BABIP is a vengeful baseball god that requires regular ritual sacrifices to appease RT @DCONN24 Wtf is BABIP and why does it hate the Cubs?
— Rice Cube (@CubicSnarkonia) July 9, 2014
In case you are unaware, the acronym BABIP stands for "batting average on balls in play," and is best explained by friend of the blog Bradley Woodrum's great Luck Dragon video below:
There are slight differences in the way BABIP is used between batters and pitchers, but overall the concept is the same. If the batter puts bat on ball and the ball doesn't go into the stands, anything can happen, and while the batter and/or pitcher can probably dictate a general direction the ball will go, they really don't have that much control over it. This accounts for a lot of the variance in baseball performances from year to year, and is also why it's impossible for even a great team to win every single one of their games, or for a terrible team to lose every game.
A player's batting average can really fluctuate depending on luck and defensive shifts based on what I've noticed these days. For example, when Anthony Rizzo is at bat, you may notice an exaggerated pull shift (and sometimes he'll bunt to keep them honest, but hey, you don't pay Rizzo to bunt). He hits the ball really hard, but the shift allows defenders to corral the scorched grounders or even the medium height line drives that should normally be a base hit, and suddenly he's out. On the other hand, the shift means a bit of the outfield is exposed, and I've seen Rizzo muscle the ball over the shift where normally the shortstop might have a more routine play. I've also seen Starlin Castro rip the ball but not be rewarded because it was right at a defender. And sometimes, the defense is just really fast and rangy or simply make a ludicrous play. Them's the breaks.
What I'm most interested in is not the BABIP, but how hard the player is hitting the ball, and is the guy making contact, period. It doesn't help to strike out a lot, but if the player is putting the sweet spot on the ball most of the time, good things will happen. It hasn't really borne out for this year's Cubs (the actual record is four games worse than their expected record based on run differential) but I chalk that up more to the fact that they've not had enough guys who can make consistent contact and put a charge into the ball outside of the would-be All-Stars and Luis Valbuena. A combination of bad supporting cast and poor sequencing (not to mention the occasional bullpen fail) is probably to blame for the underperformance.
There is hope though, as Bradley's video talks about in passing. Eventually the "luck" evens out, and good teams often make their own luck. The liners will start falling in for hits, and if you've been paying attention to the minors lately, guys like Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and the recently promoted-for-a-spell Arismendy Alcantara like hitting the ball hard. In some cases, they'll bypass BABIP altogether by hitting the ball so hard, it's unplayable. When you think about a lineup that may eventually have those guys in it, and consider that baseball is just a sequence of probabilities strung together, the chances of seeing lots of hits in sequence and a lot of runs resulting from those hits increases. And when that day comes, we're all going to have a lot of fun.
For now, though, keep making ritual sacrifices to BABIP. Rizzo and Castro could use a few points on their batting average.