It's never a good thing to look at your roster and see a cluster of batting averages nestled in the lower .200s or, even worse, in the .100s. However, not all low-average hitters are created equal. Some are just slumming in low-average territory and are due for some more respectable numbers. Others can only reach the mid-.200s by way of a lucky streak or a hitting skills transplant, but they compensate for their shortcoming by achieving in other areas.
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We get plenty of questions from owners about these hitters, usually prefaced with the phrase, "Should I drop...". One tweeter, @alansmafra, came with a more curious approach, asking for some analysis with a "statistical approach about good options w/ low avg. guys like Zobrist and Dunn." To my eyes, there's little controversy around either of these hitters. Dunn is currently a top 30 hitter in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, and despite a sub-.230 batting average, he has enough power to stay in the upper echelons of Fantasy rankings. Zobrist may not get his average above .250, but he has overcome some early bad luck on grounders to become a top second base option yet again.
However, there are plenty of low-average hitters who pose tougher roster decisions for their owners. In this column, I'll review the seasons to date for 10 hitters who all sport batting averages below .230. For each hitter, I'll forecast whether his batting average looks primed to surge upward or stagnate in the depths of the batting average leaderboard. I'll also size up each hitter's Fantasy value going forward and offer some potential replacements, when warranted. All stats are current for games through Tuesday, June 19.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers
Batting average: .184
Reasons for low average: Decrease in home run power, a 15 percent line drive rate and a high strikeout rate (35 percent).
Rest-of-season outlook: Weeks' power continues to be AWOL as we near the halfway mark, though he has collected 12 singles so far this month. Though Weeks' increased batting average and contact rate provide the appearance of a turnaround, the continued lack of power means that he is far from returning to his typical form.
Comparables/replacements: Weeks appears to be headed for a Danny Espinosa-type season, though with more walks and fewer steals. Neither Marco Scutaro (75 percent ownership rate) nor Dustin Ackley (86 percent ownership rate) have Weeks' power potential, but both are strong bets to outperform the long-time Brewer due to their ability to hit for a higher average.
Ike Davis, 1B, Mets
Batting average: .193
Reasons for low average: An increased strikeout rate (31 percent), loss of home run power and a .194 batting average on grounders.
Rest-of-season outlook: Davis' luck on balls in play has improved lately, but more important, he has shown much better plate discipline in recent weeks. The results has been an .852 OPS in June, which bodes well for his production going forward.
Comparables/replacements: Now that Davis is showing that his skill set is intact, it would be a mistake to drop him. He probably won't hit for as much power as Adam LaRoche, but he should be able to surpass him in batting average over the rest of the season, giving him similar value to the Nationals' first baseman.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays
Batting average: .204
Reasons for low average: Poor line drive (13 percent) and popup (13 percent) rates, chronic contact issues, depleted home run power.
Rest-of-season outlook: Because Pena strikes out so often, owners can't reasonably expect him to hit over .240, but they had reason to expect something better than this. At the core of Pena's struggles is a lack of power, and this marks the third straight season in which his home run to flyball ratio has fallen. Since 2009, that ratio has eroded by more than a third. Owners cannot realistically hope for more than a mild rebound.
Comparables/replacements: Pena currently has similar value to Todd Helton, but with Helton due for some improvement in his batting average, Pena could wind up being the decidedly inferior player by year's end. That shows that Pena (76 percent ownership rate) may be more droppable than you realize, or that Helton (39 percent) is vastly underrated.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Batting average: .214
Reasons for low average: Chronically-poor strikeout (34 percent) and line drive (13 percent) rates.
Rest-of-season outlook: Alvarez has certainly not been held back by a lack of home run power, but with little growth in his contact skills or gap power, there may be little room for Alvarez to climb the rankings. He currently sits outside the top 20 for third basemen in both standard Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, so his 12 homers and 34 RBI are only taking him so far in Fantasy.
Comparables/replacements: Jamey Carroll ranks ahead of Alvarez in points leagues, and Carroll is actually having a down year. In most formats, Alvarez has roughly the same value as Chris Johnson, though Johnson may not hit as many homers over the full season as Alvarez has already hit to date. Alvarez is starting in slightly more leagues, but if you wouldn't start Johnson in your league, you probably shouldn't be starting Alvarez either.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
Batting average: .218
Reasons for low average: 12 percent line drive rate, .179 batting average on grounders.
Rest-of-season outlook: Hosmer had a low line drive rate last season, too, which made his .318 BABIP and .293 overall batting average look a little suspicious. Hosmer's batting average on ground balls should be higher from here on out, but just don't expect him to hit in the upper .200s overall. An average in the .260 to .270 range is about as high as can be anticipated.
