On Monday, George Bissell took a look at the trends of batting average around the league. In it, he found that this antiquated stat has been trending downwards across the league, which makes sense given the rising strikeout totals. Then, on Tuesday, Mike Gianella examined the players that outperformed and underperformed expectations in this very fickle statistical category. Today, I’ll end out breakdown of AVG with some players who took a step forward in the statistic, and a couple who figure to be interesting cases as we look ahead to 2017.
The new Mariners shortstop has only four years in this league, but he’s already put together one of the most interesting career arcs in the league. Never mind the fact that he’s already on his third team in the majors, Segura has looked average, then awful, then great in 2016. Part of that was batting average, as he finished the year with a career-high mark of .319, 25 points higher than his 2013 AVG. A high BABIP was certainly a contributor — it finished at .353 — but that doesn’t mean it was all luck. The shortstop simply made better contact last year, as can be seen by his .181 ISO. He also increased his line drive rate by four percentage points, cut his pop up rate in half, and saw an increase in exit velocity against every type of pitch. There’s reason to believe he’ll regress some in 2017, but it may not be to the extent you’d think.
The Tigers third baseman has always been one of the more intriguing players in baseball to me, as his hit tool has shown flashes but has been defeated by his plate discipline. In 2016, that started to change. It wasn’t that his plate discipline improved all that much, as both his walk and strikeout rates stayed in line with his career norms as did his overall plate discipline numbers. Instead, he just had more success when he made contact. That reasoning could make one believe his .285 AVG was built on luck. He was the beneficiary of a .345 BABIP, after all. Instead, he improved his contact against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Those are the offerings that have hurt him in the past, and while he still whiffed against them a fair deal, he did damage when he made contact. Against changeups, curveballs and sliders, he hit more home runs and more line drives. He also saw a huge increase in exit velocity against offspeed offerings. More contact would be nice to fight against any regression, but this type of adjustment could be enough for Castellanos’ hit tool to continue flourishing.
The breakout of all breakouts in 2016, Ramirez has been one of the most popular candidates for regression looking ahead to 2017. It was his first full season’s worth of at bats, so it may not be entirely fair to call him a “riser,” though his .312 AVG was a huge step above his previous MLB experience as well as the perception of him as a player. On top of that, it could be sustainable. The contact skills are his carrying tool, and a nice building block in this area. Last season, he struck out exactly 10 percent of the time. He didn’t just simply make contact, though. Ramirez made solid contact more often than not, and did so to the entire field. He still favored his pull side, but he used center and the opposite fields much more than other years in his career. That, combined with the ninth highest line drive rate among all hitters with 400 plate appearances, makes his .333 BABIP seem downright sustainable. Many people are going to avoid paying for Ramirez, fearing some sort of collapse in 2017. That’ll be a fear to take advantage of on draft day.
The Interesting Cases
Speaking of regression candidates, I was expecting to hear that about Desmond heading into drafts next spring. Now, based on his new location, I’m not as sure. On the one hand, the shortstop-turned-outfield-maybe-turned-first-baseman looked a lot like his former self at the plate in 2016. He struck out more than one would like, but he backed that up with a high BABIP. In this case, a .350 BABIP helped lead to a .285 AVG, his highest finish since 2012. The BABIP, meanwhile, was a career-high and was not backed up by an increase in line drive rate or exit velocity compared to his down 2015 season. So, regression seemed like a given until he landed in the hitters’ haven that is Coors Field. Now, who knows what to expect.
It’s probably cheating to have both of my interesting cases being Rockies hitters, but there’s nothing more interesting than Coors’ effect on batting averages. Story might be the most interesting of all the Rockies hitters. After taking the league by storm to start his major-league career, the shortstop was merely good the rest of the way. Although we expected him to be a boon in home runs and stolen bases, we thought he’d be a black hole in AVG. Instead, he finished the year with a .272 mark despite striking out 31 percent of the time. He is just the fifth player in the Expansion Era (1961-present) to hit at least .270 while striking out at least 30 percent of the time in 400 plate appearances. I don’t expect the strikeout issues to improve by much, but he makes loud contact, runs well and hits in Coors. He may have the perfect profile to maintain a solid AVG despite the massive contact issues.
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