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4 Burning Questions – Fantasy Baseball

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
May 16, 2018

Ian Desmond is a great example of a low BABIP player who likely isn’t due for positive regression

Before the start of the season, if you predicted that on May 15 Mookie Betts and Ozzie Albies would be leading the league in home runs, you should have played the lottery instead of predicting home run leaders. I’ve been fascinated by how much Betts has improved from performing at a near elite level in past years. Enough about him, we know he’s great! 

In this week’s article, I want to talk some BABIP and when positive regression isn’t necessarily a given. The universal “rule of thumb” for MLB average BABIP is .300. Typically, the average BABIP for Major League hitters falls within .005 one way or the other of .300, so it’s always a good benchmark. I’m also going to highlight a few pitchers who have been extremely unlucky in terms of BABIP. These are the guys you need to exercise patience with as an owner.

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How to replace Robinson Cano and other notable injured players?
I originally was only going to cover three questions but the Robinson Cano suspension reared its ugly head yesterday afternoon. Cano was already on the disabled list with a broken hand and now will miss 80 games for testing positive for a banned substance. It seems like every year at least one fantasy star gets hit with a suspension. In 2016, it was Dee Gordon, and in 2017, it was Starling Marte

In most leagues, where you can’t place him on the DL or have a spot for suspension, he can be dropped. He should not be taking up a roster spot when he’s likely to have a rehab assignment following the suspension, which may lead to only one month of use at the end of the season. There’s no replacement for a top-10 second baseman who can hit for average, drive in runs, and hit 20 plus homers.

I also want to mention that D.J. LeMahieu hit the DL again with a sprained thumb this time and could miss the minimum 10 days, but likely more. Both were performing well, and owners will feel the pain. Some shallow league replacements include Starlin Castro, Scooter Gennett, Scott Kingery, and Jedd Gyorko. Some deeper league options are Howie Kendrick, Daniel Descalso, Nick Goodrum, and Daniel Robertson.

I want to cover A.J. Pollock as well as the news just came through that he will miss four to eight weeks with a fractured thumb. Is it just me or is everyone breaking bones in their hands recently? Maybe it’s the new hitter injury, like how elbow issues for pitchers lead to Tommy John. 

Anyways, Pollock was killing it this year hitting .293 with 11 homers and nine steals. Oh, what could have been. Here are some power/speed supplements Michael Brantley, Kevin Pillar, Domingo Santana, and Stephan Souza for shallow leagues. For deep leagues, I’d look at the aforementioned Nick Goodrum, Harrison Bader, Dustin Fowler, and JaCoby Jones.

Speaking of Injuries, what can we expect from Justin Turner upon his return?
Justin Turner returned from the disabled list last night which should provide some relief to both the Dodgers and fantasy owners. Turner was plunked on the left wrist in a Spring Training game in March which resulted in a fracture. The primary concern with an injury like this is the potential power reduction. Typically, it takes time to build strength in the arm and wrist following this injury, and in the process, it tends to sap power production. 

A couple recent examples include Freddie Freeman and Marcus Semien from 2017 who both sustained similar wrist injuries to Tuner (fractures) early on in the 2017 season. Pre-injury during the 2016 season, Semien hit a home run every 23 plate appearances. Post-injury, his PA/HR ratio was 38. Freeman was on a tear pre-injury early in 2017 where he hit a home run every 11.8 plate appearances compared to 23.9 post-injury. 

In other words, about a 40-50% decrease in power production from both players. We can use this information to help keep expectations in check.

Turner’s been a different hitter with the Dodgers than he was with the Mets. Some of the changes have to do with earning a full-time role at third base with the Dodgers, the main adjustment, however, was due to the increased launch angle which first occurred in 2015. The launch angle change is well known, Turner himself has said that if he goes hitless in four at-bats with four fly outs, he’s had a productive game. Let’s take a look at data from Turner since 2015.

Year Launch Angle Value Hit % Poor Hit % High Drive % Pop Up %
2015 13.7 8.7 20.0 12.8 15.2
2016 16.4 8.5 23.8 13.1 20.3
2017 18.8 7.2 25.3 13.2 23.0
League Avg (’15-’17) 10.7 6.2 24.0 9.7 17.3

There are three noticeable trends, all three of them may be considered particularly worrisome. The increase in launch angle in three consecutive seasons may be a positive trend on the surface. However, it comes with an increase in pop-ups. 

The other two trends heading in opposite direction are the decrease in value hit percentage and the increase in poor hit percentage. Despite his breakout only three short years ago, Turner is 33 years old. It’s possible that Turner is becoming a victim of age and its inevitable forces against the human body. A continual increase in launch angle will likely be more detrimental to Turner’s numbers in 2018 than they would help.

To be fair, Turner’s high drive percentage, which as we know, are by far the most valuable of batted balls per xStats and yield the highest percentage of home runs, has remained steady around 13%. He’s also become a much more intelligent hitter in terms of plate discipline as he’s cut his strikeout rate down to an elite 10.3% in 2017. Turner was able to maintain a high batting average with a .320 BABIP. 

On the surface, this doesn’t scream regression, but xStats xBABIP in 2017 was only .294, .032 points below his actual BABIP. The increase in poorly hit balls is the culprit for the low xBABIP.

Turner’s ability to put the ball in play at an elite rate along with the above average high drive percentage should keep his batting average up around .290-.300. However, the high probability of a sluggish start due to the fractured wrist may hurt his overall value for 2018. It can’t be understated that in 2017, 

Turner had a much better supporting cast to boost his numbers. With Corey Seager out and Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger under-performing (compared to 2017), his counting stats are likely capped. Keep your expectations in check, he’s probably around the 10th-15th third baseman for the rest of the season. While that may be useful, it’s not what Turner drafters had in mind when they drafted him inside the top 75 overall.

