In Roto leagues, chasing categories can be a dangerous game. The goal, obviously, is to build the most-balanced team possible. However, with how unpredictable the season can be with struggles and injuries, you always have to be prepared for the worst!
What does this mean? Essentially, you always need to have backup plans for each category. You might plan to be strong in stolen bases, for example, but then Adalberto Mondesi gets injured, and you need to replace those steals. Having players who are strong in a specific category stashed on your bench can be a saving grace as the season goes long; as they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Batting average, which is very unstable from one season to the next, can be very difficult to predict, making it an even bigger priority to have contingency plans on your bench to boost your team batting average if things go awry. As a result, many fantasy baseball players have switched to OBP leagues, especially since on-base percentage can give you a better idea of a player’s true offensive value.
Don’t worry, folks; this article isn’t about making you choose between batting average leagues and OBP leagues. Rather, we are going to be searching for cheap sources of batting average and on-base percentage. If all goes well, these players can make a difference when it comes to sustaining a long season and being at the top of the category you are chasing. Without further ado, let us dive right into it.
Cheap Sources of Batting Average
2B Nick Madrigal, Chicago Cubs
NFBC ADP: 297.5
When Nick Madrigal was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft, he was taken for one primary reason- his hit tool. At Oregon State, the 24-year-old posted a .361 batting average, striking out just 5.2% of the time. That type of contact production is unprecedented, and it’s easy to see why the White Sox thought so highly of him as a prospect.
Madrigal essentially only spent one season at the minor-league level (2019), going from High-A to Triple-A in just one season. Remarkably, he managed to lower his strikeout rate (3%), while still hitting over .300 (.311). Then, he got his chance at the MLB level, where he hit .340 with just a 6.4% strikeout rate in 109 plate appearances, albeit with a .365 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
Heading into the 2021 season, Fangraphs gave Madrigal a future 70-hit tool grade on the 20-80 scale. For those unfamiliar with the scouting scale, that’s essentially putting him amongst the 95th percentile when it comes to hitting for batting average. With a .305 batting average in 215 plate appearances last year, he certainly made good on that. If it wasn’t for a hamstring injury that cost him to miss most of the year, he likely would’ve been amongst the top-ten in batting average.
Outside of his contact quantity, Madrigal’s contact trajectory also speaks well to a high batting average. His 21.2% pull rate was amongst the lowest of the league, while he ranked in the 94th percentile in opposite-field percentage (34.8%); he also hit a fly ball or pop-up only 16.9% of the time. This is going to allow him to post a high BABIP and overachieve his expected batting average (.263), making him a potential value if fantasy managers get to fixated over his poor quality of contact numbers.
Right now, ATC projections believe Madrigal will post a .300 batting average, while he’ll also pitch in 8-10 steals. To ever slot him in your lineup, you’re going to need to be well-equipped from a power perspective. If you have that under control, though, Madrigal is a great target t boost your team’s batting average.
2B Nico Hoerner, Chicago Cubs
NFBC ADP: 403.62
Let’s stick with the Cubs’ middle infield, shall we? Between Madrigal and Nico Hoerner, the Cubs might combine for the lowest strikeout rate ever!
Like Madrigal, Hoerner was a first-round pick in 2018, though less-coveted as the 24th overall selection. Ironically, he also played in the Pac-12 at Stanford, where he hit .304 with a 9.5% strikeout rate. Also like Madrigal, his time in minors was slim; he held his own at Double-A with a 117 wRC+, and was later called up to the MLB level that year.
In 378 career plate appearances across the MLB level, Hoerner boasts a .272 batting average, in addition to an impressive 89.5% zone-contact rate. While his .302 batting average from this year came with an unsustainable .360 BABIP, there are plenty of reasons to expect him to post a high BABIP, and a high batting average moving forward.
Hoerner’s 14.7% strikeout rate is obviously on the low side, meaning that he’s making plenty of contact. Meanwhile, with that contact, he’s developed even sprays:
As you can see, Hoerner is certainly a hitter who is going to spray the ball to all fields. Meanwhile, with his 91st percentile sprint speed, he’s also going to have a leg up when it comes to beating out infield hits, critical since he hits the ball on the ground at such a high rate. Hoerner is unlikely to hit for .300 like Madrigal, but he’s a good bet to post a batting average around .280, with double-digit steals and a lot of playing time with future eligibility at both middle infield positions. After pick 400, that sounds like strong value to me.
2B/3B/OF Jeff McNeil, New York Mets
NFBC ADP: 318.91
Good ol’ recency bias. Per google, this is defined as the “tendency to place too much emphasis on experiences that are freshest in your memory- even if they are not the most relevant or reliable.” As we prepare for the 2022 season, I can’t help but ask: are we falling into this trap with Jeff McNeil?
Make no mistake about it; McNeil’s 2021 season was a massive disappointment. He posted just a 93 wRC+ with a .251 batting average and wasn’t particularly relevant in any fantasy category. As someone who was considered to be a top-10 second baseman heading into the season, this was not expected whatsoever, and it has destroyed McNeil’s stock heading into 2022.
At the same time, this is the same player that had posted a .319 batting average and 140 wRC+ in 1024 career MLB plate appearances prior to the 2021 season. Should that all be forgotten because of one down season? Yes, that production came with a .342 BABIP but considering he was consistently posting such high BABIPs, it was fair to wonder if he’d be able to do so consistently.
Apparently not. McNeil’s BABIP dropped to .280, which was the driving force behind the significantly-lowered batting average. However, a career-low 22.8% line-drive rate certainly didn’t help matters, and with how unstable line-drive rates can be from one season to the next, you’d expect that to regress positively for him. If anything, he’s actually improved in terms of spraying the ball all reds of the field, but the lack of line drives certainly hurt him in 2021.
