Oddly, he has hit more line drives than his previous two seasons, so one would expect his BABIP to rise, though it would obviously help if he was a bit more discerning at the dish.
.230 – Brian McCann
Though he has been hot of late with four homers and eight RBI the past two weeks, McCann's season-long numbers are a bit lacking. A career .294 BABIP performer, Brian has never finished a season below .282 making this season's mark a total outlier. Would be nice to see him hit a few more line drives however (18 percent this year vs. 19.7 for his career).
.259 – Cameron Maybin
Just like McCann, Maybin is undershooting his established levels. A .314 BABIP producer, Maybin has been at least .313 each of the past three years. He just has not been getting the hits this year. One of the issues is that horrible 14.5 percent line drive rate, though with his wheels he should still be able to beat out a fair amount of grounders for hits. It should be noted that he had a 14.2 percent line drive mark in 2010 and he still batted .234 with a .313 BABIP (he is currently batting .215).
.274 – Dustin Pedroia
Injuries have obviously been a huge issue this year for Pedroia but that doesn't explain his BABIP dip. For his career Dustin owns a .309 BABIP and he has never had a mark below .291. His current GB/FB rate is 1.13. His career mark is 1.16. His current line drive rate is 20.1 percent, an exact match for his career rate. With health, that .263 batting average simply has to come up unless Pedroia is just going to have one of those years that do not make a heck of a lot of sense.
BY THE NUMBERS
.125: The worst batting average in the majors for any player with 70 at-bats against left-handed pitching. It belongs to David DeJesus. Mike Napoli is not far behind at .143, just three points worse than Wilson Betemit. On the flip side, Andrew McCutchen has the best mark in the game at .447. McC is also hitting .349 against righties.
.397: The batting average of Adrian Gonzalez over the past three weeks. As a result of an impressive push AGone has his average up to .302 on the year, just slightly behind his three year average of .306. The power still is not there as he has 10 homers, but with 62 RBI he has got a shot at clearing 90, something that looked impossible before he racked up 17 the past three weeks.
.457: The league leading batting average of Chris Johnson over the last two weeks as he has ripped four homers while knocking in 13 runs. Johnson has 92 K's in just 342 at-bats and he never walks, so his current 0.27 BB/K mark is actually a career best. That .287 average is coming down – he just does not have the skills to sustain it.
.803: The current OPS of Michael Cuddyer who is dealing with an oblique issue that is believed to be minor. So much for the move to Coors helping out Cuddyer. Last year with the Twins his OPS was .805, and for his career, that mark is .795. In addition, his current batting average of .260 would be a four-year low and it is .011 points below his career mark
2: The number of consecutive months in which Andrew McCutchen won the NL Player of the Month award. In June, he hit .370 with seven homers and 26 RBI, while he was even hotter in July hitting .446 with seven homers and 15 RBI. McCutchen, who is hitting .373 on the year, has batted .409 over his last 53 games.
2.37: The best ERA in baseball for any hurler who has thrown at least 250 innings since the start of last season. That mark belongs to... not who you think. Clayton Kershaw is fifth with a 2.54 mark. Ryan Vogelsong is fourth with a 2.50 mark. Justin Verlander is third with a 2.49 mark. Johnny Cueto is second with a 2.41 mark. The major league leader in ERA since the start of last season is Jered Weaver with a 2.37 mark.
29: The AL-leading hold total of Vinnie Pestano of the Indians. Vinnie has posted a 1.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 54 K's in 46 innings in a dominating performance for the Tribe. The NL leader in holds is Jason Grilli with 25, and he has been every bit the pitcher that Pestano has been with a 1.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and an amazing 62 K's in 39.2 innings. Finally, there is only one pitcher in baseball with at least 18 holds and three saves. Come on down Francisco Rodriguez, he of the 5.24 ERA and 1.66 WHIP.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 7-10 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.