It’s not news to anyone that Asdrubal Cabrera is a having a rough season. After a breakout 2011 and a solid follow up 2012 season, I don’t think many of us saw this huge drop off in production coming in 2013. However, there have seemed to be countless times over the course of this season in which Asdrubal hits the ball right on the nose, but right at someone for an out. It seems like Matt Underwood and Rick Manning often make a reference to Asdrubal’s “bad luck” when the topic of Cabrera’s poor season arises. I decided to take a deeper look at some stats to determine whether or not there is any legitimacy to these “bad luck” claims.
First I want to make a couple of quick points about BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play in case anyone is unfamiliar). Generally speaking, most people look at BABIP to measure whether or not a player has been lucky or not (hitters and pitchers both). When a hitter has an unusually high BABIP, the common thought process is that the hitter has benefitted from a great amount of luck. We usually assume that these numbers do not reflect the hitter’s true ability and that his numbers should regress back to earth in the future. It works the same way for hitters with extremely low BABIPs. We would expect future production to improve just based on regression to the league average BABIP. I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with the way this usually works.
Usually, the league average BABIP ranges from about .290 to .310. Right now Asdrubal Cabrera has a BABIP of .287, barely under what would be considered league average. So bad luck must not really be a big part of Cabrera’s poor season then. He must just really be having a bad season and has nobody but himself to blame for his poor numbers, right? Unless you’ve done your own research, let me be the first to tell you that assuming this would be WRONG.
I think this is a common mistake people make when looking at BABIP, as BABIP does not always tell the full story. BABIP really takes into account 3 types of batted balls: fly balls (including infield pop-ups), groundballs, and line drives. However only one of these 3 almost always guarantees a ball hit with authority, and that would be line drives. Ground balls and fly balls are not always hit hard with much of a velocity coming off of the bat. Line drives on the other hand are hit at an extremely high velocity coming off the bat the vast majority of the time. According to FanGraphs, line drives produce 1.26 runs per out while fly balls and ground balls produce 0.13 and 0.05 runs per out, respectively. Thus, your best overall hitters usually having a great line drive percentage.
FanGraphs defines the league average LD% as 20%. What’s Asdrubal’s LD %? An impressive 25.4%. This ranks as the 15th best LD% in all of baseball, and the best LD% in the Tribe. Out of curiosity, I calculated the average BABIP for all players with an LD% over 24%. The average was a .331 BABIP, more than 40 points higher than Cabrera’s BABIP. Also, in comparison to the rest of the top 15 LD% batters, Cabrera has by far the lowest BABIP, and is the only player to have a BABIP under .300. There certainly seems to be a moderate positive correlation between BABIP and LD%. I obtained a correlation coefficient of 0.578 and a p-value of .002, making my findings statistically significant.
This proves that Cabrera HAS been affected by a significant amount of bad luck this season. He really has hit the ball with authority and does not have much to show for it. I’ve also shown that there is a clear positive correlation between BABIP and LD%, and Cabrera not fitting the trend further proves that he has fallen victim of some bad luck this season.
I want to make it clear though, that I am not trying to absolve Cabrera of all his struggles this season by showing that he’s been unlucky. His 6.1% walk percentage and 21.7% strikeout percentage are the worst marks he’s posted in the last 3 seasons. His base running runs above average is at a terrible -2.3 and his UZR is -9.9. He also failed at the “Asdrubal batting cleanup” experiment as well. So there’s still a lot of blame that does go on Cabrera for the season. However, based on regression, the good news for Tribe fans is that we can expect his BABIP to improve in the coming weeks as long as he continues to hit line drives. He’s a player we need to get hot for us down the stretch to help improve our playoff chances. If regression theory holds true, the stretch run could turn out to be very exciting for Cabrera and Tribe fans.