Don’t give up on batting average just yetby Eriq Gardner
July 21, 2009
If you ask an analyst to identify the statistical category that fantasy teams will find toughest to make up ground in roto leagues, chances are the reply will be “batting average.”
The premise behind such logic is typically based on the notion that average is a rate stat, and with a few thousand at-bats already accumulated, the opportunity to move AVG significantly becomes tougher as the season progresses. For example, a team that maintains a batting average of .272 at the half-way point and wants to get it up to .282, will need to accomplish a .292 average for the rest of the season.
That might seem daunting and we’re guessing that a lot of fantasy teams simply give up on chasing average thanks to the army of pundits who declare moving average upwards at this point of the season to be a Sisyphean task.
I have doubts about this logic. I think it’s quite foolish to assume that catching up in average is any bit more tough than making up ground in any other category. In some regards, I believe there's benefit to chasing a high average despite what conventional wisdom might say.
The first problem with typical analysis on batting average is one of perception.
Making a .292 average the rest of the year might seem intimidating. But what if I told you that you only needed to get 30 more hits than your competitors? Would that change your mind?
After all, average is merely hits divided by at-bats. If we normalize the denominator by assuming that teams in a given league will achieve roughly the same amount of at-bats, all that’s left is hits. (There are some factors why teams won’t get the same number of at-bats, but the spread in a typical league isn’t that large.) If teams in your league each accomplish roughly 3000 at-bats from here until the end of the season, the difference between your competitors’ assumed .282 average and your desired .292 average over those remaining at-bats translates to 30 hits.
Is 30 hits more daunting than, say, a gap of 10 steals? I’ll leave that up to you do decide.
“But wait,” you say. “Doesn’t the fact that I’m stuck with a .272 average at this moment indicate that I don’t have the players to achieve a .292 average the rest of the way?”
Answer: It depends.
The second problem with conventional wisdom that states that moving AVG up at this point of year is a fool’s errand is that it ignores economics—specifically supply-and-demand curves concerning available player talent. Sure, moving your average up with your current roster might be tough, but how about all those players who might potentially help you in the free agent pool?
People who play fantasy baseball love batters who hit home runs and steal bases. Typically, they give less respect to high-average players who don’t contribute in the power and speed categories.
Look at every hitter in baseball this year with at least 15 HR so far. How many of them are owned in your league? All of them?
Look at every hitter in baseball this year with at least 15 SB so far. How many of them are owned in your league? All but one or two?
Now look at every hitter in baseball this year with at least a .300 BA in at least 200 plate appearances. Are players like Martin Prado, Nick Johnson, Skip Schumacher, Maicer Izturis, Cristian Guzman, Scott Podsednik, Alberto Callaspo owned in your league? Would they be that hard to attain in trade? Unless you play in a very deep league with a shallow player pool, I’m guessing there’s good supply and mediocre demand on a batter who makes good contact with the ball and can be expected to put up a high average.
(Bonus note: Alberto Callaspo has 31 more hits than Jay “Batting Average Killer” Bruce to date. Did someone say 30?)
Often in fantasy leagues, we’re forced to make choices at this point of the season. Our teams might not be in position to dominate every category and finding a few extra points may be the difference between winning and coming in second place. We may choose to attack a certain category and give up on another category because that’s where we see the best opportunity for standings gain.
But be careful how decisions on punting one category can influence your team’s standing in the other categories.
The third and last problem with advice that tells teams that chasing AVG is a foolish endeavor at this point of the season is that it ignores the full ramifications and trade-offs of a team that elects to punt the category.
To drive this point home, I took the top 150 batters in the 2008 season. I wanted to determine the correlation between a batter’s success in an individual category and that batter’s overall value. The table below measures the degree of correlation on a scale of -1 to 1. The higher the number, the stronger relationship between a batter’s single category success and overall category success.
Category: Correlation with Overall Value
Home Runs: 0.54
As you see, average is roughly as important to a batter’s overall success as home runs, and certainly more important than stolen bases. Another way to look at this is to say that a fantasy team stands a better chance of giving up on steals without damaging their position in the other categories than to give up on average without hurting their team in categories such as runs and RBIs.
Ask most analysts to identify the statistical category that fantasy teams will find it easiest to make up ground in roto leagues, and many may answer, “steals,” because it’s a counting category that’s relatively scarce and having one good speed threat can make quite a difference. However, this advice ignores the fact that most batters who steal a lot of bases do little much else to help out.
The same can't be said about average. A batter doing well in average has a better shot at doing well in other categories. This could be reason alone not to give up on the category.
Eriq Gardner is a New York-based writer and founder of Fantasy Ball Junkie, a website for advanced fantasy baseball enthusiasts.
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