In week three of RotoFanatic’s “One Hit Wonders” series, we will take a deep dive into batting average. The first week, we examined home runs and saw how league-wide home runs have risen significantly. The 2019 juiced ball played a big part in that. You can find home runs targets at many points throughout fantasy drafts.
Last week, we addressed stolen bases and how they have dropped by nearly 30% since 2011. 2019 was the lowest mark of stolen bases league-wide since 1981. We looked at stolen base targets throughout different points of the draft.
Despite the surge in power over the last few years, batting average has stayed pretty stagnant league-wide. In 2019, the league average in batting average was .252. Many players are not fantasy-relevant, and National League pitchers also drag down the league average. For fantasy purposes, using 2019 NFBC data, to finish in the 80th percentile, your team needed a .268 batting average.
The 90th percentile target is a .271 batting average. Batting average is a significant stat to consider for roto leagues, but like other ratio stats, it is hard to predict. A player’s batting average can vary so much from one year to the next. A hitter can go from a .260 career batting average up to .280 with just some BABIP luck, leading to outliers every season.
Some fantasy players like to punt batting average because it is so hard to predict. But on the flip side, I prefer to try and pad my batting average early in drafts. ATC projection system only projects five players to have a .300 average in 2020. Three of those are early-round fantasy draft picks in Christian Yelich, J.D. Martinez, and Jose Altuve. The other two are Howie Kendrick and Luis Arraez.
ATC also only projects 23 players to hit .290 or better. So, while it is important to find players who can boost batting average, it is also essential to avoid those who tank you. Many early-round picks may do that exact thing. This article will break down five players who can boost your fantasy teams batting average for a shortened season.
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
NFBC ADP: 184.82
The Pirates acquired Bryan Reynolds from the Giants in 2018 in the Andrew McCutchen trade. According to MLB Pipeline, Reynolds was ranked the Giant’s fourth-best prospect at the time of the deal. Despite not being a well-known prospect, Reynolds made the most of his chances upon being called up to the Pirates.
Reynolds started the 2019 season off blistering hot in Triple-A, leading to a quick call-up to the Major League club. In 57 plate appearances in Triple-A, Reynolds smashed five home runs, stole three bases and had a .367 batting average with a .446 on-base percentage. This led to a call-up to the Pirates where he continued his hot performance.
Reynolds instantly became one of the best hitters on the team, playing nearly every day in the outfield. In 546 plate appearances with the Pirates, he produced a .314 batting average, while also hitting 16 home runs and stealing three bases. Reynolds was honored for his excellent season by earning fourth place on the NL Rookie of the Year list.
While the lack of track record in the MLB may concern some, what Reynolds did with the Pirates in 2019 lines up with his career minor league numbers. In 1088 career MiLB at-bats, Reynolds hit .312. He hits the ball well to all sides of the field consistently. Reynolds also does not make a lot of soft contact, with nearly 85 percent of his contact being medium or hard contact. Statcast data also backs up his batting average. His xBA of .296 was better than 96 percent of all hitters.
As you can see in the heat map below, Reynolds produces a high batting average on pitches in the zone. If he can limit swing and contact on pitches outside of the zone, he could see his batting average rise even higher.
Many projection systems remain down on Reynolds. Using Fangraphs sources, projections range from a .265 batting average(ZIPS) to .288 (ATC). I trust ATC, considering it was the most accurate projection system of 2019. I like Reynolds to hit in the .285-to-.295 range this season.
In a shortened season, I am looking for players who can be consistent through 50 games. Reynolds had four individual months last season where he hit over .300. His worst month was September, where he battled injuries all month after a collision at home plate on September 1st. That month, Reynolds only hit .230. But with the injuries, that month is easy to look past.
Reynolds is projected to hit second in the Pirates lineup in 2020. He will see plenty of at-bats and have plenty of run and RBI opportunities. At his NFBC ADP of 184.8, Reynolds has a lot of room to profit. In a shortened season, he is the type of player I am looking to take in drafts. He provides a high floor and will give a boost to your fantasy team’s batting average.
