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Gauging Luck: April Edition

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

One of the more popular statistics to emerge since Defense Independent Pitching theory burst on to the scene is Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP.

Basically the theory says that once a ball is put in play by a batter, it is out of the pitcher's hands where it goes. So over time, the percentage of those batted balls evens out.

That's obviously not 100% true. Faster runners have higher BABIPs, since more groundballs result in hits, and hitters with swings geared towards line-drives wind up with higher BABIPs than those who tend toward flyballs.

But understanding that it doesn't tell the whole story, there is some valuable information to be found in the statistic about how lucky a hitter has been in a given sample size. With a small quantity of at-bats to make judgments on, we can look to BABIP to help us sort out which breakouts and slow starts have been luck driven.
The first thing to do in applying this to Cubs prospects is looking at the environments in which they are playing. Listed below are the 4 leagues containing Cubs affiliates, as well as data showing how each league has played so far.

april_leagues.png

The average BABIP is somewhere in the .310 range, although it is important to note how it varies from level to level. Different defensive skill levels and ballpark configurations both factor into the statistic.

Next, let's look at which Cubs prospects have had lucky starts (minimum 30 PA). At this early point in the season, BABIP mostly just tells you who has had good starts. Mostly what I'm looking for are poor starts on the lucky list and good starts on the unlucky list, which would reflect on the secondary skills the player has. I'll comment more on that on a player-by-player basis.

april_lucky.png

Perhaps what stands out to me most here is the terrible start Logan Watkins has had, even with the inflated BABIP. The excellent plate discipline he's showed throughout his career has eroded instantly (4 BBs/18 Ks), and he still doesn't have a lick of power. One consideration is that Watkins had a mark of .365 last season, so his .362 isn't necessarily an under-performance.

Also, Jesus Morelli has had maybe the worst start in the entire Cubs farm system, though it is masked by his ludicrously good luck so far (though in just 33 PAs).

Now on to the unlucky folks:

april_unlucky.png

This bodes very well for Welington Castillo. It highlights the excellent plate discipline and power he's shown so far, and if he continues to display the same peripherals and he gets a bounce back in luck, he'd be one of the top hitters in AAA. That's unlikely, but he really had a great month of April.

Jake Opitz also jumps off the page, as he's managed a good start even with his low batting average. His on-base skills are excellent, and when combined with his versatility make him a valuable player.

Other than those two, Chris Robinson and Jason Dubois, we have a list of 6 of the slowest starts in the system. It's really interesting to note that Jovan Rosa and Ryne White have lost their jobs in part due to their bad luck.

So there you have it. Later this week I'll break out the pitcher luck factors and see what we have, and after May we'll revisit this and see how things look.

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