One of the things you’ll see a lot in the SABR community is people worrying about pitcher BABIP. There’s good reason for this as pitcher BABIP tends to fluctuate a lot and you never want to assume a pitcher will be anything other than average in this category. This is why stats like FIP exist. ERA captures a lot of luck.

But, on a team level, it’s a little different. On a team level, BABIP (though it’s an imperfect measure) can be useful in telling you how good your defensive team is at turning balls in play into outs.

In 2010, the current good run of baseball started. The Reds were 9th in MLB in BABIP that year.

In 2011, they were 3rd.

In 2012, they were 12th.

In 2013, they were 1st.

So far in 2014, they are 1st.

Defense is a very hard stat to quantify on an individual level because there is so much going on around the player that is out of his control. But on a team level, it’s much easier. This team is good at fielding. It has been good at fielding for a while. Correspondingly, you should expect the Reds pitchers to have numbers that are a little better than they “should” be. That’s what comes from having excellent defenders behind you.

The Reds defense has, I feel, been somewhat underrated over the last few years because it is so hard to quantify, but it’s one of the things that make players like Zack Cozart and (if he hits a bit more) Billy Hamilton worthy of roster spots. It’s also one of the things that makes this a fun team to watch.

23 Responses

  1. Jonathan Lane

    Great article…

    Just started following your site this week and I have been blown away but the great analysis.

    I have always felt that we have a great fielding team and things like this put some actual supporting data to go along with gut feel.

    keep up the good work.

  2. PhoenixPhil

    Here’s my gut feel:
    Votto – was good, seems to have gotten worse
    Brandon – still above average
    Cozart – very good
    Frazier – above average
    Meso – average
    Ludwick – below average
    Heisy – above average
    Hamilton – gold glover (potential)
    Bruce – gold glover

    I can see why they ranked 1st.

    • Jason Linden

      I think you’re a little conservative there, actually. Most of the metrics have Frazier as excellent. I believe Mes is also pretty well regarded (though he’s not Hanigan). Otherwise, I think you’re about right.

      • greenmtred

        I agree, too, though I (wishful thinking?) see signs that Joey is returning to his gold glove proficiency. By all accounts, he works hard at it.

    • ohiojimw

      The pitching is also playing its role here well too because if the defense is set to defend a certain way and the pitchers don’t keep the ball where they need to for that defensive set, more batted balls will turn into hits.

      Ludwick may deserve a low average versus below average mark in my opinion. His range is limited but he generally gets good jumps and catches what he can get to. With Hamilton next to him and Bruce on the other side of Hamilton, they can cheat the left center gap to help cover whoever they put in LF.

    • Kurt Frost

      Votto seems like he is afraid to get in front of the ball.

      • Shchi Cossack

        I’m not sure ‘afraid’ is correct, but his technique certainly has some holes. I’ve seen the same poor technique for Phillips and Cozart too. Often getting ‘in front’ of a hard hit ground ball is not an option, but I see way to many times when it is an option and that option is not exercised. It makes for a much more mundane style, but the Old Cossack will take substance over style any and every time.

  3. Steven M. Nelson

    How does our ballpark affect team BABIP? If more flyballs are homers in GABP, does that remove a bunch of would-be outs from the equation – which would depress the team BABIP — or a bunch of doubles, which would inflate it?

  4. Steve Mancuso

    The Reds have been good defensively the past few years. Although it’s interesting to see they were rated first last year despite the presumed defensively liability of Shin-Soo Choo playing CF.

    But defense plays a pretty minor role in BABIP. A larger explanation for the Reds relative success in BABIP is the high strikeout rate of their pitching staff (second in the NL last year).

    The impact of players like Hamilton and Cozart on run scoring by the other team exists, but relatively small.

    • Jason Linden

      Steve, strikeouts don’t affect BABIP at all. BABIP only deals with balls put in play. On a team level, it’s all defense.

    • VaRedsFan

      Choo’s defense was bad, because he didn’t come in/go back on balls well. In addition when he needed to make a throw, he took 2-3 crow hops before firing. I was watching a Texas game Friday, and he did the EXACT same thing and missed getting the guy out at home bye an eyelash.

    • greenmtred

      It would be hard to quantify–impossible, perhaps–but it seems logical that the quality of team defense would affect the way pitchers pitch.

