Long gone are the days of just taking a gander at a player’s batting average and jumping to conclusions. There are hundreds of underlying metrics now that study MLB players more in-depth and can provide answers. One of the best gauges of a player’s hitting ability over a certain sample size is xBA, or expected batting average.
xBA was invented by Statcast with the intent to measure the likelihood a batted ball will become a hit. It factors in opposing defense and bad luck. Here is how it is explained by the MLB:
Each batted ball is assigned an xBA based on how often comparable balls — in terms of exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed — have become hits since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015. (As of January 2019, xBA now factors in a batter’s seasonal Sprint Speed on “topped” or weakly hit” balls).
For example, a line drive to the outfield with an xBA of .700 is given that figure because balls with a similar exit velocity and launch angle have become hits seven out of 10 times.
Knowing the expected outcomes of each individual batted ball from a particular player over the course of a season allows for the formation of said player’s Expected Batting Average on balls in play. Real-world strikeout totals are then added in, resulting in a player’s seasonal Expected Batting Average based on the quality of contact, instead of the actual outcomes. Likewise, this exercise can be done for pitchers to get their Expected Batting Average against.
Got it? Good.
So basically, using this metric, there are Braves bats slated for the starting lineup that were rather unlucky last season based on the number of possible outcomes. Let’s take a look at three guys, in particular, who are due for some positive regression.
Ozuna took a one-year prove-it deal to come to Atlanta and increase his free agency value rather than take a multi-year deal with the Reds. The metrics point to that being a very likely scenario. For $18 million, assuming Ozuna was to stay healthy, the Braves would likely take the same production he offered St. Louis.
Ozuna hit just .241, but if he had played for a full season his prorated statistics would have been 36 homers and 111 RBI. Those are no numbers to scoff at, and according to his xBA of .288, he is due for big-time positive regression. He is also among the league leaders in exit velocity, joins a more talented lineup as a clean-up man, and will get to play in a more homer-friendly ballpark. All aboard the Ozuna train! He is in for a big year.
Camargo fell as quickly as he rose after a breakout 2018. He was primed to take over a super-utility role for the team but did not fare well without receiving everyday at-bats. Not to mention, he put on some weight, which hindered his fielding ability. There were a ton of factors that played into his less than stellar 2019, but one of them was simply bad luck.
Camargo hit a lowly .233 average, but his xBA was .249, higher than the previous season. Sure, that may mean Camargo was due some negative regression last year as well, and we certainly saw the extreme version of that. But at the same time, Camargo hit for a .315 BABIP in 2018, just a little above the mean. Last year, he hit for a rather unlucky .258 BABIP.
Getting consistent playing time (at least at first), showing up in better shape, and positive regression have Camargo primed for a bounce-back 2020.
Midway through the season, it appeared more and more unlikely that Inciarte would return in a Braves uniform in 2020. But Austin Riley fizzled out, Inciarte picked up the pace, and above all, the Braves value his defense. He is slotted in as the starting centerfielder, and he could be due for some positive regression in 2020 with the stick.
Inciarte only appeared in 65 games and 230 at bats, so the sample size is small. But he did post the lowest BABIP of his career at .293. His xBA sat at .265 rather than the .246 average he actually posted.
Overall, the production from Inciarte was around the same in the end after a rough start to the season. But his batting average was the lowest mark of his career. If the baseballs are “funny” again this season, seeing some positive regression from Inciarte in the contact department as well as a few more balls hit outside the park can really help to boost his trade value as the Braves look towards the future.