Figuring out BABIP

Baseball's most significant statistical breakthrough is constantly evolving

Updated: May 25, 2011, 9:05 AM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
HudsonDaniel Shirey/US PresswireAs it turns out, certain pitchers, like Tim Hudson, have more control on balls in play than others.

This story appears in the May 30 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

In 1999, sabermetrics pioneer Voros McCracken proposed a radical idea. While pitchers have a good deal of control over their strikeouts, walks and homers allowed, they have much less control over what happens when batters put balls into play -- over whether their pitches turn into harmless squibblers, cans of corn or screaming doubles in the gap. "Hits allowed are not a particularly meaningful statistic," he wrote.

All these years later, McCracken's discovery has been embraced, rejected, split apart, reassembled and criticized some more. And in great news for both fantasy leaguers and pure fans, his theory has become stronger and more predictive at every step, showcasing sabermetrics at its messy best: open-source, challenging, endlessly self-correcting and ultimately revealing.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.