MLB
March 17, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Contact % Edition

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Mark Reynolds, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

Contact rates tend to correspond with strike outs and home runs. The more contact a batter makes, the fewer times he will strike out. Common sense. However, guys with higher than average contact rates tend to hit a lot fewer homeruns than guys with lower than average contact rates. This really should be common sense. Players who hit homeruns in greater numbers tend make less contact overall.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a batter with a low contact rate will necessarily have a lower than average batting average. This is where BABIP enters the picture. A batter who has a low contact rate can maintain a competent batting average if he’s lucky on balls in play. A slugger who gets a little lucky with BABIP could become an MVP candidate.
Contact rate doesn’t tell us how or what a batter did with a baseball. It simply tells us how often the ball was put in play. Contact rate does give us some idea about how luck factors into the picture. The low contact rates should come with lower than average BABIPs and high contact rates should come with higher than average BABIPs, but that’s not always the case and that’s where the analysis comes in. Contact rate is a good place to start, but that’s all it really is. It’s by no means a big picture stat like wOBA or OPS. 

1. Juan Pierre 94.9%
2. Jamey Carroll 92.6%
3. Victor Martinez 92.2%
4. Placido Polanco 91.8%
5. Ian Kinsler 91.4%
6. Brett Gardner 91.4%
7. Alberto Callaspo 90.7%
8. Darwin Barney 90.6%
9. Martin Prado 90.4%
10. Ichiro Suzuki 90.4%

Juan Pierre makes a lot of contact, but he also makes a ton of outs. Juan has obviously lost a step and his 2011 season was a sad parade of ground outs and pop ups. He’s entered into the fourth or fifth outfielder/competent fielder/pinch runner phase of his career. Juan is entering his age 35 season and it’s clear that his days of 60+ steals are behind him. He’s a stay away outside of very deep NL-only leagues.

Minnesota will prominently feature Jamey Carroll in their starting nine. He fits right in with their team concept. What is their team concept? Well, obviously they’re either trying to relocate to Miami or they’re trying to set a record for losses. Carroll has somehow managed to get over 3,000 PAs in his career while posting a .704 OPS. That’s amazing. He makes contact, but that’s all he does. He hasn’t hit a homer in almost three years. Jamey Carroll is not fantasy relevant in any format.

Seeing Victor Martinez on this list is a bit of a shock, but it would explain his power outage and his career low 8.6% K-rate. His change in approach could be due to playing in spacious Comerica Park, but his FB% was higher at home(35.8%) than on the road(31.2%). He put a ton more balls in play and made less of an effort to swing for the fences. His 3.3% swinging strike rate confirms that. It’s useless info for this year, but something to remember for next year.

Placido Polanco is good at putting baseballs in play. They tend to do very little when they’re there, but at least he’s not missing. He’s posted a contact rate over 90% since 2003. It’s what he does. He’s also not a player you should want to rely on for any category in fantasy baseball. 

Ian Kinsler showing up on this list is a testament to how good he really is. Kinsler is one of the few guys who can still post power numbers(32 homers last year) while not whiffing a lot(12.3% K-rate). Even though he put a lot of balls in play, Kinsler’s .243 BABIP wasn’t really that unlucky. He posted a 0.75 GB:FB ratio. Players who put balls in the air tend to have a lower than average BABIP even if they do put a lot of balls in play. Kinsler is an anomaly, but he’s an anomaly that fantasy GM’s should be interested in.

Speaking of anomalies, Brett Gardner ladies and gentlemen! Gardner managed to post a high contact rate AND a high K-rate(15.8% in 2011). Oddly enough, he doesn’t swing and miss all that much. He’s not really choking up and swinging for the fences. Gardner managed a 3.2% swinging strike rate last year. It looks like Gardner is being too choosy during counts with two strikes.

Alberto Callaspo doesn’t really hit for much power or steal bases. He doesn’t strike out a TON(9.8% K-rate in 2011), but he does get on base well enought(10.8% walk rate in 2011). There’s not much here that is either fantasy relevant or true. He’s a deep league option only, but he might offer some help in batter average where as players like Jamey Carroll offer no help of any kind. Moving on…

Darwin Barney is looking to steal the mantle of mediocre, white middle infielder who inexplicably gets a ton of at bats because his team doesn’t have anyone else from Jamey Carroll. He’s basically like Alberto Callaspo minus the one competent fantasy year and plate discipline. So, he’s nothing like Alberto Callaspo. Stay away.

Martin Prado is actually a little interesting for 2012 mainly because he makes a lot of contact and posted a .266 BABIP in 2011. Prado owns a .315 BABIP for his career and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him be at or above that number in 2012. He doesn’t really walk(6.6% walk rate for his career) or strike out a ton(11.3% K-rate for his career). He also qualifies all over the diamond, so he could be kind of useful if he can get a little luckier on balls in play. His LD% needs to be higher than the 14.6% it clocked in at in 2011, but there is some potential here. A lot more potential than say, Darwin Barney or Jamey Carroll.

Ichiro Suzuki struggled through the unluckiest year of his career in 2011. His BABIP was a career low .295, but he still maintained his “Ichiro” hitting profile. He posted a 2.84 GB:FB ratio last year and owns a 2.36 GB:FB ratio for his career. It’s not like his LD % was crazy low either. It was 19.1%. Ichiro has a career BABIP of .351. He’s a solid bet to rebound. Father time hasn’t caught up to him yet.

