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Finding Batting Average Late In Drafts

Every draft is like a choose your own adventure book. I love drafts, and boy did I enjoy those choose your own adventure books growing up. Are you a pirate who wants to search for gold on a deserted island? You choose to look inside a cave. Turn to page 76 and guess what? You’re dead. You’re a secret agent and you choose to try the veal at a gala you’re infiltrating for recon. Turn to page 101 and yep, that veal was poisoned. You’re dead. You’re a cab driver in NYC and you pick up anyone – ANYONE – turn to page 2 and you’re dead. That last book didn’t sell too many copies.

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Batting Average on the Cheap

There is less peril in fantasy drafts to be sure. All you have to do to survive is not choke on your pretzels. You do get to choose your own adventure, however, by building your team however you want to. You can go all-in on hitting first or go pitcher heavy. Want to punt steals, saves, or batting average? That isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s your adventure. Perhaps the most easily justifiable of those strategies in standard roto leagues is to punt batting average.

Not Your Average Strategy

Not everyone is like Khris Davis, who has batted .247 four consecutive seasons. That’s incredible. Batting average is very volatile year over year, which is why people like to worry about it less. All it takes is two balls per week to slip past a defender’s glove and you have a massive batting average difference over a full season. A bit of BABIP luck can swing an average wildly as well, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Just look at Mookie Betts over the past three seasons; his BABIP swung from .322 to .268 to .346, with his average following suit at .318/.264/.346. Even the best hitters are at the whims of the BABIP gods.

This is all to say that if I’m going to take my chances on any category early on, it’s usually average. Maybe Khris Davis hits .270 this year. That isn’t outside the realm of possibilities. However, if you do ignore average early on, it’s one of the hardest things to find late in drafts. If you’re looking to offset some early low-average bats, here are some late-round (mostly 15-team league relevant) bats to consider. For this exercise I’m using a combination of 2018 contact rates, Derek Carty‘s THE BAT projections, and Fantrax ADP to help search for some batting average in the later rounds of drafts to help you out if you punt (or merely don’t focus on) average early in your draft.

High Contact Hitters

Nick Markakis (88.8% Contact%, .276 Proj. AVG, 272 ADP)

We might as well start with Markakis because this entire premise could be considered “Mining For Markakises”. We’re looking for batting average and not category juice, which is what Markakis has made a career of. He predictably slowed down after 2018’s huge start in which he showed us phantom power, but still finished with a .297 average and 93 RBI. That’s a hidden benefit of high averages – unexpectedly high RBI. You can’t often drive in runs with a walk, after all. Markakis is back with the Braves, and  – unless they sign Bryce Harper – appears set to earn consistent at-bats all year once again.

Joe Panik (91.1% Contact%, .266 Proj. AVG, ADP 491)

Panik was injured for a good chunk of 2018 and deserved better than a .265 BABIP/.254 AVG. The Giants are going to be a really, really bad lineup, but Panik will likely hit somewhere around the top of the order. That will give him a lot of plate appearances and opportunities to score runs, not that he will give you much else.

David Fletcher (91.1% Contact%, .264 Proj. AVG, ADP 465)

I can’t talk myself into David Fletcher. The Angels added Tommy La Stella to help out in the infield, and Luis Rengifo will be knocking on the door soon as well. Rengifo is much more fantasy relevant thanks to his speed, but he’s more of an OBP guy than batting average. Fletcher has almost no power, and what speed he does give you isn’t enough to set him apart. He’s just an AL-Only play, giving you pretty empty bottom-of-the-order at-bats to open the season.

Ian Kinsler (88.8% Contact%, .254 Proj. AVG, ADP 376)

Here’s an example of where contact rate does not equal batting average. Despite Kinsler’s elite contact skills, he hasn’t hit over .240 for two years. Whereas most of these options are line-drive hitting middle infielders, Kinsler pops up a ton and hits a lot of fly balls. That kills his BABIP and leads to an ugly average. That said, he’s set to soak up at-bats for a bad Padres team and could score plenty of runs with double-digit homers and steals. He would really benefit from fewer fly balls, though.

