You know the old saying about BABIP…wait, is there an old saying about BABIP? Maybe along the lines of sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Yeah, that sounds right.
When you’re playing the Cubs, then, you’d better be hella good, because you’re darn sure not gonna get lucky too often. These guys can flash the D in a big way, whether it’s Jason Heyward in right or Anthony Rizzo at first or Javy Baez any-damn-where he pleases. Deviation in batting average on balls in play is largely chalked up to luck one way or the other, but that’s really missing the larger context of the measurement.
It stands to reason that a batter who makes more solid contact and hits more line drives is more likely to see a higher BABIP. Speed helps too, as a faster player will beat out more throws and so on. The flip-side of that coin is that a pitcher who avoids solid contact will experience a lower BABIP against. As will a guy who has a fleet of Dyson vacuums behind him. The Cubs would appear to be cornering the market in those categories.
The chart below shows us how the individual starters stack up in terms of BABIP against:
It’s probably pretty good to have all five members of your rotation among the top 17 in baseball in terms of BABIP, huh. Jon Lester is the “worst” of the group and he’s still sitting 37 points better than league average. Back to the idea that a pitcher with a really low BABIP is getting lucky, which is one thing when it’s one guy in a small sample and quite another when it’s five guys over nearly a full season. What I’m saying is that luck’s got nothing to do with these numbers.
Now let’s have a look at team BABIP against this season (note how the Cubs are standing alone at the top):
You can go ahead and put your fingers away now, I’ve got some of the math already done for you. The 29-point gap between the Cubs and the second-place Blue Jays is equal to that between the Jays and the 28th-place Rockies. The league average, as you might have deduced, is .297 and only six teams are better than .290. What the Cubs are doing is pretty fantastic.
If you look at team batted-ball stats, the Cubs don’t immediately jump out as being totally superior to everyone else. They get more soft contact than any other team and less hard contact than all but the Nationals, but they’re not top-5 in terms of ground ball percentage and they’re outside the top 10 in terms of lowest line-drive percentage. Again, their success all stems from the combination of great pitching and great defense. Pitchers are giving up balls in play that fielders can clean up. Pretty simple.
Now that we have see this, I think it’s only fair to request that other teams just stop trying to put the ball in play at all. At least until the playoffs. With the Central race pretty much a foregone conclusion, it’d be nice to have a month or so of blink-and-you-miss-them games so we can rest up for the physical and mental trials of postseason baseball. And I don’t mean to be associating myself with the team by my use of “we,” I’m talking specifically about fans.
Oh, not making relief pitchers field dribblers would be super nice too. Thanks, Rest of Baseball, your cooperation in this effort is greatly appreciated.
(h/t to @maddon4prez for tweeting this and Matt Spiegel for re-tweeting so I could see it)