I seem to get into conversations about Chris Colabello all the time. Always the question is ‘how is he going to hit in the future?'. My usual answer is ‘I don't know', but I often suggest look at what has happened to other players who a) had a season with a BABIP that's well above the norm and b) players that have their first good season (and first season of more than 300 PA) at age 31.
I thought I'd look at the first part of that. Chris had a .411 BABIP, so why not take a look at players who have had a season with a BABIP over .400 in more than 300 PA. A quick search on Baseball Reference (thank goodness for Baseball Reference's search system, doing something like this, in the one days would take days) showed there was just 12 players to BABIP .400 or more, in 300 PA, over the last 25 years. And Chris was tied for the highest.
For comparison sake, let's remind ourselves what Chris did last year:
360 PA, .411 BABIP, .321/.367/.520, 6.1% BB, 26.7% K, 142 wRC+.
The others that have had a BABIP over .400 in the last 25 years:
311 PA, .411 BABIP, .342/.373/.521, 5.1% BB, 21.2% K, 132 wRC+.
Matt is a very close comparison, in a lot of ways. 2007 was his first season with more than 300 PA, after a handful of at bats the year before. He had the exact same BABIP and a similar low walk rate and fairly similar high strikeout rate.
In 2008 (age 22):
657 PA, .361 BABIP, .290/.340/.459, 7.0% BB, 23.3% K, 109 wRC+.
So, he still had a very good BABIP just not an out of the world BABIP. 50 point drop. His batting average also dropped about 50 points, so nice and neat. And his walk rate came up a bit.
As I mentioned, Matt is a pretty close comparison....unless you take age into account. Matt was 22, Chris was 31. Matt was a pretty good prospect, Chris was a journeyman. Matt's had a very good career, he's played 10 seasons. Matt continued to have pretty good BABIP numbers, getting as high as .380 (in 2011) and as low as .295 (in 2010). He has a career number of .346. His seasonal numbers range from a low of .295 to this high.
In 1996 (age 27):
418 PA, .408 BABIP, .347/.388/.593, 6.0% BB, 21.3% K, 140 wRC+.
524 PA, .370 BABIP, .319/.358/.470, 4.6% BB, 17.7% K, 112 wRC+.
A 38 point drop in BABIP, and 29 point drop in batting average.
Reggie had a 9 year career, he was a part timer, never played more than 136 games. He was 27 in 1996. Career BABIP .350.
In 2014 (age 23):
430 PA, .405 BABIP, .319/.353.472, 4.4% BB, 22.8% K, 133 wRC+.
277 PA, .290 BABIP, .215/.241/.319, 2.2% BB, 24.5% K, 40 wRC+.
Danny was a rookie in 2014, the next year his BABIP dropped 115 points, and of course, all his other numbers crashed. He went from 7th in Rookie of the Year voting to playing himself off the team.
In 2002 (age 32):
592 PA, .404 BABIP, .288/.356/.478, 8.9% BB, 32.3% K, 119 wRC+.
571 PA, .311 BABIP, .225/.287/.347, 8.1% BB, 31.0% K, 58 wRC+.
Jose was 32, in the middle of a 15 year career. The next season his BABIP dropped 97 points, and his other numbers dropped. He retired with a .324 career BABIP.
In 2014 (age 29):
424 PA, .404 BABIP, .289/.339/.482, 7.1% BB, 32.1% K, 112 wRC+.
140 PA, .328 BABIP, .195/.283/.382, 10.0% BB, 42.9% K, 66 wRC+.
Drew was traded after the 2014 season. He didn't have a great season with the amazingly high BABIP, when it dropped 76 points he was terrible. He's had a 7 year career.
In 2012 (age 28):
475 PA, .404 BABIP, .337/.474/.567, 19.8% BB, 17.9% K, 178 wRC+.
726 PA, .360 BABIP, .305/.435/.491, 18.6% BB, 19.0% K, 155 wRC+.
An excellent season, in a very good career. The 40 point drop in BABIP showed in a 32 point drop in batting average. He has a high career BABIP, .357. He never been close to a .400 BABIP any other time in his career.
