By Eno Sarris //
The more we learn, the less we know. For example, we know about batting average on balls in play (BABIP). We know that the league BABIP is usually around .300, and that a player’s unique mix of batted balls can be used to judge a player’s specific expected BABIP (xBABIP). But what happens when a player with some major league track record in the bank is showing a poor batting average but a BABIP that is just about luck-neutral?
Consider Ian Desmond. The shortstop is flawed, but he had power and speed while coming up in the minor leagues, and power and speed at shortstop is almost always playable in fantasy baseball. The problem with Ian Desmond right now is that he has a .234 batting average to go with his three home runs and 20 stolen bases. And his BABIP is .295. And his xBABIP is .286. He’s not unlucky on batted balls right now, but he has a batting average that’s thirty points under his career number in the category. Why?
Obviously, BABIP is not the only component of batting average. The elements that go into a batting average are diverse. Contact is part of it – you have to make contact to get the ball in play. Power is also part of it – power can turn a liner to the shortstop into a liner into short center field. Plate discipline is also a component. You want to avoid swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and you want to make contact on pitches inside the zone. In all three of these categories, there’s some hope for Desmond owners.
At first glance, contact is a problem for Desmond. He’s striking out in a quarter of his at-bats right now and his whiff rate (8.8%) is above average (8.4% this year). But already there’s something not quite right. He’s only slightly more likely to swing and miss than the average player, but his strikeout rate is 5% above average. Given that fact, and the fact that Desmond has improved his whiff rate over last year (10%), it seems likely that Desmond will strike out a little less often going forward.
Power is also not going Desmond’s way right now. He has a below-average ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) right now and has shown better power numbers in the past. In fact his current ISO (.098) would be his lowest number since rookie ball. His minor league ISO was .129 and his Double-A ISOs were both above .155. His major league ISO is .131. And power is the last statistic to stabilize over the course of a season. Give him a good week and he may find his power stroke once again. All it takes is a few doubles.
Lastly, though Desmond does not have great plate discipline, he has made improvements. He is reaching at balls outside the zone less than he has in his career (29.3% this year, 31.4% career, 29.5% is average this year). He’s also making more contact than he has in his career (80.3% this year, 79.2% career, 81% is average this year). Maybe he’s a little too passive right now – he’s only swinging at 63.2% of pitches within the zone, and league-wide that number is 64.7% and his personal career number is 65.5%. But he’s not reaching, and just a few more swings at solid pitches within the zone could really help.
Give Desmond a little more power – possibly from swinging at a few more pitches within the zone – and subtract a few strikeouts, and his batting average will improve. Given the fact that he’ll probably still strike out more than the average player and still won’t show much better than average power, his batting average won’t be awesome. But with power and speed, at shortstop, a .250+ batting average would work in most leagues. If it won’t work for your team, you’re probably best off looking for a new man in the middle.
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By Tommy Rancel //
In this era of advanced statistical analysis, some of baseball’s traditional stats have become less relevant when evaluating players. One of those metrics is batting average. That’s not to say batting average isn’t useful, or isn’t a sign of hitting ability, but it doesn’t tell a complete story. Plus, there are other statistics like on-base percentage – or weighted on-base average for more advanced followers – that are more useful.
The value of batting average has changed in real life evaluations; on the other hand, in fantasy baseball, one of the game’s simplest statistics still holds weight. As an owner, you may be able to leverage a high batting average in a trade that nets a bigger piece to your puzzle without sacrificing an important piece of your team.
Martin Prado is a prime example of a player who has his fantasy value tied into his batting average.
In real life, Prado is a good player. With his role increasing over the past few years, he has put up very good numbers from the middle infield position. His career slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) is a very respectable .310/.364/.451 and his defense is generally accepted as average. Without much power or speed, but a good average, Prado looks like a young Placido Polanco.
Graph courtesy of Fangraphs.com
Prado’s efforts have largely gone under the radar because he doesn’t possess a hulk-smashing power stroke, nor is he considered a defensive dynamo. Still, in 2010, Prado has gotten off to another good start. He is hitting .339/.397/.459 thus far, with the bulk of his value again in that batting average.
Currently, Prado has a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .382. Compare that elevated figure to the average ballplayer’s BABIP of around .300. For his career, Prado has maintained an elevated BABIP of .341; even at that level, a .382 mark suggests that some batting average regression will be coming.
Beyond the potential BABIP regression, let’s take a look at the types of hits Prado gets. He is not a power hitter, although he did belt 11 home runs last year. Outside of those 503 plate appearances (PA) in 2009, he has four home runs total in his other 482 PAs – including one home run in 117 PAs this season. He does have 70 career doubles and five triples; however 68% of his 276 career hits have been singles. This season, 26 of his 37 hits have gone for one base.
Even if the regression happens, you’ll likely be left with a good (but not great) hitter. If you’re already looking good in the batting average category, Prado could be a valuable trade piece to cash in for power or steals – commodities he lacks.
In a standard 10-12 mixed league, Prado’s average could be used to net a slumping/slow-starting power-hitter who will not only provide home runs, but RBI as well.
A prime target would be Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros. Here at Bloomberg Sports, we have already talked about Pence being a slow starter; 2010 has been no different. We also noted that Pence usually gets going around this time and doesn’t look back. With back-to-back 25 home run seasons under his belt, there is nothing to suggest that the 27 year-old can’t produce the same in 2010 once his bat heats up.
Alternatively, you could keep Prado as a batting average buffer and go after a high-power, low-average hitter. Carlos Pena and his .200 batting average could make a strong target. The Rays first baseman is blessed with 35-homer power and hits fifth in one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball, making him a great candidate for big counting stats.
There is no rush to trade Prado. The in-season updated projections from ZiPS (for more on ZiPS click here) have him hitting .311/.365/.439 with eight home runs in 2010. However, if you can leverage his batting average in a trade and pick up a struggling player like Pence, who is projected to hit 22 home runs and drive in 76 runs by the same projection system, it might be something worth looking into. Or keep Prado and go after a Pena type. Either way, you’ve got options.
For more on Martin Prado and high batting average players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.