We've dissected all sorts of stats, position tendencies and lineup combinations in our pursuit of the perfect strategy for the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com. When dealing with numbers -- a must for any serious daily fantasy baseball player -- we're seeking two traits.
The first trait we like to see in a stat is predictive capability; all other things equal, we want stats that will help make the most accurate predictions. The second characteristic is that said stat is underutilized by the general public. Strikeout rate is an important stat for pitchers, but pretty much everyone knows which pitchers whiff many batters, and they pay for high-strikeout hurlers as a result. Even predictive stats can have little value if everyone is relying on them to make decisions.
On the flip side, there are perhaps some stats that aren't all that predictive, yet can still be invaluable to daily fantasy players. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is one of those stats. As the name suggests, BABIP is a simple metric that shows a hitter's batting average on all balls that he puts into play.
For the most part, BABIP regresses toward a league mean of about .300 or so. Over the long run, most players hit around .300 on the balls that they hit into play. There's a ton of variance inherent to the stat, which means that it's volatile and doesn't necessarily help make accurate predictions (at least not in a direct way). Using past BABIP to predict future BABIP is going to be really, really difficult.
It isn't that certain hitters can't post a higher-than-average BABIP over the long run; we'd expect that from certain players, most notably speedsters who can turn on the wheels to generate many infield hits. However, it's almost impossible to use a hitter's past BABIP to predict his future BABIP because, in almost all cases, the most likely outcome for most hitters is that .300 benchmark.
However, because daily fantasy baseball exists as a marketplace, we don't necessarily need a stat to be predictive for it to help find value in players in the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com. Remember, each player comes with a salary, and those salaries fluctuate based on recent performance; a hitter in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak with a .400 average will probably rise in price, while a struggling bat will drop in cost.
The main advantage of monitoring BABIP is that it can help us tell if those jumps/drops in price are warranted or not. Specifically, BABIP helps show how lucky a hitter has gotten. Ironically, we actually want to see a low BABIP from hitters in the short-term because it means they're getting unlucky in terms of getting on base relative to how much they're making contact. For example: A hitter with a .300 average and .400 BABIP is probably a worse option than one who has a .300 average with .325 BABIP because the latter player's .300 average isn't influenced so much by luck.
So what does this mean for you when selecting your hitters in the Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com? Well, you don't need to write off all hitters with a high BABIP, but understand how the stat relates to player value. The best time to jump on hitters is generally when they seem to be down but are actually hitting the ball well. To reiterate, bats with a low recent BABIP often break out of their slumps from a reversal of luck alone. It's those bats that are likely to drop in cost for reasons that aren't going to negatively impact future production.
Jonathan Bales contributes DraftKings-related content to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.