Mariners, LD%, and BABIP

I've never written one of these before, so hopefully I do an OK job, but I feel strongly enough about this one that hopefully I can pull it off without too much of a hitch. This post was inspired by an article that I read over at lesser-known M's blog Seattle Sports Insider. I don't know if it has a reputation around here; I've certainly never heard about it, and the writing's a lot more casual that the stuff on LL, but I find the scouting work as well as large chunks of the analysis on there to be quite neat.

I'm writing this because I feel like a lot of the people on LL, mostly the commenters, have been pretty unfair to the Mariners' offense. I've seen a lot of hate, especially for Smoak, in early game threads. The Mariners, to me, have been the epitome of "crushing balls and getting unlucky", and I knew they were running a well below average BABIP. Apparently the folks at SSI had a similar idea. Using LD% to correlate with BABIP, they showed that the Mariner's BABIP is not only well below league average--it should be well above league average. The idea is that a team's BABIP should be approximately .100 + its LD%. League average BABIP-LD differential last year was .099. The team with the lowest differential between LD% and BABIP last year was that Athletics, with .075 + LD% for BABIP. Even the 2011 Mariners ran .094 + LD%. The 2012 Mariners BABIP-LD differential is .022.

My goal, here, is to erase some of the nagging doubts about the Mariners' offense. I'm no super statistician, but BABIP math is pretty dang simple, so I figure I can do this, at least: using statistics pulled from BBREF, I'm going to look at each Mariner hitter and project what their batting average and OBP SHOULD be based on their line drive rates. The results, I think you'll find, are quite encouraging. Or depressing, whatever.

Chone Figgins

BA: .241 OBP: .300 BABIP: .293 LD%: .270 BABIP2: .370 BA2: .296 OBP2: .350

As you can see, Figgins is getting screwed out of being one of the better leadoff men in the league. Take this with a grain of salt, though: his career LD% is only 20%, for which his BABIP matches up nicely. It's just that he's been performing abnormally well, and he's looked abnormally average.

Dustin Ackley

BA: .259 OBP: .298 BABIP: .302 LD%: .300 BABIP2: .400 BA2: .333 OBP2: .368

Ackley's BABIP matches his LD%. That's completely absurd. Normalize it to last year's league average differential and Ackley looks like the saint we all know him to be.

Ichiro Suzuki

BA: .263 OBP: .295 BABIP: .264 LD%: .240 BABIP2: .340 BA2: .333 OBP2: .361

Ichiro's BABIP is looking terrible despite the LD% being not absurdly far above his career average. The way he's hitting, he too should have amazing numbers, but he doesn't. His LD-BABIP spread right now is .24. Even last year, Ichiro's spread was .104.

Justin Smoak

BA: .231 OBP: .273 BABIP: .278 LD%: .340 BABIP2: .440 BA2: .309 OBP2: .363

Just when you thought the Mariners' luck couldn't get worse, along comes this line. Justin Smoak goes beyond the impossible--he posts a BABIP that's .60 BELOW his LD%. The LD% is absurd, by the way. No one does that. But Smoak is doing it--statistical aberration or not, he's hitting really well. Smoak has been murdering baseballs. He has nothing to show for it.

Jesus Montero

BA: .262 OBP: .283 BABIP: .270 LD%: .180 BABIP2: .280 BA2: .262 OBP2: .283

Yeah, Jesus Montero has been getting the proper LD% differential. Which is to say that he's not hitting as well as most of the rest of the team. Pick it up, Jesus. In contrast, check out his ridiculous .400 BABIP from last season, a monstrous .170 above his LD%. Translation: he wasn't as good as he looked.

Kyle Seager

BA: .292 OBP: .306 BABIP: .302 LD%: .300 BABIP2: .400 BA2: .375 OBP2: .388

He's not walking, at all, but the line drives are sexy. And he'd look like an even more absurdly good hitter right now if more of them were landing.

Miguel Olivo

BA: .143 OBP: .163 BABIP: .176 LD%: .140 BABIP2: .240 BA2: .192 OBP2: .209

haha Miguel Olivo still sucks

Michael Saunders

BA: .225 OBP: .311 BABIP: .276 LD%: .200 BABIP2: .300 BA2: .250 OBP2: .333

Still not very good. Michael Saunders, you performance is worrying me, especially since you seem to e reverting back to your old swing. Please get better. For some reason, Fangraphs calls it .267 LD% instead of BBRef's .200, so I don't know what's up there. My guess is Fangraphs is one game ahead on the stats right now, and Michael Saunders was good in it while Olivo sat.

Brendan Ryan

BA: .200 OBP: .349 BABIP: .231 LD%: .190 BABIP2: .290 BA2: .257 OBP2: .395

Brendan Ryan and his four-walk night have the highest revised OBP on the team, hilariously. His LD% is at career average but his BABIP is .060 below it. True to the statistics, Ryan has run a OBP equal to .113 + his LD%. Brendan Ryan's on base skills aren't this good, but his hitting should be.

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, if you take the team's revised batting averages and use them to get a new batting average, the Mariners as a whole ought to be hitting .295. That would be good for second in the major leagues, behind Texas and ahead of St. Louis. Do the same for their OBP and it comes out to .346, which is good for fourth in the major leagues, just behind St. Louis and just in front of Cleveland. That's with Miguel Olivo. (Slugging is harder to calculate, since I'd have to guesstimate how many total bases the extra hits would count for, so I decided to leave it undone. By the way, Texas is getting a BABIP-LD differential of .150, literally six times what the Mariners have. I used only last year's league average .100 for these calculations. The Rangers are seeing results way better than the process. The Mariners, on the other hand, are seeing numbers way worse than they should be.

Now, I don't mean to imply that the Mariners have the second or fourth best offense in the major leagues. A lot of the LD%s, like Smoak's, Ackley's, and Figgins', look unsustainably high. The Mariners quite probably won't be as good at hitting moving forward as they have been earlier in the season. The point is, though, that the Mariners HAVE been this good at hitting. They are crushing balls against very good pitching and seeing abnormally awful results.

Which just goes to show, I guess--even when the Mariners are amazingly good, they still look like the Mariners.

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