Batting Average


RotoAuthority Unscripted: More People Who Don’t Belong (Or Maybe Do)

And by people, you know I mean baseball players. Today, we’ll check out the hitting leaderboards in homers, steals, and batting average and look more closely at the names that follow my highly scientific test of causing me to feel mild surprise. You know the drill—we did it last week too. Maybe we’ll do it again for pitchers down the road, but I’m thinking we’ll return to our regularly unscheduled content next time around.

Editor's Note: This author is traveling and wrote this post last week. He acknowledges that the listed stats are out of date, but hopes nothing changes so drastically as to invalidate the conclusions. Good luck with that....

Home Runs 

21: Nelson Cruz
20: Edwin Encarnacion
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu
18: Troy Tulowitzki
17: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez
16: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols
15: Jose Bautista, Brian Dozier, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz

We covered Mr. Cruz last time around, and he’s known for his power, so it’s not that shocking that he’s up here. Jose Abreu continues to impress, since he’s got about 50 fewer PA than most of the guys on this leaderboard…but he also was already known for prodigious power. No, the three names that really raise my eyebrow (just the one) here are Victor Martinez, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier

We mentioned Dozier last week in terms of runs but his homers are a different matter. To start with, his HR/FB is running at 17.4%--compared to 9.9% last year. His 15 longballs are already beginning to rival his minor league total (from 2009-12) of 19 homers. So, what we have here looks like a case of luck…but one that’s so extreme that it can’t be luck. Right? His flyballs are going about 279 feet on average (putting him 133rd in baseball, right next to Asdrubal Cabrera—and only about a foot short of Albert Pujols, for that matter). So things don’t look super-optimistic for Dozier remaining a home run leader by the end of the year.

But stranger things have happened. Dozier’s 2013 was enough to give us a taste of his power (18 homers) potential, and it does seem as though he isn’t the same guy who rose through the minors in obscurity, with nothing going for him but a little speed. I like Dozier on the year, but I do suspect his HR/FB rate will regress in a pretty significant way. 

Going into last year, I was all about Frazier. That didn’t go so well, but he’s back with a vengeance now. (It helps getting back to a normal BABIP.) Like Dozier, his HR/FB rate has gone crazy (21.3%, compared to last year’s 11.3%). Unlike his almost-close-to-a-namesake, Frazier is among the league leaders in flyball distance, averaging nearly 303 feet in the air (13th in baseball, putting him in the company of Mark Reynolds and David Ortiz, among other luminaries of the longball). So that’s a seriously good sign. At 28 he’s not too old to make a serious improvement in his game, though it would be unusual.

One disconcerting factor is this, however: 12 of his 16 homers have come at home. (So he’s a bit of a homer?) Any time you see such a big park split, you worry, but for me, that’s helped a bit by the fact that he’s hitting the ball so far on average. He’s one to watch, but I think there’s a real chance he’s still among the top 15 home run hitters at the end of the year. Just don't root for him to get traded.

 I’ll be honest, I didn’t see Martinez coming. At all. He’s 35 years old and having the best season of his career. He’s already hit more homers than he’s managed to total in a year since 2010. In fact, he only needs seven more homers to match his career high, from his 2007 peak with the Indians. If you did see this coming…you’re a liar.

The thing about it is that his HR/FB rate hasn’t increased since last year! Just kidding. Of course it has. By a lot. (2014: 18.3%, 2013: 7.2%) His flyballs are going 294.56 feet, good for 41st in baseball, and close to players like Adam Dunn and Allen Craig. So kind of a mixed bag of company. Basically, though, Martinez is a tale of two impossible propositions:

First, he could have made the adjustments that allowed him, at 35, to hit for better power than at any previous time in his career. Or… 

Second, he could have more than doubled his HR/FB completely on luck.

Okay, so it could be a combination of the two, and it almost certainly is—but if there’s any truth at all to the first proposition, Martinez has to be considered for real. He may get passed up by a few guys who are hitting the ball farther, but he looks like a serious contributor in homers this year.