1. Mark Reynolds 65.0%
2. Miguel Olivo 66.3%
3. Giancarlo Stanton 66.8%
4. Ryan Howard 67.9%
5. Carlos Pena 70.0%
6. Kelly Johnson 71.8%
7. Corey Hart 72.1%
8. Drew Stubbs 72.8%
9. Matt Kemp 73.3%
10. Dan Uggla 73.4%

Mark Reynolds is who you should have had in mind when you read, “Players who hit homeruns in greater numbers tend make less contact overall.” Mark Reynolds can thump and it looks like he’s being undervalued in most mixed league drafts. He’ll get everyday at bats and hit homers on quite a few of those days. His K-rate has been over 30% for every year he’s been in the big leagues, but he also has three straight years of 30+ homers. That kind of power production is rare these days. He’s worth taking a look at if you can take the hit on batting average.

Miguel Olivo is what happens when a free swinger 1. plays in Safeco and 2. isn’t very good. He’ll pop double digit homers, but he’ll also swing and miss an awful lot. Last year, Olivo’s swinging strike %(19.0%) was higher than Mark Reynolds 16.3%.  

Giancarlo Stanton manages to provide truly elite power production, but he’s not an extreme fly ball hitter. He owns a 1.13 GB:FB ratio for his MLB career. This bodes well for his future because it means he can maintain a reasonable BABIP, so he shouldn’t have the ridiculously bad batting average that some sluggers can produce.

Seeing Ryan Howard appear here is about as surprising as seeing Mark Reynolds appear first on this list. Howard has never produced a contact rate higher than 69.0% and he likely never will. Howard comes to baseball stadiums to hit baseballs really hard. He might miss fairly often(14.9% swinging strike ratio for his career), but he’ll also produce the power numbers fantasy GMs expect(.285 career ISO).

Carlos Pena falls in the same category as Reynolds, but he’s a few years older and his skills have begun their erosion. Ten years ago he’d be a guy starting his second prime at this point. Pena simply doesn’t make a lot of contact and when he does it tends to go in the air(0.82 GB:FB ratio for his career). When balls end up in the air, they tend to either be outs or homers. Judging by his batting average, that’s exactly what’s happening with Pena. Pena hasn’t hit over .240 since 2008. Pena is basically a platoon player at this point. He posted a .133/.260/.333 slash line against lefties last year. He’s a part-time player at this point, but he could be worth a look in deep leagues. His .255/.388/.504 line against righties.

Kelly Johnson’s walk-rate plunged below 10% and his K-rate shot up to 26.6% last year. His contact rate also declined from 76.9% in 2010. Oddly enough, Johnson suffered through the worst season of his career. Johnson has the strike outs and low contact rate down perfectly. The problem is that the power doesn’t really come with it unless he carries a HR:FB ratio above his career average.

Corey Hart’s contact rate has been in decline since 2008, but he’s managed to post competent fantasy numbers for each of the last two years. Hart produces solid power numbers, but his batting average doesn’t suffer for it. How does he do it? He has a .323 and .324 BABIP over the last two years. In 2010, he was lucky. He posted an 0.87 GB:FB ratio and was lucky. In 2011, Hart was legitimately good. He posted a 1.28 GB:FB ratio with a 20.7% LD %. He’s also managed to get lucky on balls in the air over the last two years. He owned 16.8% HR:FB ratio in 2010 and a 19.7 ratio in 2011. His career mark is at 13.4%. He’s been playing above his head and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Hart come back to his career numbers in 2012 with or without the knee injury.

Drew Stubbs is a weird case. He doesn’t make a lot of contact, but he owns a .335 BABIP for his career, but a .251 actual batting average. Well, remember that “K” in the bottom of the BABIP equation? It stands for strikeouts. Stubbs strikes out a lot and K’s don’t factor into BABIP because the ball isn’t in play. He struck out over 30% of the time last year. That’s a lot. He’s not unlucky. A third of his plate appearances where he makes outs don’t factor into BABIP.  Take away a third of his outs and Adam Dunn’s 2011 season doesn’t look so bad. Wait. No, it still looks awful.

It’s a surprise to see Matt Kemp on this list, but he did whiff 23.2% of the time last year, but he also posted a career high 10.7% walk-rate. Kemp should maintain his elite status as long as he’s able to maintain a walk-rate over 10%. His BABIP was a crazy high .380, but he owns a .352 mark for his career and his LD% is routinely over 20%. The low contact rate is a function of the power and it’s not a concern. Fantasy GMs should draft Kemp with confidence.

Dan Uggla basically performed to his career averages, but he was terribly unlucky on balls in play in 2011. Uggla posted a 0.95 GB:FB ratio and owns a 0.84 mark for his career, but struggled through a year that saw his BABIP end up at .253. The .253 mark was the lowest in his career and over 40 points off his career average. Now, players who put the ball in the air more often should have a lower than average BABIP. Uggla was unlucky even with that taken into consideration. His contact rate was in-line with his 73.4% career average. The only problem was the results were different than normal.

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