What low-BABIP hitters can be dropped?
Let’s talk BABIP. Not all BABIP is created equal. Just because a player has a BABIP well below .300 doesn’t necessarily mean he’s due positive regression. 

I’ve broken down some players with extremely low BABIPs (below .240) that I don’t believe are due major positive regression. I’ll explain why below. Here are the players with their ugly fantasy numbers below.


Ian Desmond








Lewis Brinson








Logan Morrison








Dexter Fowler








Kole Calhoun








Matt Carpenter








Lewis Brinson and Ian Desmond are lumped in a similar category. They are at different points in their respective careers, but both players have abysmal K:BB%; 29.1% for Brinson and 24.7% for Desmond. Not putting the ball in play does not contribute to BABIP, but it reinforces why these two need to be dropped in all leagues. 

Per, 46% of Desmond’s batted balls are weakly hit grounders which produce a sub-.150 average. Desmond also owns an incredibly disappointing 65% ground ball rate. Brinson, while not as ground ball heavy as Desmond, still puts the ball on the ground 57% of the time. His 26% soft contact rate combined with a 34% strikeout rate does not provide much opportunity for success.

Logan Morrison is looking like a one-year-wonder. This year Lo-Mo is No-Mo. Sorry, I’ll let myself out. Morrison is different than Brinson and Desmond, he hits plenty of fly balls, just not the ones you want. 

When Morrison makes contact, 28.6% of those balls in play result in a “poorly-hit ball.” Per xStats, a poorly hit ball results in a hit less than 1.5% of the time! That’s below a .0015 average, that’s two zeros after the decimal. 

Combine that with his 22% K rate, and he’s an automatic out nearly 51% of the time! You can safely drop him or leave him on your wire.

Kole Calhoun used to have some fantasy value with power potential in his mid-20s. Much of his value was tied to hitting in front of Trout. Now he’s buried in the back third of the Angels lineup. 

I’m not sure what happened to Calhoun’s power; he did hit 26 homers in 2015. Now he’s rocking a 58% ground ball rate to go along with a measly 2.9% value hit rate which is 4% below league average. While his .158 batting average should rise to the .240-.250 range, it’s likely to come with single digit power and no speed. He’s an easy cut, and I wish Jahmai Jones were further along in his development to take over.

Finally, the pair of Cardinals. Either the data coming out of St. Louis is hot, or these Cardinal hitters are unlucky, right? With Fowler, his strikeout rate and batted ball data looks fine along with a 45% fly ball rate and very low Infield fly ball percentage. What isn’t showing up for Fowler is the limited amount of valuable fly balls that he’s hitting. 

They fall somewhere between classifications of IFFB% and value fly balls. Ignoring the launch angle, his fly balls and ground balls are weakly hit. His average exit velocity is well below average at 86.7 mph and he’s been lucky in terms of home runs. I don’t see a major bounce-back from Fowler and with the outfield depth in the Cardinals system, he could lose playing time in the near future.

Matt Carpenter is a Statcast and xStats darling but can’t seem to get going. Per xStats, he’s has twice as many value hits and high drives as the league average, yet his BABIP remains embarrassingly low. He’s either very unlucky or his batted balls classified as “medium contact” are largely hit at the bottom end of the medium contact spectrum. 

This may be true since his average exit velocity is only 88.5 MPH which ranks 171 out of 271 hitters with 50 or more batted balls. How else is he able to maintain a 40%+ hard contact rate with a pedestrian exit velocity? The other reason I’m moving on from Carpenter is his three percent jump in swinging strike rate and seven percent jump in K rate. Injuries have also played a part with Carpenter’s poor performance, for this year, you can move on from him.

What pitcher’s should you hold on to despite poor starts?
A high BABIP against a pitcher also holds many factors, and in some cases it may or may not be the fault of the pitcher. Take Jon Gray for instance, his .350 BABIP has helped inflate his ERA to 4.85. While that is actually respectable when you factor Coors Field into the equation, but look at some of his other numbers. 

His strikeout rate is 26.7% against a minuscule 5.7% walk rate, both are fantastic! His velocity is in over 96 MPH which is right in line with 2017 and his slider usage is up which is his best pitch per FanGraphs Pitch Value. With a ground ball rate near 50%, I have to image the BABIP drops 30 points or so. You know the drill with Jon Gray, bench him against tough opponents at home and enjoy the ride on other starts.

Nick Pivetta is another starter that has pitched well but his 4.15 ERA and 1.26 WHIP leave a little bit to be desired. Pivetta currently owns a .330 BABIP against thus far in 2018. However, he allowed a .332 BABIP last year in 133 Major League innings, so is this who he is? Well, Pivetta has made slight improvements in K rate, BB rate, fastball velocity, soft contact, and swinging strike rates. 

All of those minor improvements combined with a first pitch strike jump of nearly 10% has transformed Pivetta from forgettable starter to a viable fantasy three or four. We are still in small sample territory where one start with a .600 BABIP and 5 ER in one inning has inflated Pivetta on the young season. I’m buying in.

How could I finish the article and not include Marco Gonzales. Gonzales currently sits atop the leaderboard in BABIP against at an unsustainable .405, a .043 point difference between him and the next highest qualified pitcher. Gonzales’ SIERA is nearly two runs less than his actual ERA. 

It’s worth mentioning that Gonzales missed all of 2016 with Tommy John surgery but his walk rate is under five percent, so control isn’t the issue. The singular issue with Gonzales is his sinker. The sinker has allowed a batting average of .373 with a hard hit rate against of 43%! Per, he throws the sinker 39% of the time. I do like Gonzales long-term and Gonzales is due some regression regardless, but I was to see him drop the sinker usage before I fully buy in.

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Max Freeze is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

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