Stolen Bases

36: Dee Gordon
28: Billy Hamilton
24: Jose Altuve
20: Ben Revere, Rajai Davis
18: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury
17: Eric Young
16: Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus
15: Brian Dozier, Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin
14: Brett Gardner

I am not feeling deeply shocked by any of these guys, as all have shown good speed in the past. The component of speed that usually keeps some of these guys off the leaderboards, though, is hitting well enough to stay in the lineup. Or in the Majors. 

I was going to analyze this in terms of BABIP and caught stealing and do my best to advise you about who's getting so lucky that he can't possibly keep getting on base this much, or who's getting caught on the bases so often he's sure to get the red light soon. But that isn't true for anyone on this list.

I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, but decided they were kinda wasteful: no one here raised real red flags, at least, no more than speed-first guys always do.

Batting Average

Pretty much nobody ever belongs when it comes to average, I know. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Above .340: Troy Tulowitzki (.356), Jonathan Lucroy (.341)

.330-.340: Victor Martinez (.332)

.320-.330: Jose Altuve (.329), Robinson Cano (.327), Yasiel Puig (.325), Michael Brantley (.323), Andrew McCutchen (.321),

.310-.320: Alex Rios (.319), Miguel Cabrera (.318), Carlos Gomez (.313), Jose Bautista (.312), Mike Trout (.311), Casey McGehee (.310)

Full disclosure, I’m traveling as you read this and wrote this post a few days ago. The players involved shifted places on the list while I was writing it…so they’ve probably changed since then. They’ll change again. So consider these musings of mine in a very general sense. 

Seeing Martinez on this list isn’t too surprising. What is surprising is that he only has a .309 BABIP! Which is delivering him a .332 average? I call him a contender for the batting title right now. (Okay, that’s only so bold, given that he’s already leading the AL, but still.)

We don’t really get all that eyebrow-raising until we come to Brantley. His BABIP isn’t crazy (.329) but he has stayed pretty close to .300 in recent seasons. But maybe this is a part of taking his game to the next level. I’ll call him a “maybe.”

Rios and his .376 BABIP seem dangerous to me, however. He’s shown a lot of BABIP variance in his career, but he’s never been close to this high. It’d be nice to think this means he’s set for a great year, but you know that’s not how it works. It’s also a bit unsettling that his power (only three homers) has seriously dwindled. I feel like he’s a sell-high candidate, but maybe I’ve just had a hard time trusting him since 2010.

Gomez broke out last year, yes, but that doesn’t mean he proved himself as a high-average guy, batting .284 with a .344 BABIP in 2013. No wonder it’s taking a .379 BABIP to get him to this level. I’ll buy him as a high-BABIP, decent-average type, but most people don’t sustain BABIP’s near .380 for very long.

Bautista is enjoying a .330 BABIP right now…but he’s only once managed a figure over .300 (in 2011), and he’s been at .275 or under in every season since 2008. So no, I don’t think he’s going to sustain this and continue helping in average. 

McGehee is the ultimate “he doesn’t belong here” sort of guy. But does he? Looking further into the question tells us…good heavens no. Riding a powerless .366 BABIP, (just an .077 ISO with only a single homer), not only does he seem in line for some regular regression, you have to think he’s going to get challenged more since he can’t put it out of the park. I’m pretty sure this is just confirming what you already knew: McGehee isn’t likely to this year’s breakout fantasy contributor in a few months.



Go Bold or Go Home: Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Sometimes we focus so much on the flaws of a player that we lose sight of his accomplishments. I'll admit I was surprised to find that Joe Mauer has been roughly as valuable as Robinson Cano and David Wright over the course of their careers according to bWAR. If there were ever a player with a grade-80 hit tool in the past decade, Mauer would be the one. After all, his .323 career AVG ranks first among active players with at least 3,000 plater appearances. Moreover, he ranks behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols among active players in OBP. 

The most remarkable part of all is that Mauer has done this while primarily playing catcher. From a real baseball perspective, that's simply astouding. From a fantasy viewpoint, that's insanely valuable given the replacement level at catcher, especially in standard two-catcher leagues. That, of course, will change this season, as Mauer makes the transition to first base. Even so, in most fantasy leagues he'll still retain catcher eligibility for one final year.

