Siberian Baseball

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What? Wednesday - BABIP

So, it's Thursday, but in a effort to be somewhat timely, I wanted to address one of the hot stats of the moment, Batting Average on Balls put Into Play (BABIP).

The reason I bring it up this week is because in addition to Sports Illustrated touching on the stat when briefly examining the seasons of Ryan Dempster and Gavin Floyd, it was a topic of local sports radio earlier in the week.

I could probably run the entire blog off the premise, "Stupid things I've heard on talk radio today" but that enters an entirely new stage of bitterness I'm holding onto until my mid- to late 50s.

Someone had e-mailed in when the question of sustaining the seasons that the White Sox and Cubs are having with the exact same stats that were published in the magazine. Whether they dropped any mention of SI, or the program did wasn't clear, but it was a little annoying to hear something that was cut and pasted into an e-mail appear on the radio.

It's not just a problem when blogs aren't credited with their work, it's a problem when anyone is passing off work they didn't actually do as their own. Considering it was the Baseball Prospectus box, the e-mailer could have looked cool enough citing Joe Sheehan, if they didn't want to appear too mainstream citing SI. Somehow, the earth kept spinning on its axis, despite all of this and I was relieved.

A typical BABIP is between .290 and .300, depending on who you ask and measures the opponent's batting average on balls put into play, minus home runs. The idea behind it is that once a pitcher releases the ball, there's nothing he can do about the result. This number quantifies the number of balls that are falling in for hits behind him - in short, it gives a value to luck, good or bad.

While it would make an awful stat for fantasy baseball, it's a nice measure of what's happening with pitchers who weren't very good in the past and might be having breakout years, or of established pitchers who are getting roughed up early in the season.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the stats that MLB is currently tracking via their web site, so finding it takes a little digging. Because the stat works both ways, you can also find information on batters and their BABIP, which seem to take precedence over the pitchers on fantasy baseball sites.

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