HOUSTON - JUNE 24: Catcher J.R. Towles #46 of the Houston Astros drops to one knee after taking a foul ball off his mask during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on June 24, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Towles had to leave the game and recevied eleven stitches. Tampa Bay won 5-1. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
I was asked on twitter why I have so much faith in JR Towles but have so little for Chris Johnson. The simple answer is the difference in batting average on balls in play (BABiP) which I discussed earlier this year. I didn't cover Johnson's BABiP in that article nor shall I cover it in this article because we've documented it plenty of times since the end of last season.
Instead we'll be taking a look at the luck factor for Towles as well as some of the other players in this league who have been unlucky in their own right. But this won't be just about BABiP we'll also be taking into accounts nicks, bruises and disabled list visits.
So to set the standard let's document Towles.
Statistically Towles has a .195/.278/.322 line with a .206 batting average on balls in play which is surprisingly only the fourth lowest for batters with at least 130 plate appearances. There's only a 25 point difference in being number one in that category so he's in the ball park.
The other thing to take into account is his injuries.
Now he hasn't been placed on the disabled list, however he has been nicked and bruised quite a bit this season. He's had the foul ball that opened up a gash in his chin, he tweaked a muscle in his right leg that kept him out a week and he fouled a ball off his ankle in April. Maybe he's lucky he hasn't been placed on the disabled list yet but he's still getting beaten up behind home plate.
Throw in the fact the organization has so little faith in him, even though he has the potential to be the best offensive catcher to play for the Astros since Biggio switched to second base, and you have a strong case for Towles being the unluckiest player in the majors.
These next few names won't be unfamiliar to you.
A .172/.288/.258 line accompanies a .205 batting average on balls in play for LaRoche. Expected to provide some protection for, big free agent signing, Jayson Werth he was unable to provide that protection. He's set career lows across the board and it's not going to get better.
LaRoche underwent season ending surgery on the 16th of June to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. It's not all bad though it appears he's signed with the Nats for next year and will be paid $8 million.
Had been hitting below the Mendoza Line up until recently he's now batting .200/.270/.544 so maybe his luck is beginning to turn. At 37 Ordonez is certainly in the twilight of his career, but that hasn't changed his offensive production much as he's been able to provide above average offense well into his late 30's. His BABiP currently sits at .216 and at the moment is trending up.
In April he dealt with an ankle and achilles in his right foot before finally being put on the disabled list in May. He didn't return to the Tigers lineup until mid-May. Now that it appears he's healthy his statistics should begin to trend upwards.
Statistically Uggla is the worst his .188 BABiP is accompanied by a .177/.247/.341 line, but he has hit 12 homeruns so there's that. Out of all the guys Uggla has the most plate appearances and at 328 you have to wonder even if he were to become the luckiest man on earth if it'd be enough to get him anywhere close to his .291 career average in BABiP. I will say that he has a habit of positing above average BABiP followed by a below average year. Last year he hit .330 so this is most likely going to be a down year for Uggla. However if that BABiP were to regress towards his mean, watch out.
Lucky for us the Astros have already played all the games they'll play against the Braves this year. Next year is an entirely different story.
As for injuries he's been healthy to this point.
I want to make a note that BABiP isn't all about luck, it's certainly the general description used, but there are other variables that can contribute to the BABiP statistic. As you can see with Adam LaRoche and Maggilo Ordonez it probably had less to do with luck and more to do with the injuries they were dealing with. For Dan Uggla it could probably be more attributed to luck, but it could also be his statistics regressing from the previous year.
As for Towles it could also be luck but it could also mean that he just can't hit at this level. If you take a player from the lower minors it's likely that player will have a low BABiP. While that could be the case with Towles we still can't say for sure with out more data. If he does happen to figure it out though the Astros could have a very good offensive catcher. The likes of which hasn't been seen since Craig Biggio moved to second base.
So who would you consider the unluckiest player so far this year? Did I miss someone?