Andrew McCutchen and His Historic BABIP

After having a career year last season Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, was rewarded with a hefty pay raise. So far he’s right where he left off last season. His 5.9 WAR is already more than the 5.7 WAR that he produced last season. His slash numbers are also currently career highs: .373/.432/.632. He’s been nothing short of epic. He’s had help though as evidence of his extremely high BABIP. As of today it is currently a robust .423. Where does that compare among others in history? How likely is it that he can maintain a high BABIP the rest of the way?

Like I stated in the opening paragraph, Andrew McCutchen has had a torrid season. His .432 BABIP plays a big part but what is causing his BABIP to be so high? The first thing that we need to look at is his LD%. His career LD% is 20% but this season he’s hitting line-drives 23.6% of the time. That’s a noticeable jump but it’s not something that overly outrageous. In fact, league average LD% for this season is 20.8%. He currently has 71 line-drives that fell for hits and he should easily surpass the 90 line-drives from a year-ago. His LD% suggests that he could be in line for some regression.

I also took a look at his GB%, because like line-drives, groundballs tend to be hits more so than flyballs. This season McCutchen is hitting groundballs 44.2% of the time. That falls in line with every year besides last year, but nonetheless it is a factor. McCutchen is also one of the faster players in the league. While his SB% isn’t great (66%) it still doesn’t take away the fact that he has some wheels. It’s widely known that faster players tend to have higher BABIPs (see Ichiro). It’s also highly possible that McCutchen has run into some extremely good luck or that he’s faced some poor defensive teams throughout the year.

I used an xBABIP calculator to see if this run was sustainable and as it turns out McCutchen should be facing some regression as the season goes on. The calculator said that McCutchen’s BABIP should regress towards .339 the rest of season. That’s a number that’s much more sustainable, especially because McCutchen has a career .330 BABIP.

Where does his BABIP currently rank all-time though? I looked at all players since 1901 to see what the highest BABIP was, and the results were surprising. McCutchen’s .423 BABIP currently ranks as the highest next to none other then Babe Ruth‘s during the 1923 season. Some other notable players and their BABIPs include:

1922 George Sisler (.422), 1922 Roger Hornsby (.422) and 1916 Ty Cobb (.416). All of them besides Ruth finished with a batting average over .400. While it’s unlikely McCutchen’s average gets that high it’s been a joy to watch. He’s certainly having an outstanding season, and it’s highly possible that, if he keeps it up, we won’t see this high of a BABIP for years to come.

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