I shared a list of guys who were a virtual lock to hit over .300. Batting average is a category in 80% fantasy baseball leagues, so it’s important to draft a team that will make you competitive in the AVG category. So here are a few thoughts to help you navigate the batting average category in your fantasy baseball leagues.
There are Very Few Sure Bets
Go into the draft knowing that there are few guarantees for a .300 average and that batting average is at more of a premium than you might have first thought. The list is shorter than you think.
In fact, with the league average falling every year (.260 is the new .280), the gap between these .300+ hitters and an average hitters is growing wider. Strikeouts are way up and only going higher, and a strikeout is simply a direct path to the dugout, killing batting average.
It’s very difficult to maintain a .300 batting average and strike out more than 20% of the time, and Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Johnson were the only guys to do it in 2013 (and Johnson had a ridiculously high BABIP).
With batting average being at more of a premium than you may have first imagined, it’s important to considering target one of the sure bets on draft day.
Reconsider Common Strategies
Reconsider certain common strategies that may be considered conventional wisdom, such as drafting a guy like Adam Dunn for his home runs and balancing out his average by drafting a high average player. There aren’t enough high average guys in the world to balance out a .205 stinker on a fantasy baseball team.
While I’m a huge fun of coupling – the idea of looking at two or more fantasy players as a statistical sum of their parts – I’m no longer sure that you can couple a masher with a miserable batting average with a light power, but high batting average player.
If you find the right mix it can work – like drafting Joe Mauer as your first baseman and Pedro Alvarez as your third baseman – but it will more often than not fail miserably, like coupling Omar Infante with Adam Dunn. While Joe Mauer helps Alvarez with AVG, Joe also contributes in counting stats as well. Other pairings like Infante and Dunn will crush your team.
Make sure to really do your research if you are thinking of drafting a low average masher.
Know What to Expect
It’s also important to understand the underlying metrics that make up a strong batting average. Sure, a player can hit a nice lucky streak and have a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) that will have him hit over .300 for a season or half a season, but the guys that consistently hit .300 and above are doing something right.
xBABIP can give some insight into what those underlying factors are. Although there are several variations, this is the simplified (it strips out pesky bunts, for example) formula for xBABIP created by Tristen Cockcroft:
((GB * .237)+(FB * .138)+(LD * .724)) / BIP
Remember, xBABIP is a projection of what a player’s BABIP will should be, not what it’s been. Understanding that, you simply need to look how the formula is weighted to see why certain players consistently hit for higher averages than others. Besides limiting the times you strike out, a player needs to hit a high number on line drives to achieve a consistently high batting average. Whereas fly balls (FB) result in hits a few times out of a 1000 (138), line drives (LD) significantly correlate to a higher average (724 hits per one thousand). Hitting a fly ball over the fence is nice for your batting average, obviously, but most lazy fly balls are caught, unlike a scorching line drive that usually falls for a hit.
By understanding some of these predictive metrics you can make better choices as a fantasy baseball player drafting your team. Scan leaderboards for players with a higher percentage of line drives and low strikeout totals, reconsider taking a hit in batting average my utilizing old strategies like drafting a low average masher, and realize that batting average is more scarce than you may have thought. Do these things and you’ll be able be competitive in the batting average category.
POSTSCRIPT: When I searched USA Today’s archives for the image I used in this post it was easy to find one of Joe Mauer swinging. In fact, there were 100′s off them and they looked exactly like the photo above, illustrating just how beautifully consistent Joe’s swing is for hitting – you guessed it – line drives.