>David Wright Week: Luck and BABIP.

>Welcome to day 5 of David Wright week. As discussed earlier in this week, David had an poor year in terms of both hitting home runs and his defense, he got hit in the head with a fastball, wore a batting helmet visible from space, and was attacked by cougars – not exactly what most would describe as a lucky year. However, David still managed to hit .307 and get on base at a .390 clip, and both those numbers are right around his career average. So despite his magical disappearing power and striking out 140 times, David was still getting on base at his regular rate – and if you can’t hit home runs or defend well, you can still be a productive major league player by getting on base. Luis Castillo’s knack for getting on base is his only remaining skill – he literally does nothing else well – but it’s enough to make him a smidge below average second basemen, despite the defensive miscasting.* David kept on doing the most important thing a player can do offensively – though this is where the luck may have come in.

*On the topic of miscasting, “Avatar” was the most bizarrely cast movie I’ve ever seen. E.g. the short and fast-talking businessman character was a role clearly written with Jeremy Piven in mind – only the actor wasn’t Jeremy Piven. Instead, the sniper from “Saving Private Ryan” played the part by doing a Jeremy Piven impersonation. For a movie that had a budget in the range of 500 million dollars, why not get, oh I don’t know, Jeremy Piven to play the Jeremy Piven/Gargamel role? They were able to get Michelle Rodriguez for the Michelle Rodriguez part and Sigourny Weaver for the “Lady in a James Cameron movie with Aliens” part, but for some reason no Jeremy Piven and no R. Lee Ermey for the old guy Sarge role.


As you probably have already heard, part of the reason David Wright was able to maintain a high batting average and on-base percentage despite the 140 strikeouts was his absurdly high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). A ridiculous number of balls David put into play – i.e. at bats that did not end in home runs or strikeouts – turned into hits. The National League BABIP in 2009 was .299, while David’s was .394.* In other words, in 2009, 3 out of every 10 balls a National League batter put into play turned into hits, whereas 4 of every 10 balls in play turned into hits for David Wright. It would appear that David was getting extremely lucky – maybe he had a supply of felix felicis stored in his locker, or a hundreds of rabbit feet, or one of Daniel Murphy’s numerous lovable intangibles is a wee bit o’ te luck o’ te Irish that rubbed off on David. Probably not though – Murphy’s BABIP was pretty normal for his type of hitter.

*You probably have seen Wright’s BABIP previously listed as .400, specifically on Fangraphs, one of the more useful baseball sites on the internet. However, the listed .400 BABIP is misleading – well, actually I just think it’s just wrong. For reasons I don’t understand – and if anyone can enlighten me, please do – Fangraphs calculates BABIP differently than Baseball-Reference.com does; all of Fangraphs BABIP numbers are higher because they leave out sacrifice flies, which in my opinion are certainly balls in play. I don’t understand why they do that. If you add in David Wright’s 6 sacrifice flies to his BABIP, it drops down to .394. If you’re looking for a player’s BABIP, I would recommend Baseball-Reference’s number, which does account for sac flies.

Then again, maybe David wasn’t actually that lucky. 25.7% of David Wright’s batted balls were line drives, second highest in the majors. David’s high BABIP was partially the result of all those line drives, which turn into hits more often than either ground balls or fly balls – way more often. In 2009, 71.8% of NL non-home run line drives in play turned into hits, whereas 23.5% of ground balls turned into hits and 14.2% of non-home run fly balls in play turned into hits. The correlation between line drive rate and BABIP in 2009 was decent  – .48 for those of you who like numbers that can’t be calculated on abacuses. So how much of David’s BABIP can be accounted for by his exceptionally high line drive rate?

To figure that out, let’s first come up with an estimated BABIP for David based on the league BABIP for the three hit types. David hit 103 line drives in 2009. If we say that 71.8% of those should have turned into hits – the rate at which they did for the rest of the league – then he should have gotten 74 hits out of those line drives. If we follow that up by applying the league BABIP to his 154 ground balls, David should have gotten 36 hits on ground balls, and doing the same for his 134 non-home run fly balls, Wright should have gotten 19 more hits, for a grand total of 129 hits on balls in play. Those 129 estimated hits comes out to a .330 BABIP – 64 points lower than his actual BABIP.

If I do a similar process for the other 154 qualifiers for the batting title, David Wright comes out as the 8th “luckiest” player in the majors last year – though the process is not totally smoothed out. I didn’t adjust for infield hits and infield flies, which both correlate somewhat to a higher or lower xBABIP and skew things a bit. For example, Ichiro was the seconded luckiest batter, but a lot of his “luck” comes from his 50 infield hits in 2009, which are related more to his skill set than to luck. There are other things that affect BABIP, which I’ll get into in a moment. Basically,what I’m calling just luck here on this chart is a combination of both skill and luck. Here are the ten “luckiest” batters (note: David’s expected BABIP has changed slightly here because I used Major League averages for BABIP instead of just National League ones):

While all these players may have been lucky to some extent, many batters – like David Wright – just have higher BABIP because of the where they place their batted balls. David’s career BABIP is .345, partially because where he places his hits matters. For example balls pulled by right handed hitters had BABIP of .383 in 2009, whereas balls pulled by lefties are just .350 – I’m guessing that the extra drop for the lefties may be the result of infield over-shifts. On the other hand, balls hit to the opposite field by left handers have a BABIP or .316, while balls hit the other way by righties have a BABIP of .268 – I don’t know why this is. Maybe the overall poor quality of left fielders. So hit location and handedness can be just as important as whether you hit a ground ball, line drive, or fly ball. David Wright has an exceptionally high career BABIP on balls he pulls and on all ground balls – he does a good job of hitting them where they ain’t. Batters have much better control over BABIP than pitchers do, so attributing all of David’s high BABIP to luck is unfair to Mr. Wright.

If we re-adjust David’s 2009 expected BABIP based on his career BABIP for the three hit types, his expected BABIP now comes out to .360. Now only .034 of David’s 2009 BABIP can be called luck – and the standard deviation for both BABIP and my xBABIP with was right around .030, meaning that David’s BABIP was just outside the normal range of luck. David Wright was somewhat lucky with his balls in play in 2009, but he was neither extremely nor unusually lucky. His high BABIP doesn’t need to be explained – it’s just something that happened, and could easily happen again. 

David Wright week is coming to a close soon – don’t miss out on the finale.
David Wright Week: It’s like Shark Week, only with more blood*

*Shark Week would be
amazing shown in the same 3-D they used for Avatar. Same goes for Jurassic Park – basically anything where I get to see animals that eat people can be improved by 3-D. I’ll see if I can find any 3-D images of David Wright.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “>David Wright Week: Luck and BABIP.

  1. Josh

    >I just wanted to say, I just started to read your blog and it is very entertaining with some good analysis too. Keep it up, I enjoy the analogies and jokes

  2. Patrick Flood

    >Thanks for the compliment Josh. I'll keeping writing if you keep reading.

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