Typically, at the midway point of the regular season, I cover BABIP outliers to buy and fade for the second half. However, since we only had a 60 game season, I’ll cover buys and fades for 2021. During the 2019 season, I wrote this piece and by in large, regression set in for most of these hitters in the second half. Let’s apply that same thinking to the hitters below for 2021. Keep in mind that the expected BABIP (xBABIP) I calculated below is descriptive, so it doesn’t mean that’s what we should expect going forward. That being said, she’s outliers are where I expect regression sets in closer to the hitter’s actual skillset. There are a number of factors that may not be covered in the xBABIP equation that I’ll touch on in the player blurbs below including
- Sprint Speed
- Shift and pull rates
- Park Factors
The table below includes a list of the largest underachievers in terms of BABIP aka the biggest gap between xBABIP minus BABIP. The minimum qualifications are 150 at-bats. You’ll notice a bunch of slow-footed left-handed batters with high pull rates. I wrote a piece last offseason covering the hitters who have been shifted on over 50% of the time and in many cases these players underperformed their xBA. Many of them you’ll see on this list below which can explain at least a portion of the difference between xBABIP and BABIP. In the cases of Matt Carpenter, Kole Calhoun, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Olson, and Max Kepler, they all qualify as pull-happy lefties with average to below-average speed. These hitters regularly show up on underperforming outlier lists so I wouldn’t necessarily expect much of a BABIP rebound as some of the others on this list.
First I’ll touch on some elite hitters who showed up on the underachievers list. While not outliers, it’s encouraging to know that their production is very likely something they can maintain over the course of a full season. Fernando Tatis Jr., Corey Seager, Luke Voit, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Mookie Betts all underperformed their xBABIP by at least 0.030. Acuna, Betts, and Tatis are all top-5 picks next year, nothing changes for them. For Seager and Voit, I’ll be ranking both inside the top-50. Seager has a chance to hit .330 with 30 homers if healhy and Voit is a legit threat to hit 45+ homers whle hitting .275+. A few others to note include Alex Bregman, Franscisco Lindor, and George Springer. All were very unlucky in 2020. Bregman and Lindor were first round picks in 2020 but will both fall into the second round. I think both will be great values in 2021. I’ll be all over Springer in 2021. He’ll be 31 next year and has kind of been labeled as a boring veteran. I could see his ADP settle around 50 overall with some sexier options jumping him. His metrics look great and his strikeout rate has settled in below 20%. I’d peg him for a .280 BA with 35 homers.
BABIP Underachievers - 2020
Gregory Polanco (OF – PIT)
What the hell happened to Polanco this year? He was mostly healthy but hit a dreadful .153 with a career-high 37.4% strikeout rate. He’s been riddled with injuries over the last four years missing over 200 games since the start 2017. Most recently, he dealt with offseason shoulder surgery before the 2020 season. Typically, a hitter will show poor quality of contact upon return from a shoulder injury, but not Polanco. He ended up with a career-best barrel rate and a hard-hit rate. He even managed a strong 30% line drive rate and cut his previously ugly popup%. He sold out for power, there’s no doubt but he clearly deserved better. I don’t know what to make of GP for 2021 because he’ll still be just 29 years old. He’s a lefty who was a victim of the shift and the strikeout rate concerns are real. If he cuts it below 30%, he could be a hit .250 with 25-30 homers. If he can’t fix his contact issues, he’ll see the bench or worse as he’ll be in the last year of his deal (club options in 22-23).
Chrsitian Yelich (OF – MIL)
You’re probably not surprised to see Yelich on this list. He still absolutely crushed the ball finishing in the top two percent in HH% and exit velocity. Let’s take a look at his exit velocity histogram.
The majority of his batted balls were hit over 95 mph with the two largest groups being between 100-105 and 105-110. That’s where an elite hitter wants to be. His issues were solely related to the strikeout rate. He finished with a 30.8% strikeout rate which was more than 10% worse than a year ago. He became extremely patient, to a fault. That boosted his walk rate but really got him into deep counts elevating his K%. He also struggled early in the season with a zone contact% under 75% but bounced back in September with a Z-Con% around 85-86%. I have virtually zero concerns with Yelich going into 2021 even if his strikeout rate settles in around 25%. Pep this, if Yelich would have had neutral luck with his BABIP given his expected stats, he would have hit .265. That’s w/ the ugly K% which I think comes down quite a bit. Easy buyback here.
Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN)
I made no reservations about my love for Castellanos going into 2020 especially given the move to Cincinnati. He got a massive park boost for power which came to fruition hitting 14 bombs in 60 games. That’s a 38 homer pace across 162 games or 11 more than his previous career-high. What I failed to consider is the BABIP drop he may see with a less expansive home outfield. His 2020 BABIP fell over 70 points below his career average. xBABIP still believes he’s a beast pegging him for a .360 xBABIP. I’m a little skeptical about him holding that mark and an elevated K% looms. That being said, I had him right around 50 overall in 2020 and nothing’s changed. He should still hit .275 with 35 homers and 100 RBI in 2021.
Gary Sanchez (C – NYY)
What are we going to do about Gary Sanchez next year? He had by far the lowest BABIP of any qualified hitter in 2020 to go with an atrocious 36% strikeout rate. We’ve seen suppressed BABIPs before from Sanchez but not like this. His batted ball distribution was BETTER than in 2019 but he did pull the ball over 50% of the time and was crushed by the shift (.218 wOBA vs the shift). Only one other time in his career has he had a BABIP this low over a 60 game stretch. That being said, he crushes the ball on contact, better than any catcher, by far. Because of his poor speed and results against the shift, he’ll likely never have another BABIP over .250 so he’s probably outside of the top-three catchers for 2021. It’s going to difficult to stomach a batting average at .200 for a full season.
Shohei Ohtani (DH – LAA)
Here’s the first player on this list who may have a massive discount. It also depends on how he’s used, whether or not he pitches, etc. Then there’s still Albert Pujols lingering for one more season. I think Ohtani was hurt this year. Before 2020, his career BABIP was .352. There’s no way that I buy Ohtani as a .200 hitter. His exit velo was down but I think that’s a product of an injury. He’s too good of an athlete in his prime to fall off that quickly. He was also suppressed a little by the shift which I don’t expect to change. He still plays in a great park for home runs to centerfield where he excels. I’ll hold firm that Ohtani is a top-50 hitter if he receives everyday at-bats.
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)
I don’t need to say much about Bellinger. His strikeout gains carried over from 2019 but he may have sacrificed some hard contact. There was also some weird stuff going on at the start of the season about him changing his swing. It made no sense and hurt his production early without a full season to recover. He’s also still running, pacing for 16 SBs across a full season which is right in line with his previous two seasons. He’s been healthy, missing only six games between 2017 and 2018. Still just 25 years old, he’ll be a top-12 pick for me in 2021.
Bryan Reynalds (OF – PIT)
Reynolds is going to be a completely forgotten man next year in drafts. He’s boring, plays for an awful team, and completely fell on his face in 2020. However, this is a guy who has never hit below .312 at any level including his rookie season in 2019 where he hit .314. He saw a jump of 6% in strikeout rate without much merit. His plate approach, chase%, and contact rates remained nearly identical from a year ago. He even boosted his barrel rate but also added more weakly hit balls. Overall, it seems like very little has changed from a year ago. The weakly hit balls are reflected in his xBABIP which at .307 is still about 70 points below his career-numbers. I think there’s a little bit of pop here and wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back with a .290 average and 20 homers with a handful of steals. Looks a little like Jeff McNeil just a lot cheaper.
Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)
So xBABIP thinks Harper should have hit .300 in 2020. So, with that being said, the soon to be 28 year old Harper would have hit .300 with 35 homers and 22 steals across a full season. Not so fast though. He’s another victim of the shift. He hasn’t outperformed his xBA since his 2017 season when he was only shifted on 21% of the time. His shift rates have been over 50% since then and continue to climb. Either way, Harper cut his K% significantly in the shortened season and is still in his prime. I’ll lock him in for a .275 BA, 35 HR, and 15+ steals.
Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B – ARI)
I can’t believe I’m saying this but I might be in on Escobar next year. He was a complete fade for me coming into 2020. He went from being one of the luckiest hitter in terms of power in 2019 to one of the most unfortunate in 2020. Not only did he hit just four homers on nine barrels but his BABIP plummeted. I don’t think he will finish around .312 but something around a BABIP of .280 seems legit. He should once again hit in the middle of the DBacks lineup and provide solid run production. I think he’ll hit .260 with 20+ homers but will be drafted after pick 200.