The rule of thumb for BABIP is that a “normal” one is around the .300 mark. In our last full season of 2019, the MLB average BABIP was .298 or about as close to .300 as you can get. But what’s “normal” for the league is not necessarily normal for the individual. David Wright had a lifetime .339 BABIP while Ed Kranepool had a lifetime .271 mark in the category. If either of those players put up a .300 BABIP in a season, it would not be normal. It would be an underachieving year for Wright and a darn good one for Kranepool.

In 18 years in the majors, Kranepool posted a BABIP of .300 or better just three times and they came in consecutive seasons, from 1974-76. His high in PA during that stretch was 455, so it didn’t come in what we would consider a full season. Kranepool’s high in PA for a year came in 1965, when he came up 575 times. His BABIP that season? A .272 mark, which was essentially his lifetime average.

We should keep Kranepool in mind when looking at the BABIP marks of guys from 2020. The most PA of any player on the 2020 Mets was 239. The fewer PA you have, the easier it is to post an outrageous BABIP. When Kranepool posted a .335 BABIP in 1975, he didn’t establish a new level of performance but rather he experienced the hits falling in for him over a 357-PA sample. In 1977, he was back to a .270 mark in the category.

Player 2020 PA 2020 BABIP Career PA C BABIP
Pete Alonso 239 .242 932 .270
Michael Conforto 233 .412 2501 .305
J.D. Davis 229 .318 863 .322
Brandon Nimmo 225 .326 1309 .339
Jeff McNeil 209 .335 1024 .342
Dominic Smith 199 .368 728 .304
Robinson Cano 182 .319 9446 .318
Wilson Ramos 155 .271 3623 .298
Amed Rosario 147 .305 1564 .323

The majority of hitters for the Mets performed more or less as expected in BABIP in the shortened season. The three exceptions were Alonso, Conforto and Smith. Alonso fell 28 points shy of his lifetime BABIP, although he only had one other MLB season under his belt. In 2019, Alonso had a .280 BABIP. You can make the case that he underperformed by 38 points. Meanwhile, the other two players far exceeded their lifetime marks in the category.

When Smith first made it up to the majors, he was viewed as a guy who wouldn’t hit a ton of homers but who would hit the ball from foul line to foul line and who would develop a little more over-the-fence power as he aged. Instead, he came up and hit 9 HR in 183 PA. But the hits didn’t fall in and he had just a .218 BABIP. The following year he posted a .297 BABIP and in 2019, it was .320, albeit in just 197 PA. Smith ended up with the same number of ABs in 2020 as he did in 2019. But he had six more hits, which upped his AVG 34 points. And that’s comparing to 2019, which was also above his career mark. Like Alonso, Smith hasn’t had enough PA in the majors for us to have a good idea of what his personal BABIP really is. We should feel confident that it’s not the .368 mark he put up in 2020. But it’s not impossible that it is the .320 he posted in 2019.

Which brings us to Conforto.

With over 2,000 PA in the majors coming into 2020, we had a pretty good idea of what Conforto’s BABIP level was. In those 2,268 trips to the plate, Conforto had a .294 BABIP. And then in 233 PA, the hits fell in at a .412 clip. And it’s important to note that in 2020, Conforto’s BB% decreased, as did his ISO. He didn’t discover a new level, he got lucky with the hits falling in. Conforto’s 2020 is like Kranepool’s 1975, except to an even greater degree. At least Kranepool matched his lifetime BB% in ‘75 and he was only 60 points above his lifetime BABIP.

What would Conforto’s line in 2020 looked like if he had his career rate in BABIP rather than the .412 mark he did? Conforto had 65 hits last year. In order for him to get a .294 BABIP, he would have needed 16 fewer hits if we kept everything else exactly the same. So, he would have had 49 hits. With those 49 hits, his AVG would have been .243 or exactly what he hit in 2018. His OBP would now be .343 and his SLG would be .436 even if we assume that all of the hits he lost were singles. In triple slash form, if the hits fell in at a normal rate for Conforto in 2020, we’d be looking at:

.243/.343/.436

No one’s going to produce the same numbers year in and year out in any category over an extended period of time. But what Conforto did was so completely out of character from what he established as a baseline that we just can’t take it seriously. Combined with the fact that his BB% and ISO decreased, while his K% went up, it’s next to impossible to conclude that Conforto reached a new level as a hitter.

