BABIP is going to fuel batting average this year, which is to say good luck finding lucky hitters. Now one thousand words on how maybe we can pare down the luck. Since 2000, only three players have qualified for the batting title and hit .400+ BABIP. Last year was a particularly weird year. In 123 games and 518 plate appearances, Tim Anderson hit .335 with a .399 BABIP. Like a sushi chef who smells his fingers after handling hirame, “That’s fluky.” Yoan Moncada had 559 plate appearance and a .406 BABIP. (The other two .400+ BABIPs since 2000 were Manny Ramirez in 2000 and his .403 BABIP and Jose Hernandez in 2002 with a .404 BABIP.) Someone this year is going to have a .425+ BABIP and hit .350+. I hope it’s Ketel Marte, because I own him in every league. Pulling focus and moving into a close-up shows that in August of last year there were 15 guys who had a .400 BABIP. I’d el oh el if I weren’t such a serious man. In September, there were also 12 guys who had .400+ BABIPs. Wait, it gets better. In a full slate of games in September, Moncada had a .520 BABIP and hit .412. Yo, Yoan, you Tony Gywnn Jr. Jr. or no? Okay, cool. You might think BABIP is fueled by speed in the short-term, to which I say, Ryan McBroom, Wil Myers and Kyle Schwarber were in the .400+ BABIP group in September. BABIP is going to make batting averages a short-term coin flip, but we still need to figure out some battle plan. So, with a 60-game season, what is a fantasy baseball strategy for batting average?
1. Line Drive Rate: Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, Grey, you’re handsome and all, but line drives are, uh, driving, those BABIPs.” Yes, a bit. There’s six guys who had below average line drive rates in the 27 guys with .400+ BABIP in August and September. That’s more than 20% of the players for those slow on the uptake. There’s eight guys in those two months who had worst than league average soft contact. Things are about to get weird. On the flip, if 20% had poor line drives, 80% slapped the ball hard and apologized the next morning. Line drive rate won’t be everything. I can cherrypick a few god-awful average hitters in the high line drive rates. Cavan Biggio had a 37.7% line drive rate in August of last year and hit .220. The top 30 line drive rates from August show only three hitters who hit less than the league average (.252): Biggio, Goldschmidt (.250), Sano. Au Shizz is nearly a push on league average, uh, average, and the other two have major hurdles for a good average, so Line Drive Rate is about as close as we’re coming to predict batting average, even with the BABIP luck hole.
2. Strikeout Percentage: Only four players had a top 30 strikeout rate in August of last year and hit below league average: Alex Gordon, Oscar Mercado, Matt Duffy, and Elvis Andrus. Few more in the top 30 in September for strikeout rate with eight: Manny Machado, Michael Brantley, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon, Andrelton Simmons, Hanser Alberto, Jean Segura, and Jason Heyward. But only two meet the line drive rate league average requirement. It’s common sense. If you’re hitting the ball, good things will happen. Avoid the strikeout and you might luck into a decent average. Side note: Anthony Rendon didn’t strike out in August or September or any month, for that matter, but had a weak line drive rate in only September and it was his worst batting average month all of last year. Maybe he tired out; Septembers are usually weird, due to fatigue. Side note II: The Return of the Side Note, I chose to look at August and September, because, like, those are the months games will be in, but there’s a case to be made that April and May are more indicative because legs are fresh, as they are now.
3. Swinging Strike Percentage: Walks don’t really mean anything. Plate discipline is good, said Mr. Exposition, but plenty of guys take walks, strike out and hit for a terrible average. Some guys just don’t swing at anything. I looked at Z and O-Swing% and couldn’t really pull anything of note from them. They are the percentage of times hitters swing at pitches in and out of the zone. It’s encapsulated by K%. Swinging and missing, however…Well, if you’re doing that, you’re not going to hit for a very good average. The top 30 for SwStr% shows only five players below .252: Lorenzo Cain (.250), Matt Duffy (.189), Rhys Hoskins (.161), Yasmani Grandal (.209) and J.P. Crawford (.198). Cain is a push, and the other three besides Yasmani had other problems. They made bad contact in August. Yasmani was unlucky, and hit a bit too many ground balls.
In summation: Line drives are good, but Hard Contact is poop. After going on about line drive rate above, I feel the need to point out the obvious conclusion about Hard Contact fueling something…anything? It doesn’t. Hard Contact comes in many forms, not just line drives. League average Hard Contact% is 38%. Seven of the 20 players with 50% Hard Contact in August hit below .250, and ten of them hit below .280. Take Ryan McMahon — I take Ryan McMahon everywhere and he always finds his way home! — he hits the ball hard and directly into the ground, and that’s not how you get on base, at least not without luck. Teoscar Hernandez hits the ball hard, but strikes out a lot and fails to hit many line drives. Not to say Teoscar can’t hit home runs, or McMahon can’t change his launch angle or BABIP, but Hard Contact takes us nowhere. Also, I looked at speed and for every Keston Hiura, who has speed and hits the ball hard, there’s a Mallex Smith, who has speed, doesn’t hit the ball hard, and could hit .180. Hit line drives, don’t strike out and, specifically, don’t swing and miss, and you will hit for a high average. Or just get lucky.
Some (extremely) under-the-radar bets to hit for a high average this year, based on above criteria and their August and/or Septembers last year: