• The relationship between batting average and BABIP

    With the Cardinals and Red Sox having punched their tickets to the World Series this weekend, one particularly memorable Fall Classic moment comes to mind.

    Charged with protecting a 2-1 lead, Mariano Rivera retired the side in the eighth inning of Game 7 in the 2001 World Series. We all know what happened next. The Diamondbacks tied the game in the ninth before Luis Gonzalez delivered a bases-loaded one-out walk-off hit to give the Diamondbacks their first ever World Series title.

    It was arguably the most dramatic Fall Classic moment ever – and maybe the luckiest, too.

    As our understanding of the game has improved since then, most notably highlighted in the movie Moneyball, sabermetricians have found dozens of new ways to evaluate and quantify baseball performance.

    Some sabermetrics, like the increasingly mainstream WAR (Wins Above Replacement) are valuable but are difficult to calculate. Not so with BABIP (Batting on Average on Balls In Play).

    The formula is simple: (Hits – Home runs)/(At-bats – Strikeouts – Home runs + Sacrifice Flies). It measures what its name implies – how often a player registers a base hit when he puts the ball in play, excluding home runs and including sacrifice flies.

    BABIP aims to quantify, in a way, how lucky a batter is. It accounts for base hits like Gonzalez’s World Series-winning blooper. Theoretically, if a player as a high BABIP, it’s an indication of him getting “lucky” at the plate and that, eventually, his batting average will eventually regress to the mean – what his batting average would be without any luck.

     

    The relationship between batting average and BABIP

    During the five years from 2008-12, there were 750 players that notched at least 500 plate appearances in a given season. There was a 0.769 correlation (on a scale from -1 to 1) between their batting averages and BABIPs over that span, indicating a predictably strong relationship.

    What wasn’t as predictable was the fact that those with higher batting averages actually tended to have lower BABIP-batting average ratios than those with lower batting averages.

    The 18 players from 2008-12 that hit at least .330 in a season had an average BABIP-batting average ratio of 1.06 while the 11 players that hit below .220 in a season had an average BABIP-batting average of 1.19. This bar chart illustrates this trend.

     

    Using BABIP to predict a player’s batting average

    Intuitively, using one’s batting average in a given year would be a pretty good indicator of what their batting average will be the following season. And this is true. What may not be as intuitive is the fact that BABIP – supposedly a measure of random luck – greatly improves the ability to predict the next season’s batting average.

    Using only a player’s batting average, you come within an average of 40 points when projecting his batting average the next year. Incorporating the player’s BABIP one year, though, brings you to within an average of 20 points of next year’s batting average – a twofold improvement in your predictive power.

    Like BABIP itself, the formula here is pretty simple. Multiply a player’s BABIP by -1.5, add 1.5, then multiply that number by the player’s batting average the previous year and you have an improved projection of what his batting average will be next year.

     

    BABIP theory proved true – hitters don’t stay lucky forever

    Back to what BABIP is supposed to do: measure how lucky a hitter is.

    Looking back at those five years (2008-12), you find that the thinking behind BABIP’s purpose is sound. Those with high BABIPs one year tend to have lower batting averages the following year. More to the point, those with especially high BABIPs tend to have much lower batting averages the following season (and vice versa).

    Of the 466 players over those five years that had at least 500 plate appearances in consecutive seasons, 14 of them had a BABIP of at least .370 in the first of those seasons. Their batting average dipped by an average of 31 points the next year. 19 of those 466 players had BABIPs of lower than .260, with their batting average rising by an average of 27 points.

    In fact, only seven of the 50 (14 percent) players that had a BABIP of at least. 350 one year had higher batting averages the next year. And 17 of the 19 players (89.5 percent) who had a BABIP of lower than .260 one year had a higher batting average the following season.

    Here is how those with the five highest BABIPs fared from one year to the next. All of their batting averages fell, most of them dramatically.