Adam Eaton, OF, Washington Nationals
NFBC ADP: 203.41
Adam Eaton has been a great source of batting average throughout his career. A career .285 hitter in 3446 plate appearances shows his ability. The Nationals loved Eaton enough to trade there first, third, and sixth-ranked prospect for him in December of 2016. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning were a high cost to pay. Giolito was the third overall ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. But the Nationals felt that Eaton was a piece that would help them win during their contention window.
Unfortunately, Eaton failed to stay healthy in 2017 and 2018. After getting off to a blazing start in 2017, Eaton had to be carted off the field on April 29th after tearing his ACL. He missed the rest of the season. Similarly, in 2018, Eaton started off the season strong before an ankle injury kept him out two months.
In 2019, Eaton was finally able to prove his health and put together a full season of 656 plate appearances across 151 games. He posted a career-high 15 home runs and 15 steals, which were the second-most of his career. His 2019 batting average of .279 was his lowest since 2013. Eaton has shown the ability to hit for a high average consistently though, hitting .300 or better twice between 2014 and 2018.
His BABIP was well below his career rate in 2019, which could have caused a drop in his batting average. In a shortened season, you want to own players that you know will produce consistently. Eaton had stretches in 2019 where he was really good but also went through some slumps as you can see in his rolling batting average chart below.
Eaton is going to be a great source of batting average in 2020 like he historically has. Hitting at the top of the lineup, Eaton also has the potential to lead the league in runs scored thanks to his excellent on-base skills. He did show some streakiness in 2019 as shown in the rolling batting average chart.
ATC projects him to have a .284 batting average, which is right in line with his career average. His NFBC ADP of 203.41 makes him an excellent buy for me. Last season, Eaton outproduced Andrew Benintendi in nearly every category. Benintendi has a higher upside and a better track record of health, but Eaton is a safe floor pick approximately 100 picks after Benintendi.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox
NFBC ADP: 231.54
Alex Verdugo is one of my favorite players to target in fantasy drafts, being a huge benefactor of the delayed season. The Red Sox knew there were back issues when they traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers, getting Verdugo in return.
The problem described as an “oblique injury” or “back spasms” turned out to be a stress fracture in Verdugo’s back. Verdugo publically stated that he was fully healthy at the beginning of May, meaning he should be 100 percent healed by the time the season starts.
Verdugo had seen stints with the big league club in both 2017 and 2018, but 2019 was his first chance to prove himself over a full season. He missed some time due to the same back injuries that were mentioned before, but he still managed to play 106 games. In 377 plate appearances, Verdugo produced a .294 batting average with 12 home runs. He is also a rare case because he is a left-handed hitter that hits left-handed pitching very well. Last season he hit .327 against lefties and .281 against righties.
Vergudo has shown a great hit tool throughout his minor league career, producing a career .309 batting average. Much of this comes from a great approach at the plate. First, Verdugo does not strike out very often. Last season, he only struck out 13 percent of the time. His walk rate of 6.9 percent was one of the lowest of his career, showing his excellent plate discipline.
He also has an impressive zone-contact percent, coming in at 93.7 percent. This means that he made contact 93.7 percent of the time he swung at pitches in the zone. If he has enough at-bats to qualify, he would have placed fifth in baseball, tied with Mookie Betts. All-around he has good plate discipline.
It is hard to argue what Verdugo has done both in the MLB and minors. His 2020 outlook has even improved because of his trade to Boston. The Dodgers are stacked and find plenty of rest for their players, limiting players like Verdugo’s fantasy value. Now, in his new home in Boston, he is projected to hit third by Roster Resource, meaning he will have plenty of chances to contribute. Projections range anywhere from a .285 batting average all the way to a .307. ATC, generally a conservative projection system, pegs him at .297. I would feel comfortable projecting him to hit between .290 and .305. He is a steady, consistent hitter and is someone that should provide great value in a shortened season in batting average.
While he may not pile up a ton of home runs or steals, he will be serviceable enough to not hurt your fantasy team in those categories. Statcast data helps back up how he has performed. His expected batting average of .288 in 2019 was 86th percentile among all hitters. At an ADP of 231, I feel comfortable taking Verdugo, knowing the value he can provide your team in batting average.
