Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how many of a hitter’s balls in play go for hits. Like many statistics, there are factors that affect BABIP – defense, luck, and changes in talent level (via FanGraphs.com). The BABIP league average usually sits around .290 to .310.
In 2013, Milwaukee Brewers rookie second baseman Scooter Gennett posted a .380 BABIP. Of players with at least 200 plate appearances, only five had higher BABIP’s than Gennett – Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera not among them.
During his minor league career, Gennett has always hit for a high BABIP. He hit .324 in High-A, .328 in Double-A, and .333 during half a season Triple-A in 2013. However, none of those came close to the .380 he put up against a much stiffer competition in the major leagues. Beginner’s luck? Probably. Unless he’s the next Ichiro Suzuki, who eclipsed .380 three times in his career.
Having speed certainly helps a player’s BABIP. Speed allows a player to beat out slow grounders and utilize the bunt. But for a guy like Prince Fielder, speed is a skill set he doesn’t own and despite being a phenomenal hitter, he has a career BABIP of .303 and has never hit higher than .315 in a season. Does that mean he is a lesser hitter than Gennett? Absolutely not. But because Gennett has speed to burn and can bunt for a base hit, he has the upper-hand when it comes to BABIP.
With that being said, you can expect Gennett to regress next season, at least in terms of BABIP. More times than not, when a player greatly exceeds the BABIP norm, he will fall back near the league average or back to his career BABIP rate. While I think Gennett’s BABIP will decrease, I still expect him to be above league average. He’ll end 2014 with a BABIP close to .320.
The main reason why Gennett will see a regression next season is his struggles with left-handed pitchers. Last season against right-handed pitchers, his BABIP was an astonishing .407, but versus southpaws, his BABIP was .231. If Gennett is really the lone starting second baseman and the days of platooning with Rickie Weeks are in the past, he’s going to see a lot more left-handed pitchers than he did last season and in turn, his BABIP will suffer. Unless he strikes out every single time versus lefties, there’s just no way he can be among the league leaders in BABIP.