    And here is how those with the five lowest BABIPs from 2008-2012 improved their batting averages from one year to the next, all by at least 29 points. That includes Alex Rios, who went from hitting .227 in 2011 with a miniscule .237 BABIP to batting .304 in 2012. His 77-point leap in batting average was the biggest anyone made from 2008-2012.

    In case you were wondering, Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (.394), Twins catcher Joe Mauer (.383) and Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer (.382) led the Majors in BABIP this past season and are players you should possibly expect to have less productive seasons in 2014.

    Meanwhile, look out for Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney (.222), Braves second baseman Dan Uggla (.225) and Orioles catcher Matt Weiters (.247) – those with the three lowest BABIPs among qualified players – to bounce back next year.

  • Texas in danger of completing its worst four-year stretch in Red River Rivalry history

    The past three years against Oklahoma, particularly the last two, have been ugly for Texas.

    If the Longhorns are blown out again at the Cotton Bowl, it could mark their worst four-year stretch in Red River Rivalry history. They have lost their last three games against the Sooners by a total of 88 points – their worst three-year stretch in series history.

    Currently, Texas’ worst four-year stretch against its rivals to the north began in 2000, when it was demolished by Oklahoma, 63-14. The Sooners held a 42-0 lead 26 minutes into the game and cruised to seven-touchdown romp, sparking a five-game winning streak against the Longhorns.

    Oklahoma won the first four of those five games by a whopping 123 points, beating Texas, 14-3, in 2001, 35-24 in 2002 and 65-13 in 2003.

    That 123-point span of utter domination is unmatched by the Longhorns in the rivalry’s 113-history. Texas’ best four-year stretch in the Red River Rivalry was from 1960-63 – a span that helped the Longhorns win a Red River Rivalry-best eight consecutive contests.

    The Longhorns topped the Sooners by a total of 69 points over those four years – 54 fewer than Oklahoma’s best four-year stretch. In fact, the Sooners have 11 better four-year stretches against Texas despite the fact that the Longhorns hold a 59-43-5 (.575) advantage all-time over the Sooners.

    If Texas, already with lopsided losses to BYU and Ole Miss, falls to unbeaten Oklahoma for the fourth straight time, it guarantees the Longhorns at least their fourth-worst four-year stretch in the Red River Rivalry.

    The Sooners not only are undefeated but have beaten a couple of good teams in Notre Dame and TCU to get there, even taking down the Fighting Irish in South Bend. They are favored by two touchdowns this weekend and for good reason.

    And if the Longhorns don’t cover that 14-point spread, it will guarantee them at least their second-worst four-year Red River Rivalry stretch ever.

    For Texas to make the last four years its worst against Oklahoma, however, it would have to get crushed by at least 36 points – which is not that far-fetched.

    The Longhorns, who have lost their last two games against the Sooners by an average of 40 points, will be without arguably their best offensive and defensive players in quarterback David Ash and linebacker Jordan Hicks. 

    Almost no one outside the Texas locker room expects it to beat Oklahoma this Saturday. But if this year’s Red River Rivalry gets out of hand, though, it could mean more than another embarrassing loss for the Longhorns – it could mean their most embarrassing four-year stretch in Red River Rivalry history. 

  • Texas has to win last minute of first half to avoid another loss to Kansas State

     The numbers have been thrown around all week long – Kansas State has a five-game winning streak against Texas, who hasn’t beaten the Wildcats in a decade. Mack Brown is 2-7 against them and the Longhorns are 5-8 all-time against K-State, their worst record against any team they’ve faced at least 13 times.

    “Kansas State has our number,” linebacker Jordan Hicks admitted this week.

    But there’s one common thread in all of those very telling statistics – Texas’ inability to win the final minute of the first half.

    It’s something that hasn’t just plagued the Longhorns against Kansas State during Brown’s 16-year tenure but also in their last two games, losses to BYU and Ole Miss. The Cougars hit a field goal with four seconds left in the first half to take a 27-14 halftime lead on their way toward beating Texas, 40-19.

    Last weekend, Anthony Fera nailed a career-long 47-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter before a targeting penalty against Adrian Phillips put the Rebels in position to put a 52-yard field goal through. The kick trimmed Texas’ lead to 23-17 going into the locker room as Ole Miss went on to score 27 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 44-23 victory.

    “If you give up points right before the half, it’s a killer,” head coach Mack Brown said. “You’ve got to back and take your momentum back in the second half. That is an age-old rule in sports, and in football, and we didn’t do either. We let them have the momentum going in. We didn’t take the momentum going out in the second half, and we never got it back.”

    This is a trend that has extended to Texas’ troubles with Kansas State over the years. In nine meetings with the Wildcats since Brown took over in Austin in 1998 – the last time Texas started 1-2 – the Longhorns have failed to score a single point in the final minute of the first half.

    Kansas State, on the other hand, has scored 20 points in the final minute of the first half (two touchdowns, two field goals) against Texas since 1998. The only two times the Longhorns beat the Wildcats under Brown, in 2002 and 2003, they kept Kansas State from scoring right before halftime.

    In the four games Kansas State has scored just before halftime, the Wildcats beat the Longhorns by an average of 16.6 points per game. In the other five meetings, Kansas State’s average margin of victory was reduced to 9.8 points per game.

    The moments after Texas’ loss to Ole Miss did not mark the first time Brown emphasized the importance of keeping a team from scoring in the final seconds of the first half. But, against Kansas State – a team Brown has beaten just twice, posting a winning percentage of .222, compared to .756 against everyone else – the Longhorns have been unable to win the last minute of the first half. 

    If they want to snap their losing streak against the Wildcats, they’ll have to change that.

  • Whoever starts at QB for Texas needs to throw it more to Jaxon Shipley

    Their backgrounds are well-documented – like their parents while they played college football, they are roommates at Texas, and their brothers were two of the best players to suit up for the Longhorns in recent memory.

    And with David Ash questionable for this week’s game against Ole Miss, the relationship between Case McCoy and Jaxon Shipley is once again relevant.

    Ash exited last Saturday’s loss to BYU after suffering injuries to his head and right shoulder. Head coach Mack Brown called him day-to-day Monday and he had not practiced this week, as of Wednesday.

    Not since two Thanksgivings ago has McCoy won a game as the Longhorns starter but he will be relied upon to lead Texas to a victory if Ash is sidelined Saturday. McCoy would presumably rely on Shipley if called upon, but the numbers say that Shipley helps Ash out arguably more than he does McCoy.

    When targeting Shipley, David Ash has thrown for 974 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 77.2 percent of his passes, compared to 60.1 percent when targeting anyone else.

    McCoy completes 64.4 percent of his throws to Shipley and 64.6 percent of his throws to all other receivers – an insignificant difference. But McCoy does average 10.7 yards per attempt when throwing to Shipley, compared to 7.4 yards per attempt when targeting anyone else.

    Bottom line: Whether it’s Ash or McCoy behind center for the Longhorns on Saturday night, they should be looking at Shipley early and often.

    Like he did last year, Mike Davis is leading Texas in receiving with 177 yards and three of the team’s six touchdown catches. Shipley has caught 13 passes, as many as Davis, for 145 yards but has yet to score this year.

    While Davis has been slightly more productive than Shipley recently, he isn’t as careful with the ball. He coughed it up on the season’s first possession against New Mexico State and dropped a sure touchdown from McCoy late in the loss to BYU.

    While McCoy clearly has a connection with Shipley, he seems to go elsewhere when throwing to the end zone. He has 13 touchdown passes in his career, only one of them to Shipley – a 14-yard score against Kansas State last season.

    Seven of McCoy’s 13 touchdown tosses have come to tight ends, which doesn’t bode well for McCoy if he gets the nod this weekend because Texas tight ends have not factored in the passing game much this year. Only two of the Longhorns’ completions have been to tight ends – one for three yards to junior college transfer Geoff Swaim and another for 13 yards to Greg Daniels.

