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Ex Twins in 2021: Where Are They Now?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 09:52 PM
One of my favorite annual threads on the site. Let’s stay updated on ex-Twins in the news... This is a start of a list, and feel free to...
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New Target field policy...no bags of any kind

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 09:27 PM
Thankfully we went before gates opened and were warned by a friendly security guy in advance that this year there are no bags of any kind...
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Morneau

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 08:52 PM
I thought he was was really good last year. Maybe I'm on an opening day high (Not high) but he is so good.Who would have thought he would...
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The 5 Rule Draft

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 05:58 PM
This year's Rule 5 draft we lost Akil Baddo and Tyler Wells. So I thought I'd check to see how they were doing. 1st I checked on Baddo, h...
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Why isn't Buxton on MLB OPS leaders list?

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 04:36 PM
Buxton is listed only on the MLB HR leaders list. Not on OPS or AVG or SLG or OBP. He should be the leader in several of these. He has as...
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Max Kepler Has the Lowest BABIP in Baseball. Can He Fix It?

Over the last three seasons, Max Kepler has taken over 1,400 plate appearances. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) over that span is .240, but projection systems forecast a number closer to .270 in 2021. Why? Should we believe them?
Image courtesy of © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
This question gets at important basic concepts in math and behavioral psychology, but first and foremost, let’s examine the issue through a purely baseball lens. Kepler is a young player who still has room and time to improve. He didn’t hit the ball as hard in 2020 as he had in 2019, but as I discussed last week, part of that problem stemmed from his approach. He did show an improved ability to do damage on pitches low and in, which had been a problem in the second half of his breakout season. It’s insufficient to say he’s had bad luck over the last three years, but improved outcomes on batted balls are pretty easy to imagine for him.

On the other hand, he’s an extreme pull hitter, and an extreme fly-ball hitter. In the age of defensive shifts, that’s a recipe for a very low BABIP. No batter with at least 1,200 plate appearances over the last three seasons has as low a BABIP as Kepler’s, but two of the other four under .250 (Kyle Seager and Kole Calhoun) have the same offensive profile as Kepler. They all rely on hitting the ball over the wall, drawing walks, and avoiding calamitous strikeout rates to have success. (The other two BABIP laggards, as one might guess, are Albert Pujols and Edwin Encarnación.)

Still, consider the throwaway fact in the middle of that paragraph. No batter who has played anywhere near as much as Kepler has over the last three years has had as low a BABIP. That’s where this becomes a question of math and prediction. Regression alone should pull Kepler significantly toward the league’s average BABIP, which hovers around .300, or at least toward some average for players of his type. If we ignore the base rate for BABIP throughout the league, we will commit a systematic error in assessing the chances that Kepler improves in 2021.

Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection system offers percentile projections for every player. Kepler’s 50th-percentile projection for 2021 pegs him at 3.2 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), with a sturdy 119 DRC+. That’s good even for a corner outfielder. To get there, though, it projects Kepler to post a .270 BABIP. It gives him a BABIP to match his last three years, at .240, only in his 5th-percentile projection, wherein he hits .207/.286/.372 overall.

Other projection systems mostly see Kepler’s BABIP landing around .260 in 2021. Does that mean all of these are overestimating him? It could. It’s pretty clear that Kepler needs to make adjustments at the plate. He’s evolved impressively over the course of his big-league career, but his inability to generate hard contact against certain pitches or to certain parts of the park (plus the inherent disadvantage of being a lefty pull hitter, in the modern game) is putting a cap on his potential production.

Even so, it’s more likely that we’ll see him improve in those ways this year, as long as he’s healthy and keeps his strike zone organized, than that he’ll continue to be the league’s worst BABIP guy. Count that as one more reason to expect a solid season from a reliably solid player. Just remember, too, that we don't yet know how he'll make those adjustments, or what it might cost in other facets of his game.

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10 Comments

Ah, there it is. The annual ‘this will be the year Kepler’s BABIP normalizes’ article. To be fair, this is the first in this early spring tradition that does more than hint that the issue is not really bad luck and shifts, but instead, Kepler’s approach and swing. Which it 100% is. His offensive value has been anchored to how often the fly balls to right field leave the park. Period. And if the 2021 ball is as ‘different’ from the 2019 ball as feared (by batters)...I’m not holding my breath on a great year from Kepler. Can he change his approach at age 28? Maybe. He may need to.

