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In judging other players, we're quick to assign labels. Often times, these declarations can be pretty extreme. A guy is either the worst hitter in the league or he's the best. There's no in between.
But doesn't that seem a bit shortsighted? After all, there's only one Miguel Cabrera. The question should really be, who is the most average player in MLB?
Now we're getting somewhere. But before we crown the King of Average, we need to set a few ground rules. For example, what is our definition of average?
The average batting average among big league hitters this season is .251. That seems like a good place to start, until you consider that one of the leagues doesn't employ a designated hitter. By and large, pitchers are an automatic out, which skews the data.
The more accurate measure of a hitter's average then, would be the median average of all the league's qualified position players. That gives us a pool of 167 players to choose from. The median average of those players would be .265. By using the same process for home runs and RBI, we have a pretty good idea of what an average player looks like: .265 with seven homers and 28 RBI.
No player fits these exact specifications but many come close. San Francisco catcher Buster Posey is hitting .264 with eight home runs and 29 RBI while teammate Pablo Sandoval is at .257 with eight jacks and 28 ribbies. Third basemen Aramis Ramirez (.261, 7 HR, 27 RBI) and Evan Longoria (.263, 7, 27 RBI) are in that same ballpark.
These aren't players you would expect to see in this position. Posey is a former MVP while Longoria, Ramirez and Sandoval have all been to at least two All-Star Games.
But remember, we were drawing from a pool of 167 players. In typical 12-team fantasy leagues, up to 250 players get drafted. So being the 84th or 85th best hitter would still make you plenty valuable, especially at positions like catcher or second base where power is at a premium.
As I just alluded to, the median is a little bit different for each position. Have a look for yourself.
Catcher: .271, 6 HR, 29 RBI
First base: .263, 11 HR, 33 RBI
Second base: .269, 5 HR, 23 RBI
Third base: .265, 8 HR, 32 RBI
Shortstop: .255, 4 HR, 19 RBI
Outfield: .266, 6 HR, 27 RBI
Don't be fooled by these numbers. Because catchers rest more often than other players, only ten of them are qualified (meaning they've seen at least 3.1 plate appearances per game). Meanwhile, 25 shortstops and 23 first baseman fit this same criteria. So with only ten players to pick from, it's no surprise catchers have the highest batting average.
Pitching is a different story. Of 99 qualified starters, the mean comes to five wins, four losses and a 3.80 ERA. Again, the National League's 3.65 ERA is boosted by the lack of a DH.
There are a handful pitchers who loosely meet our definition of average. A few of them are household names but most are not. See for yourself.
Yovani Gallardo: 4-4, 3.71 ERA
Kyle Gibson: 5-5, 3.91 ERA
Tom Koehler: 5-5, 3.68 ERA
Bud Norris: 5-5, 3.94 ERA
Ryan Vogelsong: 4-3, 3.84 ERA
Edinson Volquez: 4-5, 3.89 ERA
Chris Young: 5-4, 3.68 ERA
What's interesting is that only Gallardo is owned in more than 50 percent of fantasy leagues. That makes sense for a number of reasons. Since every team uses a five-man rotation, starting pitchers aren't exactly scarce. There are plenty of viable options.
Big names also seem to carry more weight at this position. For example, Detroit starter Justin Verlander is 6-6 this year with an ERA well over four. That's below average, but because he's Verlander, no one would ever dream of cutting him. Gibson and Koehler, on the other hand, are still relatively unproven. Their sub-four ERAs could be a mirage for all we know. Small sample sizes tend to give us a little more pause when putting together our fantasy lineups.
But more importantly, the win/loss/ERA standard we use for determining a pitcher's worth doesn't even come close to telling the whole story. Cincinnati's Alfredo Simon has impressive peripherals (nine wins, sub-three ERA) but he isn't getting a ton of strikeouts (50 K's in 82 1/3 innings). That's probably why he's still a free agent in a quarter of ESPN leagues.
Similarly, Henderson Alvarez has an excellent ERA (2.56) but is basically useless in all other categories (3-3 record with 50 K's and a 1.28 WHIP). Because of all the different factors we have to consider, defining a starting pitcher as average isn't such an easy task.
But how far will average get you? Not that far. If my team was filled with league-average (.265, 7 HR, 28 RBI) talent, my offense would have the second- fewest home runs and the second-fewest RBI in my eight-team fantasy league. My batting average would put me in a tie for sixth. More than likely, I'd be in last or second-to-last place.
Thankfully we don't have to settle for average too often. It is called "fantasy" baseball, after all.
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