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Fantasy Baseball Today

Four batting averages I completely distrust

By Al Melchior | Data Analyst

Justin Upton is providing a good example of why batting averages can't always be trusted. (USATSI)
Justin Upton is providing a good example of why batting averages can't always be trusted. (USATSI)

Just about the only thing that drives me as crazy as when people rely solely on a pitcher's current ERA to bolster their argument for or against said pitcher is when they do the same thing with a hitter's batting average. That's doubly true when they do so after just a month's worth of games.

A hitter's ability to recognize strikes and make contact is critical to building a high batting average, but so is getting hits at a high rate on balls in play. For most hitters, that's not a very predictable thing, so when we see batting averages on balls in play (BABIP) veering too far from the major league norm around .300, they are often hard to trust. In turn, that makes the overall batting average hard to trust. For a special few hitters, BABIPs can be consistently higher or lower than the norm, and when those players stray from their usual tendencies, that, too, is often a sign of change to come.

There are some weird things going on with each of the following hitters' BABIPs, so each is potentially susceptible to being overrated or underrated, at least if Fantasy owners put too much stock in their current batting average. Each of these four hitters provides a good reminder of why it's also important to pay attention to supporting stats like strikeout rate, line drive rate and BABIP.

Justin Upton (.326 batting average): He's hit .300 and .289 in past seasons, so why not a .300-plus season at age 26? Because he's striking out in 36 percent of his at-bats, which comes after a season in which he K'ed in 29 percent of his at-bats. Toss in an unsustainable and uncharacteristic 32 percent line drive rate, and you have a batting average that is not anywhere close to believable.

Adam Dunn (.269): His current average would be a career-best, but he's hit over .260 five times before, so there's a chance, right? I doubt it. Dunn's strikeout rate, which has always been notoriously high, is virtually unchanged from last season. Dunn already has 14 line drive base hits (including two home runs), when he had all of 48 last season. It seems unlikely that he would suddenly become a proliific line drive hitter at 34, and the law of averages suggests that three of those 12 liners in play should have found a glove. The loss of those three hits alone would drop Dunn's batting average to a more familiar .231.

Adam LaRoche (.312): Here's another Adam I don't trust. He's never posted a BABIP above .330 in his career and has not topped a .305 mark in any of the past three seasons. To his credit, LaRoche is striking out a little less often than usual, but just a few bad games could wipe out those gains. It's highly unlikely he maintains a .368 BABIP or winds up with an overall batting average much above his career mark of .265.

Dexter Fowler (.231): Hey, Dexter, you're a proven line drive hitter who also has the ability to notch a few infield hits every now and then. You're better than this. A 26 percent strikeout per at-bat ratio is not good, but it's right about where it always has been, yet he's never hit below .260 in a full season. He's the same player in terms of skill set he has been in the past. Just three or four extra line drives last month would have brought Fowler's liner rate back into its typical territory in the lower-to-mid 20s and he is bound to increase his .171 batting average on ground balls.

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