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High BABIP Hitters from 2020 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Carmen Maiorano | @carmsclubhouse | Featured Writer
Feb 9, 2021

Michael Conforto won’t sustain his high BABIP from 2020, but that doesn’t mean drafters should avoid him entirely.

One mistake we tend to make when doing a quick glance at a player is taking that player’s BABIP and strikeout rate, and comparing it to their actual average, without understanding how that BABIP was achieved. BABIP is not very predictive, but it’s an important tool to notice outliers and conduct deep dives on what exactly led to that BABIP. For this piece, we will focus on some hitters who had high BABIPs, why, and what we can expect going forward.

As a general principle, there are several ways to establish a high BABIP:

  • Have a high barrel rate (10%+).
  • Show consistency in line-drive rate year-to-year, with a rate of 22%+ preferred.
  • Spray the ball to all fields (prevents shifting).
  • Hit a lot of ground balls and have a high percentile sprint speed.
  • Low strikeout rate combined with league-average or better chase rates.

The last bullet is not a direct input into BABIP, but a low strikeout rate and low chase rate indicate above-average recognition of the strike zone, along with the ability to wait for pitches the hitter wants to drive. This leads to more hits and a high BABIP.

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Regression is Coming, But Not All is Lost

Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
Conforto had an MLB-high .412 BABIP in 2020, which stemmed from lowering his launch angle and hitting a lot more line drives.

He also pulled the ball significantly less, which also can result in a higher BABIP. Conforto lowered his Pull% by nine percentage points with a full offset to hitting the ball up the middle. Another positive change is that, while he made similar contact as last season, it was built quite differently. He dropped his O-Contact% while upping his Z-Contact% the same amount, which led to a drop in swinging-strike rate.

Conforto’s story is a cautionary tale, however, as LD% takes a long time to stabilize. Based on news and notes research, he has not changed his approach at the plate. Even if he did make adjustments, a 30% LD rate is simply not sustainable. For reference, Mike Trout‘s career LD rate is 22.5%. Expect this to regress to the mean in 2021. A similar line of thinking can be applied to Pull%.

Another sign that this isn’t real is his middling strikeout rate, league-average sprint speed, and similar Hard-Hit% and Barrel%.

Strikeout rate and barrel rate are much stickier than LD% and Pull%, so I’m inclined to believe this BABIP was largely a mirage. He’s also not picking up infield hits with his speed. While strikeout rate isn’t factored into BABIP, it can be an overall indicator as to how a batter has changed their approach at the plate.

Based on some of the positive changes in Conforto’s profile, he can reasonably maintain a league-average BABIP (or slightly above), something he hasn’t done prior to 2020. Based on the expected BABIP and strikeout rate, a .265-.275 average is the most likely outcome. This average is baked into his 71st overall consensus ADP, making him a prime target inside the top 100.

Marcell Ozuna (OF – ATL)
Ozuna officially signed with the Braves, which is huge for us fantasy managers given how well he played in Atlanta last year. He had a career year in 2020, and the advanced metrics back it up.

Ozuna has always mashed the ball, and he found another level in 2020. We will take the slight increase in strikeout rate, given that it’s at a league-average level and his barrel rate increased 30%. This led to his batting average finally catching up to his xBA, per Baseball Savant.

Those two years at the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, known as a pitchers’ park, hurt his average. Ozuna’s low BABIP from 2019 may have stemmed from pulling the ball at a career-high 49.5% rate. He (literally) straightened that out in 2020, which led to a change in results. Another strange occurrence happened in 2020, as he had a career-high 40.2% fly-ball rate, with a 16.2% infield fly-ball rate. This should have dropped his BABIP, given that infield fly balls are essentially automatic outs. It seems that his step up in quality of contact mitigated that change. We also have to consider that he could have regressed to pulling the ball while hitting fewer fly balls over a full season.

I’m willing to give Ozuna credit for hitting the ball significantly harder in 2020, and his BABIP could settle at .325 or slightly above. Based on his home park, he can approach a .290 average again. Just don’t expect a repeat from last year, at least in the average department.

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High BABIP Fades

Raimel Tapia (OF – COL)
Tapia gets the benefit of Coors Field as his venue for half of the year, meaning that his mile-high BABIP will likely continue moving forward. Unlike Conforto, Tapia gets there with a high ground-ball rate.

One of the easiest ways to boost BABIP is by hitting the ball on the ground and legging out hits, which Tapia has done in spades. He does not hit the ball hard whatsoever, so he will need to continue this approach to keep a high BABIP. He carried a .386 BABIP in Coors in 2019 compared to just a .296 BABIP on the road, confirming that he is a product of his home park.

He did have one significant change to his batted-ball profile, but we can likely attribute it to the shortened season.

Tapia went the other way a significant amount more than he did the previous year. If he carries this over into 2021, he should maintain his high BABIP. However, the 2020 season was too small a sample to make any firm conclusions. Nonetheless, this sort of profile mitigates shifting, leading to more hits. Tapia has the starting left-field spot to call his own, and he could bat leadoff.

A word of caution needs to be said, given how the Rockies manage their position players. If he leads off and plays every day, his current consensus ADP of 248.7 is fine. But the risk of him not playing isn’t baked into that cost, so he’s not a target of mine despite the three-category player he potentially could be in a good hitting park.

Willy Adames (SS – TB)
Adames can be summed up in one tweet:

Adames has a career 29% strikeout rate in what amounts to two full seasons. His swinging-strike rate of 16.7% in 2020 was a career high, and the seventh-worst in baseball. He doesn’t even swing more than the league average; he just struggles to make contact. So, keep that in mind before reading the following:

We saw significant changes in his batted ball profile, as he increased his launch angle to a still acceptable range, all the while hitting the ball harder. This resulted in a career-best barrel rate, line-drive rate, and BABIP. However, those metrics are merely solid, not eye-popping. We also know that LD% is not predictive. Combine this with his massive increase in Pull% (from 38.2% in 2019 to 55% in 2020), and Adames will likely have negative regression in the BABIP department.

The increased Pull% is good for his power and will likely regress near his career norms, but his low batting average floor completely mitigates any potential boom in homers. With Wander Franco breathing down his neck, I’m avoiding Adames at his price.

Head to the FanGraphs leaderboard to check out the rest of the list, given that we cannot cover everyone with a high BABIP in one article. Take off the “qualified” filter to see hitters like Travis d’Arnaud, Alec Bohm, and Willi Castro. Now that we’ve given you the pieces needed to conduct additional research, use these tools to understand if a player can maintain that BABIP. If you have questions about specific players, you know where to find us.

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Carmen Maiorano is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Carmen, check out his archive and work on RotoFanaticand follow him @carmsclubhouse.

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