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Players to Target for AVG/OBP (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Lucas Babits-Feinerman
Feb 8, 2021

DJ LeMahieu provides an elite source of batting average in the early rounds.

Batting average (AVG) is the only ‘ratio’ statistic for hitters in traditional rotisserie leagues. However, some leagues use on-base percentage (OBP) instead.

The on-base percentage movement started in the 1990s and was made famous by Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book about the Oakland Athletics adapted into a movie. If you’re a general manager building a baseball team, on-base percentage is the more important statistic. Most fantasy leagues, on the other hand, tend to focus on batting average. This article will feature players who will excel in either AVG, OBP, or both.

AVG and OBP are ratio statistics where surplus production is not wasted, and poor performance can hurt your team. Considering the counting statistics (runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, and home runs), players who perform well bank their performance — once your team has one stolen base, it will never lose it. Contrast that with batting average, where a team batting .300 can see their average drop to .250 with a few days of poor performance.

A team already first place in home runs won’t receive any extra value for more home runs. If that team has a lot of sluggers, they might have to reconstruct their roster. However, a team placed first in batting average needs to maintain its lead by keeping the same mix of players. Also, having an edge in batting average allows fantasy managers to roster sluggers who hit for poor contact. Therefore, it’s important to build a good foundation in batting average early in the draft so you have the flexibility to draft whoever you want later.

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Early Targets (Picks 1-37)

DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B – NYY)

  • Career: .305/.357/.430, 85 HR, 83 SB (4,242 at-bats)
  • 2020: .364/.421/.590, 10 HR, 3 SB
  • 2021 ADP: 26

A former batting champion with the Rockies, DJ LeMahieu has continued to rake away from Coors Field. He’s slashed .336/.386/.536 since signing with the Yankees in 2019 and won another batting title last season, becoming the first player in the modern era to win an AL and NL batting crown. The Yankees re-signed him this offseason for $90 million over six years.

LeMahieu’s Statcast profile supports his batting average breakout. He has finished in the top 3% of xBA (expected batting average) in four of the past five seasons, including three top 1% finishes. He hits the ball hard (86th percentile exit velocity, 81st percentile hard hit%) and doesn’t strike out (100th percentile K%, 99th percentile Whiff%). Both important factors when considering a player’s potential batting average.

Middle Targets (Picks 37-108)

Yordan Alvarez (UTIL – HOU)

  • Career: .312/.410/.654, 28 HR, 0 SB (321 at-bats)
  • 2020: .250/.333/.625, 1 HR, 0 SB (8 at-bats)
  • 2021 ADP: 83

Six weeks after signing him as an international free agent, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him to the Houston Astros for reliever Josh Fields. He quickly rose through the minors and made his MLB debut almost three years to the day after signing in 2016.

In 2019, Alvarez played 143 combined games at the Triple-A level and in the majors, hitting .325 with 50 home runs and 149 RBIs. The AL Rookie of the Year then missed most of the 2020 season with COVID-19 and knee injuries.

His Statcast profile backs up his 2019 success — 94th percentile exit velocity, 94th percentile hard hit%, 97th percentile xwOBA, 90th percentile xBA, 98th percentile SLG, 98th percentile barrel%, and 94th percentile BB%. On the downside, Alvarez struggles with breaking balls and strikeouts (25.5 K%), more than I would like when targeting batting average. However, I’m willing to forgive this due to his excellent track record, depressed ADP, and hard-hitting ability. Fantasy managers can expect Alvarez to contribute in batting average, but he is the most likely of the highlighted players to fall victim to variance and disappoint. 

Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)

  • Career: .319/.383/.501, 30 HR, 12 SB (918 at-bats)
  • 2020: .311/.383/.454, 4 HR, 0 SB
  • 2021 ADP: 100

Over six seasons (1613 at-bats) in the minors, Jeff McNeil slashed .311/.380/.442 before making his MLB debut in 2018. Since then, he leads MLB in batting average.

McNeil’s Statcast profile, however, does not back up his elite batting average. He doesn’t hit the ball too hard (16th percentile exit velocity, 5th percentile hard hit%), and his expected stats (.286 career xBA) are much lower than his recorded stats. 

So why does McNeil outperform his Statcast statistics? The answer lies in his plate approach. McNeil is an elite contact hitter. He rarely strikes out (98th percentile K%, 89th percentile Whiff%) but is very aggressive. Since his debut, McNeil leads the majors in Swing% (58.3%), Z-Swing% (84.6%), and ranks 33rd out of 164 qualified batters in Contact rate(82.7%).

In other words, when McNeil steps into the batter’s box, he’s looking to swing and usually makes contact. His approach likely trades exit velocity for an increased ability to place the ball. Fantasy managers looking for a boost in batting average in the late-middle rounds can target McNeil with confidence. 

Late Targets (Pick 109-200)

Gio Urshela (3B – NYY)

  • Career: .273/.322/.432, 35 HR, 2 SB (1059 at-bats)
  • 2020: .298/.368/.490, 6 HR, 1 SB
  • 2021 ADP: 154

Giovanny Urshela was 17 years old when he signed with Cleveland as an international free agent in 2008. He made his MLB debut in 2015, but struggled for several seasons while getting traded twice (for cash) in 2018 – first to the Blue Jays and then to the Yankees. He was considered a defensive specialist before breaking out with the Yankees in 2019. As a Yankee, Urshela has slashed .310/.358/.523. 

Urshela’s Statcast profile supports his breakout (97th percentile xBA, 87th percentile xwOBA, 80th percentile xSLG). He hits the ball hard (86th percentile exit velocity) and rarely strikes out (90th percentile K%, 80th percentile Whiff%). I don’t know what exact adjustments Urshela made to his game, but he credits his success to changing his stance and using his legs more.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Draft Urshela for little cost to boost your batting average. 

Final Rounds/Undrafted (Picks 201+)

Nick Madrigal (2B – CHW)

  • Career: .340/.376/.369, 0 HR, 2 SB (103 at-bats)
  • 2020: .340/.376/.369, 0 HR, 2 SB
  • 2021 ADP: 218

Cleveland drafted Nick Madrigal out of High School in the 17th round in 2015. However, he did not sign and went to Oregon State, where he won Pac-12 Freshman on the Year in 2016, Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2017, and was named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team. In 2018, the Chicago White Sox chose him with the fourth overall pick. He slashed .309/.371/.398 over 628 minor league at-bats before making his MLB debut in 2020. 

Madrigal doesn’t have enough MLB at-bats to qualify for Statcast’s percentile rankings, but his .304 xBA would have tied for 12th last season. Although he doesn’t hit the ball hard (84 mph average exit velocity), he rarely strikes out (6.4%) either. Madrigal led the minors in BB/K ratio and had the lowest K% since his debut in 2018. In fact, he struck out only 21 times in 628 career minor league ABs while walking 53 times. 

Madrigal fits the Jeff McNeil mold of hitting for a high average despite soft contact by avoiding strikeouts. Fantasy managers can draft Madrigal outside the top 200 at a No. 218 consensus ADP. Based on his college/minor league track record, he has the potential to win a batting title in 2021. His AVG upside is through the roof, and he will steal bases too, but don’t expect any power. 

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Lucas Babits-Feinerman is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Lucas, check out his archive and follow him @WSonFirst.

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