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Players with the best luck in 2005

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Following up on my work on balls-in-play from the other day, I noticed that a few Brewers were notably unlucky or lucky compared to their career numbers. Usually that's a sign that they'll bounce back to their averages the following year--not such a good sign for Brady Clark or Geoff Jenkins.

So, first, I wanted to see how extreme the lucky Brewers were, relative to the rest of the league. The following table shows the 28 or so "luckiest" hitters in 2005, based on the difference between their batting average on balls in play (H/BIP) in 2005 and their career average. I limited this study to those with 250+ ABs in '05, and 1300+ ABs in their career, including 2005. You'll have to trust me for the moment, but suffice it to say that these guys are very unlikely to repeat their high H/BIP next year. Here's the list:

2005 BIP Overperformers
First Last Team 05 H/BIP Car H/BIP Diff
Kenny Lofton PHI .373 .327 0.046
Jeff Conine FLO .354 .315 0.039
Mike Cameron NYN .340 .302 0.038
Tony Graffanino XXX .342 .305 0.037
Carlos Guillen DET .358 .322 0.036
Juan Encarnacion FLO .332 .298 0.034
Adam Kennedy LAA .348 .315 0.033
Abraham Nunez SLN .326 .294 0.032
Brian Roberts BAL .341 .309 0.032
Royce Clayton ARI .333 .302 0.031
Johnny Damon BOS .338 .307 0.031
Miguel Tejada BAL .316 .287 0.029
Alex Gonzalez FLO .313 .284 0.029
Derrek Lee CHN .343 .315 0.028
Toby Hall TBA .301 .273 0.028
Pat Burrell PHI .336 .310 0.026
Brandon Inge DET .311 .285 0.026
Alex Gonzalez TBA .316 .290 0.026
Ramon Hernandez SDN .297 .272 0.025
Nick Johnson WAS .329 .305 0.024
Placido Polanco XXX .333 .309 0.024
Michael Young TEX .354 .330 0.024
Alex Rodriguez NYA .347 .323 0.024
Carlos Delgado FLO .332 .311 0.021
Geoff Jenkins MIL .347 .326 0.021
Brady Clark MIL .319 .300 0.019
Jason LaRue CIN .323 .304 0.019
Matt Lawton PIT .300 .281 0.019
Juan Castro MIN .283 .264 0.019

Wait just one minute, stat boy.
Now, I can hear people arguing already--how do we know these players are "lucky?" Couldn't they have gained better control over balls in play? Didn't Brady improve his hitting skills? I wondered those same things, and since I clearly like to play with data, I decided to look a bit further into a bit.

The next (and last) table is the same thing, only for players after the 2004 season. Since we know how those players did in 2005, we can see whether any of them maintained their new, higher H/BIP level. So in addition to 2004 and career (up to 2004) H/BIP stats, I also include 2004 and 2005 batting averages:

2004 BIP Overperformers
First Last Team 04 H/BIP Car H/BIP Diff 04 AVG 05 AVG
Eli Marrero ATL .361 .273 0.088 .320 .159
J.T. Snow SFN .365 .301 0.064 .327 .275
Jason Varitek BOS .372 .308 0.064 .296 .281
Melvin Mora BAL .371 .317 0.054 .340 .283
Terrence Long SDN .343 .294 0.049 .295 .279
Ivan Rodriguez DET .373 .324 0.049 .334 .276
Erubiel Durazo OAK .367 .319 0.048 .321 .237
B.J. Surhoff BAL .338 .292 0.046 .309 .257
Royce Clayton COL .343 .300 0.043 .279 .270
Jerry Hairston BAL .327 .285 0.042 .303 .261
Julio Franco ATL .373 .333 0.04 .309 .275
Gregg Zaun TOR .313 .275 0.038 .269 .251
Mark Bellhorn BOS .364 .326 0.038 .264 .118
Ichiro Suzuki SEA .399 .362 0.037 .372 .303
Javy Lopez BAL .344 .307 0.037 .316 .278
Jack Wilson PIT .330 .294 0.036 .308 .257
David Bell PHI .308 .273 0.035 .291 .248
Adrian Beltre LAN .325 .291 0.034 .334 .255
Carlos Guillen DET .348 .316 0.032 .318 .320
Ryan Klesko SDN .328 .300 0.028 .291 .248
Cesar Izturis LAN .316 .288 0.028 .288 .257
Tony Womack SLN .334 .307 0.027 .307 .249
Gary Matthews TEX .317 .291 0.026 .275 .255
Mark Kotsay OAK .333 .308 0.025 .314 .280
Raul Ibanez SEA .327 .303 0.024 .304 .280
Miguel Cairo NYA .320 .296 0.024 .292 .251
Adam Dunn CIN .321 .297 0.024 .266 .247
Barry Bonds SFN .310 .287 0.023 .362 .286
Jeromy Burnitz COL .304 .281 0.023 .283 .258
Michael Barrett CHN .299 .277 0.022 .287 .276

Bad news for Kenny Lofton fans
In other words, very good BIP luck (relative to the player's career) is more or less unsustainable. Based on this small sample, anyway. (I'm pondering doing this project justice and going back through a few decades of stats--if I do, you'll see it here first.) 29 of the top 30 BIP-luckiest hitters in 2004 saw their batting averages go down in 2005--many of them quite substantially. The only one who didn't--Carlos Guillen--may have established a higher level of skill somehow, but it's far more likely that he just got lucky two years running. His .358 H/BIP in 2005 is among the league leaders, and while he might be expected to maintain a H/BIP above league average, he'll probably come back to earth next year.

The moral of this story is twofold. First, I'm more thrilled than ever that we were never considering signing Kenny Lofton. Second, I'm afraid we should expect slightly less production from Brady Clark and Geoff Jenkins next year--unless, of course, they up their HR or walk totals to offset the likely decrease in H/BIP.

Tomorrow I'll look at the flip side of H/BIP--players who were notably unlucky relative to their career totals in 2004 and 2005. Sneak preview: it's not the mirror image of what I've said above...not even close.