Adrian Beltre is a dying breed — and I don’t just mean a hitter who is capable of 3,000 hits. What makes Beltre so unique as a consistently reliable source of batting average is his ability to hit for power while constantly making contact.
The league-wide strikeout rate for hitters is one every 4.64 plate appearances. That’s an all-time high. Unfortunately for his owners, however, Beltre has really upped his number of walks, from well-below average rates the past two years (one every 15.1 plate appearances and one every 13.3) to a sterling one every 8.9 (average is 11.7). Of course, we don’t like that in standard five-by-five fantasy formats because it devalues the impact of his average. Ideally you want hitters like Beltre had been prior to 2017: low Ks and low BBs. Hitters who are too patient can hurt your team.
This type of hitter is very uncommon in today’s game. I pulled hitters who greatly outpaced the MLB average in Ks (they had to strikeout just once every 7.0 plate appearances or better) and below average in walk rate (once ever 12 plate appearances or higher).
That group is small, but it’s combined average is .282 which sounds ordinary until you remember the league average this year is .255. So .282 is pretty much the new .300.
The best example of this kind of hitter is Daniel Murphy (Ks every 9.8 ABs, BBs every 12.5). That’s the foundation of his great batting average value in our game. In 365 at-bats, he’s 30.9 hits over average. That’s the way to view batting average, the number of surplus hits over what a league-average hitter would get in the same number of at-bats.
The most interesting hitter of this type who we have not historically thought of as a batting average asset is Andrelton Simmons (64% Yahoo owned). Of course, Simmons is also helping his owners unexpectedly in homers (11) and steals (13). On first glance, you’d expect his batting average (.300) to badly regress (he’s only a .266 career hitter). But not only are all the homers hits, but he’s putting the ball into play regularly with a K every 9.2 at bats (the worst of his career but still good and he’s obviously trading some Ks for homers).
Other undervalued batting average assists for this reason include Brandon Philips (29% owned on Yahoo!) and Denard Span (5%).