2017 saw the emergence of new stars like Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, and Rhys Hoskins. It also saw slight declines in production from studs like Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, and Ian Kinsler. A contributing factor to all three of their reduced production was a lower than average BABIP.
BABIP is the batting average of balls put in play. Three factors that help generate a BABIP are the talent level, defense, and luck. The BABIP average is .300 for a big leaguer, and it is important to realize this when looking at players BABIP’s. When a players single season BABIP is lower than their average and the league average, it can indicate a change in their game or just bad luck.
After finishing second in the MVP voting in 2016, Betts was expected to carry the Red Sox lineup with the retirement of David Ortiz. The 2017 season started with a streak of 129 plate appearances without a strikeout, but his power numbers significantly decreased. His batting average dropped from .318 to .264, and his slugging percentage went from .534 to .459.
His BABIP went from .310 in 2015 to .322 in 2016. Then he saw a big drop this past summer as his BABIP was .268. Looking at his advanced metrics, Betts pulled the ball to left field 5% more often than he did in his MVP caliber 2016 season. His line drive rate dove down to 16.8% from 19.3% which led to an increase of 3.2% in fly balls. His fly ball rate was 42.8% which was 28th highest in the league. To put that into perspective, he hit more fly balls than power hitters Khris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, and Kris Bryant.
While his adjustments led to his hard-hit rate going up from 33.4% to 35.7%, it definitely hurt his offensive game. The more fly balls a player hits, the lower his BABIP is going to be.
There are probably several theories and rumors as to why Betts struggle up to his standards at the plate, but he simply could’ve been trying to do too much. With little power in the Red Sox lineup, he could’ve been trying to put the ball in the air a little too often.
This year will be a different year though for Betts. He will come back motivated with more protection hopefully. While many thought they would upgrade at first basemen in free agency, they re-signed Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal. This should clear up all the money for their top target in J.D. Martinez though. Martinez would take a lot of pressure and attention off of Betts.
Remember the league average BABIP is .300, and Betts hit .268 in 2017. On FanGraphs, he is expected to recover and hit for a .303 BABIP. Don’t be surprised at all if Betts makes some offseason changes and gets back to the .320 mark in 2018. In a down season, he still hit 24 homers and drove in 102 RBI’s at just 24 years old.
Similar to Betts, this was Machado’s first “down” year as a big leaguer. He has really changed his approach at the plate the past few seasons. His flyball rate has increased by 10% since his first full and All-Star season in 2013. His BABIP has been between .297 and .322 from 2013 to 2016. In 2017, it fell to .265.
Machado is an established enough big leaguer at this point that this season definitely looks like it could be an outlier. His power and strikeout numbers have been about the same the past three seasons (2015-2017). His hard-hit rate went from 35.4% to 39.5% from 2016 to 2017 too.
Like Betts though, Machado also saw a big dip in his line drive rate. His line drive rate was the third lowest just behind Hunter Pence and Javier Baez. Machado’s line drives didn’t turn into fly balls though. Instead, he hit ground balls at a rate more similar to his numbers from 2012-2015.
Machado GB% Rate:
He changed his approach in 2015 to hitting fewer ground balls and more fly balls, but his progress halted in 2017.
In his final year of arbitration, Machado will bounce back to prove his worth for when he hits the open market next winter. His BABIP is a strong indicator that his numbers should improve, but Machado must work on hitting more line drives again.
FanGraphs also has Machado’s projected BABIP returning to near .300. With trade rumors swirling, Machado will put up improved numbers for whoever he is playing for.
Out of this group of three players, Kinsler had the most disappointing 2017 season by far. Kinsler’s case is a little more tricky though because the other two players are turning 25 while Kinsler is entering his age 36 season.
Even with Kinsler’s drop in production, the Angels still saw a lot left in the tank. Kinsler will join the star-studded Angels lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Zack Cozart, Kole Calhoun, Justin Upton, and maybe even Shohei Ohtani.
Kinsler joined the trend of an increasing fly ball rate and decreasing line drive rate. Like Machado and Betts, his hard hit rate also rose.
Kinsler’s BABIP has been as low as .241 (2009) and as high as .334 (2008), but in 2017, it was closer to his low as he hit .244. Three times now, Kinsler has been in the .240s in BABIP.
BABIP’s from 2008 to 2012
2008 – .334
2009 – .241
2010 – .313
2011 – .243
2012 – .270
In his previous two seasons of .240s BABIP (2009 & 2011), he recovered the next year. His career average BABIP is .286, so the Angels must be expecting a bounce-back year.
Just like his first three seasons in Detriot, I expect Kinsler to have a strong year as he isn’t the main focus of the opposition. 2017 was a fluke because of the injuries and poor play of the Tigers. In a lineup that measures up similarly to the Tigers lineups from 2013-2016, Kinsler will thrive in LA again. His age could be a reason why his BABIP fell as Kinsler is reaching the end of his youth. Kinsler will bounce back though as he still put up good numbers (22 HR’s & only 86 K’s) in a season that saw his team and organization fall apart.
At 36 years old, 2017 could be the signal of his decline. Many star infielders have fallen hard at around this time or before like Roberto Alamar and Cal Ripken Jr. Some have been able to play well through the age of 40 like Craig Biggio who played 141 games in his age 41 season. Kinsler isn’t a Hall of Famer like these three guys, but Kinsler has put up similar numbers to Biggio without the same consistency throughout his entire career.
FanGraphs projects his BABIP to rise to .278, but don’t be surprised at all if he has an even bigger year.
Photo From Keith Allison