It's been brought up around here lately that the Brewers are drastically underachieving in the OBP department. Most knowledgable baseball folks could tell you that it's difficult to score runs without having any runners. The Brewers, as assembled, are a group that aren't extremely patient save for Mike Cameron, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Russell Branyan, who are the only ones who consistently take an above average amount of walks.
So let's focus on the other way to get on base- getting a hit. The Brewers, though adept at hitting homers, occasionally do put the ball in play. The question I'll try to answer here is- are they getting a bit unlucky, which would drive down the team average and OBP? It's not the whole answer to the OBP question, but it could help, and I thought I might check out The Hardball Times stats to find some trends.
The procedure was finding each regular's Line Drive % (LD%) and Batting Average on Balls in Play. An average BABIP is about .300. To find Expected BABIP (eBABIP), I added 12% to each players Line Drive Percentage. The final column is the difference between each player's BABIP and eBABIP. Note that below, the terms "lucky" and "unlucky" may not specifically apply but refer to a player whose expected BABIP is higher or lower than their actual one.
Brewers BABIP and Expected BABIP
Difference is (eBABIP) - (BABIP), so the "Difference" column shows how lucky or unlucky the player has been. A positive number shows that the player has been 'unlucky' and has a lower BABIP than their LD% would predict. A negative number indicates that a player has gotten "lucky".
This is by no means the only way of determining how luck affects a hitter's production, but it can tell part of the story.
Here are the top 3 unluckiest Brewers:
Craig Counsell 0.061
Mike Cameron 0.046
Jason Kendall 0.032
Surprising, huh? I was shocked to find that Counsell leads the team in LD%. I'm wondering if some soft looping liners caught by infielders are driving up the numbers for both Counsell and Kendall. Judging by this, Cameron should see a quick pickup in his production if his hits find holes at closer to their normal rate. Corey Hart's very high BABIP is fueled by a abnormally high LD rate, so his solid start looks sustainable.
Top 3 luckiest Brewers, the first two unsurprisingly:
Gabe Kapler (0.036)
Russell Branyan (0.036)
J. J. Hardy (0.019)
With Braun and Fielder the only others to qualify, and they are closer to even. Kapler's BABIP of .349 is unsustainable, and though his Line Drive rate is decent, he will probably start to fall off soon. Branyan's average is due for a fall, though I don't think anyone expects a high average from him anyway- his walks are plenty valuable. I was surprised to see Hardy here. His LD % is pretty worrisome. His groundball percent is at a career high and line drives are at a career low. Remember in spring training when he said he wanted to shorten up and use his two strike approach more? Well, he's striking out less and hitting more balls weakly. He remains valuable because of a decent walk rate, but regression does not indicate that his average will improve.
Couple of other points:
- Ryan Braun's LD % is even higher than last year's, but his BABIP is 60 points lower. He's not 'getting lucky' this time around, he's earning his average.
- Prince Fielder's BABIP is actually higher than last year, but LD % fell and HR/FB fell 10%, explaining some of his early production.
- Jason Kendall has hit about as many ground balls as expected, 46% compared to highs of 50% twice.
- As I already mentioned, Corey Hart is a beast and if anything, his average could improve over the course of the year.
One final thought: Collectively, the team is "unlucky" by .084 points in the team BABIP. Not a substantial amount, but there is hope for some evening out and regression to the mean in the average department