Considering the countless hours of training and preparation that baseball players put in over the course of a long season, it is almost cruel to think that luck can be such a major contributor to on-field results. Luckily for those betting the MLB, there are a handful of statistics that attempt to quantify how luck might be impacting a player’s or team’s performance. Here are three “luck stats” that every baseball bettor should know.
BABIP stands for “batting average on balls in play.” It is categorized as a “luck stat” with the goal of bringing to light essentially the placement of hits. BABIP can be calculated for both hitters and pitchers. It should be noted that hitters have greater direct control over their BABIP than pitchers. The three key factors that influence BABIP are defense, talent level and, well, luck. The defensive component impacts batters who might hit a ball towards elite fielders or in the direction of players who are considered fielding liabilities. Consistently hitting into a shift will also lower a batter’s BABIP.
For pitchers, having a good defense playing behind them can lead to fewer hits and a lower BABIP, even if they threw the exact same pitches to the same hitters with an average or poor defense. Talent comes into play when you consider how hard a ball is hit. Better hitters are generally able to make better contact, thus leading to more hits off of harder hit balls.
The luck factor of BABIP refers to a number of things. We’ve all seen the frozen rope line drive hit right to the third baseman and, in contrast, the dying quail blooper that drops in safely for a base hit. No matter how good the pitch or the defense is, hits can still fall in. Like any “luck stat,” BABIP tends to even out over the course of a long season or multiple seasons. This makes BABIP a very good stat to use to predict either positive or negative regression for pitchers.
Perhaps the most important component (outside of fielding) to a pitcher’s success that he himself has no control over is run support. Take Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets for example. Despite win-loss records of 10-9 in 2018 and 11-8 last year, deGrom brought home the NL Cy Young Award in both campaigns due to his own on-mound performance that is reflected in his pitching statistics from both seasons. A lack of run support is the primary cause of deGrom’s poor win-loss records in what were otherwise dominant campaigns.
In 2019, only eight pitchers with at least 30 starts had average run supports fewer than the 4.16 the Mets offense provided deGrom. Being aware of a pitcher’s average run support can help discount flawed win-loss records and also project either a positive or negative regression to the team’s mean offensive output in the second half of the season.
HR/FB is a stat that tracks the number of home runs a pitcher gives up relative to the number of fly balls they allow. Pitchers clearly do not want to surrender home runs, so a low HR/FB rate is ideal. So, where does the luck come in with the HR/FB statistic? While pitchers do have a level of control over the type of hit a batter will be able to put on a given pitch, controlling the speed and distance of a fly ball hit in play doesn’t exactly fall in the skill category. Some balls may be caught on the warning track. Others might carry to the seats for a home run. These variances are next to impossible for bettors to predict, but a poor HR/FB ratio would suggest that those balls have tended to leave the yard against a certain pitcher. The luck concept behind the HR/FB statistic is why general betting advice says to look to bet on pitchers that induce more grounders than fly balls because of the decreased amount of variance in play.