Underdogs unite: Can Detroit’s Quintin Berry defy the laws of BABIP?

Quintin Berry is turning heads in Detroit, no matter what his BABIP says. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Let’s all just agree to disagree, shall we?

Everyday player? Better off the bench? Sparkplug? False hope? Five tools? Just one?

Everyone seems so sure of themselves when it comes to Quintin Berry’s role/place/fate with the Detroit Tigers – sure enough to carry on knockdown, drag-out Twitter fights, complete with blocking and espionage – but I don’t even know what I think anymore.

The 27-year-old career minor-leaguer seemed to come out of nowhere. (Okay, it was Toledo, but whatever.) The initial reception was not warm or cold, but tepid – like the receptions for all of the Mud Hens-turned-Tigers by injury. Berry was called up to take the place of Austin Jackson. Some big, fast shoes to fill.

But he didn’t disappoint. Berry’s first major league hit would come in his first game as a Tiger: a bunt double. Yep. Pure speed. That’ll win over some fans in this town.

And that’s where the controversy began.

Judging by the upsurge of the word “sparkplug” after Berry came to town, he arrived when the Tigers were in desperate need of a tune-up. And, I have to admit, I was on the QBerry bandwagon after that first game. He was thrown into a lackluster string of games (understatement) where the Tigers couldn’t manage to stay healthy or put together two wins in a row. Two days after his arrival, they went on a three-game winning streak.

So, I was enjoying Quintin Berry in all of his speedster glory … then I went on Twitter. And that’s where I learned I shouldn’t enjoy Berry. He’s a minor leaguer and no more. To think otherwise was foolish. He will regress. He will disappoint. There’s a reason he’s 27 and you’ve never heard of him. Don’t get excited. He got lucky. Won’t happen again. Well, okay, then. I got it. All very valid points.

I began to temper my enthusiasm and learned to hide my excitement at every stolen base. (Stolen bases, people!) I began to notice that some of the “amazing” catches would have been routine, if only he’d taken the right route to the ball. I saw him strikeout – a lot. And I saw him get on base, too. I cheered – and often imitated – the Quintin hand-clap. (Come on – you know you do it, too.) And did I mention the stolen bases?  (Stolen bases, people!) I secretly enjoyed every minute of Q, expecting he’d be sent down immediately after Jackson returned. But then it didn’t happen. And – I’m ashamed to admit – I didn’t want it to happen. I felt the conflict long before I could put it into words. I was being pulled apart by two very strong and self-righteous forces: the story … and the facts.

Clearly, I’m not a Sabermetrical person. (I know that’s not what they’re called … or is it?) I just don’t know enough. I’m learning. Or trying, anyway. It’s possible that kind of math is just way beyond me. I get simple, traditional stats – the ones we all know. And they tell me one Quintin Berry story: Going into Friday’s game, he’s batting .316, which is slightly better than Miguel Cabrera (.312) and slightly less than Austin Jackson (.325). Of course, it’s a small sample size (114 plate appearances), but larger than Gerald Laird’s (89) and he’s batting .303.  Looks good from here. But to quote Josh Worn (@walkoffwoodward), “Traditional stats tell you what a player has done. Sabermetrics tell you what a player will do.” And the Sabertypes out there have a very interesting perspective on Quintin Berry.

For those of you who know about these things, please skip ahead one paragraph. For the rest of us, there’s this thing called BABIP – batting average on balls in play. (I promise I won’t put everyone to sleep or embarrass myself. Well, okay, the first part anyway.) BABIP basically explains how many balls in play drop in for hits – and whether or not it’s true that Brandon Inge was hitting the ball “hard, but right at people.” A high BABIP is nearly impossible to maintain and is almost certainly a clear warning of danger (regression) ahead. Anywhere from .290 to .310 is about average. Miguel Cabrera? Career .346. And the all-time career BABIP leader is Ty Cobb at .378.  Berry’s major league BABIP? .449. So, yeah. He probably (most definitely) can’t sustain his current batting success. Okay. I get it. End of story.

(But what if he could?)

I know, I know, but, see, it’s the story that I want. You can explain to me all day long the merits of BABIP (some of you have tried), but I still want to believe in the narrative. I can’t help it. Quintin Berry is really a minor league ballplayer – not exactly mediocre, but not exactly big league material, either – grinding his way through baseball when, all of a sudden, he’s given a shot and makes a major league minute of it. And maybe even a major league career. Who doesn’t want that for him?

And for ourselves.

Most of us will never make the metaphorical “major leagues.” It’s true. And, most of us just can’t accept that. (Okay, maybe I’m just talking about myself here, but feel free to play along.) So, we can relate to a guy like Quintin Berry, as we keep plugging away at a dream that’s possibly – okay, probably – well beyond our reach. We don’t know that it’s out of reach. We can’t. If we did, we’d give up. And the only thing worse than a failure is a quitter. So maybe for a while, you tried to keep your day job and keep pace with your dreams. Auditioning on the weekends. Making furniture at night. Writing a blog. Whatever. Maybe at times, the dream seems to outrun – or overrun – you. Maybe you have your doubts. Maybe you’re in your late 30s and people think that if you were a decent writer, you’d be getting paid by now. (Yeah, me again.) And maybe you believe them. You give yourself outs. What’s the point? Who has time? The mortgage.

But. If you don’t quit. If you just keep showing up and working hard. If you keep going. One day. Maybe. One day, you might get the call. The big break. The Opportunity to show someone what you can do. To try and defy BABIP, so to speak.

That’s what a 27-year-old career minor-leaguer got this year. A call. Finally. And he’s doing all he can – which has turned out to be much more than anyone expected.

It may not last. I get that. I do. But while it does, I’m going to be happy when he makes the catch. Cheer for the stolen bases. And laugh at the bunt doubles.

Because I don’t know about you, but if I ever get that call, I hope to do my best Quintin Berry.

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