"MLB's Worst Tools" awards: Hitting for average edition

Eric Christian Smith

Although making contact with the ball might seem to be a fundamental part of baseball, there are definitely those who struggle mightily to make it happen

In the final iteration of the "MLB's Worst Tools" awards, today we will discuss hitting for average. Right off the bat I have a problem with describing "hitting for average" as a tool because batting average is a statistic not an innate ability. Additionally, at a blog that champions sabermetrics it probably isn't worth talking about batting average a great deal. In fact, I'm pretty sure the higher ups wouldn't let me. [Editor's Note: He's right] I know that if I mention RBI's in a non satirical way I will be shot on sight. Partly because of my personal distaste for describing the fifth tool in this series as "hitting for average" and partly because I fear the violent wrath of Beyond the Box Score's cruel overlords, from this point on the tool discussed today will be referred to as "hitting for contact".

All joking aside, "hitting for contact" is a much better way to describe the "hit" tool. When scouts talk about players with the hit tool they aren't saying, "this is a guy who could really get a few ground balls through the infield and survive off an inflated BABIP", they are saying something far more basic and important: "this guy can hit a baseball." If a player makes it to the major leagues as a position player they probably have some kind of knack for hitting baseballs, but some players are definitely better than others. More importantly, for the purposes of this series, there is one player who is the worst. The first name that probably comes to mind for many readers is Adam Dunn. However, there is a new king when it comes to the whiff, and that man is Chris Carter of the Astros.

Carter came to the Astros from Oakland as a player with a reputation for excellent power, but a scary tendency to swing and miss. In his first full season in the majors last year he did nothing to shake that reputation. Carter hit 29 home runs in 2013, but also struck out 212 times coming with in striking distance of Mark Reynolds single-season record of 223. In the last two years (among hitters with at least 800 PA) Chris Carter has been at the top of the leaderboards in all of the statistics related to failing to make contact with baseballs. The following chart shows his numbers in K%, Contact% and Swinging Strike % and where he ranks among the 190 batters with 800+ PA over the last two seasons:

K% Contact% Swinging Strike%
34.9% (1st) 65.6% (190th) 15.2% (5th)

The only reason Carter's swinging strike rate isn't the highest in the league is that he's a relatively patient guy who sees a lot of pitches, otherwise he'd have the clean sweep. Although Chris Carter's actual career batting average is not unfathomably low at .220, it's pretty clear that his ability to make contact is the worst around. Additionally, Carter may have enjoyed more than his fair share of luck on balls in play because his career.294 BABIP seems a little steep for a guy with a batted ball profile like the one shown below:

GB/FB Line Drive% Ground Ball% Fly Ball% Infield Fly%
0.66 21.7% 31.1% 47.2% 11.6%

Someone who hits that many flyballs, and pop ups, should usually expect to have a BABIP well below average not one hovering near .300. It's not as if Carter has great speed or some other skill that one might assume could raise his BABIP.

When it comes to hitting for contact, Chris Carter is pretty definitively the worst in the league right now. If we usual a literal interpretation of the hit tool and say that it indeed relates to specifically the statistic of batting average, Carter could be heading for the basement if his BABIP regresses to something more in line with his profile. Whichever way you slice it he is the very deserving winner of the final "MLB's Worst Tools" award. I'm sure it will adorn the mantlepiece of the of the Carter household for centuries to come.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.

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