When I was first introduced to baseball by my father as a wide-eyed 7-year-old, there was a very simple standard as to what made a hitter "great" in the eyes of the world. If you hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, you were celebrated as having achieved something rare and special -- and a quick tour of some of the names who achieved that mark in the 1970s includes the likes of Tony Perez, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and Jim Rice.
While it's still true that achieving those three statistical milestones in any given season is a sure indicator that a hitter has had a good season, advanced sabermetrics have slowly but surely entered the baseball vernacular -- to the point where things like OPS, wOBA, RC27 and WAR are all now part of the process of evaluating player value in both real life and fantasy.
However, while the meaning of a lot of these modern stats is now understood by a lot more fantasy managers, that doesn't mean these analytical tools are being used properly. For me, the stat that I find most talked about incorrectly is batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, for short. In other words, you take a look at what a player's batting average would be only on plays when the defense has a chance at catching the ball -- so strikeouts don't count, nor do home runs.
Now, because from year to year the league-average BABIP tends to remain the same (in the range of .295-.300), most people improperly assume that individual hitters will tend to regress toward the league average over the course of a season. This is where the disconnect lives. The truth is that -- especially in the era of "three true outcomes" baseball, where "balls in play" is an ever-shrinking sample size and, as such, subject to extreme variance that can lead to huge outliers -- BABIP is an individualized stat.
Let's take a look at Mr. Consistency himself, Khris Davis. He's managed to hit .247 in each of the past four seasons and is currently sitting at .248. His BABIP this season is .262, which is not too far off from his career rate of .276. Essentially, Davis is who Davis is. He's not likely to ever have a .300 BABIP. There's nothing to be gleaned from BABIP here at all.
Mike Trout is having a down season at the plate, but you certainly didn't need BABIP to tell you this fact, did you? Yes, his .287 BABIP is likely to regress to the norm going forward, but that norm is not the league average of .300. For Trout, that norm is .351.
And to show you how fickle this stat truly is, had Trout had only four more hits on balls in play this season, his BABIP would currently sit at .320 and you'd be hearing talk about how he was due to regress in the other direction from those who have no true understanding of the proper way to use this stat.
Finally, let's take a look at the current poster child for the Three True Outcomes era, Joey Gallo. His current BABIP is an insanely high .387, far greater than the .249 BABIP he managed to cobble together over the last two years combined. Certainly, one would assume there's plenty of regression ahead. Right? Maybe not. After all, Gallo's hard-hit percentage is up to 57.8, which is much more likely responsible for the huge bump in batting average this season (.278, compared to last year's .206) than any BABIP surge.
Additionally, take away the whiffs and dingers and we're talking about a sample size of only 75 at-bats that make up Gallo's current 2019 BABIP calculation. You'd need at least 10 times that many at-bats before you'd expect any player's BABIP to stabilize -- and even then, you're never going to get any read on which direction that number is "supposed to go" during any single season of play.
The upshot of all this? A batter's in-season BABIP, for all practical purposes, tells us nothing -- at least not in terms of anything fantasy managers can use in a predictive manner. And even once a player establishes a baseline, the best you can hope to use BABIP for is as an indicator of possible overall batting average regression, since the gap between an individual's BABIP and batting average tends to remain consistent during his career.
So while there may be some use for BABIP as a low-level luck indicator to indicate that a player might be due for either a hot or cold streak (depending on where the BABIP-BA gap currently resides), it's still not a heck of a lot more useful than the toss of a coin. I'd spend my time looking over more useful data if I were you.
Top 300 rest-of-season rankings
The following list reflects AJ's rankings for points leagues going forward. Note that this is different from a ranking of how each player has played thus far in 2019. For a ranking of performance to date, check out the ESPN Player Rater here.