Expected Batting Average; 5 Hitters Due for a Fall
Statcast data has become a passion of mine over the last year. During the season, I wrote a weekly piece titled “Statcast Trends,” where I scoured the data to find players that were trending up or down. I also published a series titled “How To Use Statcast Data” earlier this offseason. Over the next several weeks, I will be using Baseball Savant’s expected stats to look at some players who over or underperformed actual production. Today, we will look at players with expected batting averages lower than their actual batting average.
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Expected Batting Average
Expected batting average is often referred to as xBA. It is a statcast metric that measures the chances of a batted ball becoming a hit. Each batted ball event is assigned an xBA based on how often a comparable batted ball becomes a base hit. The factors included are exit velocity, launch angle, and sprint speed.
For example, a player hits a line drive in the gap between center and right field. That batted ball is assigned an xBA of .800. That is because balls hit in that part of the field with similar exit velocity and launch angle have become a hit eight out of ten times.
Expected batting average is useful because it indicates a player’s true skill better than simple batting average. xBA removes defense from the equation. Hitters can influence exit velocity and launch angle but have no control over what happens once a batted ball is put into play.
Expected stats are not perfect, but they are useful when evaluating players. It is also important to remember that 2020 was a strange season with small samples. Things were different, and players did not perform up to par. I am remaining hopeful for a normal season in 2021. But without further ado, let’s get into some of the largest overperformers of batting average in 2020.
Expected Batting Average Overperformers in 2020
Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies
When you think of hitters on the Colorado Rockies, your mind likely does not go to Raimel Tapia. He flies completely under the radar but still managed to provide some sneaky Fantasy Baseball value in 2020. Tapia slashed .321/.369/.402 with one home run and eight stolen bases. On the surface, other than power, it looked like Tapia was a viable option for your Fantasy team. But underneath the hood, the numbers get a bit concerning.
Tapia posted the largest differential in batting average and expected batting average, tied with Alex Verdugo who we will discuss next. If Tapia posted an actual .251 batting average, he is essentially a steals only guy. If his .392 BABIP regresses toward his career .354, the batting average drops significantly. Tapia was also among the worst in the league in average exit velocity, barrel rate, and expected slugging percentage. His expected slugging percentage of .330 was actually lower than his wOBA.
Currently, Tapia is going after pick 300 in early NFBC drafts. Steamer projects 10 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and a .277 batting average in 2021. If he hits those projections he could be of decent value at his ADP. But I would not draft him with the expectation he would hit .321 again.
Alex Verdugo, Boston Red Sox
Alex Verdugo took off in Boston after being traded from the Dodgers prior to the 2020 season. He posted a .308/.367/.478 slash line with six home runs and four stolen bases. Verdugo has always been a high contact, high batting average hitter, so seeing a .239 expected batting average is concerning. He did benefit from a high .371 BABIP, which possibly fueled the lower expected batting average.
Verdugo also saw a decrease in his average exit velocity and lowered his launch angle, as he hit the ball on the ground more than 50 percent of the time. On a positive note, Vergudo did barrel the ball at the highest rate of his career.
While Tapia’s ADP stayed at a reasonable price, Verdugo’s cost has risen to an average pick of 125. Steamer projects him to slash .292/.356/.457 with 17 home runs and eight stolen bases. While it is not flashy, Verdugo feels like a safe floor pick in this range.
Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles
Ryan Mountcastle made his anticipated Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles. he did not fail to disappoint as he slashed .333/.386/.493 with five home runs in 35 games. Despite only playing half of the season, Mountcastle earned one rookie of the year vote. The bad news is that Mountcastle seemed to overperform.
The small sample makes it hard to judge Mountcastle’s expected numbers. Statcast pegged his expected batting average at .268. Like the other players we discussed, he posted a high BABIP of .398. But, it is not uncommon for Mountcastle to carry a high BABIP despite not being a great runner. In 2019 in a full triple-A season, he carried a .370 BABIP.
Despite a low average exit velocity of 87.4 mph, Mountcastle barreled the ball well, at 7.1 percent. His power is legit. I would not expect Mountcastle to hit .333 again, but he does have a solid hit tool that should lead to consistently good batting averages. Steamer projects him to hit .277 in 2021, which feels like a safe bet.
Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
Adalberto Mondesi’s 2020 season was a tale of two halves. After hitting .186 in July and August, he turned it on to hit .356 in September. Mondesi is not as bad as his first half, but not as good as his second half, so the season-long results are more telling. While the slashline of .256/.294/.416 is not overly impressive, six home runs and 24 stolen bases in 223 plate appearances is.
Mondesi does have disappointing expected stats with an expected batting average of .208 and an xwOBA of .255. Regardless, there are some positive things to take away from his statcast profile. Mondesi increased his average exit velocity to a more than respectable 90.6 mph, while also increasing his launch angle to 13.7 degrees.
There are some concerns in his batted ball and plate discipline profiles. Mondesi will always be a volatile hitter due to his poor contact rates. His overall contact rate was fourth-worst among hitters and his zone contact was equally bad. Mondesi’s low line drive rate factored in with the poor contact does not create an equation for a high batting average.
Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays
Cavan Biggio has risen the ranks with an exciting young group of Blue Jays. In his 159 career games at the big league level, he has hit 24 home runs and stolen 20 bases. His batting average is not that impressive, at .237, but Biggio is an OBP monster. He did show improvements in 2020 as he hit .250 with a .375 OBP. The power and speed combo is what makes Biggio intriguing, plus having multi-position eligibility at several thin positions.
Despite a solid 2020 season, Biggio’s statcast data is not the prettiest sight. His expected batting average was among the worst in the league at .215. Additionally, Biggio posted a low average exit velocity and declined in barrel rate. It is interesting that Biggio maintained good home run rates considering his poor statcast metrics.
Biggio may never hit for a high batting average, but if you play in an OBP league, Biggio is extremely valuable. His current ADP is 56, which should be more reflective of an OBP league rather than a standard batting average league. Still, with eligibility at second, third, and outfield and a solid power/speed combo, Biggio is an intriguing player for Fantasy Baseball.
To check out all of the expected batting average overperformers, head on over to Baseball Savant
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