Why does that matter? Well, Mauer has developed a perception as a relatively injury-prone player. In reality, however, he's played at least 130 games six of the past nine years, a perfectly reasonable expectation for a catcher given the daily demands. With the move to first base, though, Mauer would seem to face less stress on his body. In addition, he can continue to DH if necessary. Accordingly, the plan is for Mauer to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Granted, a move to first base certainly doesn't ensure that Mauer will make it through the season fully healthy.

But make no mistake: the fantasy ramifactions of this are potentially huge. If we can safely pencil in Mauer for 650 plate appearances, he's clearly ahead of Buster Posey as the top catcher for me. What's more, given that level of playing time, he'd rank as a top-12 hitter overall just purely based on crunching the numbers. With 650 plate appearances, Mauer would be a good bet to post a Roto line as follows: 80 / 15 / 80 / 0 / .320.

On the surface, that still may not look like much; however, it's important to keep in mind the sheer volume of contribution that he'd offer in the AVG category. After all, not all batting averages are created equally. When one compares the categorical contribution of a player hitting .320 over 400 plate appearances as opposed to hitting .320 over 650 plate appearances, the difference is significant. In fact, one can make the case that the only player who would project to be more impactful in any category than Mauer would in AVG is Billy Hamilton in SB, and we all know the risks in drafting him.

The stars have aligned for one last year of fantasy greatness for Joe Mauer. In most cases, a player must significantly outperform his previous level of skills to turn a profit for a fantasy owner. On the contrary, Mauer simply has to continue to hit like he always has in the past. With everyday playing time, any dollar value generator that takes into account replacement level at catcher would rank Mauer as a third-round pick at worst in a two-catcher league. And yet, Mauer continues to last on draft boards until at the end of the sixth round.

I fully recommend you mimic my colleague Mark Polishuk, who wisely drafted Mauer in the fifth round of Friday night's RotoAuthority Mock Draft. More on that mock draft tomorrow...



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.



Stock Watch: Buy What You Need...Even If It's Not Very Good

By the time you read this, Matt Garza will already be a Ranger.

Or he'll be something else, I guess, maybe even a Cub. If Garza does get traded, his value will go up, because he'll be playing for a better team and likely to get wins at a higher rate. (Unless Houston pulls a fast one.) No! His value is sure to go down, since Texas is in the AL and in a hitter's park, as is Boston. Arizona may be in the NL, but it's not a good place to pitch either, so the Dodgers are the only team mentioned in talks that won't kill his ERA and WHIP--deal him while you can! Whether or not you want Garza depends on what you need, and the format of your league. So will it be for any other category.

Instead of the usual breakdown of Buy, Sell, and Pick Up, this week we'll examine some players you should think carefully about and either buy or sell depending upon your needs.

Homers

Chris Carter stands out big time here. He may have the highest K% in the Majors, but he's also got a .240 ISO and 18 HRs. Even better, he's only owned in 45% of CBS leagues and 26% of Yahoo! leagues. Pick him up or trade for him if you're on the cusp of grabbing another point to three in the HR standings. Stay far, far away if you're in the thick of the BA competition, as he could easily give away more from that category than he takes in longballs. He's best if you're at the top or bottom of your league in average, or if you've accumulated a ton of ABs.

Similar players include Matt Reynolds, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and J.P. Arencibia.

Pedro Alvarez profiles similarly, but with higher highs and more complete playing time. He's got the most value of this group, and will probably be the most expensive. Keep that in mind if you need to help your BA category, as Alvarez could be a point of addition by subtraction.

Adam Dunn is probably the most extreme of this type of hitter, but also the most consistent. His homers and his terrible average are both pretty much assured. His name brand and history will probably raise his price, so consider some of the above hitters if you aren't getting a good deal for him.

Batting Average

When you aren't making deals for superstars, you're usually sacrificing power for average, or average for power. That's just how it goes. If you're in need in both categories...hopefully you have some spare pitching or an elite base stealer. Better yet, both. We're plenty far enough in the season to start looking at semi-high BABIPs as short-term trends instead of confusion. Feel free to trade for someone with a BABIP between .320 and .340 if you're hoping for some help in this category.

