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How to Win 2014: Batting Average

I'll just say at the outset that I have no idea how to win in Batting Average (though I did last year). Before you get angry and click over some more confident fantasy writer on your league's website, you should know that they don't know either. Nobody does. It's a mystery. Article done.

Or not quite. Luck-heavy categories are as much a part of fantasy baseball as they are real life (are they?) and there are ways to put yourself in a good position to win...and ways not to. Let's check out what it'll take to be competitive in Batting Average.

There are two basic components to drafting for batting average: players who help you, and players who hurt you. Both feature elements of skill and luck. Fortunately it's much easier to be a player who hurts in Batting Average--those guys are pretty predictable.

Just a quick note on park factors: only Coors Field (107 factor) was farther away from the mean than three percent by Fangraphs park factors for singles. So take parks into account for Average, but not too far--especially for singles-oriented hitters. No wonder Ichiro put up so many great season in Seattle....

2013 .300 Hitters (min. 300 AB)

We've been using the arbitrary .300 cutoff to determine a good Batting Average for a hundred years, so we might as well go with it. Plus, it gives us a bunch of names to start with.

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.356

0.348

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.363

0.345

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.382

0.331

Joe Mauer

508

0.383

0.324

Mike Trout

716

0.376

0.323

Chris Johnson

547

0.394

0.321

Yadier Molina

541

0.338

0.319

Freddie Freeman

629

0.371

0.319

Yasiel Puig

432

0.383

0.319

Matt Carpenter

717

0.359

0.318

Jayson Werth

532

0.358

0.318

Omar Infante

476

0.333

0.318

Andrew McCutchen

674

0.353

0.317

Adrian Beltre

690

0.322

0.315

Allen Craig

563

0.368

0.315

Robinson Cano

681

0.327

0.314

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.334

0.312

David Ortiz

600

0.321

0.309

David Wright

492

0.340

0.307

Joey Votto

726

0.360

0.305

Ben Revere

336

0.344

0.305

Torii Hunter

652

0.344

0.304

Jhonny Peralta

448

0.374

0.303

Daniel Nava

536

0.352

0.303

Jose Iglesias

382

0.356

0.303

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.343

0.302

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.368

0.302

Eric Hosmer

680

0.335

0.302

Josh Donaldson

668

0.333

0.301

Dustin Pedroia

724

0.326

0.301

Victor Martinez

668

0.313

0.301

Matt Holliday

602

0.322

0.300

Take a careful look at the list above: how much credence you should give that Average depends in part on its luck factor: how far is the BABIP from the player's career norms? One may not suspect that Cuddyer will post a .382 BABIP again next year, Coors Field or not. But Victor Martinez may well post a .313 BABIP. Also take plate appearances into account: it isn't just the Average itself that helps or hurts, it's how heavily that value is weighted. Part of the reason Matt Carpenter's .318 average was so good is because he did it in 717 PA for nearly a million total hits. Pretty good.

So, those are last year's leaders--how about some guys due for a BABIP rebound? Note that the list below involves significant subjective culling on my part: some guys posted low BABIP's and are not likely to rebound. Dan Uggla, that means you.

2013 BABIP Rebound Candidates

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

Chris Young

375

0.237

0.200

Edwin Encarnacion

621

0.247

0.272

Andrelton Simmons

658

0.247

0.248

Michael Morse

337

0.254

0.215

Evan Gattis

382

0.255

0.243

Mitch Moreland

518

0.255

0.232

Josh Reddick

441

0.255

0.226

Mike Moustakas

514

0.257

0.233

Coco Crisp

584

0.258

0.261

Albert Pujols

443

0.258

0.258

Anthony Rizzo

690

0.258

0.233

Brian McCann

402

0.261

0.256

Will Middlebrooks

374

0.263

0.227

B.J. Upton

446

0.266

0.184

Ike Davis

377

0.268

0.205

Todd Frazier

600

0.269

0.234

Josh Willingham

471

0.269

0.208

The first name that stands out is Encarnacion: he's due for some BABIP help and didn't even hurt you in Batting Average last year. Did I say first round pick? Not all these guys will be able to provide good fantasy impact just by upping their BABIP (Upton needs a lot more help than that, for instance), but keep them in mind when evaluating last year's Batting Averages. Players like Pujols, Rizzo, McCann, and Frazier would all be very intriguing with higher averages. Others--like Willingham and Davis--a better BABIP is necessary just to be playable. But it may well happen.

Projected Averages

Here are next year’s top 16 hitters from the three projection systems found on Fangraphs. You can find more projections (and you should), but these are a start when it comes to finding high-average guys. Why a top 16? Because the 16th-place player wasn’t tied with the 17th-place player on any of the systems. See: sometimes the number of players I list is non-arbitrary!

