One of the ways to find healthy bargains in an offseason market is to pick up some players who had poor seasons and hope they rebound. Of course, to do so, you have to be able to predict which players are due for some luck regression in a good way, and which players actually had a natural decline in talent. There are a few statistics we can look at to determine the "luck" factors with baseball players, the most popular of which is, of course, BABIP. So to find some interesting potential bargains, lets take a look at some of last year's BABIP losers and establish who might be available cheap and likely undervalued by the market. We'll stick to hitters for now, since most of the pitchers have already been covered in articles such as Sherman's Second Plan to Top Atlanta by Sam Page, Diamonds In the Rough and The Big Book of Available Pitchers by Robcast23, and Community Offseason Part Three: How to Solve the Rotation by METSMETSMETS.
Andruw Jones - .224 BABIP
Despite posting one of the lowerst BABIPs in the majors this year, Andruw is one of the cases where significant regression seems least likely. His BABIP has been way below .300 for five years running, below .250 in four of those years in fact, and .270 in the only exception year (2006). He seems to be one of those extreme outlier cases in the BABIP spectrum. Still, Rudy Jaramillo and the Rangers did manage to coax a .338 wOBA out of him in 2009, and although the Rangers only allowed him to play 17 games in the outfield, he did manage to rate at 2.5 UZR for that time. Historically, his glove has been tremendous, posting a crazy 22.4 UZR/150 in CF for his career. He was merely average in 2008, his last full season playing CF, but he has power, and despite the low BABIP trend in his recent career, .224 was still the lowest mark he's ever posted. There is potential value here, but its high risk.
Jody Gerut - .243 BABIP
A surprisingly interesting BABIP case, Gerut is not due for Free Agency just yet, but he is a non-tender candidate and someone the Brewers would likely be very willing to use as filler in a trade. Gerut had a surprising breakout season in 2008, posting a .365 wOBA in 356 PAs and posting a 6.0 UZR in 80 games in CF. The production just wasn't there this year, but the only real significant change was the BABIP drop, from .317 last year and a career mark of .280. His LD% actually improved in 2009, from 16.8% to 19.2%. He also features average to slightly above average power, a 14.1% HR/FB in 2008, 11.7% in 2009, and 10.7% career mark. The downside here is mostly about age (32 years old) and a middling BB%. For what he might cost in Free Agency, Gerut looks like he could very well be a solid value as an older, more power/less speed oriented version of Angel Pagan, perhaps a left handed compliment to someone like Nick Evans or Jeff Francoeur, and a solid stopgap to some of the younger talent on the farm.
Garrett Atkins - .247 BABIP
Atkins has been the source of much controversy, as he had spend the last few seasons considered a fringe star until seeing his stock plummet this year. He even upped his BB% this year over 10%, but a drop in power and BABIP caused his wOBA to fall all the way to .291. The drop in power, and the fact that his defense has always been pretty miserable at either corner should make Atkins one of the less enticing bargains on this list. Even in 2008, he was only 0.6 WAR player with a 10% HR/FB and .317 BABIP. That level of power won't cut it for a first baseman with poor defense, and the 7.3% HR/FB mark he posted this year really makes him the definition of tweener. He's only been above 2.5 WAR once in his career.
Chad Tracy - .251 BABIP
Though he's never put up the kind of offensive power production that Atkins has, Tracy may actually be at least as good an option at this point. He posted a .296 wOBA this year and very similar peripheral rates to Atkins across the board. The biggest difference is that Tracy is much closer to average defensively. Either way, I think this says more about the downside of what Atkins might be than any value Tracy might offer up. He still doesn't have nearly enough offense to play first base in anything other than a part time capacity, and there's no real reason to think he's a better option than Daniel Murphy at this point.
Hank Blalock - .252 BABIP
Much like Atkins, Blalock was considered a fringe star in one of the game's most hitter friendly ballparks earlier in his career, just to see his stock plummet due to injuries in 2007 and 2008 and poor production in 2009. Still, there are some interesting things to note about Blalock. First, he does have power, with a career .195 ISO and marks over .220 each of the last three seasons. Despite the low BABIP, he actually managed to increase his HR/FB in 2009 to 15.3%, and has a career mark of 13.0%. The .252 BABIP was also by far a career low, and in fact, he's never been below .296 in any other season besides his brief major league debut in 2002. The problem with Blalock is that he's something of a free swinger, though not an order-of-magnitude deviation from the norm the way Jeff Francoeur is. His BB% was a miserable 5.3% this year, and had fallen to 6.9% last year after hovering closer to 8-10% earlier in his career. He swung 48.8% of the pitches he saw, but perhaps even more troubling, his strikeout rate also jumped to 23.4%, the highest its been since 2004, and whiffed on about 23% of the pitches he swung at. Still, it seems plausible that the frustration of the low BABIP got to him, and unlike the previous two corner infielders, there's probably some legitimate upside here. He also seemed to adjust to first base nicely in 2009, posting a 2.9 UZR in 66 games in only his second year playing the position after shifting from third base. It seems there's a very good chance he'll be a better hitter and equal defender to Daniel Murphy in 2010, and probably wouldn't require the kind of financial commitment that would preclude Ike Davis from eventually taking over the position. He also won't turn 29 until November, so age isn't a real concern yet, though he has been fairly injury prone in his recent career.
Carlos Pena - .253 BABIP
Pena is the most appealing option covered so far from a talent-only standpoint. Unfortunately, he's not a free agent, and the Rays are one of the more intelligent organizations out there, so any discount on his services may be limited. Still, the Rays are also an organization that would like to clear some payroll space, and they may feel that Pena is both one of the better options for them to move and that they may have to give at least a slight discount for his .227 Batting Average this year and .247 mark last year. Though Pena never figures to be a high average guy, the low BABIP in 2009 was still a large outlier in his career scheme, with his career mark at .293 and previous career lows of .289 and .288 coming in 2004 and 2002, respectively. It also appears the low BABIP had nothing to do with a lack of hitting balls hard, as his LD% and power numbers both remained consistent. Even with the low averages, he still managed a .374 wOBA in each of the last two seasons, and has the kind of raw power that would play in any ballpark. The important question with Pena is going to be about cost in talent. If its not too much, he's certainly a player worth buying on.