Austin Jackson has a .347 BABIP and a .280 average; normally that wouldn't be too exciting, but Jackson has a history of better BABIPs than that and could actually add to that number. Of course he (like teammate Torii Hunter) doesn't help you at all in homers. Thankfully, the strength of their lineup allows these Tigers to contribute at least some in Runs or RBIs.

If you like position flexibility, try Marco Scutaro. His .334 BABIP isn't unbelievable, but his .316 BA is great from your MI slot. Also up the middle, Jed Lowrie was supposed to be a power hitter, but he got just seven longballs. Luckily for you, if you need average, as his .330 BABIP has led him to a .295 BA.

Gerardo Parra and Daniel Nava are still getting things done in average, with .329 and .327 BABIPs, respectively, leading to BAs of .285 and .288.

James Loney is a Known Bum, but that will keep his value low as you try to sneak his .315 average onto your team. Even if his .338 BABIP comes down a tad, he's still useful for any team in need of points in this category.

Wins

Matt Garza and his soon-to-change value brought about this column idea, so I'll just quickly reaffirm that you should try to swing a deal for him if you need wins. If his current owner likes him for his ERA, he or she should be pleased to deal him now. There's no reason both teams can't win trades in this part of the season. (It's more valuable to rob your opponents early in April and May anyway.) Let's examine some other pitchers who might be able to help in wins. Unfortunately, there's nothing close to a sure thing in this category, and all the moreso over just a couple months. 

The best ways I've got to predict wins are to combine three things: high IP totals, high-scoring offenses, and being at least a decent pitcher. Since we aren't trying to find the best pitchers in fantasy baseball, let's try to keep that last one to not much more than "decent."

With the Red Sox scoring the most runs in baseball, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster are good candidates for wins, though neither is among the IP leaders. Tigers pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello profile similarly, as does anyone called up by the Rays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Angels and Indians are among the leading teams in wRC+, so pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and C.J. Wilson might be expect to get some wins. Justin Masterson might be a bit high-end for this exercise, but he could be pried from owners hoping to improve their team ERA.

Bud Norris is expected to be traded, with the Red Sox the destination most often mentioned. If you need wins, trade for him or pick him up before that happens. Even if he's traded elsewhere, it will help his value in this category.

ERA

The formula for getting a better than expected ERA from you pitchers is similar to the one used to acquire a few extra wins, though it's rather more dependent on the pitcher actually being good. Team fielding and park factors take the place of pitching deep into games or getting run support. 

This year's All-Star venue, Citi Field in New York has been the strongest pitcher's park. Though this is probably accentuated by the fact that they have some good pitchers and a terrible offense, their staff is still a good place to start looking for ERA help. The Indians, Cardinals, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's, and--shockingly--the Diamondbacks all play in parks with factors of 0.899 or less. (Maybe trading for Garza is an even better idea than we thought, especially when we note that Wrigley Field has been the worst place to pitch in 2013.)

With four of the five NL West teams showing pitcher-friendly park factors this season, pitchers from that division are even more attractive thanks to the unbalanced schedule.

Of the teams above, the D-Backs, Giants, Pirates, and A's have notably above-average UZRs.

We can see that there's some method to the madness of luck-leader Jeff Locke's success, but I still wouldn't count on someone whose ERA-FIP difference is that extreme. Patrick Corbin looks more reasonable though. Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett should be able to help as well. Strugglers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have good environments for improvement, though I'm not prepared to guess what might happen with those guys. 

Worth noting is that the Royals have baseball's best defense by that measure (by a lot), so pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana might be more able to post good ERAs than you'd normally expect, not to mention ace James Shields.

With under three months left in the season, you don't have to have the best players on your team to win your league--you just have to have the ones in the best position to capitalize on this year's particularities. If a hitter is putting up a great BABIP in April, it's luck. In July, there might be a reason, and that reason could very well carry through September. If a pitcher is overperforming his peripherals, there's probably a reason for that--and it could continue too. Use the trends you see and offer trades accordingly.

 



How to Win: ERA

Like it's hitting cousin, Batting Average, ERA is a seriously unpredictable category, even for pitchers. It's less luck-dependent than wins, but only by so much. The main strategy for ERA is this: get good pitchers, don't throw too many innings. Hopefully we can do better than that today.