Luis Arraez, 2B, Minnesota Twins
NFBC ADP: 247.26
Luis Arraez was relatively unknown before 2020 when he debuted with the Twins. He was not a highly ranked prospect, despite being a beast in batting average. In his minor league career, he hit .331 in 1585 plate appearances. Despite the high average, he only hit six home runs and stole 29 bases in the 367 career minor league games he played.
The good news is that his batting average carried over to the Twins lineup upon being called up. He hit .334 in 336 plate appearances with four home runs and two stolen bases. This was right in line with everything he did in the minors, except for hitting a few more home runs. This could have come from the juiced ball or the fact that he is still growing into his frame. He was only 22 years old last season.
Arraez has an exceptional approach at the plate, walking 36 times with only 29 strikeouts in 2019. He also has elite contact skills. His 95.4 percent Z-Contact percent was third-best in baseball, and his contact percentage of 93.3 percent ranked him first among all hitters. Arraez is an elite contact hitter.
Arraez’s projections are all reasonably close when it comes to batting average. The lowest projection is .309, and the highest is .313. He is projected to win the batting title in each of the projection systems on Fangraphs. My personal go-to, ATC, projects him to hit .311. Given his elite contact skills and approach at the plate, hitting over .300 should be expected from Arraez. Everything backs up the fact that he could win the batting title in a 2020 season. Playing a shallow position like second base is also a boost for his fantasy value.
Roster Resource projects him to hit 7th in front of Miguel Sano. While this is not something I agree with, Arraez would likely score a ton of runs in this scenario. He is going to play almost every day, meaning he will get at-bats, which will be critical in a shortened fantasy season. Arraez could also move to the top of the lineup, which will only help his value.
If you can afford to take a hit in other categories, Arraez is worth the investment. Last season, he hit .355 against righties. In daily lineups, you can plug him in against right-handers and get a nice boost to your batting average. In a shortened season, I do like the opportunity that Arraez will provide and the boost he could give fantasy owners. There is no risk at his ADP, so draft him trusting that he will provide a good batting average and not much else.
Howie Kendrick, 1B, 2B, 3B, Washington Nationals
NFBC ADP: 414.99
Howie Kendrick will have the legacy of being the 2019 World Series MVP when he hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of game seven that lead the Nationals to a World Series title. Beyond being the World Series hero, Kendrick also put together a career year for the Nationals, despite not playing regularly. He hit 17 home runs and a .344 batting average, a .395 on-base percentage and a .572 slugging percentage. He was a significant contributor all year and was a big part of the reason the Nationals won the world series beyond that one at-bat in game seven of the World Series.
Kendrick has always been a great hitter, producing a .294 batting average in 6321 career plate appearances over 14 Major League seasons. 2019 was an outlier, but he still hit over .300 each of the last three years. If he had a regular spot in the lineup, he would get a massive boost for fantasy. Also, if a designated hitter is installed league-wide, it should mean more at-bats for Kendrick.
Last season, Kendrick mashed left-handed pitching, batting .376 against him. His .327 batting average against right-handers was nothing to scoff at either.
He made strides in his contact last season, increasing both his contact and his zone contact percentages by four percentage points. He also swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone, which is a positive step.
Kendrick’s Statcast data is also off the charts. His expected batting average was the best in baseball at .336. Cody Bellinger had the next closets expected batting average at .323. As you can see in the chart below, Kendrick excelled in almost every Statcast area outside of sprint speed.
Playing time is a concern for Kendrick, plus the fact that he is nearly 37 years old. Roster Resource does not currently project him to be in the starting lineup. If the universal designated hitter is implemented, he could see more at-bats.
He has proven that if he sees the opportunities, he will hit. So the hope is that the Nationals will let him get semi-regular at-bats. If he can get a decent amount of at-bats, Kendrick will provide good value. He could be of value in daily leagues where you can plug in him the lineups on the days he starts, knowing he will give you a boost in batting average. At his draft price, he is a nice late-round flier, I find myself getting a lot of shares of Kenrick in deep leagues.
Fantasy baseball in 2020 will be very strange if we get a Major League season. I am remaining hopeful and optimistic that we will see baseball in 2020. We at RotoFanatic will continue to put out content as we prepare for the unknowns and hope to teach you how to win your fantasy leagues in 2020.