The 2020 numbers were great. A .401 wOBA and a 157 wRC+ are exactly the numbers we hoped Conforto would put up after his terrific debut in 2015. But these numbers came about because the hits fell in for him. Nothing more, nothing less. Before you trip over yourselves to sign Conforto to an extension based on what he did in 2020, keep in mind that it was a BABIP-fueled fluke. If you want to extend him based on what he did in 2018-19, that’s fine. And that’s a real good player, too. It’s just not a 5-fWAR guy.

18 comments on “Michael Conforto and the BABIP marks of the 2020 Mets

  • Mike W

    Brian, this is a fantastic piece of work. I get two big points out of this. We probably can expect a regression from most if the team next year. Secondly. Your data on Conforto is eye opening. You know me. I am an old guy fan who uses the eye test. Conforto looks good, so he is good. Maybe not true. Makes me really think twice about that extension. Good player, but he is no Mookie Betts. Maybe, just maybe, the Mets should sell high on him.

    The one that surprised me was Alonso. You worry that he may just be a one trick pony. More like Mark Reynolds than Paul Goldschmitt.

    Keep up the awesome work.

    I think with Cohen, we may see some radical changes in the team.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks Mike!

      I don’t worry about Alonso. He may never hit 50+ HR again but he’ll still be a force in the middle of the lineup.

  • Chris F

    Nicely researched Brian, and exactly how I think metrics can be assembled to understand player Performance. Did you calculate the standard deviation on the BAPIP records? That would be interesting to get a sense of the variance. I think your work highlights exactly the kind of concern you mention with long-term contracts. Mets possibly get a home town discount from Conforto, but surely Boras will push hard, especially using what looked like a break out year. Proceed with caution!

    As the season was just getting underway, I offered an article that tackled the record of the Mets after 60 games and what it meant for the prospects for the season. The Mets underperformed their average (and 1 standard deviation) for the past 5 years, but consistent with the average, they were below .500. That was predictable, and in my eyes one of the things the Mets need to do is play much better April and May baseball. Getting to how this fits in with your article is that we know that team records (and this individual performances from which team records derive) do not stabilize until after 60 games; in fact it’s not really until after 90 games do team records — and I would offer, individual records — look like end will be with some confidence. The link below is an interesting read on this matter.

    https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2011/5/12/2167550/when-do-standings-matter

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks Chris!

      I did not do any SD look into this. .412 is just so out there that it can’t be taken seriously.

  • TJ

    Brian,
    Great stuff, thanks for the effort. Yes, Conforto’s BABIP is eye opening, and frankly this is a great lesson in reminding anyone that the results of a 60 game season in a pandemic season, good and bad, should be taken with some caution. Even prior to your article, I have not be one that has prioritizing “locking up” Conforto with boatloads of Mr. Cohen’s money. Frankly, I don’t see a wide gap between him and Nimmo. It’s not Nimmo’s fault he is played so much in CF, and Conforto has been as bad as Nimmo when forced to play there. Yes, I like Conforto, but I’d like to see him back up that 60 games season with a full one in 2020 before deciding on investing a ton of money in him.

    I may be in the minority but I expect Alonso to bounce back in 2021. Prior to his poor 2020, he had demonstrated a somewhat advance hit tool, not just HR or bust. It is possible that his longball success, rookie achievements, and popularity in the press had him putting too much pressure on himself, leading to a lot of really bad ABs. Hopefully he’ll learn and take what they give him.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks TJ!

      I guess the worry is that you don’t lock him up now and 2021 is just as good and then he pulls a Wheeler and leaves. Not that I place a high probability on that – just trying to play devil’s advocate.

  • Metsense

    Conforto is a really good player and should be offered an extension based on what he did 2018-19.
    Conforto was ranked #25 in fWAR in 2018 and ranked #15 in 2019 of all MLB outfielders. He will be 28 yoa, trending upward in the last two years and there isn’t a 2022 replacement in the minors. He is home grown and popular with the fan base. In 2020 the #15 highest paid OF made $16M average salary. Offer 6/100 now buying his final year of arb and expect a solid 3-4 fWAR player.

  • Remember1969

    I agree with the others. . nice piece of work, Brian!

    A couple other thoughts, one on Conforto and one on Alonso.

    Conforto first: I am thinking that while his 2020 BABIP is definitely elevated, I think that he will develop into a much higher than his .294 career number. I don’t have the numbers or data to prove this, but I believe one thing he did this year more is use the entire field more. I know there is ‘spray’ data out there someplace, just not sure where. The more he can do that, the better he will be to beat the shift, and the BABIP will go up with it. I also don’t know where the shift data is – how much did the opposition shift against him? How did he handle it. My suspicion is that his BABIP in 2020 is a concerted effort to beat the shift by using left and left center fields. I am of the opinion that while he may not see .412 again, he will settle in for the next few years at .330 to .350 levels. He has definitely matured as a hitter. If he can cut down on the K%, he can become that much better and may get into the top echelon of MLB hitters.