2012's Top 12

1. Kris Medlen                            1.57
2. Clayton Kershaw                  2.53
3. David Price                             2.56
4. Justin Verlander                   2.61
5. R.A. Dickey                            2.74
6. Johnny Cueto                         2.78
7. Matt Cain                                2.79
8. Jered Weaver                         2.81
9. Kyle Lohse                              2.86
10. Gio Gonzalez                       2.89
11. Jordan Zimmermann        2.94
12. Brandon Morrow                2.96

It's worth noting that Medlen pitched just 138 IP over 12 starts, while Morrow threw only 125 over 21 starts. Take those guys off the list and you get Chris Sale and Cole Hamels (3.05) in the last two spots. It's also worth noting that these top guys are all pretty good and you aren't likely to get more than one or two on your fantasy team. Fortunately for us, last year's ERA isn't such a good predictor of this year's ERA. Advanced metrics, here we come!

FIP (from Fangraphs.com, 120 minimum IP)

1. Kris Medlen                    2.42
2. Gio Gonzalez                  2.82
2. Stephen Strasburg         2.82 
4. Felix Hernandez            2.84
5. Clayton Kershaw           2.89
6. Justin Verlander            2.94
7. David Price                      3.05
8. Adam Wainwright        3.10
8. Zack Greinke                  3.10 
10. Cliff Lee                          3.13
11. Wade Miley                    3.15
12. Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, R.A. Dickey, Chris Sale tied with 3.27 

It's easy to say that if you see someone on this list but not on this first one, you can expect a little bit better from his ERA, and to expect the opposite too. That's mostly true, but it's not so simple. Again, this can be used for your benefit.

FIP-ERA
So, who had the biggest differences between their FIP's and their ERA's? Anyone with an ERA lower than his FIP probably benefited from a degree of good luck, anyone with an ERA higher than his FIP should have gotten the corresponding bad luck. You could do it either way, but I subtracted ERA from FIP, meaning that negative numbers are "good," showing FIP's lower than ERA's and offering optimism for the year to come. The lower the negative number the more the optimism, I suppose. The reverse is also true.

Better FIP than ERA--Opportunity?
1.Luke Hochevar                  -1.10
2. Tim Lincecum                  -1.00
3. Francisco Liriano          -1.00
4. Randy Wolf                     -0.86 
5. Adam Wainwright        -0.84 
6. Roy Halladay                 -0.80
7. Joe Blanton                    -0.80
8. J.A. Happ                       -0.78
9. Justin Masterson          -0.77
10. Derek Lowe                  -0.74
11. Jon Lester                      -0.71 
12. Rick Porcello                -0.68

There are a number of things that go into FIP, and what makes for repeatable success, so I wouldn't go out drafting Hochevar or Lowe just because they show up high on this list. Plus, their FIP's were still lousy (4.63 and 4.37, respectively), just not horrid like their ERA's. Some of the names on here are intriguing, though. Lester, for instance could be a lot more serviceable than his 2012 ERA would suggest, so long as you don't harbor expectations of a return to greatness on his part. Joe Blanton had a very large drop from a 4.71 ERA to a 3.91 FIP--but even farther to his xFIP of 3.39, which suggests that he should have been pretty good, not terrible. Maybe the Angels looked those numbers up when they signed him....

Halladay, as Mark has written before, is a great candidate to put up numbers that look more like his former self, as bad luck seems to have compounded his injury struggles and sunk him on ADP boards. Adam Wainwright appears on this list, and on the FIP top 12, so you know that impresses me. If he matches that FIP, he's right back where he belongs: with the best pitchers in baseball. Too bad he's already getting drafted like it.

Lincecum and Liriano are probably the most interesting cases, and a lot has been written about each elsewhere. I've even done some of it. Two of the three most extreme pitchers on this list have some of the highest upside--and lowest downside. Both of them had more going on than bad luck to produce differences between their FIP's and ERA's, and their prodigious strikeout rates probably hid their real struggles in composite measures. Don't think that FIP-ERA is a magical catch-all for isolating the unlucky, because there were a lot of factors that led to these pitchers' disastrous seasons. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take a chance on them, but you have to know it is one.