    • Danchat, mikelink45, Major League Ready and 5 others like this

I just don't see how it changes unless he begins to spray the ball to all fields a little more.He's a good, solid player. Not a great one.A terrific defensive RF.  

    • mikelink45, Dman and KFEY93 like this

I have been disappointed by Max for a couple years.I had hoped he would move up and make that transition to a star player, now I want him to be a good player.With the rookies rising something needs to happen this year. 

    • KFEY93 and GNess like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Mar 07 2021 11:58 PM
This board has always tended to overvalue Kepler IMHO when one looks at his overall production. This article really helps crystallize the real problem; he's a one trick pony at the plate. That makes it easy to defense him and reduce his production. It seems unlikely that his BABIP will improve unless he learns to drive the ball the other way and quits popping everything up in his quest to hit HRs. I would love to see him hit .270-.280 with 20-25 HRs rather than .230 with 35 HRs. Unless he changes, Kepler will always be what he is now, a nice complimentary player on a good or even championship team but not a core middle of the order hitter. Let’s hope he can evolve to the latter and not plateau as the former.
    • mikelink45, DocBauer, Dakota Diver and 1 other like this
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Dave The Dastardly
Mar 08 2021 08:45 AM

Kepler is the least of my worries. We've got the Strikeout King on 1st, the Calf Man on 3rd, Bad Wheel Polanco at 2nd and Garver The Enigmatic behind the plate. A healthy, consistent, above average fielder in right, who can also fill in at center for the injury prone What-Can-I-Break-Next Buxton helps me sleep at night. That and a shot of Jameson.

 

 

    • gil4 and dbminn like this
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Dodecahedron
Mar 08 2021 09:00 AM

 

Kepler is the least of my worries. We've got the Strikeout King on 1st, the Calf Man on 3rd, Bad Wheel Polanco at 2nd and Garver The Enigmatic behind the plate. A healthy, consistent, above average fielder in right, who can also fill in at center for the injury prone What-Can-I-Break-Next Buxton helps me sleep at night. That and a shot of Jameson.

 

If Kepler were as good as those other players, I imagine you would worry about him too.

    • ashbury likes this

This is a good day to give Kepler a little extra attention - today was the discovery of the third law of Planetary Motion by Johannes Kepler.Maybe they are related and Max will discover the third strike of batting success. 

    • Craig Arko and dbminn like this

At some point you just have to say his BABIP is what it is and will not improve.I get annoyed when everyone always says people or teams will move to the average.Why?Why must every thing move to the average?There is always outliers in all stats.Sometimes people that go all in on advanced metrics forget that, or they assume no one is the exception.Yes, it is odd that he hits ball as hard as he does but his BABIP is well below what is expected.It is what it is.Had it been this for a single year okay maybe the year is the outlier, but he has played long enough that he is the outlier.  

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Dodecahedron
Mar 08 2021 12:20 PM

 

At some point you just have to say his BABIP is what it is and will not improve.I get annoyed when everyone always says people or teams will move to the average.Why?Why must every thing move to the average?There is always outliers in all stats.Sometimes people that go all in on advanced metrics forget that, or they assume no one is the exception.Yes, it is odd that he hits ball as hard as he does but his BABIP is well below what is expected.It is what it is.Had it been this for a single year okay maybe the year is the outlier, but he has played long enough that he is the outlier.  

 

A low BABIP suggests he could be a better hitter. As someone else said, his numbers are where they are because he swings for the fences. What will happen to Kepler when the ball is deadened, as will be the case this year? Can a player ever be "clutch" if he can't control where he hits the ball?

 

Some players had poor BABIPs and productive careers, true. If I were running a team, I'm not sure I would be too comfortable about betting on someone being one of those exceptions, especially not if the player's performance is so close to the median anyway.

 

Billy Beane had some success scrounging around for cheap, high-BABIP and high-OBP players back in the day. Sure, the game has changed since, but this will become important again when the balls stop being juiced.

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lukeduke1980
Mar 17 2021 07:35 AM
I think if a high percentage of a players' hit balls are into the air, there's a smaller percentage of those balls in play that will contribute to regression of the BABIP. I think that's Keplers's case as he's a launch angle guy who pops up a lot too.