In fantasy, counting stats are gold.
For hitters, home runs and stolen bases are king. They are quantifiable and skill-based. Runs and RBI follow next, being more derivative and situational, but somewhat predictable via context.
But batting average? It is often an overlooked stat, like wins for pitchers, on draft boards.
That is not to say that elite batting average guys are per se undervalued. Joe Mauer, despite catcher status, is a perennially top 50 draftee despite one career top-100 player finish. Ditto on players like Pablo Sandoval before 2010 and Martin Prado this season.
But outside the elite and sub-elite batting average guys, batting average is often overlooked. We tend to focus solely on the counting stats for the “guys in the middle,” even though floating a respectable batting average is just as important for them. It is almost as if many fantasy owners presume most of their players are capable of hitting .280, or at least .270.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The major league “average” batting average among the 426 players with at least 100 trips to the plate this season is .261. Surprisingly enough, 10 percent of that population is hitting .300 or higher, but 242 players (57 percent) are batting at or below the major league “average” batting line. In fact, two-thirds of the league is hitting under .270, while a full standard deviation of batting average from the mean, courtesy of clustering, is .0365 points, or the difference between Jacoby Ellsbury and Kosuke Fukudome (or Ichiro Suzuki, if you want to be ironic).
Needless to day, a respectable, let alone elite, batting average is much harder to come by than one might otherwise think.
This brings us to Mark Teixeira, a career .282 hitter.
That .282 is a tad misleading. Before his Yankee career began, Tex’s career average was .290. He’s thus far hit .266 in nearly three years as a Bronx Bomber (and he’s not getting any younger). Despite being a patented second half hitter, he is hitting only .253 in the second half this season, and a mere .247 on the year.
Teixeira’s other fantasy contributions have aged well. He hit 39 home runs in 2009, 33 last season, and already has 36 this year. He has at least 100 runs batted in each season, including 2011, as a Yankee, and is a mere 17 runs away from crossing home at least 100 times each of those seasons as well. Teixeira is not a base stealer—he has 18 in his career, and has never had five in a single season—though it is worth noting that nearly 20 percent of his career stolen bases have come this year.
That pegs Teixeira as a three-category stud. Particularly over the past two seasons, when power has become increasingly rare, his 35+/100+/100+ production has been elite. And at least historically, he has been near a standard deviation ahead of the curve in a fourth category—batting average.
On the heels of this four-category production, Teixeira has been a top 20 drafted player each of the past six seasons. And not without reason. He has annually repaid the faith of those bold enough to draft a first baseman with their first or second pick.
But is Teixeira really worth a top 20 pick if he’s hitting only .250? Let’s look.
According to Yahoo’s player rankings, Teixeira currently ranks as the No. 37 overall player. Among hitters, Tex ranks 25th overall. My Z-Score sum chart that ignores position and uses only the 426 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances on the season is a little more bearish. Per my chart, Tex ranks No. 21 among hitters with a 7.01 sum, but essentially ius ted for No. 41 overall. Teixeira’s non-positional score narrowly ranks ahead of a few premium positional players—specifically Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins—who would have higher rankings if position were incorporated. I do not have positional values for the season calculated, but I would guess that Teixeira’s true fantasy value per my Z-Score sums chart is borderline top 50.
To put Teixeira’s sinking batting average and non-stolen base production in context, note his value if he were producing at “career” rates. If he were batting .282 this season, he would be a top 15 hitter. His production value would be just below what Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano have done this season (position ignored). If batting .290, his pre-Yankees career rate, Teixeira would be a borderline first-round pick in 12 team mixed leagues.
Mark Teixeira is still an elite player. Despite playing first base, he is incredibly productive and reliable in three fantasy categories. He is no spring chicken, but also not too old at 31. Tex is an increasingly rare, elite power producer who is athletic enough and has good enough command over the strike zone to age “gracefully.” In the heart of the New York Yankees lineup, this means his home run, RBI and runs production over the next two seasons should remain strong. He is certainly unlikely to bust if drafted for that production, which itself is a valuable asset on draft day.
Still, without the batting average, drafters are probably paying an unnecessary premium. They are paying for a top 30-50 player as a first rounder. That’s just silly.