Yesterday, George Bissell broke down the landscape around the league in batting average. He found that batting average has slipped slightly over the last decade. He pointed out that batting average is one of the most antiquated metrics we use in fantasy sports to measure hitter success, yet we still do have to try and figure out who is going to help or hurt us in the category. Here are a few hitters who either over or underperformed in the category in 2016.
To some degree, Martinez’s career batting average is a McGuffin, as there is a significant disparity between what he did for the Astros and what he has done for the Tigers since his breakout in 2014. However, it is difficult to ignore the high BABIP that Martinez put up in 2016 versus the underlying batted ball data. There isn’t much of a question about the power – and Martinez should continue to be a 25-30 home run force assuming health – but another season with a batting average over .300 is a lot to ask. This is quibbling on the margins, but if you’re thinking that Martinez is a sleeper because he only played in 120 games last year and are extrapolating his stats based on that you could be in for a rude awakening.
2016: .285 AVG, .372 BABIP. Career: .261 AVG, .343 BABIP
It is difficult to get too negative about BABIP when it is tied to a speedster like Villar. But nearly half of Villar’s fly balls were of the infield variety, and while he did maximize his speed, it is asking a great deal to see a repeat of his success with such a high ground ball rate. This isn’t to suggest that Villar is going to disappear completely, but some regression is likely and even a slight drop in Villar’s batting average could push him from the high $30s (in NL-only) into the high $20s in fantasy earnings. We all are aware of this, so Villar isn’t going to be a big bust, but it something to take note of, particularly in keeper leagues if you are banking on significant profits.
2016/Career: .296 AVG, .411 BABIP.
Analysis driven solely by BABIP is suboptimal, but it doesn’t take much imagination to look at Naquin’s .411 BABIP and realize that it is due to plummet. But it is never that simple. While Naquin’s batting average did drop from .314 in the first half to .278 in the second half, his BABIP stayed over .400 in both halves, while his line drive rate went up and his rate of softly hit balls dropped significantly. This is a case where over-analysis is not your friend. Naquin should be a solid hitter and is likely to exceed the modest expectations he had when he was a prospect. He is extremely unlikely to produce another BABIP north of .400. Three hitters in major league history have finished with a BABIP of .400 or greater in two or more seasons in their careers: (minimum 350 plate appearances): Joe Jackson, George Sisler, and Ty Cobb (who did it seven times!). Naquin isn’t one of those guys.
2016: .217 AVG, .234 BABIP. Career: .285 AVG, .314 BABIP
Revere performed the ultimate disappearing act in 2016, morphing from lead-off hitter on a contending team to an afterthought for the NL East champion Nationals in the span of six months. Some of this was due to injury, but much of it was terrible batted ball luck. Revere’s contact rates were right in line with his career norms, but this didn’t translate into the solid batting average that fantasy owners could typically rely upon from Revere. Currently a free agent, Revere might not find his way onto a roster as a starter, but if he does he is a sleeper every format from 15-team mixed to only leagues. It isn’t difficult to envision 25-30 steals with a .275 batting average if Revere gets another full-time opportunity.
2016: .186 AVG, .238 BABIP. Career: .233 AVG, .291 BABIP
There are some warning signs in Norris’ zone profile that make it possible that 2016 was less of a fluke and more of a sign of things to come. However, it is difficult to look at Norris’ career batted ball profile versus his terrible results in 2016 and think that last year was a significant anomaly. The move to Washington should help, although Petco Park hasn’t played as the heavily pitcher-friendly park that it used to in years past. There is a good deal of risk tied to Norris’ profile, but he offers enough power and speed behind the dish that even a modest batting average bounce back would go a long way.
2016: .238 AVG, .277 BABIP. Career: .240 AVG, .299 BABIP
The belief that Russell should improve upon his batting average in 2017 has less to do with batted ball data and more to do with the belief that there is a good deal of growth in a 23-year-old shortstop who has already accrued a 5.4 WARP in his short-yet-brilliant career. The batted ball data does matter; all the indicators for Russell speak more to a .270 or .280 hitter than a .240 hitter. However, the high strikeout totals do make it difficult to reliably speak to a higher batting average, based on the variance tied to high strikeout totals and BABIP. The guess from this corner is that Russell is a superstar in the making and that there is a big jump coming in 2017, which will include a spike in AVG.
2016: .230 AVG, .266 BABIP. Career: .262 AVG, .302 BABIP
Heyward’s miserable campaign cannot be explained away merely by citing BABIP gremlins. His issues with swing mechanics and the multiple tweaks he made in-season to his swing led to a lot of weak contact and suboptimal outcomes, and a lost season for the Cubs’ marquee free agent signing from the 2015-2016 offseason. Heyward is spending his winter at the Cubs’ offseason training facility in Mesa, Arizona, working with assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske to get Heyward back to where he was with the Cardinals and Braves earlier in his career. Heyward has always been a streaky hitter, but it is difficult to believe that 2016 is his new normal.