At this point in the season, and after scoring so many runs in August, most people here would (or should) probably agree that the White Sox offense is getting the job done. After an impossibly brutal April in which the Sox posted a .225 Batting Average on Balls In Play, the balls steadily started to fall for hits. The numbers increased each month, with August containing a remarkable .333 BABIP, second highest in baseball. August brought the season average up to .290, but still places the Sox in the bottom third in baseball regarding BABIP. I doubt anyone will panic after reading that, especially given the past three years, but after seeing it compared to the Twins' .312 BABIP, which is near the top in the majors, I began to wonder what we could possibly be dealing with right now, given better numbers in this area. So I flipped a few things around, plugged in a couple numbers, and am now declaring the White Sox AL Central champs in Alternate Universe World.
First, some basic numbers, as of September 3rd:
MLB average BABIP, 2010 season to date: .298 The formula for BABIP, once again, is this:
H - HR / AB - K - HR + SF
White Sox BABIP: .290, given 1217 hits, 155 home runs, 4498 at-bats, 715 strikeouts and 33 sacrifice flies. Normalized to .298, this would add 29 hits. Given the Twins current BABIP, the Sox would add a not-insignificant 80 hits to date this season.
The Twins are tied for third in baseball with a .312 BABIP. This is calculated from their 1285 hits, 117 home runs, 4619 at-bats, 798 strikeouts and 43 sac flies. Bring this down to a league-average .298, and we can subtract 52 hits. Letting the Twins fall to our level would take away a total of 81 hits so far in 2010.
BABIP alone accounts for a possible in-the-park hit difference of 161 between the teams (1285 Twins hits/1217 Sox hits now vs. 1297 Sox hits/1204 Twins hits after the BABIP swap), leaving the Sox with +93 hits compared to the Twinkies. On top of that, switching this average would theoretically give the Sox 18 more extra base hits, and take 22 XBH away from the Twins, based on their respective non-HR XBH rates of 22.6 and 26.7. Even normalizing the BABIP to league-average for both teams gives the Sox a 13 hit advantage.
At this point, I couldn't help but think of our two favorite players of the past few months: Jim Thome and Mark Kotsay. Looking at their individual BABIP, I was surprised, but not overly so, that Kotsay is sitting at a paltry .242, the lowest of his career ( in 92 games, 291 ABs). What surprised me even more was his offensive numbers, after they had been normalized by factoring in a league average BABIP. Kotsay's career average is actually just one point below .298, including this season, so I only calculated this once. What we have here is a not-nearly-as-fan-murdering 85 hits (16 more than his 69 hits to date). We'll give him an extra three doubles, as doubles constitute about 22% of his hits this year. That would bolster his line to .292/.366/.443. Yep, that's an .809 OPS. For Mark Kotsay, the guy that has eaten the majority of the Sox DH at-bats.
Thome isn't as interesting, and suffers from fewer ABs due to his role as a pinch-hitter before Morneau went down (93 games, 235 ABs). Bring Thome down to a .298 BABIP and you can subtract a couple hits. Bring him up to his career level of .321 and a couple can be added. However, bring that BABIP down to Kotsay's 2010 level, and he would still out-DH Kotsay by a wide margin (note that Thome's career low is .273 for a full season, 2008) We end up with 53 hits, and a slash line of .225/.364/.536, almost 100 points higher than Jamie's husband performing in his element. Let's whale on this deceased stallion: No excuses, Kenny. None.
A few notes: Yes, the individual BABIP numbers are subject to small sample size concerns, especially Thome. No, we shouldn't realistically expect Kotsay to rebound much, if at all. His ground ball rate is up, and his line drive rate down. As we've seen, he doesn't hit an inordinate amount of hangwiffums, and he's not exactly going to leg-out many infield hits, a la Juan. On a positive note, those 715 strikeouts by the Sox? Yeah, those are good for second best in baseball, and it's not even close. In 3rd place? The Twins. A plausible reason for the Twins high ranking in the BABIP department? The spaciousness of Target Field, which is becoming known as a bit of a pitchers park, according to ESPN and ParkFactors.com. Grain of salt, and limited data for sure, but something to think about going forward.
Obviously, hits don't win games. Runs do. This is where I ran into some problems, and would appreciate being corrected/helped upon the finding of faults. I couldn't find an acceptable run value of context-neutral singles and doubles hit (for the sake of simplicity, triples were made into doubles), so I ended up applying the most extreme cases, the 80 hits added by the Sox and the 81 lost by the Twins, to the least impactful base state. Tangotiger values a single at .29 runs and a double at .49 with no runners on base. At a bare minimum, with 18 doubles and 62 singles, that works out to 26.8 runs scored, good for 2.7 arbitrary wins. Likewise, the Twins would arbitrarily lose 2.8 games (subtract about 22 doubles and 59 singles, 27.9 runs) if their BABIP were lowered to .290. That's a difference of 5.5 games before the last month of the season, at least. The exercise of swapping BABIP with another team is admittedly ridiculous, but it highlights just one more deficiency, controlled or not, that could possibly cost the Sox a banner. I really just wanted to give people another reason to hate the DH mess KW has created for us (I'm a jerk like that), but also maybe pique some interest in park factors and luck in determining the final division standings. Whatever happens in the next 30 days, I think we can all agree that it's been a hell of a season, and the results can be fairly closely correlated to BABIP.