If only luck was as simple as Harvey Dent made it out to be. If he played baseball, his BABIP would be 1.000. Unfortunately, the MLB average is just under .300, and guys like Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have demonstrated that they can maintain a high BABIP from year to year. The mystifying thing about luck is that we don’t know exactly when the pendulum will shift the other way.
Last season, we chirped on and on to sell Chris Johnson and his unsustainable BABIP. He almost won the batting title and scored himself a contract extension. This season, he fell back down to earth to the tune of .246 so far. In the cases of Nolan Arenado and Dee Gordon, we cannot declare with certainty that their strong performances will cease tomorrow, next week, or next month. But they will stop eventually, and you’ll want to sell prior to that event.
If it wasn’t for his hot-hitting teammates Troy Tulowitzki and Charlie Blackmon, Arenado would be the talk of the town. His 28 game hitting streak was recently snapped, but he has still boosted his season average to a robust .322. He does not appear to show significant improvements in strikeout or walk rate, plate discipline, or hard contact, which means that if a true skill improvement has occurred, it has done a good job of hiding.
Since he posted a .296 BABIP in last year’s rookie campaign, his 2014 BABIP of .325 sticks out a little, but isn’t likely to be the cause of a 55-point increase in batting average. However, the 2014 BABIP is actually hiding the real reason for the batting average spike — an unlikely success rate on grounders. His BABIP on grounders was .219 in 2013, but that figure has skyrocketed to .353 early on this season. In comparison, the MLB average is .235, so this year’s mark is more likely to be the outlier. Oddly enough, the fact that his aggregate BABIP has barely ticked upward brings up his .022 BABIP on fly balls. This is because BABIP does not include home runs, so well-hit balls that may have been hits in the field have instead been removed from his BABIP calculation. Anyway, the power is real, but Arenado is not a .300 hitter just yet.
While Arenado is a highly-touted prospect who people are rooting for, many are sick of good ol’ Dee Gordon. He’s burned us in the past, but he just capped off an impressive April and has already stolen 21 bases. Gordon’s case is a bit more straightforward than Arenado’s. His .396 BABIP is clearly going to regress, but his batted ball distribution indicates that he could be prone to hitting for a better average than his career mark because he is converting fly balls to grounders and line drives. Since he isn’t hitting for power, he derives almost no benefit from flies anyway.
Both Arenado and Gordon are sell-high cases by definition, but each has one nugget that could make it worth staying put. For Arenado, he’ll benefit from hitting in a stacked Rockies lineup that plays half its games at Coors Field, and Gordon can lead the league in steals if he plays the rest of the year. You can either trade them as a hero or keep them long enough that they’ll become the villain.