  5. Eric the Red

    Defense is definitely one area where we are much better than the Cardinals. They have been absolute butchers in the field, and it has already cost them a couple of games this season.

  6. doublenohitter

    Here is a question.
    Someone on here was making a big deal about how absurdly low Zach Cozart’s BABIP was. That he was very unlucky and that it should turn around at any time. Something to the affect that if he continues to put the ball in play at the same rate, he will eventually get more “lucky” and hence, get more hits. I don’t buy that. If he starts to get more hits it will be for the fact that he starts to hit line drives that aren’t caught. This would be more of a reflection of better timing and being able to “hit them where they ain’t”, not luck.
    The problem with this is the Zach Cozart tends to hit routine balls to defenders. His grounders are mostly 2 hoppers right at the defense and he hits a lot of lazy fly balls. Yes, occasionally a hitter will hit a line drive right at someone.
    But how much of this is really luck?
    Yes, Cozart hit .254 last year. Does that mean he will hit that this year? There is no way to know but plenty of players drop off the map.

    I don’t understand how it is “unlucky” that a fielder just happened to be standing where the ball was hit. If that is true, would it also be true to say that it is “lucky” that a defender isn’t standing where the ball is hit when a batter gets a hit?
    That would make all hitting either lucky or unlucky, with the exception of a home run or a strike out.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Hitters do have an influence over their BABIP. Line drives (harder hit balls) on average give defenders less time to react and cover ground. Ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, so hitters who can increase their mix of ground balls might see a higher batting average (although not many grounders go for extra-bases, let alone home runs).

      So, yes, if Zack Cozart is slumping and not getting great contact, his BABIP will be lower. And if/when he breaks out of his slump, he’ll hit more line drives, which will raise his BABIP.

      But your last paragraph that implies that better hitters can just avoid hitting it to defenders isn’t really right. Hitters generally can control what side of the field they hit to, but the idea that a good hitter aims a ground ball to go between the shortstop and third baseman while a bad hitter doesn’t, just isn’t right. Hitters don’t have that kind of control. If they did, why would the good ones ever hit fly balls to outfielders or ground balls to infielders?

      Yet, batting average between the worst and best hitters usually varies from only 33% to 20%.

      • doublenohitter

        Thanks for the clarification. I just don’t believe that if a batter’s BABIP is very low, it is just because of bad luck and that he is naturally do for a correction. I don’t think anyone should just make that assumption.
        Good hitters hit more line drives than bad hitters.
        I’m just not an advocate for “luck”. For every line drive that is hit and caught, the batter will have as many bleeders and dunkers that go for hits. I think they even out over time. The mathematical formula for this would be “Good Luck”/”Bad Luck” ~ 0. (GL divided by BD is close to zero).

        I really enjoy the give and take on this site. It keeps the old cogs in the noggin from rusting (not that my job writing computer code doesn’t, but I digress).

      • Steve Mancuso

        The statistical issue though is how long “over time” is. It’s not a home stand or a month or even a year. Hitters, with roughly the same batted ball profiles (LD%, GB% and FB%) have different BABIP from year-to-year. And those are definitely luck differences. The problem I have with the way you are stating your point is that just because there is some non-luck aspect, it doesn’t mean there is no luck at all.

        Here’s an extremely (over) simple example. Look at Jay Bruce in the years 2010 and 2012. His line drive rate was 20.1% in 2010 and was 20.2% in 2012. Yet his BABIP in 2010 was .334 and was .283 in 2012. His 2010 season was clearly “luckier” than 2012.

        FWIW, his line drive rate in 2014 so far is 23.1% but BABIP is only .243.

      • Shchi Cossack

        “FWIW, his line drive rate in 2014 so far is 23.1% but BABIP is only .243.” I believe Bruce’s increased LD% is a direct factor of pitch selectivity and working the count, waiting for a better pitch rather than jumping on the first marginal pitch. Hitting better hotter’s pitches results in more line drives. The BA will follow soon enough, but his approach at the plate is solid.

      • doublenohitter

        Excellent points. Some of the change between 2010 and 2012 could be attributed to defenses adjusting to his game. More shifts, thus he is tending to hit the ball at the defenders more than before.

  7. Gyre

    On another subject, is “Currently Historic” coming to a new home soon?