Fantasy: Batting Average Bustsby Ben Jacobs
August 18, 2004
Last week, I talked about players hitting significantly better than their career averages. This week, I'm going to talk about the opposite -- players who have managed to stay in the lineup despite hitting significantly worse than their career averages.
Each of these players had played in at least 650 games before this season, and is currently hitting at least 25 points worse than his career average entering the season. Players are listed by the fantasy position at which they're most valuable.
C Mike Piazza, Mets: Switching to first base was supposed to keep Piazza fresher so that he'd be in the lineup more often and wouldn't see his hitting slowed by fatigue. It doesn't seem to be working. He was on pace to play about 150 games this year, but now he's on the disabled list with a knee injury.
As for the improved offense, it's not there. He was a career .319 hitter in 1,461 games before this season, but he's only hitting .276 this year. He only hit .286 last year and .280 the year before, so it seems pretty likely that his days as a .300-plus hitter are gone. He was actually hitting .297 at the All-Star break, but went just 7-for-49 (.143) between then and going on the DL.
1B Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays: Injuries have kept Delgado out of the lineup for a while and significantly hampered his hitting the rest of the time. He had hit .284 in 1,295 career games before this season, but he's only hitting .233 this year. It looks like he might finally be getting healthy, however, as he's 16-for-56 (.286) with four homers so far in August. I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit like himself for the rest of the season.
1B Jeff Bagwell, Astros: Bagwell's production has been slipping every season since 1999, but this is the first year that he hasn't been a good hitter. He had a career average of .300 on the nose in 1,955 games, but he's hitting .255 this year, nearly 20 points lower than the next worst batting average of his career.
It just shows you how good he was in his prime that he's fallen so far and is still not a completely terrible hitter, but he is 36 years old now and it's pretty unlikely that he's suddenly going to catch fire and start hitting like a first baseman should.
1B Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles: Palmeiro's ability to hit for a high average left him a few years ago, but he had played so many games (2,567) at such a high level that he was still hitting .291 coming into this season. This year, he's hitting .256, which would be just slightly worse than last year's .260 average.
While his high-average skills left him years ago, his ability to hit for power was still there last year when he cranked 38 homers and had a .508 slugging percentage. This year, that's gone too as Palmeiro's slugging .401 and might not even reach 20 home runs.
3B Scott Spiezio, Mariners: Spiezio's never really been a good hitter, but he did enough to be useful thanks to a little pop in his bat and a lot of versatility on defense. He entered this season hitting .261 in 932 games, but he's been worse than useless this year with a .205 average.
Obviously, Spiezio's not even on anybody's mind in most leagues. He's not worth hanging onto in hopes of him breaking out of a slump because even at his best, he's not much more useful than as somebody to fill in where you have an opening you didn't expect.
3B Corey Koskie, Twins: Koskie's problem has always been staying in the lineup, not producing when he is in the lineup. He came into the year batting .285 in 698 games (over five-plus seasons), with nice patience and power to boot. This year, he's only hitting .246, but the patience and power are both still there as he has 40 walks and 18 homers in 92 games.
Koskie's been hot recently, going 9-for-20 (.450) with three home runs in his last five games, so maybe he's starting to get into a groove that can carry him through the end of the season. The fact that he has a .343 OBP and .467 SLG despite his low batting average is encouraging.
3B Chipper Jones, Braves: Jones might be having a miserable season, but at least he's done something that I can't imagine many people have done. After Tuesday's shot, Jones' last six hits have all been solo home runs. Those six home runs have come in a five-game span in which he's gone 6-for-19.
Despite the recent power surge, Jones is hitting .242 after hitting .309 in the first 1,405 games of his career. Jones is hitting .300 with eight home runs since the All-Star break, so he might be cured of whatever was ailing him for the first half of this season. If he's a free agent or available cheap in your league, I'd look into getting him.
SS Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: After three straight seasons with an OPS above 1.000, Rodriguez took a miniscule dip to .996 last year. This year, calling it a dip would be an understatement. Rodriguez was a .308 career hitter in 1,275 games, but he's hitting only .279 this year. He also has an OBP of .366 (his lowest since 1999) and an SLG of .515 (his lowest since 1997).
He looked like his old self hitting .333/.427/.627 in May, but his next best month is .288/.364/.548 in July and he's been terrible (.222/.300/.356) in August. He's obviously still a great player and a tremendous fantasy asset, but he can't be called the best in the league in either case any more.