Comparables/replacements: Currently 18th in Head-to-Head value and 26th in Rotisserie value among first basemen, Hosmer stands to pick up a lot of ground in the rankings, and he should finish among the top 15 in both formats. Hosmer should finish with similar value to Corey Hart, with less power but more stolen bases.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners
Batting average: .220
Reasons for low average: 16 percent line drive rate, 14 percent popup rate, .097 BABIP on flyballs.
Rest-of-season outlook: The Mariners as a team are perenially one of the worst teams when it comes to getting base hits on flyballs in play, so there may only be so much that Smoak can do to improve his batting average, as he could be the victim of park effects. There is certainly room for at least a mild rebound if he can make harder contact, but he hasn't had much success with that for most of his young major league career.
Comparables/replacements: Unless we start to see signs of Smoak maturing as a hitter, he will remain as an option for deeper mixed and AL-only leagues. He is currently owned in 51 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, but Brandon Belt (50 percent ownership rate) should be far more productive down the stretch now that he is getting regular playing time.
Jemile Weeks, 2B, Athletics
Batting average: .220
Reasons for low average: .206 batting average on grounders.
Rest-of-season outlook: Weeks is hitting more grounders this year, so he's behind last year's doubles pace, but it's the lack of singles that is really taking a toll on his batting average. Weeks has been banged up this season, so that could be impacting his ability to leg out infield hits as well as steal bases, as he has been attempting to steal at a far slower pace. Even so, Weeks is too speedy to be saddled with a below-average ground ball batting average.
Comparables/replacements: Like his brother Rickie, the closest comparable for Jemile in terms of overall value is Danny Espinosa, who has more power but less potential for a decent batting average. If you need a tiebreaker to decide which Weeks to start, Jemile's potential to hit .300 when healthy gives him the edge.
J.P. Arencibia, c, Blue Jays
Batting average: .225
Reasons for low average: Poor contact skills, stronger ground ball tendencies.
Rest-of-season outlook: Owners are well aware of Arencibia's well-deserved reputation as an all-or-nothing hitter who swings for the fences. He is still hitting with authority and still posting a prodigious strikeout rate, but Arencibia's 41 percent flyball rate is actually in the neighborhood of normal, at least by his standards. A lower flyball rate often means a higher batting average, and for hitters who aren't so reliant on home run power, that's good news, but it's not helping Arencibia's Fantasy value at all. His batting average is only six points higher than last year's, and meanwhile, his Isolated Power is 43 points lower.
Comparables/replacements: Even if Arencibia starts hitting for more power, he doesn't profile as anything more than a No. 2 catcher. Owners would be better off using A.J. Ellis (74 percent ownership rate) down the stretch, even though he is due to regress, or Salvador Perez (24 percent ownership rate), who could be activated from the disabled list in the coming days.
Jose Tabata, OF, Pirates
Batting average: .228
Reasons for low average: 12 percent line drive rate, .198 batting average on grounders.
Rest-of-season outlook: Tabata is an extreme ground ball hitter, so if he isn't mustering even a normal batting average on grounders, he won't have much to offer owners. However, he is showing signs of turning his season around, as he is hitting .271 in June with a .342 BABIP. As he showed in his rookie season, Tabata is capable of sustaining even a higher batting average than this.
Comparables/replacements: Tabata has battled some inconsistency and health issues, but with a 31 percent ownership rate, he is highly undervalued due to his poor start. As long as he can stay healthy, he should produce at a level similar to that of Denard Span or Michael Saunders, both of whom are owned in just under half of our leagues.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
Batting average: .229
Reasons for low average: Not producing on flyballs in the park (.067 flyball BABIP) or out of the park (6.3 percent home run per flyball ratio).
Rest-of-season outlook: If we give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt, we can chalk up his low BABIP (.268 overall) to bad luck, but there are bigger problems for him to solve. This is the second season in a row in which Zimmerman has seen his HR/FB ratio dip by more than three percentage points. On top of that, Zimmerman's ground ball rate has mushroomed from 40 percent in 2010 to 54 percent this year. He is clearly capable of so much better, and for that reason, he is worth stashing if possible. After all, if Ike Davis and Jose Tabata can show signs of life, why can't Zimmerman at some point? However, until we can actually see those signs of progress, Zimmerman needs to be benched.
Comparables/replacements: Zimmerman is currently just a notch above Placido Polanco in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head value. Even with some improvement in BABIP, there won't be much separating the two third basemen, especially if Polanco produces more runs upon the return of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Zimmerman will have to generate at least a partial uptick in power in order to be a truly viable standard mixed league option again. At least for now, Chris Davis (80 percent ownership rate) and Trevor Plouffe (84 percent ownership rate) are superior options.
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