We have all seen this exchange. You’re in a draft or auction and Adam Dunn has just landed on his team for the season. After the draft pick or once the bidding is done, one guy (and sometimes even a couple) invariably tells the owner that while he may like Dunn’s power, that owner will regret carrying Dunn’s often putrid batting average. With five straight years of 40+ home runs, it is easy to see why rostering him is a desirable proposition. So how much do these batting average anchors hurt the team?
A standard league has 14 hitting spots on a roster thus Dunn or the batting average dead weight of your choice is accountable for essentially 1/14th of team’s batting average. This can and does vary based on the number of at-bats a player has in a season, but for the most part you can expect about 515 to 575 at-bats from someone like Dunn. What I did was look at a few different scenarios and then looked at how adding a batting average stud like Joe Mauer to the mix differed from adding Dunn or Mark Reynolds to that same team.
The first scenario has the other 13 players at a .275 average with 550 at-bats per spot. How did that team fare when adding the stud, the mid-level and the dud?
Adding Mauer to the team as is nets a healthy four points to the batting average and adding him in lieu of any of our three anchors yields a six point boost. Those results aren’t particularly surprising. The fact that each of anchors only costs the team as a whole two points is promising. Surely that minor bump down is more than offset by their contributions in the power categories (and the decent offering of speed by Reynolds).
How about when a team is hitting .280 on an average of 550 at-bats per player? The results aren’t much different:
The impact of Mauer and Ichiro is equal now while Pat Burrell gets a one point edge over his average-deficient peers. For all intents and purposes, there is little difference between these first two examples. Though I doubt it’s a newsflash to many, notice that the player with a slightly higher average than the team he’s joining does nothing to impact the team’s overall batting average? If you’re deciding between a two players with close lines, but one guy hits .272 with a eight more runs, two more home runs, seven more RBIs and an extra steal than the guy hitting .285, take the .272 guy because both have a virtually nil impact on the overall batting average so you might as well grab the extra counting stats.
Next I looked at a team that averages 450 at-bats per player. Obviously the more at-bats on a team, the less one guy’s batting average impacts the bottom line. Since the .275 and .280 studies were virtually the same under 550 at-bats, I only looked at the .280 average team with 450 at-bats:
Here we see that the run-of-the-mill .285 average guy in 450 at-bats does positively impact the team’s batting average. There is now an eight point difference between Mauer and Dunn. Clearly that’s significant. In this scenario there is a legitimate decision as to whether or not Dunn’s power advantage will make up for his lack of batting average. The answer to this is variable dependent on the team you’ve assembled to that point and what your plan is continuing on through the rest of the draft or auction.
Finally, I looked at a scenario of rostering TWO of these batting average black holes. You will obviously be getting some insane power production if you put Dunn and Burrell on your team, but what kind of hole will you find yourself in from a batting average standpoint?
Frankly, I expected worse here. Sure there is a 10-point gap between Mauer/random .280 dude and Burrell/Dunn, but 70+ home runs and 180+ RBIs is a nice consolation prize. In the end, I think the fantasy baseball community as a whole overrates the negative impact of a poor batting average from someone like Dunn. It’s not like discussing the downside of Dwight Howard‘s awful free throw percentage on your basketball team. Basketball players take a very disparate number of free throws and Howard is among the leaders. The number of at-bats for players on a fantasy baseball team doesn’t vary all that much. And if they’re hitting horribly, they’ll lose at-bats to someone else. When Howard is especially awful at free throws, teams are more inclined to send him to the line a few extra times that week or month.
I have never shied away from a bad batting average power hitter and I probably never will given that a 550 at-bat season is about 6-8% of a team’s at-bat total while 40 home runs is about 18% of the average team’s home run total and 100 RBIs is about 11% of the average team’s RBI total. Even the 11 steals by Reynolds is around 10% of the stolen base total for a mid-pack team further proving that the potential impact of a player’s counting stats is higher than even the best hitter’s impact on batting average.