weird obsession with BABIP; I’ve written so many posts about that sta..."/> weird obsession with BABIP; I’ve written so many posts about that sta..."/>

The Curious Case of Edwin Jackson: A Tale of BABIP


I’ve always had a weird obsession with BABIP; I’ve written so many posts about that statistic it even makes my head spin.  Sadly, I still know very little about the inner workings of BABIP, but I digress.  I’ve also always had a weird obsession with Edwin Jackson

.  The flame-throwing right-hander who can never find a home has always fascinated me.  Not surprisingly, my obsession with Jackson may have a good deal to do with my obsession with BABIP.

Last season, Jackson had the 2nd highest BABIP (.330), among qualified starters.  This number, when my understanding of BABIP was still in its infancy, led me to believe that Jackson was among baseball’s unluckiest starters and was due for serious regression in 2012.  My assumption that Jackson’s BABIP would regress, and as a result of that regression his ERA would fall may have been incorrect.

Jackson has been a high BABIP pitcher over his time in the majors.  Prior to 2012, in Jackson’s five full seasons as a MLB starter his BABIP was .305, ten points higher than the league average.  His ERA- (101), over that time, was slightly higher than his FIP- (99), which shows that he may have been better than the ERA numbers he posted would indicate.

Jackson has always been a high BABIP starter in my mind; which is why I was utterly shocked today to look at the 2012 BABIP numbers and see that Jackson has the fourth-lowest BABIP (.228) in baseball.

The regression in Jackson’ BABIP and subsequent reduction in his ERA, that I (slightly ignorantly) assumed would occur for Jackson in 2012, seems to be occurring right now.  His low BABIP has resulted in an ERA of 2.91; that number is significantly better than his ERA (4.35) over his five seasons prior to 2012.

I understand now that BABIP is not all about lucky vs. unlucky; there is more that goes into that statistic than just the uncertainty of where a ball that’s put in play will land.  At this point, it is not enough for me to just assume that Jackson’s luck has evened out, and he’s getting the benefit of luck’s charm, this season.

His current xFIP (4.05) and SIERA (3.93) are better than his xFIP (4.27) and SIERA (4.40) over the course of the last five seasons; which leads me to conclude that Jackson has been better this season than earlier in his career.  However, while Jackson’s pitching has improved, his xFIP and SIERA predict some serious regression for his 2012 ERA going forward.

Jackson has pitched for a ton of franchises; thus, he has pitched in front of many different defenses.  Defense is a large factor in terms of suppressing BABIP, as evidenced by the ridiculous low staff BABIP of the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays.  The Nationals’ current staff BABIP (.265) is the lowest in baseball.  Normally, Jackson’s low BABIP would be stashed under the assumption that Washington had great team defense; thus, lowering his BABIP.  That, again, is too fast of an assumption for my liking.

There just happens to be an inverse relationship between strikeout rate and BABIP.  This relationship makes abstract sense, because pitchers with nastier stuff should induce weaker contact.  The Nationals’ staff currently has the 2nd highest K-rate in baseball (8.39 per 9), but UZR ranks them as baseball’s 14th best defense; which tells me that their low team BABIP has more to do with their pitching staff than it has to do with their defense.  Interestingly, Jackson’s strikeout rate (6.6) is well below the team rate, and clearly not the reason for his low BABIP.

Interestingly, batted ball statistics do not explain Jackson’s BABIP.  His line-drive rate has dipped by almost 7% since last season; which again would normally be a good reason for a BABIP reduction like we have seen for Edwin.  However, Jackson posted a similar LD-rate in 2010, and his BABIP was higher than league average by a fair amount (.313).  In 2012, Edwin also has a weirdly low IFFB% (3.9%), normally a high IFFB% leads to a lower BABIP, the exact opposite of what has occurred for Jackson.  With no other real changes to his numbers, sadly the only thing I can truly file this BABIP reduction under is the largest cop-out in baseball, luck.

I hate using the L-word, but in the case of Jackson’s 2012 BABIP it’s really the only word that makes sense.  I would like to point out though, whether Edwin has been lucky or not, if this low BABIP trend continues over the course of the season, which it very likely could, he could be receiving a rather large payday on the free agent market, due to a lucky-supported ERA.

All statistics come courtesy of Fangraphs

You can follow Glenn on twitter @Baseballs_Econ or check out his latest at Beyond the Box Score