2021 Fantasy Baseball: What is Contact Batting Average (CTBA)?

SI Fantasy expert Shawn Childs why CTBA (contact batting average) is more useful than BABIP to your fantasy baseball needs!
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A popular stat for fantasy baseball owners over the last decade is BABIP (Batting Average Balls in Play). This stat isn't a good reference point for determining a player's batting average. Each player in baseball has their skillset and baseline for BABIP. Like batting average, this stat can have a wide range from season to season for each player. What looks suitable for one player in one season may be bad for another player in the same year.

The bottom line for me is that if a player hits the ball hard, he will get more hits. With poor contact, a hitter will make easier outs. 

My best example of this is Barry Bonds. He has a career .285 BABIP while hitting .298 in his major career. In essence, his low BABIP was due to a high volume of home runs (762), which is the part that bothers me the most. Why are we discounting the hardest hit balls? If a player hits a line drive off the centerfield wall for a hit, the defense had no chance to catch the ball. The same goes for a ball over the fence. Therefore, I decided to go against the grain in this area. I came up with CTBA (contact batting average). I want to know what a player hits when he makes contact with the ball. CTBA = Hits/At-bats minus strikeouts. Looking back, I probably should add back sacrifice flies. 

Barry Bonds had a career contact batting average of .353 (.350 with San Fran). This high number gave him a chance at hitting for a high batting average over in many seasons (his CTBA in 2001 was .407 - .370 BA). 

trout

When looking at Mike Trout's career, you can see a high BABIP in some seasons (.383, .372, .349, .344, .371, .318, .346, .298, and .300. He's had an elite CTBA (2012 - .433, 2013 - .419, 2014 - .414, 2015 - .412, 2016 - .420, 2017 – .394, 2018 – .424, 2019 – .391, and 2020 – .392) in every seasons in the majors. His CTBA shows his explosiveness in batting average each year, while his BABIP had a much wider range of value while bottoming out in 2019 (.298). Ultimately, Trout has batting title upside based on his CTBA if his strikeout rate shrinks. He has a strength in his BABIP (.346) and CTBA (.398) in his career.

Just for comparison, Ichiro Suzuki hit .311 in his career with a BABIP of .338. His CTBA finished at .349, which almost matches Barry Bonds (.353).

My goal here with CTBA is to determine a better range for batting average. Most of us fear high strikeout batters as they can kill us in batting average, but players with an elite contact batting average can overcome some of their downside while also having a chance to lower their strikeout rate.

The league average for CTBA in 2020 was .332 (.339 in 2019), which makes sense. It tells us about one out of every three balls put in play was a hit. 

In my early development as a fantasy baseball player, I used Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster to do my research. He had a stat called contact rate (at-bats minus strikeouts/at-bats). When using this data, it helped to avoid high strikeout batters that invited batting average risk. At the same time, it did cause me some confusion as to what type of hitter had the most upside in batting average.

By looking at Miguel Sano's profile, he has a .241 batting average in his career with the Twins with an insanely high strikeout rate (37 percent). His contact rate is only 63 percent, which screams disaster downside in batting average. 

On the flip side, his contact batting average in the majors is an impressive .417, with a high of .446 in 2017. 

If Sano lowered his strikeout rate to 30 percent while maintaining his career contact batting average, he would become a .274 hitter.

Andrelton Simmons is one of the toughest players in the majors to strike out (9.0 percent), giving him an elite contact rate (91). His BABIP in his career is only .283. Simmons has a contact batting average of .298, which means his ceiling is limited in batting average.

In a perfect research world, we want to find a player with a high contact batting average while owning an underlying skill set to improve his approach.

machado tatis

In 2019, Fernando Tatis Jr. finished with a contact batting average of .473 over 372 plate appearances with the Padres, but he struck out 29.6 percent of the time. His contact batting average didn't look repeatable, and his minor league strikeout rate (25.4) suggested minimal growth in his approach earlier in his career.

Last year his contact batting average came in at .380. While being less impressive, Tatis lowered his strikeout rate to 23.7 percent. With continued growth in his approach and a push back over .400 in his contact batting average, Tatis has the tools to hit over .300 with explosive upside in power and speed. 

There was a shortstop in 1998 that hit .310 with 42 home runs, 124 RBI, and 46 steals. I expect Tatis to make a run at that type of season in 2021.

If a high strikeout player has a regression in his strikeout rate with a lower CTBA, he'll have a lot more batting average risk, which was the case with Chris Davis in 2014. In 2013, Davis had a CTBA of .434 and a strikeout rate of 29.6, leading to a .286 batting average with 53 home runs and 138 RBI. The next season his CTBA fell to .318 with a spike in his strikeout rate (33.0). He finished 2014 with a .196 BA and a drop-in home runs (26). In 2015, his CTBA (.418) moved back in a winning area with a slight improvement in his strikeout rate (31.0), pushing his batting average to .262 with a rebound in home runs (47). Davis had his highest BABIP (.286) in 2013. 

A player with a low CTBA was minimal upside in batting average. A batter with a low BABIP still has the opportunity to hit over .300 if he has enough home runs.

As a fantasy owner, I want the players who have the best chance to hit the ball hard, leading to home runs and production in RBI. We must walk a fine line deciding between high strikeout batters to limit the damage in batting average. CTBA is a way to see who has the best chance to get a hit when they put the ball in play, which isn't the case for BABIP. A high CTBA and improving approach at the plate is a great skill set to be looking for on draft day. 

READ MORE: 2021 Fantasy Baseball Hub

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