Wilmer Flores (87.9% Contact%, .276 Proj. AVG, ADP 550)

Flores has himself a new home in Arizona. Well, I don’t really know if he purchased a new home there, but he will at least be playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019. That’s what I meant, you see. Flores actually cut a shocking 5.1% off his K% in 2019, although he hit a career-low 11 homers over 126 games. He’ll hit for a decent average, but due to his aggressive approach, has just a .303 career OBP. That makes him more of a bottom half of the order type of hitter unless there’s a lefty on the mound. Flores was weirdly bad against LHP in 2018, but his career splits are .780 OPS vs LHP/.706 OPS vs RHP. In any case, he’ll get plenty of at-bats this year, and both THE BAT and Steamer have him hitting 20-21 HR with a .276-.278 average. He also played 10+ games at first, second, and third in 2018, so depending on your league settings he may be eligible at all three positions. His ADP is criminally low.

High Averages Projected By THE BAT

Matt Duffy (84% Contact%, .281 Proj. AVG, ADP 374)

The Duff Man is setting up to be one of my favorite sleepers this year. He’s flying under radars probably because he has missed so much time over the past two years. He hit .294 over 132 games last season and looking at the Rays lineup, he makes a lot of sense as their leadoff hitter. He had even 106/106 L/R wRC+ splits in 2018, and his 8.4% walk rate gave him a .361 OBP. You won’t get much power from him, but he could steal double-digit bags again over a full season. Projection systems don’t have him playing more than half the season for some reason, perhaps because the Rays are so platoon-happy. I’ll happily take the over on all the playing time projections.

Dustin Pedroia (89.8% 2017 Contact%, .279 Proj. AVG, ADP 484)

Pedroia accrued a whopping 13 plate appearances in 2018, which is why I note his 2017 contact rate. He is definitely a risky investment considering the Red Sox stacked lineup and his own recent injury history, but that’s why he’s so cheap. He still projects to hit for a pretty high average. That will be about all you get from him though, with almost no power or speed and limited R+RBI production as he will likely be pushed to the bottom half of the order.

Luis Urias (.275 Proj. AVG, ADP 310)

I didn’t bother to include Urias’s contact rate since he made just 53 plate appearances late in 2018. He has always been an OBP-first type of prospect, and there’s no reason to expect any different just yet. He could score a fair bit of runs as long as he sticks at the one or two spot in the Padres lineup, but he might not get to double-digit steals or homers.

Jeff McNeil (85.1% Contact %, .273 Proj. AVG, ADP 339)

McNeil might get McMets-ed into a utility role. I’ll still take the over on THE BAT’s 304 PA’s though, leaving optimism for a double-digit home run and stolen base season along with a pretty nice batting average.

Jesse Winker (85.6% Contact%, .271 Proj. AVG, ADP 217)

Ok, so these last two players aren’t in the ADP 270+ range like everyone else. However, I think their averages could beat the projections and make them very valuable. Winker has a career .299/.397/.460 line (471 PA’s) and simply looks like an on-base machine. He’s relatively cheap because he doesn’t appear to have an everyday job right away and is coming off shoulder surgery. I think he’ll play his way into full-time at-bats and put up huge numbers.

Jorge Polanco (85.3% Contact%, .270 Proj. AVG, ADP 231)

Polanco was the three-hitter for the Twins down the stretch in 2018 and has a good shot to be a 15/15/.280 player this year. He’ll most likely set the table for the team now that they acquired Nelson Cruz, making Polanco more of a source of runs than RBI.

Would you consider tanking batting average? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has been featured on numerous radio shows, podcasts, and magazines. He is the host of the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts, and his written work can be found at Razzball and Fantrax HQ. He is on Twitter @NathanDokken.

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