Nationals Baseball: BABIP-led ruminations from 2020

Friday, February 26, 2021

BABIP-led ruminations from 2020

 For the most part we are ignoring last year. As a 40% of a season featuring 90% of the talent it usually does, it's just hard to take anything from it.  We wouldn't normally subscribe too much to two months worth of games.  Really it's just past the marker I use (Memorial Day) where we should pay attention to them at all. But it IS past that marker so given that what did the Nats see last year that is probably going to have some relevance. I'll use BABIP as a jumping off point

HIGH BABIP HITTERS (likely to regress) 

Andrew Stevenson .464

Jake Noll .462

Two of the Nats 2020 surprises were the old prospects Noll and Stevenson showing some life.  Some even thought about giving Stevenson a real chance in the OF.  FOOOOOOLLLLSS!  These are mirages. 

Juan Soto .363

Trea Turner .353

These are both on the high side.  Trea though is not a usual player. He utilizes his speed to get more hits than one would assume and .353 is not unusual for him.  As for Soto this is high for him and looking at his hard hit percentages and hit type percentages - I don't see a good reason for a 50 point jump so a regression is probably likely. But don't be overly concerned here. There is some reason to think combining more hard hits than 2018 and fewer FBs than 2019 would raise his BABIP and dropping his K% would also raise his average. I'm just assuming .320ish rather than .350. 

LOW BABIP HITTERS (likely to improve)

No one still on the team. But MAT (.217) could have a nice little year for KC.  I'd be ok with that. Didn't look at the underlyings here though because again - not on the team

HIGH BABIP PITCHERS (likely to improve) 

I'm not bothering talking about names like Seth Romero and Paolo Espino here. If you are going off 6IP to judge anything, I can't help you.  Alot of Nats also had high end BABIPs which might say something about the Nats defense more than the Nats pitching and note going in here the defense is not better and might be worse

Patrick Corbin .362

Max Scherzer .355

Nats fans would love to jump on this to expect bounce back years and these numbers are big reasons why the xFIP ERAs for these guys are lower. However I'll note that they both had very good LOB%s while having issues striking out as many guys.  They could get better but the chances for a complete turn around just by the coin flip going their way in 2021 is unlikely. I'm most concerned for Max who after a monster run in 2016-2018 has shown marked decreases in the stats you care about.  Age comes for everyone. 

Will Harris .353

Another one of interest who could get better BUT his xFIP was actually worse than his ERA. Why? His walk rate exploded and homer rate went up as well.  It'll be nice to see that BABIP go down but if you are walking a ton of guys you are getting a lot on with out BIP so BABIP doesn't matter.  He needs to get that control back. 

LOW BABIP PITCHERS (likely to regress)

Erick Fedde .233

Remember last post when I said Fedde has improving results but not improving stats? He arguably hasn't pitched much different since showing up in the majors and it's not that his ERA was unlucky early on. He also had a good LOB% last year too. The HR/FB is bad. The soft hit % is bad. He's walking too many and giving up too many homers while not striking out enough.  Last year he was saved by the timing and location of what was hit off him and still he had an ERA well over 4.00. That can't keep happening. Everything here screams he can't hack it.

Daniel Hudson .205

Ok the good news is Hudson probably won't actually get worse than his 6.10 ERA at least if he gets back to normal. His GB% was absurdly low, well below his usual. His HR/FB rate was higher than normal. His LOB rate was on the low end. There's more pointing right to counteract this pointing wrong. BUT know that 2019 was also a weird year for him positively.  Really he's a 4.00-4.50 ERA type and assuming things get normal this year that's what we should see. Given no big drop in FB speed and the vagaries of relief IP in a short year that would be my bet. Better but never again like 2019. Luckily the Nats have Harris and Hand and don't need Hudson to be great. 

Tanner Rainey .129

And a 96.2% LOB Rate! Last year Rainey had to roll boxcars twice in a row and did it. There are a couple things saving Rainey here though. One is that this didn't translate into the 2.00 ERA it might have. He was at 2.66 so the regression shouldn't be as noticable. Next is he improved his K rate and his BB rate, which are again things outside what BIP related stats will show. There's a sense he'll only drop a little but that's based on the idea of a normal HR rate. Rainey has always been homer prone so seeing last year is not something that should get better. I'd expect something in the 3.50 range unless he keeps improving with Ks and BBs. So expecting Rainey to be dominant is probably too much. But again Harris and Hand.  

One thing we see here is let's say Hand is very good. Deservingly with an under 3.00 ERA. Let's say Harris gets back more toward 2019 and I'm right about Rainey and Hudson. You have a great closer, two 3.50 guys (Rainey and Harris) and a 4.25 guys (Hudson).  The Nats are missing in planning that set-up guy but the vagaries of the bullpen means someone could find it for this year and fill that spot. Also you have 4 guys deep at least before you get into "oh this guy could blow up this year and be terrible"  Now that's ALWAYS true but I wouldn't say that about any of the top 4, and really that only leaves one more relief guy who will pithc major innings if the Nats can help it. Healthy, this pen is not great but it seems solid. 

