Figuring out BABIP

As it turns out, certain pitchers, like Tim Hudson, have more control on balls in play than others. Daniel Shirey/US Presswire

This story appears in the May 30 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

In 1999, sabermetrics pioneer Voros McCracken proposed a radical idea. While pitchers have a good deal of control over their strikeouts, walks and homers
allowed, they have much less control over what happens when batters put balls into play -- over whether their pitches turn into harmless squibblers, cans of corn or screaming doubles in the gap. "Hits allowed are not a particularly meaningful statistic," he wrote.

All these years later, McCracken's discovery has been embraced, rejected, split apart, reassembled and criticized some more. And in great news for both fantasy leaguers and pure fans, his theory has become stronger and more predictive at every step, showcasing sabermetrics at its messy best: open-source, challenging, endlessly self-correcting and ultimately revealing.