The first two installments of Over/Under (available for your viewing consumption here and right here) mostly focused on power hitters and rightfully so. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine famously declared that “chicks dig the long ball” and two Cy Young winners can’t both be wrong, right? But as someone who’s never hit a home run at any level of baseball (unless Xbox counts), I relate to contact hitters like Xander Bogaerts who make their living legging out singles and doubles. Home runs certainly have entertainment value (especially when they’re followed by awesome bat flips like this) but leaving the yard isn’t the only path to fantasy success. Let’s check out some batting average projections.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
*Composite Projection: .295
Bogaerts was primed for a big rookie season in 2014 but fell flat by hitting just .240 with 12 homers and two stolen bases. A year later, Bogaerts played like the All-Star we expected him to be, finishing second in the AL in both hits and batting average. His 80-point jump in average raises some interesting questions, like how the heck did he do that? Believe it or not, Bogaerts’ contact rate in 2015 (81.4 percent) was only marginally better than the one he posted a year earlier (78.1 percent in 2014). The real difference for Xander was that he was more aggressive. Bogaerts swung at 49.1 percent of pitches last season including 33.6 percent of balls outside the strike zone. Both percentages were way up from the year before (44.8 and 28.5 respectively). Discipline is usually the key to great hitting but maybe we should rethink that in the wake of Bogaerts’ monster season. Swing away, young sluggers.
Unfortunately, recent history isn’t on Bogaerts’ side. Four players hit .320 or better in 2014. Together, those four combined for a .332 average. A year later, they hit just .292, a 12.1 percent decrease. If Bogaerts experiences the same decline in 2016, his average will fall to .281. Of course, that four-player sample size was skewed heavily by a particularly bad season from Victor Martinez (.245 average over 440 at-bats). If you take Martinez out of the equation, the drop-off was only 8.3 percent. That puts Bogaerts at a much more reasonable .293. That’s a fair projection, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Bogaerts swings for the fences a bit more this year and finishes somewhere in the .285 to .290 range. Prediction: Under
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Composite Projection: .317
Cabrera isn’t winning Triple Crowns anymore but he was still plenty productive last year. He got off to a scorching start by hitting .350 in the first half before “cooling off” with a .316 average after the All-Star break. When all was said and done, he added a fourth batting title to his Hall of Fame resume.
Miggy has hit under .320 only twice since 2005. One of those times came in 2008 when he hit .292 in his first year with Detroit. The other was in 2014 when his average fell to .313. If .292 is his floor, it’s scary to think what Cabrera’s ceiling might be.
Cabrera’s power has taken a bit of a tumble the last two seasons (.528 slugging percentage compared to his .562 career average) but his patience has improved. He swung at just 47.5 percent of pitches last season, his lowest swing rate since 2006. And get this—he only swung at 30.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, his lowest percentage since 2007. Talk about having a good eye. Cabrera may as well have X-ray vision. I realize it’s pretty optimistic to expect any player to hit over .317 but conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to Cabrera. He’s that good. Prediction: Over
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Composite Projection: .298
McCutchen’s .292 average last season was his worst since 2011. But so was his batting average on balls in play (.339) so maybe it was a little bit of bad luck. McCutchen’s average has fallen each year since his breakout 2012 campaign when he peaked at .327. The drop-off has been pretty gradual for the most part—a 3.0 percent dip in 2013 (.317) followed by a 1.1 percent drop in 2014 (.314). The 7.1 percent decrease in 2015, however, might be a sign that McCutchen is finally coming out of his prime. Or it could be an outlier. We won’t know for sure until the curtain closes on 2016, which doesn’t help much for fantasy purposes.
But here’s what we do know. McCutchen got off to a dismal start last season (.194 in April), cleaned up in the middle months (.326) and then fell off the map again in September and October (.236). That’s actually pretty consistent with McCutchen’s career splits. He’s a .312 hitter in May through August but only hits .268 the rest of the year. Now if McCutchen took a very long vacation and started the season on May 1, I think he’d have a good chance to beat his projection. But his consistently poor starts (and finishes) combined with a career arc that seems to be trending downward suggests it won’t happen. Prediction: Under
Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Composite Projection: .308
If you take away the 17 at-bats he logged as a September call-up in 2009 and his injury depleted 2011 campaign, Posey has only had one healthy season where he hit below .300. That came in 2013 when he missed the mark by just six percentage points. Maybe he was still fatigued from 2012 when he logged 60 postseason at-bats en route to winning his second World Series in three years. Posey might not be the flashiest fantasy choice with just two 20-homer seasons, but man is he consistent.
Posey is getting older (he turns 29 next month) but there’s no reason to think 2016 will be the year he slows down. The Giants have done a very wise thing by limiting his exposure behind the plate. Last year Posey logged a career-high 37 starts at first base. The less time Posey spends at catcher, the fresher he’ll be when he steps into the batter’s box.
Posey had one fluky year in 2012 when his BABIP was up around .370 but that’s evened out over the last few seasons (.312, .319 and .320 respectively). Posey’s .318 average last year was his highest since 2012. His improved contact rate may have played a role in that. Posey connected on 88.2 percent of his swings last year, which was easily a career-high. .308 is an aggressive projection but if 2015 was any indication, I think Posey is still getting better. That’s a scary thought for teams competing in the NL West. Prediction: Over
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Composite Projection: .295
By accepting this projection, we’re asking Votto to do something he’s only done twice in his career: hit below .300. Votto posted a .297 average in his first full season in 2008 but has been on the up-and-up since with the lone exception coming in 2014. That year a strained quad limited him to just 62 games. He didn’t show any lingering effects last season, particularly after the All-Star break when Votto shredded his way to a .362 second-half average. Never an adherent to left-handed stereotypes, Votto actually did his best work against lefties last season (.331 average with a .542 slugging percentage). Votto also rediscovered his power stroke by mashing 29 homers, his most since 2011 when he was still thought of as one of the game’s truly elite sluggers.
Votto turns 33 in September. He’s at the point in his career where physical limitations may start to set in, but I’m banking on another big year because of his incredible plate approach. Votto walked 143 times last season, the most of any player since Barry Bonds drew a league-record 232 free passes in 2004. Votto redefined discipline by swinging at a mere 19.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last season. That’s ninja-level patience. For pitchers, it’s a vicious cycle. Votto won’t swing at bad pitches, forcing them to either walk him or throw it in the happy zone where he rarely misses. Even with a weak lineup around him, Votto is still a safe bet to hit over .300. Prediction: Over
*Compiled by FantasyPros