In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how it is much easier for batters to achieve very high batting averages on balls in play in the minors than the majors, with BABIPs above .350 being three times as common in minor league ball. In Part 2, I looked at some extreme BABIP players from a few years ago and discussed what drove their BABIPs to be so high in the first place and what ultimately sent the figure downward for them in the big leagues. In the conclusion of that piece, I said:
It seems that a lot of these players put up high BABIPs while they can sort of “hide” their flaws, and then when they’re exposed, the BABIP plummets. Revere showed a lack of power, Nava and Scott couldn’t maintain their approaches, and Gindl and Robertson‘s lack of a plus skill was more problematic against advanced pitchers.
This is probably the biggest takeaway. In order to profile as a .330+ MLB BABIP player, a player has to have a diverse collection of indicators that point to plus BABIP ability, like speed, a feel for contact, anda selective approach. It’s not enough to just post the BABIP–you have to have the well-rounded skillset that will bend but not break against MLB pitching. That’s what made Fowler successful and the other players more problematic.
With that established, I’m now going to turn my attention to some of the extreme BABIP cases from this past year in the minors and assess whether they’re likely to carry their skill over to the majors at some point. So, here’s a look at the 18 batters who posted .400+ BABIPs in 300+ PA this past season.
Denis Phipps, .446 BABIP between Double-A and Triple-A
We start off with a crazy value–in the 2008 group I looked at in Part 2, nobody had above .416, so Phipps’ BABIP is crazy high. It came in 511 PAs, too, and he wasn’t playing in particularly easy environments, either. As incredible of a number as it is, though, it looks fluky. Phipps had a .282 BABIP in 2010, and in prior years he was around .300. He doesn’t boast a great approach, plus power, or tremendous speed, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think 2011 was that much of a breakout. I’d expect his .346/.397/.527 line to come crashing back to earth in 2012. For what it’s worth, he’s listed by Minor League Central as having a 24% line-drive rate in 2011, which would indicate a BABIP in the mid-.300s.
Oscar Taveras, .440 BABIP in Low-A
Taveras takes a monster cut at the ball, so it makes a certain degree of sense that the ball will be hit hard when he does connect. He had a .370 BABIP in 2010 and was listed as having a 20% line-drive rate in 2011, in a league where the average was listed at 14.7% (which probably means Taveras was actually around 24-25%). The 2010 figure is closer to his true talent BABIP than the 2011 one is, but he looks poised to become a high-BABIP hitter in the big leagues down the road.
Joey Butler, .439 BABIP between Double-A and Triple-A
Butler spent most of the year in Triple-A and had a .451 BABIP there. He does have a history of high BABIPs–.381 in 2008, .367 in 2009, .340 in 2010–though he doesn’t seem to have the underlying skillset to suggest greatness in the area. His profile is somewhat similar to Phipps’, in fact. Butler struck out 29.1% of the time–as I mentioned in Part 2, that seems to be a common trait among high-BABIP hitters. His 19.9% line-drive rate was well below Phipps, and it looks like this is basically just a case of PCL inflation.
Josh Rutledge, .414 BABIP in High-A
Rutledge has some speed and some contact skill, but he was listed at a league-average line drive rate and doesn’t seem to have any other exceptional attributes that would help BABIP. This looks like a case of CAL inflation.
Jose Altuve, .412 BABIP between High-A and Double-A
Altuve’s an interesting one to analyze, because he actually got 234 MLB PAs as well. He had an absurd .438 BABIP in Lancaster, the most hitter-friendly park in organized baseball, dropped to .373 in Double-A, and then .309 in the big leagues. His BABIPs prior to 2011 were in the .320-.340 range. Altuve has speed and he’s consistently able to make contact, and he managed a 20.4% line-drive rate in the big leagues, so I think he’ll settle in as an above-average BABIP guy down the line–but by above-average, I mean .320, not .420.
Connor Powers, .411 BABIP in Low-A
Powers had a .261 BABIP in his pro debut, hitting .191/.315/.287, and I was surprised he wasn’t released in the offseason. He then went out and hit .338/.422/.538 in Low-A on the back of a better approach and much-improved BABIP. He did have a prolific college career and packs a punch with the bat, and his patient approach allows him to pick out good pitches to swing at. Still, I can’t help but think his BABIP will regress once he faces pitchers that can exploit his swing–he was a 23-year-old in Low-A, after all. His 2011 wasn’t entirely fluky, but the progress won’t hold up in the long run.
Josh Whitaker, .410 BABIP in Low-A
A very similar situation to Powers. Whitaker was a nondescript guy in short-season ball in 2010, then he was suddenly one of the Midwest League’s top hitters in 2011. He’s not listed as having a very good line-drive rate, nor does he have a particularly great approach at the dish, though he clearly hits the ball hard, as his 54 extra-base hits attest. Like Powers, he might keep things up in the CAL in 2012, but likely will fall to earth in Double-A.
Josh Satin, .409 BABIP between Double-A and Triple-A
Satin has a patient approach, so he swings at good pitches, and he did rip 43 doubles and attain a lofty 22.3% line-drive rate. That said, he has a strikeout problem that became more problematic in Triple-A and the majors, as he wasn’t able to get ahead in the count as easily. Given that he’s 27 and basically a finished product, he likely will run into trouble in the majors. He does have a long history of high BABIPs, and could maintain a rate in the .300s in the big leagues, but that may not be enough to make him a particularly useful player.
