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Celebrating the most average offensive approach of 2016

This article is probably worth 2.0 WAR

New York Yankees v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Since I never know who is going to read an article, a quandary that I often find myself in is considering how much clarification I need to include when speaking in fundamental sabermetric vernacular. On the one hand, I don’t want to alienate anybody who is just beginning their foray into the advanced metrics world by constructing an article that reads to an inquisitive mind like escrow documents sound to me. On the other hand, I don’t want to insult those of you who are so well-versed that you’re able to detect errors in my own understanding of these metrics.

Ironically, while divulging to you my own insignificant plight, I’m trying to get across that what I don’t want to do is squander your precious, limited attention span. And maybe even more ironic is the fact that this article is ultimately about the league’s most average hitter – a player who, I’d wager, occupies very little space in the minds of the most sabermetrically inclined or even the sabr-curious.

Changing gears, how about we engage in a quick thought experiment? Conjure up, in your mind, what you believe to be the average major league triple slash; that is, of course, batting average/on-base-percentage/slugging percentage.

Got it? Good. Here’s the average line from non-pitcher hitters in 2016:

Average offensive production, 2016

0.259 0.326 0.425 0.323 100

Even considering the inflated offensive environment in 2016, that’s admittedly superior looking to what I had envisioned. At any rate, league-wide, this represents a 100 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), which takes the runs created metric and scales it to league average while controlling for park effects and league (AL or NL).

A list of the hitters who turned in the most mediocre offensive seasons last year can be found below:

Average offensive producers, 2016

Ichiro Suzuki .291 .354 .376 .320 99
Cameron Rupp .252 .303 .447 .321 99
Russell Martin .231 .335 .398 .322 99
Francisco Cervelli .264 .377 .322 .318 99
Mark Reynolds .282 .356 .450 .349 99
Marcus Semien .238 .300 .435 .315 100
Jon Jay .291 .339 .389 .319 100
Logan Morrison .238 .319 .414 .318 101
Eric Hosmer .266 .328 .433 .326 101
Corey Dickerson .245 .293 .469 .319 101
Jayson Werth .244 .335 .417 .327 101
min 300 PA

There’s no debate here. Despite whatever preconceived notion we have about these particular players, they were all unquestionably average last year (yes, that includes Eric Hosmer). Looking at all the pieces of information, it’s interesting to observe the various paths hitters can take to approach league average production. Corey Dickerson, for example, slugged his way en route to a 101 wRC+ while running a sub-.300 OBP. Francisco Cervelli, conversely, relied on his tremendous plate discipline to compensate for his lack of power. Some hitters might luck their way into this range, though that’s obviously the least reliable source of production as luck is not discriminating.

If we go back a few years we can find a truly unusual average-ish season from the 2012 incarnation of Carlos Pena. In the 600 PA he received, he mustered his best Russell Branyan impression, failing to reach the Mendoza line and slashing .197/.330/.354 — good for a .309 wOBA and a 98 wRC+. Historically recognized batting average abominations be damned!

What I hoped to achieve by showing you all this was that league average production isn’t reached by entirely unremarkable approaches or skill sets. Whether it be power or a discerning eye, these guys have their defining attributes.

This got me thinking: What hitter possesses the most average approach/skill-set in major league baseball?

In order to resolve my inquiry, I compiled a list of (mostly) high-correlating, predictive stats and ran z-scores for each one for all players who accrued 300 PA in each season, 2015-16.

Predictive metrics

Metric Year-to-year correlation
Metric Year-to-year correlation
SwStrk% .803
Contact% .789
Swing% .746
K% .736
Exit velocity .724
Z-O Swing% .682
GB/FB .647
SPD Score .594
BB% .591
Pull% .526
HR/FB .506
IFFB% .228

To then determine the most approach/skill-set of 2016, I gathered every player that landed within one standard deviation from the mean in each category and averaged the sum of their z-scores.

There were five players who met this criteria: Trevor Plouffe (who I wanted to win), Eugenio Suarez, Kelly Johnson, Travis Shaw, and the “winner”. Looking at those names you probably don’t need me to tell you that my theory that players who possess no real strength or weakness produce above average batting lines, is fallacious.

