Commentary

Millwood, Marquis very lucky so far

BABIP numbers also show Ortiz unlucky; Damon, Bartlett for real

Updated: July 2, 2009, 2:00 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

We toss the phrase "small sample size" around a lot on these pages, but after three months, let's just say the sample sizes, well, they're no longer small.

A good 75-80 games' worth of statistics is plenty to get a decent read on a player, his fortunes, misfortunes, etc., and there are few better ways to do that than to examine his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) numbers. Statistics have just about settled into their expected yearlong levels, so players who are exceptionally above or below either the league average or their own past history in the category can be said to be exceptionally lucky (or unlucky). What better time than the midway point, then, to do some buy-low, sell-high forecasting?

You can find at column's end the full-season charts listing the leaders and trailers in each BABIP category by batted-ball type. As with my month-ending columns in April and May, I'll stress once more that I'm no believer that BABIP can be examined solely on an overall basis. Different hitters produce different results -- a line-drive hitter is naturally destined for more success than a ground-baller -- so I find it a good exercise, each month, to take a look at BABIPs by batted-ball type.

I'll let the numbers in those charts speak for themselves, but who am I to not comment on some of the more interesting individual findings? I'll take a different approach this month; what I've listed below are my quick-hitting thoughts on some of the more curious BABIP numbers through the month of June.

Jose Lopez: It seems like he's in the midst of a disappointing follow-up to his decent 2008 campaign, but the truth is that 21.5 percent of his batted balls have been line drives, about the same as last year's 22.6. In 2008, remember that he hit 12 of his 17 home runs after the All-Star break. I'm a buyer.

David Wright: A few people have pointed out his absurdly high .454 overall BABIP, and he can't possibly sustain his major league-high .456 BABIP on ground balls. Still, the guy has rapped line drives on 27.1 percent of his batted balls, up from 24.7 in 2008. Talk that he has adapted his game to spray hits into the gaps has some weight, though I do see his batting average dropping somewhat, to the .325 range, while his power bumps up, to around the 20 range.

Jimmy Rollins
Jeff Conner/Icon SMISome bad luck could be part of the reason for Jimmy Rollins' struggles this season.

Jimmy Rollins: He has a .184 BABIP on ground balls and has hit grounders on 41.8 percent of his batted balls. The guy is simply too quick for that to continue; his career number in the category is .224.

Hunter Pence: I said it a month ago and I'll repeat it -- if you believe a guy who isn't a traditional speedster and who hits more than 50 percent of his batted balls on the ground is capable of batting .310, you're kidding yourself. Pence has a .320 BABIP on ground balls. Unless you're in a keeper league, sell, sell, sell.

Johnny Damon: He's on pace for more than 30 home runs, thanks to a 13.5 home run/fly ball percentage, which actually isn't all that high if you account for the Yankees' new ballpark being friendly to left-handed hitters. Damon's BABIP numbers aren't unreasonably high; he's hitting line drives on 21.2 percent of his batted balls, and he has a low .681 BABIP on them. I think he's legit.

Alexei Ramirez: I think the pace he's currently on is about the one at which he should finish. The guy's numbers are only low in one category, home run/fly ball percentage, where his number is 11.9, higher than it was in 2008 (11.7). I continue to caution Ramirez owners that there's a limit to what he'll offer you.

Stephen Drew: He has a .108 BABIP on fly balls and a .750 BABIP on line drives, and his home run/fly ball percentage is 6.3. Even if his .292 batting average and .814 OPS in 25 games in June has his owners begging more in exchange in a trade for him, I'd advise you to pay the extra buck to get him.

Kevin Millwood: No matter how much respect I have for Mike Maddux's skills as a pitching coach, the fact remains that Millwood has a BABIP 50 points beneath the league average on ground balls, fly balls and line drives. He can't sustain these numbers, especially not as the Texas heat wears him down in late July and August.

Jason Marquis: Another pitcher I can't see keeping up his remarkable pace -- he has generated ground balls on 55.9 percent of batted balls in play and has a .163 BABIP on them. And while I admire Troy Tulowitzki's defensive skills at shortstop, it's not like this is a top-five defensive team.

Gavin Floyd: He's in the midst of a torrid hot streak, marking a perfect time to sell him for peak value, especially in light of his .150 BABIP on ground balls and 6.0 home run/fly ball percentage. The guy calls a homer-friendly ballpark his home; that latter number especially is bound to rise.

Joba Chamberlain
Noah K. Murray/US PresswireJoba Chamberlain might be somewhat inefficient, but he's also a bit unlucky as well.

Joba Chamberlain: Criticize him all you want for his inability to work deep into games, but in terms of ERA and WHIP, the guy has been hit by some misfortune. He's a strikeout artist who, despite pitching in front of a defense that lacks range, has a .281 BABIP on ground balls, which is quite a bit high.

Justin Verlander: He has surrendered line drives on 24.1 percent of his batted balls, and has a 4.9 home run/fly ball percentage. Verlander might be one of this year's best comeback stories, but there's some regression in his future.

Jason Bartlett: Incredible that this guy has hit line drives on 30.3 percent of his batted balls, second-most among players who have hit at least 25 line drives (Omir Santos is first). Maybe the .300-plus batting average is legit!

Magglio Ordonez: He has hit a ground ball on 58.3 percent of his batted balls, a shockingly high number considering he wasn't even close to 50 percent in any of his first four years in Detroit. No wonder the guy was benched recently; he's just not the same hitter he was in the past, meaning his chances at a turnaround aren't all that great.

David Ortiz: Good player to finish on. Ortiz has a .135 BABIP on ground balls, .686 on line drives and a 7.6 home run/fly ball percentage. As unlucky as those numbers have been, he was bound to turn his season around to a degree, and I believe he's a lot closer in true value to his June numbers than to his April/May numbers.

BABIP top 25s by batted-ball type (Hitters)

Statistics through June 30. Hitters must have hit at least 60 ground balls or fly balls or at least 25 line drives to qualify. The hitter's percentage of batted balls that were of the specified type are listed in parentheses.

BABIP bottom 25s by batted-ball type (Hitters)

Statistics through June 30. Hitters must have hit at least 60 ground balls or fly balls or at least 25 line drives to qualify. The hitter's percentage of batted balls that were of the specified type are listed in parentheses.

Top 30 in home run/fly ball percentage (Hitters)

Statistics through June 30. Hitters must have hit at least 60 fly balls to qualify. The hitter's percentage of batted balls that were fly balls are listed in parentheses.

BABIP top 25s by batted-ball type (Pitchers)

Statistics through June 30. Pitchers must have allowed at least 60 ground balls or fly balls or at least 25 line drives to qualify. The pitcher's percentage of batted balls allowed that were of the specified type are listed in parentheses.

BABIP bottom 25s by batted-ball type (Pitchers)

Statistics through June 30. Pitchers must have allowed at least 60 ground balls or fly balls or at least 25 line drives to qualify. The pitcher's percentage of batted balls allowed that were of the specified type are listed in parentheses.

Bottom 30 in home run/fly ball percentage (Pitchers)

Statistics through June 30. Pitchers must have allowed at least 60 fly balls to qualify. The pitcher's percentage of batted balls allowed that were fly balls are listed in parentheses.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.

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