As originally published on gatemen.org, here.
Andrew Calica is leading the Cape League in batting average, and it’s not close.
A few hours ago, that statement would’ve been met with the venomous, “Yeah, but small sample size,” deflections.
A few hours later, Calica has gone 3-for-4 (his 15th multi-hit game and sixth game of three hits or more) and has now firmly entrenched himself atop the batting average leaderboard—at .439 and 81 points ahead of his next closest competitor.
I spoke with him after the game and asked him about his
summer-long scorching hot bat.
“I try to not worry so much about the results,” Calica said. “I think I’ve had a pretty good, decent season, but I try to take each day differently than the last… Even when you’re having an off day, you can still have a good day by focusing on the details and working on what’s not working well for you. It’s a process and it’s just something you got to work hard at.”
Well-respected among his teammates and always one for insightful, well-thought responses, he continued to demonstrate unprecedented humility, grace, and overall good-person-ness.
“I try and not think about that (success) too much. Obviously, I’m happy with where I’m at right now. Like I said, there’s still things that I can work on. It’s a double-edged sword for me. I see what I’ve done well and I also see the mistakes and things I need to improve on,” the UC Santa Barbara, and now Wareham Gatemen, center fielder said.
Perhaps it was his late arrival to the Cape; perhaps it’s the fact UC Santa Barbara isn’t your prototypical college baseball factory (though RHP Dillon Tate was recently drafted No. 4 overall in the MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers); or perhaps it’s because he only has three extra-base hits and thus isn’t likely to receive huge MVP support, but his demolishing of CCBL pitching has gone largely under the radar.
Drafted in the 17th round in the 2012 MLB Draft out of high school and a 2015 All-Big West Honorable Mention, his name isn’t completely foreign to those who follow closely.
Still, a .439 batting average in the Cape was in no way anticipated by anybody.
So what’s fueling this torrid two-month stretch and how in the world is he having this much success?
The advanced tracking system that the Cape League provides, and advanced stats in general, tell us “Good things happen to good people” is only a miniscule part of the answer.
Whenever a baseball player has skyrocketing success and puts up other-worldly numbers, the first point of emphasis should be to determine the player’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
It’s a measure essentially designed to gauge how fortunate a player has been—how often a ball is falling for a base hit when it’s put in play.
Calica’s BABIP is currently .512.
In a nutshell, over half the time he’s put the ball in play this season, he’s gotten a hit.
That astronomical of a mark is to be anticipated with such a high batting average, of course. For reference, Nick Senzel, who has the second-best batting average in the Cape at .358, has a BABIP of .446.
Both players, Calica especially, have definitely had some fortune in their quest for a Cape League batting title, and that by no means is a shot at the season either of them are having.
No baseball player, not even Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, can sustain a BABIP over .500, or .400 for that matter.
FanGraphs does a nice job explaining the historical validity of this claim, but simply put, a .350 BABIP is a realistic mark for the best players in the game. No player with more than 4,000 career PA in Major League Baseball has had over a .380 BABIP.
But so many different factors go into BABIP it would be an absolute disservice to Calica’s season to attribute his success to getting lucky.
After all, Calica has always sported a high BABIP—in 2015 at UCSB it was .391 and in 2014 it was .375.
Since individual career BABIP’s are stickier (they typically are better indicators of future levels of success) than league averages, this means this Cape season isn’t an absolute anomaly for Calica.
But again, that’s only part of the answer.
Digging deeper into Calica’s batted ball data and approach at the plate can offer even better answers to his high BABIP and high batting average.
Batted Ball Data (LD%, FB%, GB%)
Calica has plus speed.
D1Baseball.com knows it (4.10-4.12 second home to first base times). Andrew Calica knows it.
In fact, Calica knows it so well that he exploits his speed by hitting tons of ground balls.
Calica’s batted ball profile for the 2015 Cape season is roughly as follows:
The batted ball profile of the average major league hitter is precisely as follows (from FanGraphs):
Though the Cape League season doesn’t offer us nearly enough of a sample size to make drastic judgments, and FanGraphs also tells us, “Six weeks of batted ball data shouldn’t change your opinion of a player’s talent level,” these numbers are gold.