SS Derek Jeter, Yankees: If you had told the Yankees or their fans that Jeter and A-Rod would have batting averages a point apart at this point of the season, they probably wouldn't have batted an eyelash. Until you told them that Jeter would be one point below A-Rod, and A-Rod would be one point below .280. Jeter was a .317 hitter in 1,212 games before this season, but he's hitting .278 now.
Jeter's hitting as many home runs and stealing as many bases as he ever did, but he's not hitting singles and he's not drawing walks. Fortunately, in most fantasy leagues, home runs and steals -- and the runs and RBIs he gets from the Yankees lineup -- are more important than singles and walks. He's still probably one of the three or four best fantasy shortstops in baseball.
OF Bobby Higginson, Tigers: Most people just take it for granted that Higginson's game fell apart at an early age, but last season was really the first time he was a terrible hitter. Even after that, he had a .276 career average in 1,221 games. This year, he's hitting .249, which would actually be a considerable improvement on last year's .235 average.
Higginson had a pretty solid first two months, but since then he had been 42-for-196 (.214) with only three home runs before Tuesday night. Despite going 3-for-3 with two homers Tuesday, I find it unlikely that he'll suddenly start hitting like he did in 2000, or even 2001.
OF Geoff Jenkins, Brewers: Like Koskie, his problem has always been staying healthy enough to keep his bat in the lineup. He's never played more than 135 games, but he's had an OPS above .900 three of the last five years. This year, he's been so healthy that he might set a career best in games played by more than 20, but so bad with the bat that he still may not set any other significant offensive career highs.
Jenkins had a .282 average in 650 games before this season, but is only hitting .248 this year. He's on pace for 25 home runs, 90 runs and 87 RBIs, which wouldn't be bad numbers even for an outfielder if this was another of his 135-game seasons. Over a full 158-162 games, however, you need more from an outfielder than that.
OF Bernie Williams, Yankees: Sure are a lot of Yankees on this list, huh? Williams was a .305 career hitter in 1,656 games before this season, but he's currently sporting a .258 batting average. He got off to a frigid start in April (.194/.310/.292) thanks to his appendicitis, warmed up slightly in May (.271/.352/.438) and was positively torrid in June (.341/.434/.538). He then went stone cold again in July (.184/.322/.327) and is hot again in August (.310/.369/.569).
I wouldn't say Williams is completely washed up, because players who are just done don't have months like he's had in June and August, but he's certainly not the hitter he used to be right now. He might never be again, either, as he'll reach his 36th birthday a couple weeks into September.
OF Sammy Sosa, Cubs: Sosa's .278 average in 2,012 games before this season was thanks largely to hitting .323 over the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Had he hit .288 over those two seasons -- as he did in both the season before and after them -- his career average entering this year would have been .273, and his current .258 batting average wouldn't have seemed that far off line.
As has been said elsewhere, Sosa's simply no longer the hitter he was from 1998-2002, but he's still better than the player he was before that magnificent run. He's not an elite fantasy outfielder any more, but he's still a good one.
OF Jacque Jones, Twins: Jones still has a chance to set career highs in home runs (27) and steals (13) this season, but he's also going to set a career low in batting average and he's not having a good season in general. He had a .291 career average in 683 games before this season, but he's hitting .262 right now.
His 19 home runs and 11 steals are nice, but the average hurts and he doesn't have as many runs (50) or RBIs (60) as you'd like from an everyday outfielder. Oddly, Jones has had just as good an average against lefties (.264) as righties (.262) this year, when it's been his inability to hit left-handers (.231 average the past three years) that's offset his nice work against right-handers (.313 average the past three years).
OF Brian Giles, Padres: I'd say that playing in San Diego's spacious new park is the reason that Giles is hitting .273 when he entered this season with a .302 average in 1,043 career games, but it's not. He's hitting .281 at home and .261 on the road, and he's got one more home runs at home (9) than on the road (8).
Giles is simply having a bad season, mainly because he only hit .209/.299/.304 after the All-Star break before going 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and two walks on Tuesday. Giles hit .293/.388/.485 before the break, and he's talented enough to hit at least that well the rest of the way if he gets out of his slump.
OF Moises Alou, Cubs: When Alou was hitting .300 with 16 home runs halfway through June, I thought for sure that neither the high batting average nor the impressive home run pace would last. I was half right. Alou's home run total is now up to 27, but his batting average is down to .270. He came into this season with a .300 average in 1,464 games, but he'd hit only .277 the past two seasons and was turning 38 this year.
His home run total is already impressive, but he's struggling mightily in August and it wouldn't surprise me if he only hits five or so more homers the last six weeks of the season. And he almost surely won't get that batting average to go much higher.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.