Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Musings on Crash Davis.... 

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Bull Durham is the scene in which Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis reflects on the failure of his baseball career: .250 hitters like him didn’t make it and .300 hitters did, and why? Do you know what the difference is between a guy hitting .250 and a guy hitting .300 he asks Tim Robbins character? A hit. A single, solitary hit every week. A bloop fly falling in for a single.

i.e., Luck. The old timers (cough, Larry Bowa, cough) call it skill and stubbornly cling to the idea that .300 hitters are .300 hitters because they are skilled at what they do. Sabremetricians scoff and note that there is a fair amount of luck involved for some players. Some players are just luckier than others.

A nice stat I take a look at, from time-to-time, is BABIP, or Batting Average of Balls Put Into Play. It gives you an idea about how lucky a batter is. Here are the Phillies BABIP stats:

(Min. 100 Plate Apperances)
RF Abreu: .353
SS Rollins: .296
LF Burrell: .357
3B Bell: .298
2B Utley: .345
1B Thome: .279
C Lieberthal: .236
IF Polanco: .322
OF Michaels: .324
CF Lofton: .435
Team: .308
League: .299

There is a fair amount of luck out there for guys like Kenny Lofton. What is striking to me is how Jimmy Rollins continues to struggle. A .316 OBP doesn’t cut it for a leadoff guy, and he can’t chalk up his struggles due to bad luck at the plate. The sole Phillie really struggling at the plate with bad karma is Mike Lieberthal. I think he’ll improve, but it is appropriate that the Phillies hard-luck case is a catcher … just like Crash Davis.

For all you fantasy baseballers, you might want to drop Kenny Lofton from your teams. He’s not going to continue at his blistering pace.

So as you can see from above, the Phillies are slightly lucky. Here are the team BIBIPs:

Colorado: .312
Florida: .310
Philadelphia: .308
Washington: .307
Cincinnati: .305
San Francisco: .304
Chicago: .302
St. Louis: .300
New York: .299
Pittsburgh: .298
San Diego: .298
Arizona: .296
Los Angeles: .296
Milwaukee: .292
Atlanta: .286
Houston: .277
League: .299

I think it ought to be worrisome to Florida fans to see their team struggle while having some luck: if you think runs are hard to come by now…

Quick word on the pennant races. As I write this the standings are:

Washington: 41-30
Philadelphia: 38-33
Atlanta: 37-33
Florida: 34-33
New York: 34-36

If we were working off pythagorean win-losses, it would be…

Atlanta: 40-30
Florida: 36-31
Philadelphia: 36-35
New York: 35-35
Washington: 34-37

Quite a role-reversal. My thoughts are this: this pennant race is far from over. Any of these teams can win it and I think that the only team on borrowed time are the Nats. Buckle up, because we’ve got a heck of a ride!

You're making the assumption that because pitchers have little control over whether balls in play become hits, hitters also have little control in the matter. That's a rather dubious leap. Some studies over Hardball Times are pretty convincing in their conclusions that hitters *do* effect whether the balls they hit become hits. Two obvious factors are how hard they hit the ball and how fast they run. BABIP certainly incorporates some luck, but it also reflects skill.

Are you really saying that there's no skill involved in consistently hitting .300? Luck averages out over time. Get a large enough sample size and a hitter's stats will reflect their offensive ability. Ty Cobb batted .366 over his career not because he was lucky but because he was an extraordinarily talented hitter.
The previous commenter is correct that just because pitchers have little influence over BABIP, that doesn't mean hitters don't. Actually, the huge point of how pitchers exert little control over BABIP is that it's because the hitters do. I'm tempted to finish that last sentence of mine with an exclamation point.
Agree with the previous two commenters. Hitters exert control over BABIP whereas pitchers do not. And in the case of Lieberthal, his short swing and slowness afoot translates to balls put in play with few hits.
I was all set to comment, and Danny, GRF, and Billy Mac have stolen my thunder. The only thing I would add is that line drive percentages (again, see The Hardball Times) can sometimes be indicative of luck versus skill more than BABIP.
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