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The great thing about batting average is that it’s a great starting metric for building a strong fantasy team. It’s one of those rare stats that, when correctly targeted and prioritized, sets the foundation for a season of nearly guaranteed success.

In fantasy football, it’s a good idea to acquire players who get red zone usage and heavy workloads. In fantasy hockey, it’s in your best interest to target players who log big minutes and take plenty of shots. In fantasy basketball, you want to own players who play over 30 minutes per game and have high usage rates. In fantasy baseball, you have more flexibility, but players who simply get hits are the guys you need to be drafting.

Luckily for us fantasy gamers, a player’s batting average generally stays steady year-to-year... until it doesn’t. You need to be able to identify red flags and positive trends in a batters profile so you can be the first manager in your league to buy or sell a trending player.

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Batting Average Risers

Avisail Garcia (OF, CWS)

Garcia’s arrow was pointing straight down going into 2017. A 25 year old post-hype outfielder playing on the league’s most talent-deprived roster had no one excited heading into April. A 2017 Garcia breakout was highly unlikely.

Completely reasonable and justified, everyone pegged Garcia as a bust worth drafting in AL-only leagues. He was tossed aside, that is, until he started striking out less and hitting the ball harder, making more contact in the strike zone, and swinging at less junk outside the zone. Garcia had always been a high-average hitter even when he was stinking it up defensively, so when he made a few adjustments to his game - more patience and more focus, particularly in identifying strikes and balls - his production blossomed. His soft contact rate dropped to 15.7% while his hard contact rate improved to 35.3%. His overall contact rate rose to 72.4%, which is nearly a full two percent higher than his career contact rate of 70.6%.

Garcia was suddenly a must-own in all fantasy leagues after his contact rates improved across the board, completely substantiating his early season hot streak. Expect Garcia to continue raking in 2018.

 

Josh Reddick (OF, HOU)

Reddick just flat-out swung less in 2017. When he did swing, though, he made contact at a higher rate than his career average. Reddick’s convenient three percent dip in swing percentage, from a career rate of 46.1% to 43.7% was buoyed by a a two-and-a-half percent increase in contact rate. 2017 Reddick swung less than he usually had throughout his career, but he was making more contact when he did swing. You’ll see that this is often the formula for a batting average increase. Of course, Reddick’s BABIP saw a stark rise in 2017. His career .290 BABIP was dwarfed by a .339 BABIP in 2017, but a closer look at his contact rates reveals that Reddick was hitting more line drives last year. His line drive rate rose to 24.2% in 2017, three percent higher than his career rate of 21.1%.

Couple Reddick’s Zobrist-esque approach at the plate and a cushy role on the league’s most talented team and you have a player who’s viable in most fantasy settings. It’s wheels up for Reddick this season.

 

Chris Taylor (SS/OF, LAD)

Taylor’s batting average was destined to improve after an abysmal 2016 campaign where his .213 BA and one HR nearly wiped him off of every fantasy gamer’s radar. Taylor was all over the place in 2016. He swung at everything. His 2016 swing rate of 50.8% was significantly higher than his career rate of 46%, and his discipline with close pitches was nearly non-existent. He was swinging at strikes without hesitation, but he wasn’t connecting. Taylor was swinging at 75.6% of pitches thrown in the zone in 2016. His career zone swing rate is 67.4%.

Taylor needed to make an adjustment to save his big league career, so he started swinging much less. That included pitches thrown in the zone, too. Taylor was swinging at anything and everything in 2016, but he still managed to post the highest contact rate of his career up to that point. In 2017, however, when he started swinging at less pitches, he actually improved his contact rate to 76.4%, a full two percent higher than his 2016 rate.

Like Avisail Garcia, Taylor managed to swing at less pitches and make more contact. Assuming Taylor builds off of his 2017 adjustments, expect him to hit around .270, at the least.

 

Batting Average Fallers

Mookie Betts (OF, BOS)

Betts’ 2017 left a lot to be desired. During a season in which he was being drafted second overall in many drafts, Betts saw his batting average fall off a cliff. His .318 BA in 2016 led many fantasy gamers to championships, but after posting a .264 BA in 2016, Betts was a bit of a bust, even when counting his 101 runs and 102 RBI.

Betts’ 2017 BABIP was incredibly lower than his career .303 BABIP, and his deeper numbers reveal that he swung less but didn’t compensate for it by making more contact. He made less contact in 2017 than he ever had before. One would think that swinging at less pitches would lead to a sizable drop off in strikeout rate, but that was not the case for Betts in 2017. His strikeout rate technically increased from a 2016 rate of 11% to 11.1% in 2017.

Fantasy owners should cast Betts’ 2017 aside and expect a season more in line with his sensational 2015 or 2016 seasons. His BABIP will rise and I’m sure Boston’s analytics department will urge Betts to swing more in 2018.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD)

Complaining about Seager’s 2017 batting average drop is about the most absurd gripe one could possibly have regarding his game. He’s a sensational MVP-caliber player who will likely win a World Series some day. Until then, we will have to sit here and dissect his metrics profile, meticulously scouring each chart tab for the tip-off that would lead us to justify the oh-so-grave injustice Seager left us with last year. Why, Corey, why?!

Seager’s batting average “fell” in 2017 after a 2016 season with a .308 BA. Seager traded a few hits for a few more walks, and his average fell in the process. His healthy career contact rate of 77.2% was underperformed last season, even though Seager’s hard contact rate rose four percent. He hit more fly balls, less grounders, and a few more line drives, yada yada yada.

Be sure to draft the younger Seager in 2018. His average could rebound to .300-.310 range, but if it doesn’t, we’re looking at a .295 floor here.

 

Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET)

Cabrera’s 2017 season was, to put it lightly, a complete and unmitigated disaster, at least on the surface. Miggy, arguably the safest pick in every draft every year, rewarded risk-averse fantasy managers with a .249 BA, 16 HR, and 60 RBI. Who could have seen this coming? Were there any indicators hidden deep in his profile? How can a career .317 batter hit .249 out of nowhere?  Perhaps surprisingly so, nothing in Cabrera’s profile suggested an impending demise, other than, say, his age.

His quality of contact stats didn’t budge in 2017. In fact, they even improved across the board. His hard contact rose, he hit more line drives, and his soft contact rate fell, too. Aren’t these good things? How’d he hit .249?

Cabrera’s contact rate ended up falling substantially. He was a tad less disciplined in the box, swinging at 50.5% percent of pitches, merely one percent higher than his career average. But is that really enough to explain such a drop in performance? Cabrera’s 2017 BABIP was .292, and when compared to his career .344 BABIP, we start to see positive signs. Cabrera wasn’t that much worse in 2017 than in past years. He was definitely underperforming in areas like plate discipline, but there’s no reason to think he can’t hit over .280 in 2018. Be sure to inquire about his availability in dynasty and keeper leagues, and don’t hesitate to draft him if he falls to you late in a draft. His price has never been this low. It’s buy-low time.

 

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