    McCoy doesn’t have the arm strength Ash does but has shown superior anticipation at times. When working with a guy like Shipley, a sure route-runner and pass-catcher who likes to exploits defense underneath the coverage instead of over the top like Davis, they should connect more.

    But, as the stats show, Shipley helps whoever is taking the snaps. Ash threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns in the 66-31 win over Ole Miss last September, but Shipley only caught three passes for 35 yards that day.

    If Ash can shake off the injuries, he’ll do well to look Shipley’s way more often this time around. With the Texas offensive line struggling to pave the way for its running backs and not giving its quarterback enough time in the pocket, a quick, shifty guy like Shipley is the perfect way to keep a defense on its heels.

    And if McCoy is the one at quarterback, he should have a similar plan – throw the ball to Shipley.

  • Texas needs to get ball in hands of speedy playmakers to shake slow-start problems

    In his first two games as Texas’ playcaller, Major Applewhite has helped the Longhorns put on a pair of prolific offensive performances.

    First, he orchestrated a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback in their win over Oregon State in last December’s Alamo Bowl, when David Ash threw touchdown passes on each of Texas’ final two possessions to give it a 31-27 win. Then, Applewhite helped the Longhorns pile up a school-record 715 yards in their season-opening win over New Mexico State last weekend.

    As impressive as those displays were, though, Texas has gotten off to extremely slow starts in both games Applewhite has been in charge of the offense. In eight first-quarter drives with Applewhite calling the plays, the Longhorns have gained 83 yards, averaging less than three yards per play and scored only three points.

    In 22 drives after the first quarter the previous two games, Texas scored 84 points and gained 990 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per play. While recording 40 first downs on those 22 drives, the Longhorns only had two first downs in the eight first-quarter possessions.

    They scored a touchdown once every 1.83 drives after the first quarter, compared to finding the end zone once every 3.12 drives in 25 games while Bryan Harsin was calling plays the previous two seasons. 

    So what was the difference? Why did Texas become such an explosive offense in the last 45 minutes of the game while struggling to move the chains in the first 15 minutes?

    “I don’t think there was a point in the game when everybody decided we’re going to play hard or not or if we’re going to quit,” Ash said. “It never came to that. It was always like, ‘That was not good, but it’s going to happen on the next play.’’

    It’s easy to believe that the flood of post-first quarter production is mere coincidence. But the reality is that the Longhorns, knowingly or not, did make changes in both games that helped them late. They got the ball in the hands of their playmakers – their fastest offensive playmakers.

    In last year’s Alamo Bowl, Olympic long jumper and current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin didn’t touch the ball in the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter, he took a reverse and sprinted 64 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

    Goodwin eventually hauled in a go-ahead 36-yard touchdown pass from Ash with 2:24 left in the game, putting a double move on the man covering him and blowing past him for the score. He finished with 132 yards on just five touches.

    This past Saturday, it was Daje Johnson, a track standout from nearby Pflugerville's Hendrickson High School, that broke the game open.

    Johnson ran for 25 yards on two carries, including Texas’ first of the game, in the first quarter. The Longhorns were held scoreless for the first 28 minutes of the game and didn’t take their first lead until Johnson’s 66-yard touchdown catch with 1:08 remaining in the first half.

    Ash hit Johnson in stride before he dashed by several Aggies defenders on his way to the end zone. He also ran for a 24-yard touchdown on Texas’ first possession of the second half, finishing with 104 yards on seven touches.

    If Texas gets off to as slow of a start this weekend against BYU as it did last weekend, it won’t win comfortably. Not in a hostile environment like the one it’ll encounter in Provo and not against a defense that allowed the third-fewest points and yards per game last season.

    So if the Longhorns want to get off to quicker start when they face the Cougars on their home turf Saturday, they’ll need to get the ball into their playmakers’ hands – especially Johnson’s.

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