It's gotta be nice to have a day like Tom Boswell had yesterday. Looking for something positive to write about, he keyed in on Danny Espinosa Danny then went out last night and went 3-4 with 2 homers. Sure it wasn't exactly related to what he wrote about (he was talking about an improvement in BABIP and home runs aren't in play) but the gist was that Espinosa was going to be good and hell if he wasn't last night.
Of course I can't let a Boswell column pass without scrutinizing it for being overly optimistic and dammit it Boz hasn't done it again, with two big errors made, one mathematical and one logical.
Let's start off by agreeing that the general idea behind Boswell's column is sound. Espinosa's BABIP is crazy low. It will get better. I guarantee. But Boswell believes that "get better" means get back to at least league average (.297) if not Espinosa's minor league number (.323). I have to take issue with that sunshine and ho-hos view.
You see Danny has a terribly low BABIP but he's earning it. The easiest way for a player to get a hit on a ball in play is to hit a line drive. As long as it's not right at someone they should be ok. The average player has about 19% of his hits classified as line drives. Danny's LD% is at 10.7%, the lowest in the majors. In a broad sense his BABIP is right in line with what you'd expect based on the LD%.
But we can go even farther than that. If you don't get line drives than you have to rely on either ground balls to get through, which isn't nearly as likely, or fly balls to drop in, which there's an even smaller chance of happening. By looking at the BABIP for each of these specific types of hit we can see how exactly Danny is getting unlucky (or if he is at all)
The BABIPs by hit type are (roughly using this year's NL numbers - but it's pretty stable)
LD: .716 GB: .235 FB: .135
And Danny's numbers are
LD: .714 GB: .226 FB: .093
You can see Danny isn't just hitting LD right at people. He's in-line with the NL. His issues come with GBs and FBs. OK so you say that Danny should see more bloops fall in and seeing eye hits go through. Well... maybe. One of the way you can get a hit on a GB is the infield single. Danny is fast enough to get several of these a year. However his IFH number is only one higher than the super slow Adam LaRoche. If the number of infield hits he gets is more in line with what you'd expect, his GB% would end up being normal as well. So expect him to beat out a couple more GBs like last night. As for his FB number, well Danny's issue may not be bloops that aren't falling. His Pop-up percentage is among the highest in the majors (8th). It may be that he had a couple bloops grabbed by an infielder but I think it's more likely that he's prone to hitting pop-ups which are very easily caught flyballs.
The way Danny is hitting now his BABIP won't be getting back to league average anytime soon. Doesn't matter how many at bats he has. He gets no line drives and hits a ton of pop-ups. That's a recipe for a low BABIP. It will go up, sure, but it doesn't necessarily have to jump up 70 points to the league average like Boz suggests initially. It may only go up to .240 or .250 as long as he hits like this.
So here comes in the math error. Boswell notes that if he hit the league average BABIP he would have 14 more hits (5 doubles) and a line of .258 / .341 / .502 or closing in on star-level. That's not right. Or at least not right as I figure it. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong, please) If he had an BABIP of .297 from seasons start that means you take the number of balls in play he's had from season's start and multiply by .297 right? He's had 127 balls in play (180 ABs -46 Ks - 10 HRs + 3 SFs) * .297 = 38 hits on balls in play. That's the number he should have using the league average number. He has only 29 hits on balls in play so that's only an extra 9 hits. Figuring in Boz's slugging guess... you're looking at 6 singles, 3 doubles or a line of .266 / .361 /.527 (Jesus - what did Boz exactly do here? Am I wrong? This makes sense to me. Like why would his isoOBP drop in Boz's projection from what it is now? It shouldn't because the number of walks are stable. I see how he got 14 hits (he used the ABs rather than balls in play), but that doesn't explain why my 9 hits are making Danny better than his 14. I'm guessing when he added those 14 hits he back-added 14 ABs too, which isn't how it works on a couple levels. I'd have to check that though and I'm too lazy. I'm going out on a limb and saying I'm right. Someone knock me down please)
My estimate would be, well let's be generous and say .270 BABIP, and most of those NOT being XBH (because it's not LDs or deep fly balls that he's getting unlucky on). That's about 5 extra hits, and let's say 1 double. That's a line of .244 / .339 / .494. Less than the superstar turn Boz's BABIp idea would suggest, or the mere occasional all-star Boz's bad math would have you believe. It's good, but only bordering on something more.
AH! You're dismissing that .323 minor league BABIP, You say! Boswell notes in his chat that a players BABIP is pretty stable from the minors to the majors. He even shows examples! Not quite. (let's forget about the PA for Epsinosa are on the low end in comparison - and what's up with shooting ABs in there - that's not PAs. Stop cheating!) This is where the logic error comes in. Boz suffers from selection bias when comparing players. All the players he looked at were successful major leaguers. You can't do that. By only looking at successes, you are implicitly saying Danny will be successful too. Of course they had high BABIPs in the minors - that's what got them to the majors. And of course they had high BABIPs in the majors - that's why they are starters now. For a different comparison I took a look at Dan Uggla (who to me seems offensively very Espinosa like and Boz even mentioned in the column). His BABIP numbers went from .372 to .294. Of course Uggla is pretty successful too and that minor league number is crazy high. So I looked at old Nat Anderson Hernandez, a failed 2B man. His number went from .314 to .283. You can lose BABIp, it's just that if you lose it, most MI guys don't have the peripheral skills to keep a full-time major league job then. Danny is different because of his home run power.
In the end this seems a long winded way of saying that Danny isn't that good. That's the funny part. Danny is good enough right now (even before last night). It's all relative. Look at NL second basemen. He currently stands at second best in OPS and even before last night's outburst he was smack in the middle. That's with the little bit of bad luck and being a rookie. Chances are even with the low average, Danny would be a Top 5 2nd baseman in the NL for years to come. So after all this work to show that he's probably not going ot be as good as Boz thinks the point is - it doesn't matter. Even at where he is now, batting around .200, he's already good enough to stick around and he'll only get better.