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Does Jon Jay Have a Deal With the Luck Dragons?

Jon Jay

Jon Jay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jon Jay remains something of a mystery to fans of the Cardinals.  The mystery is this: Is he a very lucky hitter, or a good one? Over 835 plate appearances Jay has a BABIP of .342. For the uninitiated, BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play. Typically around 29-31% of the balls a hitter puts in play will fall for a hit. A player’s BABIP can fluctuate for a number of reasons that are beyond his control. They could be facing really great or really horrific defenses, experiencing an enormous amount of luck with ducksnorts and dribblers falling for hits for a while, or other randomness. Because of this, a player’s batting average can be greatly affected by their BABIP. If a player has a very high BABIP, they’re likely due to regress to the mean. If they have a very low BABIP, they’re usually a good bounce-back candidate. Moreover, BABIP is vitally a fluky stat, with very little year to year correlation. So there is no guarantee that a player who has a .350 BABIP one season will have one the next season. But the task of predicting a hitter’s BABIP is not just limited to throwing darts or reading tea leaves. There has been work done in seeing what stats do correlate with players with high BABIPs. For example, someone like Jon Jay has a better chance of reaching base on a nubber to second base than Yadier Molina. And a player who has a higher line-drive rate will obviously get more hits than a player who puts the ball in play but repeatedly hits cans of corn to the outfield.  With certain knowledge we can read a player’s expected BABIP (xBABIP) and get a better idea of their true talent.

As it turns out, there’s a handy-dandy interwebs tool out there that helps calculate xBABIP. So what does this mean for Jon Jay? Well, his xBABIP for his career is .333, just 9 points shy of his actual BABIP. Furthermore, we see from his time in the minors that Jay has always hit for a very high BABIP. His line drive rate is 21.4%. While Jay has had his ups and downs at various points, what we do know about how he puts the ball in play at this point is reliable enough to go on with some degree of certainty. So there’s decent reason to think Jay is a sort of BABIP freak and is capable of staying around a .300 batting average. Now if he could just eek out a few more walks… 


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