Worse FIP than ERA--Beware?

1. Jeremy Hellickson             1.50
2. Jered Weaver                       0.94
3. Kris Medlen                         0.85
4. Jason Vargas                      0.84
5. Matt Harrison                    0.74
6. Kyle Lohse                           0.65
7. Ross Detwiler                     0.64
8. Clayton Richard                0.63
9. Matt Cain                             0.61
10. Jordan Zimmermann    0.57
10. Travis Wood                     0.57
12. R.A. Dickey                       0.54
12. Hiroki Kuroda                  0.54 

Hellickson's number sure jumps off the page, doesn't it? So much so that number two Jered Weaver is actually closer to the twelfth spot than he his to overtaking Hellickson for number one. Maybe Hellickson has some sort of skill for beating his FIP with his ERA, but I bet it isn't a run and a half per game good. Look for some serious regression next year.

Speaking of regression, expect some out of Weaver and Vargas, not to mention small-sample superhero Medlen (though he can regress a long, long way and still be really good.) Weaver's high FIP comes with a shrinking strikeout rate too, so be extra careful. Both Angels starters have a good opportunity to post better ERA's than FIP's owing to their home park and defense (more on that below), but not to this extreme. 

Harrison, Richard, Detwiler and Wood could all see their ERA's go from good to lousy with more normal luck, as indicated by the difference between that number and their FIP.

Lohse, Zimmermann, Kuroda, and especially Dickey all posted good FIP's and amazing ERA's, which means even if and when they get hit with regression, they should still be useful to excellent pitchers. 

Cain is a special case, as he's shown a consistent ability to post a better ERA than FIP. He's done it every year since 2007, in fact, and it's long past the time that we all acknowledged that as a skill. Expect more of the same next year.

Defense and Park Effects
The purpose of FIP is to isolate a pitcher's contributions to his own success, which means taking out all the defense and park effects along with what we understand as chance. That's why they call it "Fielding Independent Pitching," after all. 
Of course, your fantasy league is won on results, not true talent, so we have to take defense and park dimensions back into account. On a team-by-team basis, here are the top seven defenses from 2012, by Fangraphs' UZR:

Top Defenses, 2012

Braves                     53.1
Angels                    44.3
Red Sox                   35.5
Twins                      29.5
Mariners                27.3
Athletics                 24.3
Diamondbacks    19.5 

The numbers will be different for 2013, since players have shifted teams (especially between the Braves and Diamondbacks), balls will bounce differently, and fielders will have up and down years. Still, this can be a starting point for evaluating how much the difference between a pitcher's "true talent" stats and ERA can be attributed to something that won't repeat, like luck, and something that should, like fielders' performance.

Here are some uglier numbers, again by UZR.

Bad Defenses, 2012

Indians        -57.0
Rockies         -41.6
Astros           -31.3
Tigers           -28.1
Orioles         -26.5
Mets              -23.3
Marlins        -21.1
Cardinals    -20.4
Blue Jays     -17.9 

If your pitcher underperformed his ERA for one of these teams--and he'll be pitching there again--don't be shocked if you see another year of better FIP's than ERA's.

The home park makes a big difference too. Here are some of pitchers' friendliest confines from 2012:

Pitchers' Parks, 2012

Mariners     0.687
Giants          0.737
Pirates         0.764
Angels         0.812
Padres         0.852
Dodgers      0.867
Rays            0.874
Mets            0.874
Athletics    0.888 

Notice the presence of the Mariners, Angels, and A's on the park effect list and the defense list, compounding the effect. Not only that, they all play in the same division, so they'll be spending a lot of time on the road at each other's parks. That might even help Texas and Houston pitchers a little. It also suggests a partial explanation for the discrepancies between FIP and ERA for the aforementioned Weaver and Vargas.

Below are some parks pitchers want to stay away from. Some are the usual suspects, but some could be surprising. Also, note the absence of reputed hitters havens like Yankee Stadium and the Phillies' Citizens' Bank Park.

