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Low BABIP Hitters from 2020 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Carmen Maiorano | @carmsclubhouse | Featured Writer
Feb 16, 2021

Last week, we took a look at hitters who had high BABIPs, what led to them, and what we can expect moving forward. This week, we take a peek behind the curtain at some hitters who had low BABIPs. One hitter I won’t be talking about here (despite his low BABIP) is Bryan Reynolds. You can read more about him here.

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

  • Have a low barrel rate (under 6%)
  • Pull hitter (severe shifting)
  • Hit a lot of fly balls
  • Hit a lot of ground balls and have low sprint speed
  • High strikeout rate combined with suboptimal chase rates

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Max Muncy (1B/2B/3B – LAD)

Muncy is known as a three true outcomes hitter, meaning that he has a double-digit walk rate, a below league-average strikeout rate, and hit 35 homers in both 2018 and 2019. So while it may not be surprising to see a suboptimal BABIP, I am surprised that he had a league-worst BABIP in 2020. His low BABIP isn’t a result of weakly hitting the ball.

That barrel rate is in the top 20 percentile of the league, so we know that he makes solid contact. His BABIP problem seems to stem from his batted ball profile, as he elevated both his groundball and flyball rates in 2020.

If groundball and flyball rates are both rising, that means the line drive rate dropped. Lo and behold, it did. The good news is that LD% is not predictive year-over-year, and similar to Michael Conforto‘s 30% LD% from last week’s high BABIP piece, Muncy’s 2020 LD% will regress to the mean in 2021. He did not have a change in Pull%, so we know that isn’t an issue. His launch angle was also similar to 2019, so that points to even more evidence that his LD% will positively regress.

Finally, his plate discipline metrics actually improved in 2020, as he stopped chasing as many balls out of the zone and lowered his swinging strike rate in the process. All in all, we can expect his BABIP to get back to at least the .280 range, meaning that his average could approach .250. Unfortunately, the market has realized this, and we aren’t getting a discount on him in 2021.

Kole Calhoun (OF – ARI)

Calhoun has had a BABIP below .265 since 2018, but his career BABIP stands at .285. This dichotomy shows how volatile BABIP can be. He’s displayed solid quality of contact skills, as evidenced by a steadily increasing barrel rate since 2017.

Simply put, it first appears weird (at first) that as he starts to hit the ball harder, his BABIP gets worse. Fortunately for us, the stem of this problem is easily identified.

He’s pulling the bull way too much. As in, league-leading too much. He clearly changed his approach at the plate in 2019, as evidenced by his 33 homers in 2019 and a prorated 43 bombs in 2020. I would expect him and the Diamondbacks to recognize this and course-correct so that he’s slightly less pull-happy. If he slightly backs off his pull-happy approach, we can expect a BABIP around .250-.260. In short, if you are expecting his average to rebound, you will be disappointed. However, he is projected to bat leadoff, accumulating runs as an OBP guy with power. He’s a great target in points leagues, and his ADP of 251 is a relative bargain if you solidify a solid batting average floor prior to taking him. He seems to be a Muncy clone with a lower ceiling, but potentially a safer floor if he’s batting leadoff.

Carlos Santana (1B – KAN)

Santana had a career year in 2019 (34 bombs, .281 average) but fell back down significantly in 2020 by hitting .199 with a prorated 22 homers. His quality of contact fell down to career norms, which dropped his BABIP to similar career levels.

Santana kept his launch angle consistent with 2019 (12.2 degrees in 2020 vs. 11.8 degrees in 2019), but his average exit velocity dropped nearly four miles per hour. In particular, this looks to have stemmed by seeing more breaking balls, which he historically has clobbered. We can sum this up in a tweet, actually.

We should always note that 2020 was a small sample, but he’s historically been the least effective on breaking balls. Further, his batted ball distribution between grounders/flies, as well as his pull rate versus oppo rate, was consistent with his career norms. He also swung slightly less and made more contact, leading to a lower swinging strike rate. All of this points to his approach not changing, but rather a slight flaw in his game that peeked out behind the curtain last year. If this trend holds, I’m expecting that BABIP to be around .260, leading to an average of around .250.

Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN)

Suarez’s .214 BABIP is an extreme outlier, given that his lowest BABIP in his career before that was .304. He pelted 15 homers in 2020 (prorated 41) and 49 taters in 2019, so his power stroke was still in effect. That’s evident in his Statcast metrics.

His batted ball profile did slightly change, but one would think that it would regress to his historical numbers over a full season.

Suarez continues to pull the ball at an over 50% rate, and it seems that teams have figured this out and been shifting more over the last few years. As a result, we may not be able to count on a .300+ BABIP as we have in the past. His plate discipline metrics show that he swung at strikes a bit less than in the past and also made less contact when he did swing at them. Like Calhoun, Suarez appears to try to up his power game at the expense of more whiffs. It’s transformed him as a fantasy player, so we can’t be mad about it. I’m expecting an average around .250 this year, right in line with the projections.

Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)

The Cubs offense mostly stunk last year, and Rizzo was no exception. After consistently sporting an average between .270 and .290, it sunk all the way to .222 last year on the heels of a .218 BABIP. That BABIP was somewhat deserved, given his increase in fly-ball rate and pull rate, with no increase in quality of contact.

Rizzo’s launch angle averaged 16.7 degrees in 2020, a four degree increase from 2019. So, it should be no surprise that he saw a spike in his fly-ball rate. When a hitter hits more airballs, his BABIP typically decreases, all else being equal. Increasing pull and fly ball rates is a recipe for more power but a lower average (unless the hitter is smashing the ball consistently). We saw that BABIP could suffer even when the ball is consistently hit well, as evidenced by Suarez’s increasing barrel rates. Rizzo has sprint speed in the bottom ten percentile, so even if he does get back to hitting more groundballs, it may not help.

The one aspect pointing to a bounce-back is that Rizzo swung at strikes less, but his contact on strikes was in line with what he usually does. If he can keep that in-zone contact rate where it’s currently at while swinging at more strikes, we should see that BABIP, and subsequently average, rise. The projections haven’t fully bought into that, as the highest publicly available projection on FanGraphs has him for a .269 average. I think Rizzo recognizes where to modify his approach, so I’m a bit higher than the projections (.276 average, using his career .281 BABIP).

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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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