These numbers help explain why Calica continuously strings together base hit after base hit after base hit.
One more table that details the average major league batting average on types of batted balls:
It’s common sense that line drives, on average, produce the most base hits of batted ball types. Yes, Calica’s Cape season has featured him hitting slightly below the MLB line drive average rate. But also remember because of the small sample size and discrepancies from official scorer to official scorer, it’s an imperfect number.
What we’re focused on is the clear spike in ground balls and the complete lack of fly balls Calica has hit.
Not only has Calica used his speed by hitting the ball on the ground and beating out hits that others would normally not, but he has also rid himself of the two outcomes that most frequently lead to outs—fly balls and pop flies.
Side by side: 15 percent of Calica’s balls in play have been fly balls this summer, while the MLB average is 35 percent. More jarring is the fact that Calica has nearly eliminated popping out, as he’s done so only three times all year.
Again, the sample sizes are indeed off. But still, there’s a huge discrepancy and it’s worth pointing out, especially when Calica has these sorts of words about his process:
“I definitely think that my speed is a tool to myself. I don’t see myself as a power hitter right now. Definitely hitting the ball hard in play, on the ground, head-high line drives, just make the defense work. I want to be a pest at the plate for the pitcher. I just want to be someone who’s going to be a tough out and help our team,” Calica said.
Suddenly, a .512 BABIP becomes a bit more explainable.
Walks and Strike Outs
What follows won’t exactly explain Calica’s torrid Cape season, but it will certainly further the discussion on what type of hitter Andrew Calica is.
A leadoff man both for the Gatemen and the Gauchos, taking walks and cutting down on strike outs should be an important part of his game.
Or so we think.
Across 106 plate appearances this summer, Calica has posted a 14.2 K% and a 5.7 BB%. Or, in counting numbers, 15 strikeouts and six walks.
His strikeout rate is above average, and it’s no surprise. It’s already been established that he has solid hand-eye coordination and puts the ball in play with quite frequency.
But a 5.7 BB% is poor, especially for a leadoff hitter.
It’s also explainable.
Remember, contact rate and walk rate are inversely related. In other words, hitters who swing and miss a lot draw more pitches, extend the at-bat, and thus increase their chances of walking. Hitters like Calica, who have elite bat-to-ball skills, get a pitch in the zone and put it in play—naturally, decreasing their chances of drawing a walk.
Now let’s draw upon a bigger sample size and consult his 2015 numbers at UCSB: 35 strikeouts, 25 walks in 238 plate appearances for a 14.7 K% and a 10.5 BB%.
Comparing his school stats with his summer stats, his strikeouts numbers are virtually identical, but he was taking slightly more walks at school.
I asked him if he’s made a concerted effort to be more aggressive in the Cape:
“Absolutely. I think one of the things that has been working for me too is that I’ve been talking a lot more to my coaches more about pitching tendencies and how the pitcher is going to work me and make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, see how he’s changing his approach towards me. I’ve worked off the success of my teammates around me, talked to them about baseball, talked to my coaches. I’ve definitely grown from that experience,” he said.
Andrew Calica is an extremely talented hitter, and it should come as little surprise that he’s had a successful summer on the Cape.
A .439 hitter?
No one is a .439 hitter.
Still, his underlying metrics and overall approach in the batter’s box show why he was a solid candidate for an offensive outburst this summer.
I wanted to add an additional subhead that talked about his batted ball direction—how him taking the ball to the opposite field over 50 percent of the time this summer should make sense and correlate with a high batting average, given his speed.
But alas, an exceeding word count and a lack of desirable accuracy in determining how often he pulls the ball or goes opposite field prevented me from doing so.
Hopefully a justifiably high BABIP fueled by loads of ground balls and elite contact skills, which cause low strikeout totals, low walk totals and a high batting average, will suffice.
Hopefully we now know what process has led to Calica’s success and what kind of hitter he actually is.