To attempt to interpret statistics over a small sample size is always a dangerous game. Even with over a month of baseball played, rate statistics are still heavily marred by luck on batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. For example, James McCann has been outstanding so far, but I would be willing to bet that his .436 BABIP will heavily regress and end up closer to his career mark of .305 (perhaps a bit higher since his line drive rate and hard hit rates are up, per Fangraphs). Additionally, Tim Anderson hit .375 in April and is hitting .176 (6-34) in May. While Anderson is a much improved hitter, he too is sporting an unsustainable BABIP. I do not mean to imply that Anderson and McCann are simply products of luck, as both players have made meaningful changes to their offense and figure to end the year with better stats than they registered last year. However, the extreme variation we are currently seeing with Anderson and are bound to see with McCann is not a result of the player suddenly forgetting how to hit, but simply due to the normalization of BABIP luck (especially when one considers Anderson only has 6 strikeouts in May).
That brings me to the focal point of this post: Yoan Moncada. As things stand on the morning of May 10, 2019, Moncada is slashing .285/.338/.500 with a 125 wRC+, meaning he is 25% better than the league average hitter. While recency bias may indicate that Moncada has not been that good this year, he certainly has been. Much like with McCann and Anderson, one might assume that Moncada’s line may be due for some regression, especially since it is such a stark improvement over last year’s slash of .235/.315/.400.
In my opinion, however, Moncada’s numbers do not need to regress. It is possible that his strikeout rate increases by a substantial amount, and that could shatter my argument. Yet, his .354 BABIP, while still comfortably above the league average (which usually hovers around .300), is not outrageous relative to his career .345 BABIP and his contact profile. According to Baseball Savant, Moncada is in the 97th percentile for exit velocity and 75th percentile for hard hit rate, suggesting that he is capable of sustaining a BABIP comfortably above league average. Players such as Aaron Judge and Javier Baez, for example, have career BABIPs of .357 and .341, respectively, and Moncada certainly belongs in the same conversation as them in terms of contact profile. Moncada’s BABIP may fall a bit, since .354 is still quite high, but my argument is that it does not need to fall by much since his career BABIP has always been in line with that of players such as Judge and Baez.
The argument for Moncada’s start being legitimate goes deeper than BABIP. wOBA is another Baseball Savant statistic that attempts to act as a more holistic form of stats that incorporate power output, like OPS. Moncada has a .362 wOBA, which is well above the league average (typically in the ballpark of ~.320).
Why am I mentioning this? Baseball Savant also has a stat called xwOBA, which, as you might have guessed, attempts to display what a player’s wOBA should be based on the player’s contact profile, sprint speed, and a few other factors. When a player’s xwOBA is higher than his wOBA, it implies that he has been unlucky, and vice versa. So far, Moncada has a .362 wOBA and a .384 xwOBA, which suggests that he has indeed been unlucky despite his excellent production.
While xwOBA is not a predictive statistic, it is still useful, especially as a tool to check how flukey a player’s BABIP might be. Yoan Moncada could go into a major slump as soon as this is published. That’s just baseball. The point I am trying to make by writing it is to show that, based on what he has done so far, his results are actually not due to luck, and negative regression is not a given. This is the kind of proclamation that can come back to bite me if he does endure a prolonged slump, but Moncada’s current slash line of .285/.338/.500 is not far off from where I believe he will end the season, provided he continues to demolish the ball the way he has.
Featured Photo: Chicago Tribune