Before I dig too deep in the 2020 baseball research, I'll take a look at a stat I use for hitters. It's called AVH or average hit rate. Slugging percentage has been the standard for many years in baseball to show a player's value in producing power. Last year the major league average for slugging percentage was .435 (.409 in 2018).
This number doesn't give a Fantasy owner a real feel for a player's value or even possible growth or decline in this area. AVH = singles + doubles (each base X 2) + triples (each base X 3) + home runs (each base X 4) divided by hits or total bases divided by hits. Here’s a look at the final team totals for each team in major league baseball in 2019 sorted by AHV:
Every team in the majors averaged over 1.65 bases per hit in 2019. The Yankees led the majors with an AVH of 2.029 thanks to 306 home runs (39 more than 2018), which was more than a double per hit. The lowly Marlins finished with the lowest AVH of 1.658 while hitting only 146 home runs.
The Padres had the least number of hits (1,281 – second straight season), and the Red Sox led the majors with 1,554 hits (led the league as well on 2018 – 1,509).
In comparison, the top team in slugging percentage was the Astros (.494), while Miami (.375) came in last again.
From a visual aspect, it is easier to get a read of a player’s value in power by his average hit than slugging percentage.
Last year 67 players had a slugging percentage of over .500 with 400 at-bats or more (only 30 in 2018). Here’s a look at the 30 players ranked by AVH:
When looking at this data, you can easily see that 20 players averaged over a double per hit (2.000 AVH) each time they put the ball in play. (The minimum AVH a player could have is 1.00 if he had a single each time he had a hit. The maximum would be 4.00 (all home run).
Of the top 30 players listed, every player had 30 home runs or more except Brett Gardner (28 HRs). All players had a slugging percentage over .500. No player had over 40 home runs without an AVH over (1.85). Ronald Acuna has the lowest slugging percentage (.518) of the players hitting 40-pus homer runs.
Two lowest two players in AVH with a slugging percentage over .500 were D.J. LeMahieu (AVH – 1.584 - .518) and Tim Anderson (AVH – 1.515 and SLG – .508).
Eric Hosmer has been a highly-touted prospect for the Royals in his career. When he hit 19 home runs in his rookie season, the fantasy world pushed his draft value to the 2nd round in many drafts in 2012, thinking he had a much higher upside in power. His AVH was 1.588, and his SLG came at .465 in 2011, but he had a ground ball rate of 49.7 percent. His AVH was in an area where growth in power was expected, but his swing path suggested a considerable jump in home runs wasn't a high probability without a much stronger HR/FB rate or decline in ground balls. Over the next three seasons, Hosmer only hit 14, 17, and nine home runs. Even in his best season in slugging percentage (.498 in 2017), he hit only 25 home runs while his AVH (1.562) remains weak.
This year, fantasy owners will be tempted by D.J. LeMahieu's career season (.327 with 109 runs, 26 HRs, 102 RBI, and five SBs over 602 at-bats) while setting a career-high in his slugging percentage (.518). In 2016, he hit only 11 home runs while his slugging percentage came in at .495. The following season LeMahieu only had eight home runs despite receiving 609 at-bats.
In comparison, his AVH came in at 1.422 in 2016, which screamed at best a 15 home run player.
Over the past two seasons, LeMahieu did have growth in his AVH (2018 – 1.551 and 2019 – 1.584). His progression supports another season with 20 home runs while someone reading his slugging percentage may believe his next step is 30 home runs.
The next level in his research comes on his ground ball and fly-ball rate. In his career, LeMahieu has a 53.2 percent fly-ball rate, with only minimal improvement in 2018 (49.6) and 2019 (50.1). His fly-ball rate (26.5 in 2019) has never been over 29.5 in the majors.
The bottom line for me in the research of this type of player is avoiding the direction of a player’s expected value in power. LeMahieu will make hard contact, but he can’t turn doubles into home runs without more loft. AVH intakes his overall value of hits to set a better foundation of his current swing path.
For a second look, Tim Anderson was a targeted player for me in 2019. His slugging percentage had weakness in 2017 (.402) and 2018 (.406), but he hit 17 and 20 home runs in those two seasons over 1,154 combined at-bats.
Hidden in his swing was a rising AVH (1.347 in the minors in 2016, 1.526 in the majors in 2016, 1.563 in 2017, and 1.691 in 2018). At the same time, Anderson came off two years (.355 and .325) with a fading contact batting average (another story to be told in another article). Earlier his career, he showed the ability to hit for a high average when he put the ball in play (CTBA – .392, .396, .401, and .397) from low A-ball to the majors.
In this equation, his AVH was rising, but Anderson’s slugging percentage remained flat. With a rebound in better contact, he looked destined to have growth in power.
Similar to D.J. LeMahieu, Anderson had a ground ball producing swing path (50.3 in his career), but his swing path did show improvement in 2018 (ground ball rate – 46-6 with a career-high fly-ball rate – 33.5). Also, he had more strength in his HR/FB rate (14.5 in his career).
In the end, Anderson failed to make a big step forward in power (18 HRs over 498 at-bats), he did have a much higher contact batting average (.429). Unfortunately, he had a step back in his AVH (1.515). Some of his shortcomings in power did come from missing over a month of the seasons with an ankle injury.
AVH tells a pretty good story. In the ideal situation, we would like to see a player adding more length to his hits. Any player with an AVH of 1.75 or higher has 25-plus home run power with over 550 at-bats. A Judy type player (all speed and no power) will have an average hit rate under 1.35.
The goal here is to be able to glance at a player's AVH and home run total to get a feel of a player's upside in power. It is also imperative to understand each player’s ground ball and fly-ball rate. A change in swing path could lead to a massive jump in home runs. In the case of Hosmer, if his ground ball rate is trending down with a rising AVH, I would expect much more upside in power, which wasn’t the case for him in his first year with the Padres.
Slugging percentage doesn’t tell the same story for me when studying baseball players. If a player has a slugging percentage over .500, it doesn’t necessarily mean that player is a 30 home run hitter (more likely in 2019 based on the juiced ball).
Defining a player's direction in fantasy baseball is the key to a winning season. Ideally, a fantasy owner needs to identify a player that has underlying metrics that point to a breakout season when added to a better opportunity in playing time or an improved slot in the batting order. AVH is an essential tool for me and one I hope you incorporate into your research plan going forward.