Batting average is almost an afterthought in baseball analytics now but it’s very important in our fake game.
Unfortunately there is a large element to luck to it. Some of the game’s best hitters when it comes to the frequency of hitting the ball hard are not getting a lot of bang for it. Their averages somehow still lag.
This year, according to Major League Baseball stat provider Inside Edge, the average non-pitcher has a well-hit rate of .155. And that’s of at bats, including strikeouts (and it also includes homers of course as well-hit balls). The batting average of non-pitchers is .254. That’s 1.6 times more than the average well-hit rate. But the 46 hitters who hit the ball hard most frequently in the eyes of Inside Edge scouts (.200 or better) fall well below this: 1.3 times better. But we can split the difference here at 1.45.
Don’t get sidetracked by the math. The bottom line here is simple: the players who are hitting the ball hard most frequently should also have solid batting averages (and with it more hits, runs, RBI).
But since well-hit is a hidden stat, a lot of good hitters so far are being improperly valued.
At the top of the list is Nick Castellanos, who has a well-hit of .237 (10th best) but somehow has an average even lower — .225. Again, we’re figuring that you should hit about 1.45 times your well-hit, which would put Casetllanos at .344. Even if he hit about 1.3 times better than the group like the other top hitters making hard contact, he would be .299. Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll continue to hit the ball this hard (his well-hit last year was .170). But well-hit is the foundation of batting average and thus expected to be more predictive of future batting average.
Maybe Detroit is bad for batting average as Miguel Cabrera should be hitting .362. The most conservative method pegs him at .317 based on his well-hit performance to date. In other words, in the range of the way Miggy always hits. There’s nothing wrong with Cabrera.
This well-hit data includes strikeouts. So there’s no excuse for Khris Davis hitting .218 (same as his 21st-ranked well-hit average). He’s most-conservatively earned a .275 average thus far.
Andrew McCutchen is down on himself reportedly but maybe should not be, as his well-hit is 37th and also identical to his actual average (.206). This data estimates a .300 average.
Randal Grichuk as well as our preseason pick because of park factors, Scott Schebler, are 22nd and 19th, respectively, in well-hit average but lagging badly in regular average. The model that converts well-hit average to batting average, as outlined above, has them both hitting well over. 300. But even the most conservative estimate of their average puts them at .275 and .289, respectively. Bottom line: don’t think of either and Schebler, especially, as merely cheap power.
Other average underachievers for similar reasons, with their well-hit ranking: Manny Machado (32nd), Maikel Franco (42nd), Max Kepler (13th), Kendrys Morales (29th), Matt Carpenter (39th), Paul Goldschmidt (2nd) and Trea Turner (46th).
Turner is the most interesting here as he’s showing up on busts lists. This is foolish not only because of the way he’s hitting the baseball but also in his solid number of homers plus steals (13 in just 33 games). I’m not liking the strikeouts but he his hitting the ball hard in return for the swing-and-miss. But maybe this is not ideal given his player profile.
Ryan Zimmerman is the league-leader in hitting the ball hard so projecting him under .300 for the balance of the year seems foolish. He’s of course also been a very good hitter in the past. Remember, all these guys are great and players tell me that it’s the smallest adjustments that separate a Triple A hitter from a big-league star.
Two other players who have surprised: Michael Conforto (overall) and Miguel Sano (in batting average). But they are ranked 14th and 9th in well-hit average. I’m shocked by Sano at .241 because remember this counts Ks as non-well-hits (as is only fair). Sano’s K% is as expected, 34.5%. But he’s trading swing-and-miss for hard contact and who can argue with that given his light-tower power?