For his career, McNeil has a .324 BABIP, while the ATC projection has him slotted for a .306 BABIP. Either way, there should be notable BABIP regression with more line drives in 2022, to the point that it wouldn’t shock me to see McNeil hit .300 once again. If it weren’t for some playing time concerns, I’m confident in saying that he should be being drafted much higher, but even as is, he’s going to provide you with a potentially elite batting average and multi-positional flexibility. You always want to buy into players at what you anticipate to be their lowest price point, and that’s the case here with McNeil.
Cheap Sources of OBP
1B/3B Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays
NFBC ADP: 356
The beauty of OBP leagues? We can reward players with high walk rates! Plate discipline is one of the most important aspects of being an offensive producer, while on-base percentage is by far a better gauge of a player’s offensive capabilities than batting average- a walk is equivalent to a single, after all.
Enough with the love for OBP; for more, go watch Moneyball, it’s an incredible movie. With the way he can get on base, I’m surprised Yandy Diaz hasn’t been an Oakland A’s player at any point of his career! For his career, Diaz has a 12% walk rate, a .270 batting average, and, most importantly, a .359 on-base percentage. As long as you can look past his inconsistent power, there’s a lot to like here!
With an 18.9% chase rate combined with a 12.8% walk rate, Diaz has exceptional plate discipline, while he doesn’t strike out much (15.7%) either. That combination is perfect for getting on base consistently, especially since Diaz should post a higher batting average than the .256 mark he had last year. Why? Line-drive regression. Diaz’s 19.5% line-drive rate was well below his career average of 24.1%, while his .286 BABIP was lower than his career .306 BABIP. In 2022, look for Diaz to get back on track in that regard, leading to him getting on base more often.
Plus, it’s not a given that Diaz will be any sort of liability from a power department. With elite raw power, he has the capability to be a slugger. The problem? A career 54.2% ground-ball rate. However, as the season went on, Diaz started to lift the ball more often:
From July 1st on, Diaz posted a 10.3% barrel rate, 123 wRC+, and .208 ISO. In other words, he was the complete package. If he can add that power to his OBP skills, he’s going to be a massive steal, but, as is, he’s going to provide you a strong OBP with power upside. Where he’s being taken, he’s a no-brainer addition to your fantasy team.
OF/1B Connor Joe, Colorado Rockies
NFBC ADP: 341.06
Once upon a time, Connor Joe was the opening day starting left fielder for the Giants. From there, he proceeded to post a NEGATIVE 47 wRC+, getting on base just twice in 16 plate appearances. Well, it looks like both he and the Giants organizations have come a long way since then!
To be fair, Joe’s minor-league production has been off the charts. Since 2018, he has posted a 145 wRC+ and .417 on-base percentage in the upper-levels of the minors, demonstrating strong plate discipline (14.8% BB) in the process. After signing with the Rockies prior to 2021, it was more of the same in Triple-A, posting a 165 wRC+ and .418 on-base percentage in 110 plate appearances.
This led to Joe getting another chance to produce at the major-league level. This time, he didn’t look back. In 211, plate appearances, he not only posted a .366 weighted-on-base-average (wOBA), but also hit .285 with a .379 on-base percentage. It was a strong enough performance for him to likely get another chance for a strong amount of playing time next season, though, based on his current draft price, many are wondering if he’s the real deal or not.
Plate discipline? Check; Joe walked at a 12.3% clip with a superb 17.4% chase rate. Contact skills? Check; he struck out just 19.4% of the time and had an above-average contact rate. Even sprays? Check; Joe’s 29.8% opposite-field rate was higher than the average 25.4% rate. Quality of contact? Check; Joe posted a 113.3 MPH max exit velocity with a 32.6% flare/burner rate.
Add in that he gets top play in Colorado, and there aren’t a lot of nits to pick with Joe. He could end up in the short end of a platoon, but if he continues to produce the way he’s capable of, then it’s going to be hard for the Rockies to keep him out of the lineup. With how much value he can provide in OBP leagues with his plate discipline, batting average, and power, the upside is legitimate. Really, what else could you be looking for?
2B Tommy La Stella, San Francisco Giants
NFBC ADP: 527.85
When the Giants signed Tommy La Stella to a three-year contract, they did so for one reason: his on-base skills. He was coming off of a shortened 2020 season in which he posted a .370 on-base percentage, while he’s been a reliable source of OBP despite being stuck to pinch-hitting duties for most of his career.
Unfortunately for La Stella, he dealt with a lot of injuries that led to him just getting 242 plate appearances in 2021. Even worse, a .255 BABIP suppressed his batting average to .250, leading to his on-base percentage being just .308. Fortunately, I would not expect the struggle bus to continue to 2022.
La Stella’s career .286 BABIP is a much better baseline for his batted-ball luck. Thus, we should be looking at a batting average around .280, which would put his OBP on pace for around .353, based on career averages. He rarely ever chases (20.7%), while he makes contact at an exceptional rate (89.2%). Thus, he has quite the stable skill set to rely upon; plate discipline is quite the valuable trait in OBP leagues, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see his walk rate rise from where it was last year (7.4%).
Going after pick 500, La Stella is essentially free in drafts. With a solid batting average and OBP hitting at the top of a strong lineup and not awful power, there is a lot to be interested in if he can stay healthy. In deeper leagues or draft and hold leagues where you need reliable contributions even from your projected bench players, La Stella’s floor is about as high as it can get for a player being picked in his range.
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