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5 Lucky Hitters: Draft or Fade? (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

5 Lucky Hitters: Draft or Fade? (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

BABIP is a commonly used metric among the fantasy baseball community as an indicator of how lucky a player was over a period of time. The league average BABIP, which stands for batting average on balls in play, tends to be between .280 and .300. That said, it can be influenced by several factors, such as a player’s speed, hard-hit percentage, and line-drive percentage. Because of this, comparing a player’s career BABIP to their BABIP over a shorter period is an apt comparison.

For instance, Ronald Acuna‘s .338 BABIP in 2023 may appear inflated compared to the league average, but, when compared to his .334 career BABIP, that number is much more in line with what we’d expect from the N.L. MVP. Let’s take a look at five players whose BABIP in 2023 was notably above their career norms, and what that means for their 2024 draft prospects.

High BABIPs from 2023

Jarred Kelenic (OF – ATL)

In 2023, Kelenic’s .359 BABIP was well above his career average of .268. The high BABIP also led to a career-high .253 batting average. Kelenic, a 2018 first-round pick, has had limited success in the majors thus far, but the batted-ball profile last year was certainly a step in the right direction for those that still believe the 24-year-old can turn into the All-Star he was touted to be when he came up through the minor leagues.

Although I’m skeptical that he can maintain the .250 batting average this year, there were some signs that Kelenic improved his approach, which could lead to a .230 batting average as a floor going forward. For instance, he started walking more, hit the ball harder (roughly 45% in 2023 compared to 35% in 2022), and started spreading the ball around the field more. The change of scenery in Atlanta could also prove beneficial.

Josh Naylor (1B,DH – CLE)

Naylor’s .326 BABIP in 2023 wasn’t egregious by any means, but it was the highest clip he has posted since coming to the majors in 2019. It was also well above his .295 career BABIP. On the heels of this elevated BABIP, the career .270 hitter went on to post a career-best .308 batting average in 2023. He also had 17 home runs and 97 RBIs in just 121 games.

Naylor has always shown signs of power, but the batting average has typically been mediocre rather than good. Although I expect the average to trend closer toward .270, Naylor also showed signs that perhaps he could hit closer to .280 in the years to come. Although he hit the ball just as hard as in years past, he spread the ball around the field more and posted a 6.7% walk rate in 2023, which was well below his 16.1% mark in 2022 and his 18.0% clip in 2022. Naylor is still just 26 years old, so perhaps his best season is still ahead of him.

Austin Hays (OF – BAL)

Hays’ .345 BABIP in 2023 was a career-high and was well above his career average of .307. This also helped fuel a .275 batting average over 144 games in 2023.

Having a solid lineup around him should help his counting stats in 2024, but I’m skeptical that Hays can repeat his 2023 average. Although Hays walked a little more in 2023, his strikeout rate jumped to 25% from 20% in 2022. His batted-ball profile also indicates that he didn’t have a major change in approach. Still, you could do worse than 15 home runs and a .270 batting average.

Yandy Diaz (1B,3B – TB)

Diaz has always had the batting average, but, in 2023, he took his game to a whole new level by smacking a career-high 22 homeruns. The power surge certainly helped his batted-ball profile and led to a .367 BABIP, which is well above his .326 career average.

Diaz is an interesting case. It appears his approach changed noticeably, as he appeared more aggressive at the plate and, as a result, drew less walks and struck out more in 2023. Usually, this profile would lead to a lower batting average, but it appears that Diaz was able to feast on pitches inside the zone. I don’t think that Diaz will post another .330 batting average season. We should expect a more modest .290, but 15-20 home runs is not a bad trade-off.

Matt McLain (2B,SS – CIN)

McLain lived up to the hype as a rookie. In just 89 games for the Reds last year, he hit 16 home runs with 50 RBIs and a .290 batting average. It’s not crazy to see why fans are jumping all over the opportunity to get shares of this 24-year-old infielder. However, a .385 BABIP is very difficult to replicate, so expectations may be inflated heading into 2024.

I don’t want to rain on everyone’s parade, but it’s prudent to be aware of some of the luck McLain ran into early on in his career. The .385 BABIP just isn’t sustainable, and his minor-league stats point toward his batting average being closer to league average. For instance, at Double-A in 2022, McLain hit .232 across 103 games. While I don’t expect his average to dip that low, fantasy managers shouldn’t bank on a .290 average this year. A mark between .240 and .250 is more likely.

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