I’m back for day two of sabermetric analysis. I try to use sabermetrics in every single one of my posts because, quite frankly, the numbers don’t lie. Neither do the numbers I am about to show you today. Today’s topic is pitcher BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). This statistic shows you how many balls put in play on a pitcher go for hits. Approximately 30% of balls fall for hits, but there are also factors that go into BABIP. Those factors include defense, luck and changes in talent level. This stat can change rapidly from year to year, so if a pitcher has an extreme BABIP don’t take it to heart going into the next season.
The league average for BABIP is around .300. It is on an average scale so just think of it as a hitter hitting .300. I am using Washington Nationals pitchers that had at least 50 innings in 2013. Here is how they did in 2013, versus the league average.
Tyler Clippard – .170
Tanner Roark – .243
Stephen Strasburg – .263
Ross Ohlendorf – .268
Jordan Zimmermann – .271
Gio Gonzalez – .286
Rafael Soriano – .287
Dan Haren – .302
Drew Storen – .319
Taylor Jordan – .322
Craig Stammen – .326
Ross Detwiler – .344
So as you can see the Nationals had seven pitchers better than league average last season in BABIP. This isn’t much of a surprise because the Nats had a lot of ground ball pitchers.
Ground ball pitchers usually fair pretty well in this statistic, as do high strikeout pitchers. Strikeout pitchers usually create weaker contact and get more ground balls that are easier to field and throw across for an out.
So first let’s look at Tyler Clippard. He had the best BABIP on the Nationals but he wasn’t a ground ball pitcher. He was a strikeout pitcher though. He also has the advantage of coming in for one inning and giving it all he has because he knows that is all he has to do that day. He struck out just over nine per nine innings last season. So that advantage really helps him in not giving up too many hits off the bat.
Next, Stephen Strasburg. He pitched in over 100 more innings than Clippard but still had a very good BABIP. The reason, is his ground ball rate. Over 50% of the time a hitter hits a ground ball. Pair that with his over nine strikeouts per nine and you are going to have a BABIP. Strasburg’s was down 50 points from 2012 so don’t expect it to stay at this rate, because who know what can happen next season.
Lastly, Ross Detwiler, he finished with a .344 BABIP. He has a good ground ball rate at 45%, so why is his BABIP so high? That could be any of the three factors listed above. Maybe he got unlucky on some balls hit up the middle, that Strasburg got when he was pitching. Maybe the defense wasn’t positioned particularly correctly when Detwiler was on the mound. It could be anything to determine this high rate. The one thing that does hurt Detwiler is his inability to put batter’s away.
Detwiler strikes out less than five batters a game and there is one reason for it. He relies on his fastball to get him out of at-bats way too much. He uses his fastball more than 75% of the time. That is why he gets hit hard and his BABIP shows it. When you can’t put a batter away and can’t blow the fastball by them, the hitter is going to become comfortable. The hitter knows Detwiler can’t beat him on the inside part of the plate so he leans out just enough and pokes a ball into the opposite field. That hurts his BABIP. That doesn’t mean that Detwiler can’t learn another pitch and feel comfortable using it. It just means, until he does, he will get hit hard and this stat will show that.
So there you have it. BABIP for pitchers can be complex but simple at the same time. For pitchers they really don’t have any control of what happens after the bat hits the ball, but they do have control of where the pitch is located – remember that. Also if you want to know where Doug Fister would land on that list, since he is now a National, he had a .332 BABIP. I am going to guess, the terrible infield defense behind him, caused that number to skyrocket.