There aren’t many mainstream writers out there who are willing to tackle sabermetric concepts with players, so I have to give Marc Topkin from the the Tampa Bay Times a tip of the hat for mentioning BABIP to Jeremy Hellickson. Not only did he mention a sabermetric statistic to a player, but he brought one up that makes Hellickson look bad:
“Yea, I just got lucky on the mound,” Jeremy Hellickson says dryly. “A lot of lucky outs.” […]
“I hear it; it’s funny,” Hellickson said, not quite sure of the acronym. “I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do, let them put it in play and get outs. So I don’t really understand that. When you have a great defense, why not let them do their job? I’m not really a strikeout pitcher; I just get weak contact and let our defense play.”
First of all, I have to agree with Craig Calcaterra on this one: I couldn’t give a rats patootie if Hellickson knows about or understands BABIP. Sabermetrics is a field most helpful to front office personnel and managers, and while some players find it useful, players don’t need be saberists in order to be good players. And anyway, it’s never going to be the successful players that stumble upon sabermetrics; it’s always going to be the borderline players, the ones looking for any sort of possible advantage to help them get ahead. So should I be annoyed that Hellickson is poo-pooing BABIP? No, not in the least. Good on him.
Instead, this article caught my eye for a different reason: it refers to BABIP primarily as a measure of luck. Hellickson had a low BABIP, which therefore meant he was lucky on balls in play last year. Any pitcher with a low BABIP is therefore “lucky”, and any pitcher with a high BABIP is “unlucky”.
This is a common perception about BABIP, and one that used to be in favor among sabermetric circles. Heck, I subscribed to this philosophy three or four years ago, and I used “luck” as a quick way of describing BABIP to the uninitiated. But these days, that’s an outdated mindset and, quite frankly, misleading.
BABIP is one of the most important sabermetric concepts, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. What does BABIP tell us? What doesn’t it tell us? Let’s explore.
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