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Detroit Tigers 2017 fantasy baseball primer: using xBABIP to predict draft position

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Let’s use stats to predict where you should draft your favorite Tigers players!

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Do you know that point in the offseason where rosters are pretty much set, so you open up Excel and start playing around with last year’s stats just to satisfy your baseball needs? [Ed.: He does this with pants on... we think.] You see that the Detroit Tigers are only projected at 83 wins for 2017, so you frantically look at every stat imaginable, even going as far as creating your own stats (like TIBTWAR, This Is Better Than WAR) so you can prove that the Tigers will indeed win 110 games and you can say, “suck it Tiger haters.” No one? Just me?

The Tigers have been so boring this offseason that I have done this a lot over the last few months, even the part about creating a stat. That would be expected batting average on balls in play, or xBABIP, nothing that has not already been done before. At the very least, I can claim that this is my version of the stat. While we have batted ball data going as far back as 2002, I only took the sample back to 2010, since that is when there is a clear shift in pitching dominance. The R-squared to this stat is .388, which is lower than other models, but I think it gets the job done.

Player 2016 BABIP xBABIP Difference
Player 2016 BABIP xBABIP Difference
J.D. Martinez .378 .311 .067
Miguel Cabrera .336 .316 .02
Nick Castellanos .345 .326 .019
Justin Upton .301 .29 .011
Victor Martinez .303 .298 .005
Ian Kinsler .314 .309 .005
James McCann .283 .292 -.009
Jose Iglesias .276 .299 -.023
Detroit Tigers xBABIP

This data is most useful for fantasy baseball, where you will probably be drafting in the next few weeks. Which of your favorite Tigers players should you draft? Which ones should you stay away from? Who is getting drafted too soon? Who will be a potential sleeper? Let’s try to answer those questions.

Note: Keep in mind I am assuming a traditional 5x5 format (runs, RBI, batting average, home runs, and stolen bases) and a 12-team league. You may have to adjust depending on your league rules.

J.D. Martinez

This does not look for J.D. Martinez, who had a high .378 BABIP in 2016 but an xBABIP of only .311, a difference of .069. This is the second time that Martinez has managed a very high BABIP; in 2014, it was .389. Maybe he is just an outlier? Keep in mind that BABIP really only focuses on batting average. In 2015 (the only year J.D. has played more than 125 games), he had a .282 batting average, along with 38 home runs, 93 runs, and 102 RBI. We would certainly take a lower batting average for more power, both in real life and fantasy circles. That power is no fluke, either. J.D. has had home run to fly ball (HR/FB) ratios of 18 percent, 20.8 percent, and 19.5 percent over the last three years.

Draft position: His main problem is staying on the field, which is why you should probably wait until the fifth or sixth round to take him.

Miguel Cabrera

You are going to hear this a lot: this guy is another year past his prime. Miguel Cabrera is special, we all know that. His BABIP last year was .336 and his lifetime BABIP is .347. The last time he hit below .300 was 2008, so I am not worried about his xBABIP difference of 0.020. He is going to hit above .300 in 2017, there is nothing more certain. What about the power? After hitting 44 home runs in each of 2012 and 2013, Cabrera only hit 25 in 2014 and 18 in a shortened 2015 season. He bounced back with 38 home runs in 2016. When healthy, Miggy can still mash.

Draft position: Cabrera is still a first round pick, but probably a late first round pick. Health is still a concern and there is still a chance he will only hit 25 home runs instead of 40, which is not as valuable, even if he hits .340 instead of .320.

Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos is an interesting case. He was in the middle of a breakout season in 2016, then broke his hand and missed 46 games. Everything was trending in the right direction for Castellanos. His ISO has trended upward, from .135 in 2014 to .164 in 2015 to .212 in 2016. His HR/FB is also going up, from 7.5 percent in 2014 to 9.2 percent in 2015, then up to 13.7 percent in 2016. If he can stay healthy for a full season, Castellanos should have no problem hitting 25 home runs, even if his batting average will be closer to .270 than .290.