    Alonso: I am in the same school as TJ – not all that worried about Pete. While he did have a lousy start this year and his average struggled around (and under) the Medoza line for a while, he did end up at .231 and with all the other players that us fans raved about, Alonso did lead the team in homers, was 2nd in both RBI and runs scored, tied for third in walks and ended up with an OPS over .800. Not 2019-esque Pete Alonso stats, but not Amed Rosario, either. Had he had a little more luck with his BABIP he would have had a year considered to be very solid. A couple things I see – he led the team in strikeouts. His 61K would extrapolate to about 160 for a full season. That number has to come down. His doubles were also down – only 6 in 2020. I suspect this was a consequence of his BABIP. I do not have his ‘hard hit’ stats – how many of those balls that were caught were hard hit that had they found a hole would have become a double?
    Overall though, I believe Pete Alonso will be better than Mark Reynolds and probably will never hit for Goldschmidt’s average, but exceed his homerun totals. For the future, I see streaks of down (like his first 30 or 40 games this year) and other much better streaks. If the season had been 162 games, I am convinced that we would be talking about how good a year he had. Everyone expected some regression after his rookie year.

  • Bob P

    This is great information Brian. What I’d be curious to know and to better understand is how some of the other advanced metrics like exit velocity, hard hit rate, line drive/fly ball/ground ball rate factor into BABIP. With Conforto having over 2,000 PAs he has a good sample size to look at and say that 2020 looks like an anomaly. What type of metrics would we need to see to get some level of confidence that someone has “figured it out” vs getting lucky with hits falling in? I agree that it’s unreasonable to expect that Conforto will be able to repeat his 2020 BABIP but is there something there that may lead you to believe that his BABIP going forward may increase from his historical levels even if not up to the 2020 level? Interesting stuff to think about.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks Bob!

      I think all of those things you mentioned go into “x” stats. If you search FanGraphs, you can find a couple of different xBABIP calculators. My friend Mike Podhorzer has one and I seem to recall others there having them, too.

  • JImO

    I recall those Kranepool years when he became very very reliable. It was great for him to have a few years like that when everyone cheered for him.

    As far as Conforto goes, I don’t thonk we’ve seen the best of him yet. I fullh expect the team to sign him to a long-term deal.

  • TexasGusCC

    I agree with 1969 and expect Conforto’s annual BABIP to be at least .325 annually. We are seeing improvement in his hitting as he isn’t getting fooled on that back foot slider and he is squaring up balls with more frequency. Too, I still believe as I wrote last winter that Conforto is in position to be blowing up as a complete hitter. I like Metsense’s thought on locking him up with 6/100; that would be a nice move.

    I’m not buying on Alonso to improve until he cuts down on the K’s. He started showing hitting intelligence by going to right field more often this year, but he was chasing all year long.

    Smith seems like more the real deal and he may wind up more often in LF as the Mets will have to make room in the lineup if in fact the DH doesn’t come back. Nimmo will again man CF as I don’t see Springer leaving Houston.

    • Brian Joura

      Alonso – 25.5 K%
      Conforto 24.5 K%

      Alonso September – 22.1 K%
      Conforto September 27.3 K%

      • Remember1969

        a little different topic, but a question .. anybody know where to find individual hitting with runners in scoring position averages? I know the Mets were awful in that category this year and have seen the stats posted occasionally for just a couple guys (I think Ramos was near the bottom?), but cannot find the complete list? My go-to doc is Baseball-Reference, and they have stats cut every which way, but cannot seem to find that one. Anybody know?

        Thanks ..

        • Brian Joura

          For the guy you want to check, go to his B-R splits page and then scroll down to “Bases Occupied.” It’s the first thing listed in that category. Here’s the link for Alonso — https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.fcgi?id=alonspe01&year=2020&t=b#all_bases

          • Remember1969

            Thanks Brian .. I have never seen that section, and cannot get to it (tried Michael Conforto’s page) – apparently you need to create an account and log in to that site . . I’ll see about that

            Thanks . .

            • Remember1969

              hmm .. that didn’t work . .I the Splits tab does not seem to activate at all for me 🙁

  • TexasGusCC

    I don’t know where to park this, but this was a great writeup. Very similar to the Gut Reactions in emotion rather than the usual “more professional” recaps.

    https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-rays-pull-off-a-wild-game-4-victory/

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