Potential Batting Average Surgers — May 19, 2021

While we know that ratios like batting average bounce around during the year, it still takes discipline to look past your hitter’s .194 average through a quarter of the season and vow to hold him, waiting patiently for the rebound you hope occurs. Sometimes, that .194 average is deserved, though that still doesn’t necessarily mean we should expect it to remain that low. Other times, a heaping of poor fortune is mostly to blame for the low average as the hitter actually deserves a higher mark. In the latter, you might have more confidence in a rebound. Let’s use Statcast’s xBA and compare it to actual BA to see which hitters have the most potential for a BA surge over the rest of the season, according to its calculation. Since Statcast isn’t recalculating a balls in play number, then this all falls onto BABIP, so I have included that mark in the below table as well. Just keep in mind that Statcast ignores anything shift-related, so on the whole, hitters most prone to grounding into the shift are going to going to underperform their xBA marks.

Potential BA Surgers
Player BABIP BA     xBA     Diff
Matt Carpenter 0.108 0.109 0.205 -0.096
Victor Reyes 0.182 0.143 0.236 -0.093
Rougned Odor 0.128 0.164 0.249 -0.085
Hunter Dozier 0.151 0.139 0.222 -0.083
Alex Dickerson 0.233 0.205 0.284 -0.079
Elias Diaz 0.170 0.123 0.198 -0.075
David Bote 0.225 0.182 0.255 -0.073
Roberto Perez 0.167 0.131 0.201 -0.070
Freddie Freeman 0.194 0.218 0.285 -0.067
Kyle Tucker 0.213 0.225 0.291 -0.066
Charlie Blackmon 0.269 0.240 0.306 -0.066
Jake Bauers 0.265 0.197 0.263 -0.066
Rowdy Tellez 0.222 0.188 0.253 -0.065
Tommy Pham 0.229 0.189 0.253 -0.064
Phillip Evans 0.256 0.216 0.279 -0.063
Paul DeJong 0.176 0.177 0.239 -0.062
Cesar Hernandez 0.254 0.224 0.284 -0.060

Before discussing the players, let’s discuss the league average. That .287 BABIP is the lowest league average since 1987. That’s crazy! Second, on the league level, Statcast calculates batting average should be seven points higher than it actually is. That’s a big difference on the league level and likely partly/mostly due to the change in ball and how that has affected offense. So perhaps that tells us any individual hitter looks better from an xBA perspective than they should, which is why I like to stick with the extreme ends on these lists as the error bars are large enough that you can’t make a call on all the hitters in the middle of the BA-xBA gap.

This is a weird list as there aren’t a whole lot of shallower mixed league relevant hitters.

Hunter Dozier is really the first name shallow mixed leaguers care about, but he’s currently on the 7-day IL due to a possible concussion after colliding with Jose Abreu. Obviously, anyone could have guessed that he was due for better than a .139 BA, but a .222 mark ain’t very good either! Hurting his production was the highest strikeout rate since his tiny sample 2016 debut and the highest SwStk% of his career. His LD% has also fallen to a career worst, which combined with a fly ball tendency, is going to create BABIP issues. The power has been fine though, but we really don’t know how that collision is going to affect his performance when he returns.

Alex Dickerson is back from the IL and has regained his starting job on the strong side of a platoon. Unlike the names above him, Dickerson’s xBA suggests he should be helping fantasy teams in the batting average category, as opposed to harming less. He’s going to need to be a batting average contributor too, because he doesn’t figure to contribute in steals and his home park could hold him back from being much more than an average home run contributor.

It’s absolutely shocking to find Freddie Freeman on a list of xBA underperformers, sitting with a .194 BABIP. Freeman owns one of the most elite batted ball profiles that have fueled a career .337 BABIP. This year, he continues to avoid pop-ups, but for whatever reason, his LD% has plummeted to what would be a career low, excluding his tiny sample 2010 debut. The loss of line drives obviously can’t explain his sub-.200 BABIP and Statcast still calculates an xBA of .285, which is just below his career average. Since his counting stats are there, it’s doubtful you could buy him at a discount. But if you own him, there’s no reason to trade him away at anything less than full pre-season value.

Everything looks good for Kyle Tucker, former top prospect, except that ugly BABIP and batting average. He’s already matched his homer total from last season in 57 fewer at-bats, but his stolen bases are down. Like Freeman, because the counting stats are there, it’s hard to imagine being able to buy at a discount, but I would certainly try! Don’t panic if you’re a Tucker owning, as his underlying skills have absolutely been there, so the results should start matching those soon enough.

It would be super tempting to declare Charlie Blackmon, at age 34, to be done as a strong fantasy asset. That would be a mistake. His walk rate sits at a career high, strikeout rate at its lowest since his 2011 debut, and his xWOBA is significantly higher than his actual, all the while he has outperformed his xwOBA throughout his career each season. Without the counting stats, he’s definitely someone you should be able to acquire rather cheaply. Monitor his injury status though before pulling the trigger, as you don’t want to trade for him just before he hits the IL.

I’m pretty surprised Jake Bauers has last this long as the strong side platoon starter at first base. Statcast thinks he should have better results, but will the Indians still remain patient enough for the balls to start dropping in? Bobby Bradley is battling his own BABIP demons with a .130 mark at Triple-A, so he’s not exactly pushing for a promotion, while the team doesn’t seem to want to simply move Josh Naylor to first base full-time. Bauers’ time is likely running out, but maybe his luck will turn quickly and give him a while longer.

George Springer’s season-long injury woes should have been a boon for Rowdy Tellez, but he hasn’t taken advantage of it. Aside from the lowly BABIP leading to a sub-.200 average, his power has gone missing, as his ISO has slipped below .100. Until Springer eventually returns and pushes one of them to the bench, it’s going to be a battle between Tellez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to see which disappointing hitter rebounds more quickly to keep a starting job.

Tommy Pham seems like an ideal acquisition target as all his underlying skills, including his wOBA, look completely normal. Instead, his power has vanished despite in-line power-related Statcast metrics, and his BABIP has plummeted to a career low. The steals might not be there at previous season rates, but this entire fantasy stat line should enjoy massive improvement over the remainder of the season and shouldn’t be that expensive to acquire.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Given how crowded the Padres outfield is, how confident are you that Pham gets the opportunity to turn things around?