Draft position: This is all good news for the Tigers, but bad news for fantasy. There were 13 qualified third basemen last year who hit at least 25 home runs in 2016. In a 12-team league, there just is not any room for Nick at third base when you can easily get someone more established. You can wait until the later rounds, draft Nick as a utility player and hope he really breaks out. He is a good sleeper pick.

Justin Upton

Now we are getting to the Tiger players who are who they are. Upton had a .301 BABIP in 2016 and an xBABIP of 290. In 2015, Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs, 85 runs, 81 RBI, and 19 stolen bases. In 2016, Upton hit .246 with 31 home runs, 81 runs, 87 RBI, and nine stolen bases. He was 10 stolen bases away from having the same exact fantasy value two years in a row despite the fact that he seemed useless for much of the season. Upton finished strong, hitting .292 with 13 home runs in the last month of the season, which fits his up-and-down profile.

Draft position: The main problem is that the Tigers do not steal bases. If Upton can steal 20 bases, he is a better fantasy player. He is a fine third outfielder for around the 10th round in a “set it and forget it” type of league. But he will probably frustrate you more than anything.

Victor Martinez

Another year older and another year past his prime, Victor Martinez had a .303 BABIP with an xBABIP of .298 in 2016. He did what he was supposed to do as far as batting average, which isn’t surprising considering he is a career .300 hitter. The power on the other hand? Here are his home run totals since becoming a Tiger: 12, 14, 32, 11, 27. Martinez will be 38 years old in 2017, so there is no way he will hit 25-30 home runs again, right?

Draft position: Victor Martinez’s problem is that he is a designated hitter and only a DH. He will not have first base eligibility in 2017 in most leagues. This hurts his fantasy value. He is old, has no flexibility, and has unpredictable power. It is best not to gamble on him at all.

Ian Kinsler

How old is Ian Kinsler? 31? 32? 33? Nope. Kinsler will be entering his age 35 year in 2017. It is hard to believe that someone this old is still this athletic. Not only did he have one of the best seasons of his career in 2016, but Kinsler also won a Gold Glove (and deserved it too!). His batting average was pretty much on point last year (.314 BABIP, .309 xBABIP). I am skeptical of his power, though. He had a 12.5 percent HR/FB ratio last year, up from five percent in 2015 and 6.5 percent in 2014. Given his age, I don’t think he will top the 20 home run plateau again.

Draft position: I think Kinsler will be over-drafted next year. You will be kicking yourself if you take Kinsler in the fourth round when you could have had former Tiger Devon Travis in the tenth round. Both will have similar stats by the end of the year (assuming Travis stays healthy).

James McCann

James McCann was another Tiger hitter who did exactly what was expected in 2016. He had a .283 BABIP and a .292 xBABIP. We all know about McCann’s struggles against right-handed hitters, hitting .201/.243/.268 last year. Among the 24 catchers last year with at least 300 plate appearances, McCann was 20th in batting average and 14th in home runs. Sure, he is young enough to break out in 2017, but he has not shown many positive signs of doing that yet.

Draft position: Unless your league has defensive stats, it is best to forget about McCann on draft day. Sure, you could grab him and only use him against left-handed pitchers, but that seems tedious and a waste of a roster spot.

Jose Iglesias

Jose Iglesias is the only Tiger last year that you can truly say was unlucky in 2016. His BABIP was .276 and his xBABIP was .299, a difference of 0.023. This BABIP would have given Iglesias about 10 more hits than he had, which would have raised his batting average to .276. It is not the .300 batting average that we are used to seeing from him, but a positive sign that he will perform better in 2017.

Draft position: As far as fantasy value, Iglesias just does not do enough. Even when he was hitting .300, it just is not enough in this era. If he were a leadoff hitter that utilized his speed — which is theoretically possible as manager Brad Ausmus has yet to determine on a batting order — he would then have potential for more runs and possibly more stolen bases. Until Iglesias becomes a better base stealing threat and moves up in the order, it is best to ignore him on draft day, even if you think he can hit .300 again.