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High BABIP Players from 2021: Lucky or Legit? (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Scott Youngson | @jscottyoungson | Featured Writer
Feb 10, 2022
Starling Marte

Starling Marte’s elite speed gives him an advantage in his BABIP.

I admit it. I’m kind of a stats nerd. Mock me if you must, but stats have helped me in fantasy sports for many years. Baseball, in particular, is replete with stats. Some of the so-called “advanced metrics” require a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand, but others are pretty straightforward. One of the simpler yet still meaningful statistics is BABIP (batting average on balls in play). BABIP is just what it sounds like – a player’s batting average on a plate appearance that doesn’t end in a walk, strikeout, HBP, catcher’s interference, or home run.

For fantasy baseball purposes, the notion is that a player coming off of a year with a high BABIP may see his batting average fall the following season due to “regression to the norm.” This is often the case; however, some hitters can maintain a high BABIP season over season. Usually, these players are either fast or hit the ball hard regularly.

In preparation for the 2022 season (whenever it may come), I pulled the top ten hitters with the highest BABIP in 2021 (minimum 500 plate appearances). For each, I list their BABIP and batting average from last year, along with their career BABIP and BA before last season below. The goal is to determine whether they were lucky in 2021, and hence regression may be coming, or whether their batting averages were “legit.”

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Tim Anderson (SS – CWS)

2021 BABIP:  .372   |   2021 BA:  .309
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .348   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .281

Anderson has defied the norm every season of his career except for one in terms of BABIP. In 2018, he had a .289 BABIP and consequently a .240 BA. Every other season his BABIP has been well over .300, including an incredible .399 in 2019. His .372 BABIP from last season was only the fourth-highest mark of his career; in his sixth season! Considering his career walk rate is a meager 3.5%, indicating he’s not very selective, this is truly amazing. Based on this, there’s not much reason to doubt he can do it again in 2022.

Starling Marte (OF – NYM)

2021 BABIP:  .372   |   2021 BA:  .310
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .341   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .287

Starling Marte is still really fast, evidenced by his 47 SBs in 2021. Speed can often help a player’s BABIP as they are more likely to generate infield singles. Even so, his .372 BABIP from last year was his highest since 2016. From 2017 through 2020, his BABIP was .only 317. Marte will likely hit for a decent average again in 2020. However, he’s more likely to hit in the .270-.290 range than over .300 again.

Austin Riley (1B/3B – ATL)

2021 BABIP:  .368   |   2021 BA:  .303
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .287   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .232

Heading into 2021, nobody would have predicted Riley would hit over .300. After all, his career BA after two seasons was .232, and he was striking out over 30% of the time. BABIP certainly appears to have helped his cause. While he’s probably a better hitter than he showed in 2019 and 2020, he does not profile as a .300 hitter going forward. A better estimate would be somewhere in the .260-.280 range, which is still not too bad given his power potential.

Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL)

2021 BABIP:  .366 |   2021 BA:  .286
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .305   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .229

O’Neill had all of 450 plate appearances before 2021, so take his “pre” numbers with a grain of salt. However, if we look at his minor league numbers, we don’t often see a BABIP in his 2021 range either. O’Neil is a good power/speed player, but given his inflated BABIP from last year and 31.3% K-rate, expect his batting average to drop a fair amount in 2022.

Randy Arozarena (OF – TB)

2021 BABIP:  .363   |   2021 BA:  .274
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .314   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .286

O’Neill looks like a veteran next to Arozarena, who entered 2021 with only 99 plate appearances (not including his magical 2020 playoff run). Unlike O’Neill, however, Arozarena did show a tendency towards a high BABIP in the minors. Even so, odds are his BA will dip a bit next year though probably not dramatically. Since his 2021 average of .274 wasn’t spectacular to begin with, he doesn’t profile as a player who will help in this category in the future.

Trea Turner (2B/SS – LAD)

2021 BABIP:  .362   |   2021 BA:  .328
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .339   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .296

Turner’s speed lends to his having a high BABIP and high batting average, year in and year out. So while his 2021 mark may be on the high end of the spectrum for him, he should once again be an excellent contributor to the batting average category in 2022.

Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)

2021 BABIP:  .359   |   2021 BA:  .309
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .315   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .276

Harper rode an incredible second half to his second MVP award last season. His BABIP illustrates this point, as it was a whopping .384 over the second half of the season compared to .335 in the first half. Harper has hit over .300 only three times in his career, so chances are his average will drop back down to his usual .270 range in 2022.

Teoscar Hernandez (OF – TOR)

2021 BABIP:  .352   |   2021 BA:  .296
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .310   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .245

Hernandez’s 2020 BABIP was almost as impressive at .348 (albeit in only 207 plate appearances), so perhaps he has figured something out. Before 2020, however, he never approached this level. Perhaps more impressively, he cut his K-rate last season to 25% after having a 32% rate coming into the year. If he can continue this trend, that will do more for his future BA than a high BABIP.

Javier Baez (2B/SS – DET)

2021 BABIP:  .352   |   2021 BA:  .265
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .333   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .264

Baez is kind of the opposite of Hernandez. His K-rate jumped to 33.6% in 2020, which was the highest of his career. While his BABIP last season was high, he has approached this level in several seasons, so it is not particularly unusual for him. He’ll never be a player who helps your batting average, however, unless he suddenly becomes a bit more selective at the plate.

Yoan Moncada (3B – CWS) 

2021 BABIP:  .350   |   2021 BA:  .263
Pre-2021 BABIP:  .362   |   Pre-2021 BA:  .260

Moncada is the only player on this list whose career BABIP coming into 2021 was higher than his rate for the season. Much of this was driven by 2019 when his BABIP was an incredible .406 (the best in all of MLB). He’s not a burner, and his Hard Hit % isn’t overly impressive, so it’s hard to say how he’s doing it. In any case, as his plate discipline continues to improve, he should be able to maintain a similar batting average next year, even if his BABIP drops a bit.

In conclusion, as some of these players’ evidence, you can’t automatically assume that a player with a high BABIP one season will see his batting average drop significantly the next. Players like Tim Anderson and Trea Turner have maintained it year after year. When doing your draft research, make sure you look at their career averages and trends to determine whether their 2021 batting average was lucky or legit.

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