Cody Johnson, .409 BABIP between High-A and Double-A
Adam Dunn has nothing on Cody Johnson, who regularly strikes out 35% of the time or more, but absolutely pulverizes the ball on the rare occasion he does connect. He struck out 43% of the time in Double-A and had a .356 BABIP, which he needed just to hit .226. He then was demoted to High-A, where he had a .514 mark in 39 games, allowing him to hit .326 in spite of a 37.3% strikeout rate. His 2011 numbers are out of line with his previous career BABIPs, which tended to be in the low .300s, but it hardly matters–there’s no way he’s getting anywhere near the majors with this sort of contact problem.
Tyler Greene, .407 BABIP in Triple-A
In 359 major league plate appearances, Greene has a .284 BABIP. He never had a mark above .340 until he hit Triple-A, where he’s posted .340+ marks four straight years. This looks like PCL inflation again.
Daniel Carroll, .405 BABIP in High-A
Now here’s a recipe for elevated BABIPs–take a guy who walks 15% of the time, strikes out 26% of the time, and has a ton of speed, and put him in High Desert. Carroll had a .445 BABIP in Rookie ball in 2007 and a .376 mark in Low-A in 2010, so he clearly has some BABIP ability. Some of it, though, is park-driven, and he’ll likely fall backward in 2012, something he can’t really afford since he’s a corner outfielder without elite power and with serious strikeout problems.
Juan Duran, .405 BABIP in Low-A
Cody Johnson, Part 2. Duran struck out 37.6% of the time in Low-A, mainly because he has a ton of ground to cover in the strike zone at 6’7″. Like Johnson, he has a lot of raw power, and the numbers show he hit a lot of line drives last year. Unlike Johnson, he’s still very young, so there’s a very small fraction of hope he can get things together.
Scott Van Slyke, .404 BABIP in Double-A
Van Slyke is a solid pure hitter, though nothing in his line-drive rate or his past BABIPs suggest he should’ve had a mark over .350 last year. That, of course, makes his .346/.425/.593 line last year look a bit less crazy, and as a 25-year-old first base prospect, he can’t really afford that.
Mark Hamilton, .403 BABIP in Triple-A
Hamilton had a .335 BABIP the year before in the same place, and given that this is just a 303 PA sample, it’s basically a case of PCL inflation. He had an odd season overall, with the best BABIP and K/BB ratio of his career but the worst power output. Either way, he’s a 28-year-old first baseman who’s not going to make an impact in the majors.
Nick Castellanos, .402 BABIP in Low-A
Here’s a rather important one, as Castellanos’ prospect status eclipses that of all but Taveras here. He does rip a fair amount of liners, as evidenced by his 36 doubles, but he has yet to show game-breaking power, and his approach is lacking. He may be able to parlay his feel for contact into slightly above-average BABIP figures, but to be an impact player, something in the home runs, the walk rate (8%), or the strikeout rate (23.1%) needs to move.
Aaron Bates, .402 BABIP in Triple-A
In 2010, Aaron Bates hit .240/.338/.368 in the International League. In 2011, he hit .316/.408/.439 in the same circuit. What changed? His BABIP went up an even 100 points. This is basically another Hamilton situation, although at least Bates wasn’t in the PCL.
Jai Miller, .401 BABIP in Triple-A
We come upon, astonishingly, our third player on the list with a strikeout rate above 37%. Miller has power, speed, and some line-drive ability, so his true-talent BABIP ability is probably above-average, though this sort of extreme value is partly PCL inflation. It doesn’t really matter, though, because he projects to strike out at a 40% clip in the majors, and that’s not going to work out.
Mike Wilson, .400 BABIP in Triple-A
Yet again, a PCL wonder. Like Miller, Wilson has a lot of raw power; unlike Miller, he has at least a rudimentary idea of how to make contact with a baseball. However, he’s another guy who is nearing age 30, and if you regress his BABIP back to earth, he’s nowhere near good enough to be of much interest.
Two things to take away from this exercise.
#1.) Even at the extremes here, most of the players don’t project well in BABIP. Taveras and Altuve look like good bets to be in the .325+ range in the majors, and you could make a case for Carroll or Castellanos, but it’s telling that even the most stellar BABIP performers usually are either a) one-year flukes or b) guys who don’t project to sustain that ability over time. Which leads me to my second point…
#2.) BABIP ability seems to be a manifestation of the scouting concept of “not being exposed yet.” We often hear in scouting reports that “Player X will have trouble adapting to pitchers at Level Y, where they can better take advantage of Weakness Z.” With the analysis in Parts 2 and 3 here, it seems that BABIP ability tends to track along these lines–certain players can rack up tremendous BABIP figures up to the point where pitchers can exploit their weaknesses. The most common manifestation of that is when pitchers get ahead in the count more frequently, putting the hitter in a defensive situation in which he can’t sit on a pitch to drive.
And with that, that’s it for this miniseries. Hopefully, my musings amounted to something here–I know I’ll be keeping a lot of this in mind in future player evaluations.
Topics: Aaron Bates, Cody Johnson, Connor Powers, Daniel Carroll, Denis Phipps, Jai Miller, Joey Butler, Jose Altuve, Josh Rutledge, Josh Satin, Josh Whitaker, Juan Duran, Mark Hamilton, Mike Wilson, Nick Castellanos, Oscar Taveras, Scott Van Slyke, Tyler Greene