 

Oliver

Steamer

ZiPS

 

Name

AB

AVG

Name

AB

AVG

Name

AB

AVG

1

Mike Trout

498

0.325

Miguel Cabrera

561

0.325

Miguel Cabrera

559

0.317

2

Miguel Cabrera

515

0.324

Mike Trout

563

0.306

Mike Trout

596

0.300

3

Andrew McCutchen

519

0.310

Troy Tulowitzki

529

0.301

Ryan Braun

594

0.300

4

Freddie Freeman

524

0.305

Joe Mauer

563

0.300

Adrian Beltre

553

0.297

5

Ryan Braun

530

0.302

Norichika Aoki

557

0.299

David Ortiz

406

0.296

6

Jayson Werth

519

0.301

Andrew McCutchen

560

0.298

Troy Tulowitzki

469

0.296

7

Paul Goldschmidt

510

0.300

Buster Posey

557

0.297

Eric Hosmer

597

0.296

8

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.300

Adrian Beltre

582

0.295

Buster Posey

512

0.293

9

Adrian Beltre

544

0.300

Robinson Cano

576

0.295

Yadier Molina

501

0.293

10

Joe Mauer

523

0.300

DJ LeMahieu

408

0.295

Joe Mauer

507

0.292

11

Joey Votto

488

0.299

Joey Votto

497

0.294

Victor Martinez

471

0.291

12

Troy Tulowitzki

525

0.299

Adrian Gonzalez

587

0.293

Michael Cuddyer

458

0.290

13

Eric Hosmer

545

0.299

Omar Infante

471

0.293

Melky Cabrera

534

0.290

14

Chris Johnson

559

0.299

Billy Butler

569

0.292

Joey Votto

508

0.289

15

Jean Segura

562

0.297

Allen Craig

577

0.292

Jose Reyes

526

0.289

16

Brent Keys

543

0.297

Henry Urrutia

179

0.292

Brent Keys

456

0.289

 

It’s worth noting that projection systems are almost always pretty conservative when it comes to Average—so Miguel Cabrera is just that impressive. It’s worth noting that Oliver projects significantly higher top-end averages. Here are some players who make it onto all three lists:

Mike Trout, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, and…yeah, that’s it. But in a category with as high margins of error as Batting Average, the top 16 barely scratches the surface. Check out these projection systems (and others) while researching. Players whose names show up batting over about .280 across multiple systems represent good bets to be assets in Average.

Note: I’m not super-sure who Brent Keys is, but I’m going to find out.

Update: I googled him and no longer feel bad about having never heard of him before.

For those who want to compete in Batting Average, I definitely recommend getting an anchor in the category in the first couple rounds. You may well have to sacrifice power, but getting tons of at bats out of a high-average hitter will take you a long way.

But it won’t take you far enough. There are way too many gradations of usefulness for me to go into right now, but you’re probably going to want to shoot for a team Average just north of .270. The beautiful thing is, you can do it any way you want; while couple splashy stars won’t be able to carry the team in the category, they can give you the luxury of a homers-first, average-never sort of player in a position or two. Getting a team full of “good-enoughs” to go with your truly strong players matters.

Here are some mid-range (and lower) guys from each position that will help keep you afloat in Batting Average while your stars do the heavy lifting:

C: Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy, A.J. Pierzynski

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, James Loney, Yonder Alonso

2B: Chase Utley, Omar Infante, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Marco Scutaro, Jose Altuve

3B: Chris Johnson, Martin Prado, Aramis Ramirez 

SS: Jed Lowrie, Erick Aybar, Alexei Ramirez

OF: Carlos Beltran, Norichika Aoki, Michael Brantley, Angel Pagan, Austin Jackson

And here are some guys to avoid for the sake of your Average, though they’ll help in other categories (high-level talent included):

C: Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero

1B: Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Moss, Nick SwisherChris Carter

2B: Jedd Gyorko, Brian Dozier

3B: Matt Dominguez, Kyle SeagerPedro Alvarez

SS: Brad Miller, Andrelton Simmons, Asdrubal Cabrera

OF: Jay Bruce, Jose Bautista, Desmond Jennings, Justin Upton, Alfonso Soriano, Leonys Martin

It’s interesting to note that you can find a bunch of potential help in Batting Average at second base, but not so much outside the elite options at first base and outfield. Just remember when you take that sweet-swinging power hitter, or that spideresque elite basestealer that you may need to be compensating for his Batting Average at another position. Keep track of your Average during your draft to ensure some balance.

Also keep a close eye on your Average in April and May--once your team has a significant number of at bats under its belt, it becomes very, very hard to move the needle in this category. So don't overdo it with low-level at bat streaming for your counting categories....

As always, good luck in the category. We'll see you next week for Saves, as I steal ideas from Luckey Helms. After that, we'll close out the traditional How to Win categories with Home Runs. Best for last, you know.



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