In 2014 (age 29):
322 PA, .404 BABIP, .340/.404/.493, 8.7% BB, 18.0% K, 157 wRC+.
439 PA, .321 BABIP, .294/.370/.491, 8.2% BB, 16.2% K, 141 wRC+.
His BABIP dropped 83 points, his batting average dropped 46 points, likely helped by bringing down his strikeout rate. He's had a 7 year career, up to this point. Career BABIP .322.
In 2000 (age 28):
532 PA, .403 BABIP, .351/.457/.697, 16.2% BB, 22.0% K, 181 wRC+
620 PA, .353 BABIP, .306/.405/.609, 13.1% BB, 23.7% K, 156 wRC+.
This was year 8 of Manny's 19 year career, his last season as an Indian. He missed some time with injury, playing in only 118 games. His BABIP dropped 50 points and his batting average dropped 45 points. He had a career .338 BABIP.
In 2012 (age 30):
320 PA, .401 BABIP, .313/.374/.535, 9.1% BB, 26.3% K, 147 wRC+.
472 PA, .260 BABIP, .222/.298/.396, 8.7% BB, 24.2% K, 93 wRC+.
His BABIP drops 141 points, and no surprise the rest of his numbers crash. He's had a 7 year career up to here. He's had a career .323 BABIP. In 2014 his BABIP jumped up to .375.
Wily Mo Peña
In 2006 (age 24):
304 PA, .400 BABIP, .301/.349/.489, 6.6% BB, 29.6% K, 111 wRC+
317 PA, .330 BABIP, .253/.319/.439, 6.9% BB, 29.7% K, 96 wRC+.
His BABIP drops 70 points, his batting average drops 48 points. He had an 8 year career (presuming it is over) and has a .320 career BABIP.
In 1996 (age 33) :
417 PA, .400 BABIP, .340/.352/.500, 2.2% BB, 18.5% K, 114 wRC+
355 PA, .304 BABIP, .236/.268/.286, 3.4% BB, 22.0% K, 45 wRC+.
His BABIP dropped 96 points, batting average dropped 104 points. Mariano has a 12-year career, mostly as a utility infielder. He had a career .313 BABIP,
The other 11 players, in the last 25 years, that had a BABIP over .400 averaged a 78 point drop in it the next season and their batting averages dropped an average of 64 points (with a similar drop in other slash line numbers).
11 players aren't a very big sample size, so it really isn't enough to tell you what will happen with Colabello, but all 11 had BABIP drop. I'd guess that Chris isn't going to be the one to beat those odds. The drops range from 38 points to 141. My guess is that he'd be in the lower end of that range. Or that's my hope. I'd also hope that Chris walks a little more and strikes out a little less.
Looking at these guys, it doesn't look like having an extremely high BABIP is a skill set, but it does look like the ones that have had an extremely BABIP one season, tend to have career numbers above average.
One of the interesting bits about the 12 guys is most of them didn't do it in a full season of play. Only 2 of the 12 had more than 500 PA and none of them had over 600 PA. Likely, it's impossible to keep up that kind of level of luck for a season.
I did another Baseball Reference search, looking for players who had seasons with a BABIP over .400, while having enough PA to qualify for the batting title, going back to 1950. There were only 4 times that happened:
Manny Ramirez (listed above): .403 BABIP, in 532 PA, in 2000 (but playing only 118 games).
Jose Hernandez (listed above): .404 BABIP, in 582 PA, in 2002.
Roberto Clemente: .403 BABIP, in 632 PA, in 1967.
Rod Carew: .408 BABIP, in 694 PA, in 1977.
None of this really tells us what Colabello will do next year. It does tell us what a terrific and usual season he had. It suggests that odds are very slim he'll have such a great BABIP again next year, but then he could still be a valuable player.