Another thing - these were just guys on the team last year. We talked about how Schwarber had a low BABIP (I think we did) and should improve in general as a hitter (I know I said that) for various reasons. Bell was neutral. Lester? also pretty neutral. 

One thing I worry about is the Nats bench. Harrison was ok but is only a year older. Stevenson could be bad. Garcia is a wild card. Avila is not good. If Zimm shows rust.  It could be ugly.


Anonymous said...

It feels like it's worth digging in some more on Stevenson.

I mean, obviously his true talent is nowhere close to his numbers in 2020. But he doesn't need to be an MVP candidate to be a useful piece. Given his defense, even a 100 wRC+ from him would make him an excellent 4th outfielder and maybe passable as a borderline starter.

So this is going to be real rough but...

His hot 2 weeks worth of PAs last year (47 total) had a line of .366/.447/.732 for a wRC+ of 206. (Higher than Soto!). If we keep BBs, Ks, and HR's the same, and regress the BABIP to .300 evenly across all non-HR hits (so proportionally losing the same rate of singles, doubles and triples), you get a line of .254/.349/.542.

It's less than 50 PAs, so it would still be silly to believe the adjusted line, but those are extremely encouraging numbers. It would scope out to something like a 135 wRC+, so he has a lot of slack to fall off from that and still be a useful player.

I agree it would have been ludicrous to roll into the season with him as an everyday player, but I'm interested to see what he can do with a couple of hundred PAs.

(Jake Noll on the other hand had a 105 wRC+ in 17 PAs even with a .462 BAPIP.... He is not going to be a useful player for us.)

Anonymous said...

Harper - I saw on twitter that you specifically called out Stevenson as 4OF as a likely regression problem, and I think you're drastically overstating the case.

Last year was lucky, but it was also good. Average exit velocity ranked 10th among hitters with 40+ PAs last year. He's always had plus defense. Decent patience. That's not going to all regress away.

I'm not saying he's going to be peak Adam Eaton. Stevenson is the very definition of unproven; let's give the league time to adjust and see if he he can adjust back. But 2 years ago, I had a ceiling on him of a slightly worse MAT and a floor of someone who washes out after that first dismal cup of coffee. Now I have the expectation of slightly worse version of MAT, a ceiling of Adam Eaton and a floor of playable defense first 5th OFer. That's a huge improvement!

Stevenson is an upside potential for this team, not a regression risk. (Notwithstanding the fact he will absolutely, definitely regress from last year.)

Harper said...

I'll dig in more but my scratching the surface feeling is that Stevenson will be the "playable defense first 5th OFer" floor. That said if everyone can stay relatively healthy that's not a big deal. It's if someone goes down where the trouble starts. It would probably matter least with Robles (he hasn't hit either - have to see if his ++ D is still there) then Schwarber who I assume will hit. Frankly it wouldn't matter who the Nats had as 4th if Soto goes down.

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

Stevenson has continuously gotten better, that's why I think a lot of people are high (arguably too high) on him, Harper. It's not like he peaked and then dropped off a cliff, he's simply steadily gotten better across the board.

His first cup of coffee in 2017 was dreadful, but it wasn't like he was performing well at AAA yet (wRC+ of 72). 2018 we saw that increase to 88 in AAA, then in 2019 it jumped up to 116 in AAA. When called up that year, in 37 PAs (so obviously SSS aside), his wRC+ didn't fall off a cliff (157). Then 2020, again SSS aside, it went up further to a ridiculous 206. Both those years had high BABIP, but pitch data indicates it's partially because he saw a lot of fastballs that he jumped on (Z-contact% of 95 freaking percent in 2020).

Looking beyond wRC+, you see a declining K%, an increasing BB%, an increasing hard hit %, and a decreasing swing %. All of that (SSS aside again) indicates that he's adapting to major league pitching and has a decent amount of upside.

Do I expect him to be a starter-caliber player on a playoff team? No, not necessarily, we don't have a large enough sample size to say. But do I expect him to be a really solid 4th OF? Yeah, I think so

Nattydread said...

Every once in a while players turn the corner because of a changed approach (Daniel Murphy) or improvement. It sometimes comes out of nowhere, it sometimes comes on the top of steadily increasing underlying stats.

Stevenson got hot. Managers pay attention to this. They need to establish whether it was a random streak or a real improvement.

As a fan, I root for Stevenson and the latter. It's also his time. MAT had to go --- HE was not going to make a big change. Stevenson is an adequate replacement for MAT at 4th OF position. He may be better. Stats don't lie but some players do get better.