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Does a guardian angel love a certain Rays hitter?

And he might be leading short stops in fWAR accordingly.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

If you were to research BABIP rankings for the past three years, you might notice the third place hitter belongs to the Rays:

The name to go into ??? is no secret, it’s Willy Adames.

The reason for a batter’s high BABIP could be luck, or it could be a characteristic of a batter’s hitting style. Depending on what reason you judge, you may predict an up or down impact on future performance based on present BABIP results.

If you think the overall hitting results comes from his unique ability at the plate, that level of performance is likely to continue. But if this is just a reflection of luck, and that batter is performing above expectations, you can soon expect his guardian angel named BABIP will disappear.

One might be dissatisfied with me talking about BABIP, but I have good news. We live in the era of the statcast, so we can take a look at the ball in play (BIP) situation from a different perspective called xBA:

Expected Batting Average (xBA) is a Statcast metric that measures the likelihood that a batted ball will become a hit.

Each batted ball is assigned an xBA based on how often comparable balls — in terms of exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed — have become hits

Adames’ career BA is .270, but his career xBA is .250, and this is quite a big difference. According to the model alone, Adames’ performance is expected to decline in the near future, but should we believe it?

This is the BIP distribution of Adames. Note: All the upcoming records are a sum of the records between 2018 and 2020.

It’s interesting to see here that Ground Balls have been heading toward SS or 3rd base while most flyballs have been going to CF or RF.

With that in mind, this is a table of BABIP with the related Hard Hit percent for each BIP category.

Although the HH% percentile for Center & Pull GB is quite high, BABIP percentile is higher than that. This means that something other than the quality of contact is raising his BABIP. And Center & Pull GB amounts to a 42% share of the total BIP.

Just by studying this Center+Pull GB, I think I can find out the reason of his high BABIP. (I will talk about FB again later).

I picked about 30 RHB for an exercise where they have a high center+pull GB ratio, like Adames, and are hitter who hit hard in that direction.

Adames’ BABIP is the highest among them; here’s the list:

Salvador Perez, Rhys Hoskins, Albert Pujols, Miguel Sanó, Eugenio Suárez, Gleyber Torres, Jesús Aguilar, Hunter Renfroe, Jorge Soler, Franmil Reyes, Justin Turner, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Nick Castellanos, Evan Longoria, Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts, Mark Canha, Anthony Rendon, J.D. Martinez, James McCann, Enrique Hernández, Wil Myers, Matt Chapman, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Brian Anderson, Marcell Ozuna, Chad Pinder, Willy Adames

I extracted three variables of these hitters and compared them to Adames. There variables are Sprint Speed, Opposite GB%, Frequency of use of shift (Shift%) which is likely to affect BABIP:

Adames is fast enough and will hit occasional ground balls to the opposite way to prevent three infielders from placing at the left side of diamond. It’s not a small figure to hit 2% more to the opposite field. If you roll the ball in the opposite direction with no one there and run fast enough, that 2% will all be hits. If this is the possibility, a 2nd baseman hesitates to move toward a SS. Then, the chances of a hit to the left became higher, and third baseman will also be affected by his speed. This how the .250 batter becomes the .270 batter

Check the position of the 3rd baseman in the images below.

The 3rd baseman is close toward the home. This may be because Adames runs so fast and he runs really hard after hitting a grounder. But in this position, it is likely that they will not be able to respond properly to the fast grounder.

Statcast says the hitter most similar to Adames is Chad Pinder. In the table above, he one of the most likely player to have high BABIP after Adames. Let’s compare defensive shifts employed against each of them.

We can check out again a 3rd baseman stands closer to the LF for Pinder than to for Adames. This is one of the reasons Adams can have a higher BABIP than Pinder over the course of three seasons. Under these circumstances, the 3rd baseman’s defensive range is limited.

To sum it up, Adams is not an extreme pull hitter, and he is also a very fast runner, making it difficult for a 3rd and 2nd baseman to help a SS in catching grounders. Therefore, I think it’s natural that an Adames’ grounder is more likely to be hit than others. Of course, there would be some regression if one of the various elements change, but he continues to hit the ball hard and has enough speed & proper approach to make the shift difficult. There are few hitters with all these abilities among those who hit a lot of hard GB.

Of course, if he get older and loses his speed, these merits may disappear. However, remember that Adames’ FB has a low BABIP compared to HH%. If he improves further as a hitter, the FB will turn into more extra hits, even if some of the grounders are turned into outings. If so, Adames could be even better. Where’s that guardian angel when you need him?