The Wheelhouse: Punting Batting Average

The Wheelhouse: Punting Batting Average

This article is part of our The Wheelhouse series.

Ignoring a category is often a good strategy.

On multiple occasions, I've avoided paying for saves on draft day with the hope of getting a talented setup man on the brink of taking over the ninth inning, or thinking that I will win the FAAB lottery early in the year and address the category through the waiver wire. The problem with that approach is the loss of valuable resources if you end up spending one-third of your waiver-wire budget on a closer who is given the role soon after the season begins. Ideally, you end up a week or two ahead of the job change and spend 1-3% of the budget speculating on the next-in-line arm when a bullpen situation appears primed for a change.

A league can be won without having a closer all season, but it requires a combination of starting pitchers that are excellent in ratios and strikeouts, a task that becomes more difficult in deeper leagues.

Punting batting average appears to be a much easier strategy to execute.

If nothing else, this piece may be useful to help highlight players who are being underpriced because of their low batting average expectations. Owners attempting to win the category can afford to take on an anchor or two without cratering their overall mark.

Most hitters with a low batting average exhibit all, or some combination of, the following traits:

  • High strikeout rate
  • High pull rate
  • Low Exit Velocity/High Soft Contact%

    Infield flyballs can also drive down a hitter's

  • Ignoring a category is often a good strategy.

    On multiple occasions, I've avoided paying for saves on draft day with the hope of getting a talented setup man on the brink of taking over the ninth inning, or thinking that I will win the FAAB lottery early in the year and address the category through the waiver wire. The problem with that approach is the loss of valuable resources if you end up spending one-third of your waiver-wire budget on a closer who is given the role soon after the season begins. Ideally, you end up a week or two ahead of the job change and spend 1-3% of the budget speculating on the next-in-line arm when a bullpen situation appears primed for a change.

    A league can be won without having a closer all season, but it requires a combination of starting pitchers that are excellent in ratios and strikeouts, a task that becomes more difficult in deeper leagues.

    Punting batting average appears to be a much easier strategy to execute.

    If nothing else, this piece may be useful to help highlight players who are being underpriced because of their low batting average expectations. Owners attempting to win the category can afford to take on an anchor or two without cratering their overall mark.

    Most hitters with a low batting average exhibit all, or some combination of, the following traits:

  • High strikeout rate
  • High pull rate
  • Low Exit Velocity/High Soft Contact%

    Infield flyballs can also drive down a hitter's batting average, as they result in the same outcome as a strikeout 99.99% (no hit, no RBI, etc.) of the time.

    Most of us can agree that swinging and missing, selling out to the pull side, and making weak contact are not what we would like to see in building the perfect hitter.

    There is good news.

    We're not trying to build the perfect hitter. We're only trying to pile up more homers, RBI, runs, and steals than the other teams in our league.

    Here's a list of players projected to hit 20 or more home runs this season according to the Steamer projection system:

    For visualization purposes, the lowest batting averages are green and the highest batting averages are red. Everything else is shaded as you would expect. I added a column to this table, and the one below, which adds RBI and runs together. Be sure to keep an eye on the playing time columns as well, since some players are on the receiving end of very conservative projections.

    The ADP in the table was provided by Fantrax, and later ADPs are shaded more heavily in green.

    The difference between Carlos Santana and Freddie Freeman is 80-100 picks in a typical draft. Categorically speaking, the difference between Carlos Santana and Freddie Freeman could be 50-plus points in batting average, although Steamer projections have them 22 points apart. Their RBI and run output is nearly identical.

    If you were to pass on Freeman and select Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard in Round 2 instead, you're now positioned with a much more valuable starting pitcher relative to the options going 80-100 picks later. It's important to do very well in ERA and WHIP if you're throwing away one of 10 categories in a traditional rotisserie league. You might even consider double-tapping starting pitchers in the first two rounds, if you're positioned in a spot that allows you to take Clayton Kershaw.

    Keep in mind, however, that this strategy can be well executed even if another owner grabs Kershaw in the first round. Ideally, you're picking up hitters with excellent power and run production skills, with no emphasis on batting average. Early in Round 1, Kris Bryant (.275 AVG projected by Steamer) is a great fit, later in the round, Anthony Rizzo (.279 AVG via Steamer) is the way to go. If it doesn't fall that way, you're still going to be fine, and it's always possible that you'll be a little better than a couple teams in average even if you're steering away from the category.

    As you build the foundation of your offense, remember that you're willing to take on free-swinging hitters with good skills elsewhere, whether it's a power or speed dominant skill set is largely irrelevant, because you'll be able to find discounted homers or steals in the middle and late rounds in players that are deemed flawed by the market.

    Also, it's worth seeking out closers with increased job security (and skills) in the early and middle rounds.

    Here's a table with players to consider on a round-by-round basis, assuming a 12-14 team mixed format. Of course, the round numbers here are rough estimates based on NFBC ADP. Also, as the starting pitching options go, there are plenty of alternatives you could consider in these rounds, and you should go through the process of sorting out which arms you want to target at various points if you don't start off your draft with two aces in the first three rounds.

    As one example, perhaps you are more comfortable than I am with Carlos Martinez in the fifth round.

    RndHittersPitchers
    1Kris Bryant, Anthony RizzoClayton Kershaw
    2Edwin Encarnacion, Jonathan VillarMadison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard
    3Trevor Story, George Springer, Giancarlo Stanton, Brian DozierJohnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta
    4Wil Myers, Billy Hamilton, Gary SanchezKenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Carrasco
    5Todd Frazier, Justin Upton, Chris DavisZach Britton, Jacob deGrom
    6Khris Davis, Mark TrumboMark Melancon, Seung Hwan Oh, Craig Kimbrel
    7Jose Bautista, Adam JonesKelvin Herrera, Edwin Diaz, Roberto Osuna
    8Miguel Sano, Carlos Santana, Eduardo NunezJulio Teheran, Rich Hill, Alex Colome, Ken Giles

    With a few exceptions, many of the players listed above offer very little in the stolen-base department. If you're not comfortable with a huge share of your steals coming from a player like Hamilton, there are plenty of options available in the middle and late rounds projected for 15 or more stolen bases.

    Thanks to the surplus power you can get from the low-average hitting targets on your draft board, you can afford to roster a few speed-only players like Jarrod Dyson, Travis Jankowski, and Rajai Davis (don't be surprised if his home-run total ends up closer to half of his 2016 mark). They don't all have to be outfielders, though, you'll want to start addressing steals in the early-middle rounds to get some of the more established infielders on the board capable of helping in the category if your early-round foundation is flush with outfielders.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    Derek VanRiper
    Derek was a frequent writer and media host. During his tenure, he'd been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also had hosted RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).
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