We’ve entered a new age of baseball offense. The days of .300/.400/.500 hitters being relatively common are gone. We still have the power output, with several hitters capable of 25+ and even 30+ HR. OBP is still a skill that you either have or don’t, and it’s hard to really learn and improve that discipline. But with the rise of high strikeout rates across baseball, batting average has become a rarer commodity, just like the stolen base.
Of the PA qualified hitters, take a look at the drop-off in batting average from five, ten, and fifteen years ago.
From 2010 to 2015, the numbers haven’t changed much, but the contrast between the earlier years is stark. That means fantasy teams’ total batting average has been coming down as well, so you have to give a boost in value to players who can still maintain something near a .300 BA. The profile of a corner infielder who hits for high BA but doesn’t have a lot of power used to mean he wasn’t that valuable. Now, however, even 10-15 HR is plenty if the hitter can reach .300. The MLB’s league BA is around .255, so hitting 40 points above that warrants drafting. For that reason, I’m advocating for Justin Turner and Matt Duffy to be valued strongly in 2016. Let’s take a look at each hitter and what they can bring to your team.
Turner’s breakout in 2014 was primarily due to his extremely high BA, which a BABIP over .400 propped up. Naturally, both of those came down in 2015, but his career BABIP proves that he can maintain well above the league average, which keeps his BA floor high. He has proven an ability to hit for line drives, and his hard hit rate is above average as well. You’re going to get a .290+ average with him, and assuming he’s the starting third baseman and has health, that’ll add value to your team to warrant his unknown HR ability.
Regarding his power, he set a high of 16 HR despite fewer than 400 AB. It’s hard to assume he can maintain a career high in FB% and also in HR/FB, because his HR/FB certainly faded from the first half (20%) to the second (8%). However, given his lack of playing time, he simply hasn’t had the chance to show what he can do over a full season. More at bats will result in a better baseline, and during 2016 we should be able to tell whether 15-20 HR is in the cards. Let’s not forget that part-timers can revamp their careers and produce beyond their early part-time baseline — see Jose Bautista. I don’t expect Turner to be as valuable as Joey Bats, because there’s far less power there, but a healthy 2016 from Turner will provide more value than most fantasy managers are expecting.
And there’s the biggest issue: Turner has not reached 400 AB in a season since 2011. First, he wasn’t getting enough playing time because he was a backup. But even as his playing time grew, he has had a hard time staying on the field, missing 14+ days on the DL during each of the last four seasons. His injury history, and perhaps the uncertainty of roles in LA, will keep his ADP low. I say it’s the perfect opportunity to get him. If you project either of his previous two seasons out over a full season, you’d get great value, particularly BA in 2014. Even for 2015, more at bats could have resulted in 20 home runs, nearly a .300 BA, and perhaps 75 each for runs and RBIs — certainly no slouch. In terms of FanGraphs’ offensive RAR, Turner was fifth overall at third base, and his WAR was tenth overall. You’ll want a backup 3B, or perhaps Turner can work as your CI, but if he sets a career high in AB during 2016, you’ll come away with a large profit.
The newer BA option for third base is Duffy. He just missed out on .300 in 2015, his first season. His line drive rate was only league average, but his hard hit rate was slightly above average, and he does have solid speed to beat out grounders and maintain a high BABIP. He has comparable contact rate to Turner, but the ground ball tilt (53%) caps his BA more than Turner’s, so it’s far less likely he breaks out with a .320 season unless his batted ball profile changes. Like Turner, he should at least come with a high BA floor, and it would surprise me to see him hit lower than .280 in a season.
Duffy’s second best trait is his speed, not his power. He’s not a Chone Figgins type of third baseman, but his speed rates well above average. San Francisco as a team ranked tenth in stolen bases, but in today’s game the team total still isn’t very high. Duffy’s stolen bases accounted for nearly 13% of the team total, and he didn’t get caught once! If they give him the green light more often (just 8% stolen base opportunity in 2015), there’s no reason he can’t net 20+ SB.
When it comes to power, Duffy had a hot start with a 16% HR/FB in the first half. He’d need a relatively high rate to maintain competitive HR totals, because he hits the ball on the ground so much. In the second half his HR/FB fell to 5%, and given his GB tilt, I’m more inclined to assume that his season total of 9% represents an optimistic projection for 2016. In all honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a single-digit total this coming season. Despite this, he’ll still come in handy for points leagues, which value power and SLG, because he led NL third basemen in triples, and he hits enough doubles to add value.
The red flag for Duffy is his batted ball rate. Lots of grounders don’t impress fantasy managers. Can he alter his approach and hit more fly balls, which should help his HR total? Or could he hit more line drives, further improving his BA chances? He’s young and only has one full season under his belt, so we’ll have to see what happens. Still, a .290 with a 10/20 split is possible, and Duffy’s WAR on FanGraphs was good enough for fifth overall at third base.
Fantasy players have to keep reminding themselves that the times have changed, and therefore what we expect in terms of stats for a position must change as well. You don’t have to hit 30 home runs from a corner infield slot anymore. Someone who produces well above the league average in BA used to have little value, but now it’s a greater boon to your team. What’s more, Turner and Duffy aren’t just empty BA help, because Turner could hit 20 HR, and Duffy should reach 20 SB. Watch others pass on the value in these hitters, and enjoy the profit for your team.
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