Hitters Parks, 2012

Rockies                  1.159
White Sox             1.268
Red Sox                 1.206
Rangers                 1.183
Orioles                   1.173
Diamondbacks    1.171
Brewers                  1.168
Reds                        1.113
Tigers                     1.071 

While the Diamondbacks and Red Sox managed to mitigate their own park effects with their defenses, the Rockies, Orioles, and Tigers are compounding the issues of their pitchers (though perhaps one number alters another to an extent). The good news is that you were already staying away from Rockies pitchers if you want to win ERA, and you were already targeting a couple of Tigers pitchers. If you were on the fence about the Orioles' staff, maybe this'll push you over. 

A Few Last Words

Unless you want to really break your auction budget there really isn't any way to make sure you own the ERA category. In a draft league, there's almost no way to be sure about it. Maybe you could make your top five picks starters, but even that might not get you very far. It certainly wouldn't help you overall, so don't go out and do it and blame it on me.

By keeping track of team defense, park effects, and the difference between a pitcher's FIP and his ERA, however, you can put yourself in the position to take advantage of the most skilled pitchers. And the luckiest. That's about all you can hope for in ERA, where the winner will have to be both lucky and good. 

Ed. Note: A previous version of this post appeared without links to player names. Content has been otherwise unchanged.



How to Win: Batting Average

Quick Overview
Batting average is horrible. It's unpredictable and the winner of the category each year can only be described as an overly lucky person who will surely regress to the mean next year. (The loser probably drafted Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena and that's their own fault.) 

This was more or less my attitude going into the year. What's too hard to understand probably can't be understood. Well, I learned quickly enough that other people seemed non-randomly better than me at figuring out this whole batting average thing and it was my own team that sank in the BA standings. Fun times. The good news is that I'm resolved to be less intellectually lazy this year, and that I'm happy to share my newfound industriousness with you. The bad news is that you're more likely to get hit with the same number of pitches than post the same batting average two years in a row. Yeah, BA only correlates from one year to the next at a mark of 0.477--which is considered quite poor, but better than totally random.

2012's Top 12
Below is the table of the top qualified batting averages across MLB. In parentheses, I show their BABIPs. Note that this list is only twelve names long, instead of my customary 24--with the volatility of batting average, it just isn't worth reading so many players. 

1. Buster Posey        .336 (.368)
2. Miguel Cabrera    .330 (.331)
3. Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
4. Mike Trout    .326 (.383)
5. Adrian Beltre    .321 (.319)
6. Ryan Braun    .319 (346) 
7. Joe Mauer    .319 (364)
8. Derek Jeter    .316 (.347)
9. Yadier Molina    .315 (.316)
10. Prince Fielder    .313 (.321)
11. Torii Hunter       .313 (.389)
12. Billy Butler    .313 (.341)

A couple things stand out--first of all, three catchers! Second, one of those catchers--Molina--posted his average with a BABIP nearly identical to his batting average, and a pretty low BABIP at that. That tells me he could actually post a better number next year with an unsurprising amount of good luck. Beltre's average exceeded his BABIP which seems pretty odd too. Like Molina, he could see a bump in his average next year through just a little more good luck.

3-Year Top 12
The more time goes on, the less volatile any stat is. Mayhaps the last three years of BA leaders will be more instructive than just one. Double points for the players on both lists.

1. Miguel Cabrera    .334 (.344)
2. Joey Votto    .321 (.367)
3. Ryan Braun    .318 (.342)
4. Buster Posey    .317 (342)
5. Victor Martinez .317 (.324)
6. Joe Mauer    .315 (.348)
7. Adrian Beltre    .314 (.310)
8. Josh Hamilton    .313 (.343)
9. Carlos Gonzalez    .313 (.355)
10. Adrian Gonzalez  .312 (.346)
11. Robinson Cano    .311 (.322)
12. Billy Butler    .307 (.333)  

Interestingly, half of the lists are the same, which isn't too far off from what a .477 correlation score would suggest. In fact, it's exactly what we should expect, so long as we have to round up to a whole Victor Martinez. The consistency of guys like Cano and Butler pays off here, but I wonder if injuries do too--look at the players who've missed time (or whole seasons) in the past three years. Maybe one of the components of having a good average is simply not playing much, to keep bad luck from catching up....

