Baseball is the rare sport where the stats can lie to you and, thus, we need to invent more stats to help weed out those lies. Batting average seems like something that wouldn’t be inaccurate because it’s just counting the number of times a player got a hit in his at-bats but there’s actually a lot of misinformation hidden within a batting average statistic.
A ball could be hit the same way to the same spot ten times and fall for a hit sometimes but not others depending on the skill of the fielders or defensive alignment or if it was a sunny day or not. Baseball is weird like that. Over the course of a long season, some players get more of those questionable balls to fall for hits than they rightfully should have and get a higher batting average as a result and vice versa. Before we overreact to “good” or “bad” seasons from those players, we’re lucky enough to have some advanced statistics that will help us weed out players who had overly lucky or unlucky seasons.
Let’s look at the three main statistics that can help us out in this department:
- BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play) – This is a player’s batting average on all balls hit into the field of play. All things being equal, the league average BABIP is typically around .290 so you can maybe think that players who have a higher BABIP than .290 are getting more hits on balls in play than they should be getting.
- xBABIP (Expected Batting Average On Balls In Play) – Actually, the truth is, you can’t assume a player with a BABIP higher/lower than .290 got lucky because a player can control his BABIP by the types of balls he hits (line drives create more hits for example) and how speedy he is (faster players generate more hits on batted balls). We have formulas designed to help us get at this expected BABIP number for each player based on how they hit the ball.
- xAVG (Expected AVG) – Taking that xBABIP stat, we’re then able to calculate a player’s expected AVG in a season based off that. Comparing this to their actual AVG lets us know exactly how lucky each batter was.
If you’re interested in learning more about these stats, I’ve got a more thorough write-up in an old post of mine here. Though xBABIP and BABIP are funky stats, you can skip directly to xAVG and compare it to AVG directly to find out what you need to know in these cases and that’s what I’ve done here to find ten of the biggest discrepancies from last year.
5 Players Due For A Decline In AVG
Players that had a big difference between xAVG and AVG that allowed them to have a higher AVG than expected are almost always expected to have a drop in AVG the next season. In the past two years, I listed 20 players that had big differences like this and 19 of them suffered a drop in AVG the following year. Here are five of the most glaring differences from last year so you can adjust your expectations accordingly for them in 2016:
- Xander Bogaerts (.320 AVG / .274 xAVG) – Bogaerts was one of the most valuable shortstops last season and his high AVG was a big part of that. The bad news is that his AVG was highly influenced by luck. Expecting that number to fall means that you have to hope that he finds his power stroke in 2016 to maintain his value. I’d use caution on him as an early round draft pick though because of this expected decline.
- Dee Gordon (.333 AVG / .290 xAVG) – Gordon provided elite numbers in both SB’s and AVG last season and his draft stock has soared because of it. Like Bogaerts before him, don’t expect that AVG to stick around. He still will be a great source of SB’s for roto owners but adjust your draft valuations accordingly based on the expected fall of his AVG. Once again, I worry that his draft value is too high this year to overcome that drop in AVG.
- Kris Bryant (.275 AVG / .241 xAVG) – The calling card for Kris Bryant is not his AVG luckily. He can do a little bit of everything so he’ll still be a very valuable player but plan for the fact that his AVG may actually be something that hurts you in roto leagues next year.
- Francisco Cervelli (.295 AVG / .262 xAVG) – Unlike the other four names here, Cervelli is not a top draft pick this year. He is being drafted as a valuable sleeper option at catcher though and that’s partly due to his ability to hit for AVG last year. With that AVG due for a drop, I’d remove him from any sleeper lists you may have.
- Miguel Cabrera (.338 AVG / .306 xAVG) – Miggy has always been known to hit around .330 so it wasn’t a shock that he did it last year as well. The xAVG number shows that he may have been aided by a bit of luck this time around though. Is he ready to start a slight decline from super-elite AVG to just elite AVG? Perhaps. Something to keep an eye on.
5 Players Due For An Increase In AVG
Players who have a higher xAVG than their actual AVG should generally be primed to see an increase in AVG over the year to come. This is generally a bit trickier to predict than knowing who overperformed because sometimes there could be a reason that the player underperformed that we’re not aware of. Regardless, the differences we see below are pretty major differences between AVG and xAVG so we should feel confident that these players are going to see an improvement in 2016.
- Albert Pujols (.244 AVG / .302 xAVG) – Pujols is clearly not the .330 hitter he once was now that he is in his late 30’s but that .244 AVG seemed a bit fishy even with his dwindling production. The good news is that he was majorly unlucky last year and we should hope to see him rebound in 2016. The question is how much he can rebound at age 36.
- Hanley Ramirez (.249 AVG / .300 xAVG) – There are few players more unpredictable when it comes to AVG than Hanley. He’s had three seasons under .260 and three above .330 and everything in between. The good news is that last year was a product of bad luck so feel free to invest in him at a lower value.
- David Ortiz (.273 AVG / .316 xAVG) – If Big Papi actually did hit .316 like his xAVG expected then he would have had one of his best AVG seasons of his long career. This will be his last season and he might be in store for more good things at age 40 based on the xAVG numbers here. Ortiz is most likely immortal so feel free to draft him as normal.
- Billy Hamilton (.226 AVG / .269 xAVG) – So much speed and so few hits for Billy Hamilton. If luck was kinder to him, he would have been much closer to league average in the AVG department. He’s young and still improving and you may be able to get him at a discount due to that .226 AVG so buy him while his stock is low.
- Carlos Correa (.279 AVG / .316 xAVG) – You already wanted to draft Correa anyway so here’s some more good news for you: his epic rookie season should have been even better. Yeah, go ahead and invest in him with no fear.