With the recent boom of baseball statistics in the last decade, one the new go-to metrics that is used by baseball pundits and fans alike is BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). This metric has become somewhat synonymous with batting “luck”, and while the two might not be exact parallels, that generalization is certainly true for some MLB players. BABIP fluctuates significantly on a player-to-player basis based a variety of factors. However, the league average for BABIP is often around .300.
Though you would expect most players to have a balance of doink shots for hits and hard line drives for outs over the course of an 162-game season, there are often a few outliers. Here’s a look at five players who had a lower than BABIP last season, but are primed for a bounceback year in 2019.
Trey Mancini – 2018 BABIP: .285
After a breakout season in 2017, Mancini struggled greatly in his sophomore season. The Orioles outfielder/first baseman had a horrid start to the year, but still played the entire season on an Orioles team that won just a measly 47 games. Mancini was able to pick up the pace towards the end of the season, and should be to carry that through next year.
Even though Mancini’s OPS dropped from .826 to .715 last season, his statcast metrics show that he may been a bit unlucky. Mancini actually had a higher exit velocity, hard-hit percentage and barrel percentage in 2018 than in 2017. His barrel percentage of 11.8% was even in the top 10% of qualified batters in baseball. Mancini posted BABIP numbers significantly over .300 nearly his entire minor league career, and had a .352 mark in 2017. After sporting an OPS of .792 in the second half of 2018, look for Mancini to once again post a .800+ OPS in 2019.
Max Kepler – 2018 BABIP: 236
The Twins young right fielder disappointed by pretty much any standard last season. Kepler slashed .224/.319/.408 in a year when many expected him to take the next step and have a breakout season. Though it may have seemed that the young German had the worst season of his career, he actually made strides in many different areas. Kepler had career bests in barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, exit velocity, walk rate, strikeout rate, whiff rate, chase rate in 2018.
Yet his BABIP fell from .276 in 2017 to .236 in 2018. Though Kepler may not have ripped as many extra-base hits as the Twins faithful would have liked, his game was improving in other ways. Check this tweet out from Dylan Anderson (@DiamondDigest) on Twitter.
Maybe Kepler will never be the five tool player that Twins fans imagined. But it seems likely that his game will continue to mature and he will post a better season in 2019.
Justin Bour – 2018 BABIP: 270
The newly acquired Angels first baseman mashed in 2017, posting an OPS of .902 while ripping 25 bombs. Last year, he was barely playable as a platoon first baseman and was non-tendered by the Phillies. So which player will Bour be in 2018?
While it seems unlikely that Bour will return to his 2017 form, he should experience a bounceback in 2018. The beefy first baseman has an average .295 BABIP for his career (and never had a BABIP below .300 in the minors), and posted a .322 mark in 2017. Though his statcast numbers dropped off in 2018, it shouldn’t have caused a 52-point drop in BABIP. Bour’s barrel rate dropped from 10.8% to 10.3% and his average exit velocity only fell 0.5 MPH. Some of Bour’s other peripherals also signal a change in 2019, as his walk rate increased last year while his whiff rate and chase rate dropped.
Where Bour really struggled in 2018 was on breaking pitches and off speed pitches. After mashing breaking balls and offspeed pitches for slugging percentages of .578 and .621 in 2017, Bour saw those numbers drop to .395 and .262 in nearly the same amount of opportunities. If Bour can even get halfway back to his 2017 form on those two pitch types, he should sport an OPS of .800 or above. The Angels may have gotten steal with a 1 year, 2.5 million dollar deal.
Manuel Margot – 2018 BABIP: .280
Many thought the former Red Sox top prospect was primed for a breakout in 2018, but much like Mancini, Margot disappointed. Margot put up a putrid .675 OPS in 2018, and the anticipated stolen bases didn’t come either, as Margot swiped just 11 bags (with 10 caught stealings).
Though Margot will likely never be a guy that is ripping liners all around the ballpark, the young Padre showed some improvement in 2018. His hard hit percentage was up eight percent from 2017, and his exit velocity also shot up four miles per hour. He also more than doubled his solid contact percentage from 4.1% to 8.3%. While Margot will still have to make significant improvement next year to live up to his potential, it appears he was a bit unlucky in 2018 and has an opportunity to make an impact in the upcoming season.
DJ Lemahieu – 2018 BABIP: .298
Remember when your little league coach told you to hit ground balls and line drives as opposed to fly balls because then you would get on base more often? Well, technically they were right. Fly ball hitters traditionally have a lower BABIP’s while guys who hit a lot of line drives and ground ball tend to finish above the league average of .300. DJ Lemahieu was the master of that second category with BABIP’s over .320 in each of his seven previous major league seasons, but seemed to lose the that identity in 2018.
Whether Lemahieu was trying to launch more bombs or he was having technical issues in 2018, the contact-hitting second baseman more than doubled his average launch angle and had around 10% more of his balls in play classified as fly balls. Either way, it resulted in his lowest OPS (.749) since 2015. However, there were signs that Lemahieu was also a bit unlucky in 2018. His solid contact percentage was even higher than his 2016 season when he hit .348, and his barrel rate and average exit velocity also exceed his marks in 2016. Some other advanced metrics also believe that Lemahieu is being undervalued by the market. It will be interesting to see what Lemahieu does on a new (?) team away from Coors Field in 2019, but he will most likely post a better year than he did in 2018.