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Under the Hood: Strikeouts and Extra-Base Hits

The standard 5x5 categories are by far the easiest to find information on, but three of the five hitting categories are pretty terrible predictors of future success. Sure, there is an alphabet soup of advanced metrics out there, for pitchers and hitters. Look on Fangraphs or Baseball Prospectus and you'll all kinds of advanced metrics, from wOBA, to SIERA, to WAR ... and plenty more. These statistics are very useful, but not all of us have the time to make them work for us. Or a statistics degree. Below, I'll consider a couple stats that might show up on the backs of baseball cards but aren't found in a lot of fantasy publications.

If your league happens to count batter strikeouts, doubles, or triples, so much the better, but they can be extremely useful in predicting -- or at least guesstimating -- batting average, runs, and RBIs. The more a hitter strikes out, the fewer balls he puts in play, the fewer balls in play, the more his average will be subject to the vagaries of the BABIP gods; in lucky seasons he might hit .324, in an unlucky season, he might hit .249. The more doubles and triples a batter hits, the more runs he scores and drives in, even if he's surrounded by singles hitters.

Strikeouts

The following is not an exhaustive list of high-K hitters, or even the strikeout leaderboard from last year, but it is a list of players who might see their value change more drastically than others thanks to their free swinging ways:

We all know about Mark Reynolds and his yearly march toward 200 whiffs, but did you know Drew Stubbs led the majors with 205 strikeouts last year? You don't normally think of speedsters as striking out much (well, I don't, anyway), but Michael Bourn wasn't too far away from the strikeout leaders with (140). 

Austin Jackson and his 181 punchouts led to a lousy batting average last year, after batting nearly .300 as a rookie. Expect more fluctuations in his value. Kelly Johnson is a good sleeper/comeback candidate in a lot of formats, but his strikeouts will probably keep his value going up and down a lot, as he whiffed 163 times last year and 148 times even in his excellent 2010.

Matt Kemp is a clear first-rounder, but he had 159 whiffs last year -- which was only slightly down from 170 the year before. Kemp usually posts high BABIP's, but  his strikeouts allow those BABIPs to have an outsized effect on his final average. Don't be shocked if some bad luck leads to a very disappointing average from Kemp. Kemp isn't the only big hitter that strikes out a lot, but he's the only likely first-round pick high on the leaderboard. Other power hitters with high strikeout totals include Curtis GrandersonDanny EspinosaGiancarlo StantonJay Bruce, and Dan Uggla.

Here are a few players whose strikeouts avoidance helps keep their averages a little closer  from year to year: 

If you're avoiding Stubbs and Bourn for their strikeouts, consider Jose Reyes, who fanned only 41 times in over 500 ABs, or (if he somehow gets the starting job in Philly) Juan Pierre, who also struck out just 41 times. Jimmy Rollins isn't elite anymore, but he still struck out just 59 times in 567 AB.

If you've got an early pick, consider Albert Pujols (only 58 strikeouts) instead of Kemp. For power hitters who don't strike out much, consider Aramis Ramirez (69 K's in 579 AB) or, shockingly, Carlos Lee (60 K's in 585 AB). 

Doubles

Doubles and triples are more like homers than singles, and they can have a big effect on how many runs a player scores and drives in. That won't stop things like the ballpark and lineup (and blind luck) from being even more important, but a runner on second is a lot more likely to score than one on first; a double down the line will drive in a lot more runs than a single up the middle. For younger players, doubles power has the tendency to turn in to homers as they gain bulk and experience, though not all do.

First-round first basemen Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez added to their excellent stats by smacking 48 and 45 doubles, respectively; Joey Votto chimed in with 40. David Ortiz was an even better use of your DH slot thanks to his 40 doubles, and Miguel Montero's 36 led all catchers that will be playing next year. Carlos Beltran may not be stealing bases anymore, but the 39 doubles he hit were just as good a way to get to second base. 

The nice thing about doubles is that superstars aren't the only guys on the leaderboards; quieter players can generate a lot of value. Royals Jeff Franceour (47), Alex Gordon (45), and Billy Butler (44) plated plenty of runs on their doubles. Other hitters who got a lot of value from their doubles include Michael Young (40), Edwin Encarnacion (36), and Ben Zobrist (46).  Speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury (46) and Michael Bourn (34) padded their runs scored with their doubles.

Triples

Often overlooked, triples have seemingly been on the rise lately. Jose Reyes and Shane Victorino each hit 16, while Dexter Fowler hit 15. Starlin Castro's nine triples helped separate him even further from the shortstop pack. Speedsters Peter Bourjos and Michael Bourn legged out 11 and ten triples, respectively, while fringe players Austin Jackson and Seth Smith hit 11 and nine. There isn't much reason to load up on triples hitters in most leagues, but if you're deciding between two players, the triples hit by one could make a difference in runs scored.

There are a lot of metrics worth looking at when it comes to predicting next year's stats and valuating players for your draft board. Looking in places where your leaguemates aren't can mean looking up the most advanced, accurate, and technical statistics. Or at simple things, more usually ignored.

 


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