Some Discussion of Good and Evil BABIPs
Speaking of bad luck, here are some selected players whose lousy BABIPs hurt their averages and might be bouncing back a bit next year. While they might not become true helpers in BA, they might not hurt as much as last year. While their lousy 2012 averages are busy scaring people away, you might get away with drafting them and enjoying their good qualities. As above, the real average is first, the BABIP in parentheses.

Ike Davis    .227 (.246)
Eric Hosmer    .232 (.255)
Jemile Weeks    .221 (256)
Colby Rasmus    .223 (.259)
Curtis Granderson    .232 (.260)
Dustin Ackley    .226 (.265)
Edwin Encarnacion    .280 (.266)
Kevin Youkilis    .235 (.268) 
Ian Kinsler    .256 (.270)

So...odd list of names. I threw out players who'd posted lousy BABIPs for the last three years in a row, so I'm not expecting to see the likes of Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Pena regressing to the happy mean of .300. Some of the names I did list are young (Hosmer, Weeks, Ackley) and I have no idea where their "true-talent" BABIP will lie--maybe it's low and they won't be regressing because they were at their own, natural, bad mean in 2012. Others, though, are veterans (Granderson, Youk, Kinsler) who might be declining and also might be feeling a little bad luck. Of those, I like Granderson best for a better average next year. Finally, there's Encarnacion, who somehow hit .280 with a bad BABIP. If I didn't like him for next year, I sure do now.

The flip side of the BABIP coin are those players who won't be repeating their good 2012 performances:

Joey Votto    .337 (.404)
Dexter Fowler    .300 (.390)
Torii Hunter    .313 (.389)
Mike Trout     .326 (.383)
Melky Cabrera    .346 (.379)
Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
Austin Jackson    .300 (.371)
Buster Posey    .336 (.368)
Joe Mauer    .319 (.364)
Tyler Colvin    .290 (.364)
Miguel Montero    .286 (.362)

This list, by the way, has its PA requirement dropped down to 450, to show the red flags about a couple players who didn't qualify for the batting title (including the one who would have won it, Votto). The truly scary ones are those that didn't hit for a stratospheric average even with such a high BABIP--Fowler, Jackson, Colvin, and Montero. It's worth noting, though, that three of those guys play at high altitudes, and Jackson just barely topped his career BABIP of .370. In three Major League seasons, he hasn't been below .340, so maybe that's a skill of his. Of course, he hit just .249 with that .340 BABIP....

Park Effects
Speaking of players who hit in Coors Field, check out the hits-specific park effects around MLB here. If you'd rather stay right here, good, I've got the highlights.

Coors Field                       Rockies        1.276
Fenway Park                    Red Sox       1.173
Ballpark at Arlington    Rangers       1.117
Camden Yards                 Orioles         1.099
U.S. Cellular                    White Sox    1.081 

...

Tropicana Field               Rays            0.914
Angel Stadium                 Angels        0.906
AT&T Park                       Giants         0.901
PNC Park                         Pirates         0.871
Safeco Field                     Mariners    0.831 

Park effect numbers measure the difference between the given baseball stadium and the league average. The number 1.0 is exactly neutral, so Coors Field's 1.276 number means that park saw 27.6% more hits than the league average, while Safeco's 0.831 number means Seattle saw 16.9% fewer hits than average. Basically, the top five parks can really help your average and the bottom five are likely to hurt it. Conspicuously absent from this list are some parks notorious for adding to overall runs scored (or taking them away)--don't assume that Yankee Stadium will help your hitters' average or that Target Field (in Minnesota) will kill it. 

A Few Last Words
Batting average isn't an easy category to forecast, but with the tools of park effects, BABIP, and long-term trends under your belt, you can do pretty well. In fact, that's exactly what I recommend shooting for. If you write it off and load up on the B.J. Uptons and Adam Dunns of the world, you get what you pay for: power, speed, whatever else you want...and an ugly place in the BA standings. In a weekly head-to-head league, that might not be so bad. It's not as good for standard roto style, though. Instead, if you shoot to land towards the middle you can avoid overpaying for last year's best averages but still give yourself the chance to luck into some extra points--chances are that's what your league leader did last year anyway.
 




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