But here is the group’s offensive output anyways:

Production from hitters with paucity of strength/weakness

.249 .314 .406 8.0 22.5 .311 91

I don’t know if it’s incredible or obvious then that players with just one approach or skill, at least one standard deviation above the mean, combined to produce really strong seasons:

Production from hitters possessing just one above average skill/approach

.268 .347 .473 9.6 19.4 .348 120

Now as far as this methodology is concerned, I understand any reservations. The skill sets remain unweighted and not ALL of the stats are predictive. But since we’re trying to determine the most average hitter of just 2016, it’s fine. If it’s at all encouraging to hear, based on the column that simply sums the z-scores of each player, the names at the top and bottom of the list are in-line with the names you’d expect to see; with Votto, Trout, and Posey at or near the top, and Franceour, Buxton, and Lawrie at or near the bottom.

But you know all about those players, don’t you? They’re either universally lionized for their near flawless approaches, or their wildly frustrating because their approaches squander their extraordinary tools. Humans gravitate towards extremes; we always have. We love to explore the human capacity for greatness, and we relish in tales of tragedy. The stories we create, from Greek mythology to modern day superheros, are captivating for their faculty to cover the entirety of that spectrum in one fell-swoop. You know the poem, “Casey At Bat” because it doesn’t culminate in a bloop single or a routine, 4 - 3 ground out.

Now I’m not lambasting this facet of our nature — not at all — as long as gratitude for the ordinary doesn’t entirely vanish. To be sure, that particular form of appreciation can be a hard thing to perpetuate. From the moment I wake up, I’m relentlessly bombarded with consumerist visions, fitness-based social media accounts, and other unrelenting reminders that my experience, the food I eat, and the love I feel are all somehow inferior to what could or should be. And while it’s true that the older I get, the easier it is to keep perspective, I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to spending a night or two, my back to my wife, bleary-eyed and envious, having scrolled a couple months years deep into Giancarlo Stanton’s instagram.

And I’m not saying don’t strive for more, but if you don’t think we’ve allowed the “anyone can be anything” philosophy to run pretty far off the rails, then you’re a child. And while even the best of us still fall well short of mythological, you needn’t possess legendary bravery or Ruthian power to be a hero. Bus drivers and nine-to-five grinders are all heroes in their own right.

Tying this college-dude-high-on-edibles-sounding tangent back into the article — there was one hitter that exemplified “okayness” in 2016. One man who, whenever he stepped to the plate and swung his lumber, acted as a symbol for the masses, resonating with everyone and no one at the same time...

Thomas A. Ferrara - Newsday

Chase Headley.

Please don’t mistake this article for a lark. One perspective I’ve gained through battling treatment-resistant depression is that contentedness should be a highly desirable state of mind.

Now, do I think Chase Headley aims to be the hitter most likely to compared to un-buttered toast? No! He was after all, for a moment in time, an excellent hitter. But as he slides into his mid-30s, the Yankees’ third baseman should be unequivocally overjoyed to have maintained an offensive approach and skill-set that enables him to produce wRC+s in the 90s that, when paired with his solid glove work, make him an above average major league baseball player.

Join me in reveling at his average-ness!

Chase Headley vs. League Average

Stats for GB/FB IFFB% HR/FB PULL SPD Swing% Z-O Swing% Contact% SwStrk% Exit Velocity BB% K%
Stats for GB/FB IFFB% HR/FB PULL SPD Swing% Z-O Swing% Contact% SwStrk% Exit Velocity BB% K%
Chase Headley 1.38 6.2 12.4 41.5 3.9 44.0 38.4 77.0 10.1 87.5 9.6 22.3
League Average 1.27 9.7 12.9 40.0 4.4 46.5 36.8 78.4 10.0 89.1 8.3 20.6

The Yankees performed a bit of re-tooling last year in an effort to get younger, and their shiny new toys leave Chase Headley looking more like a warm body at the hot corner rather than an essential piece to the team’s success. But don’t be fooled — his averageness is plenty useful, as is his decade of experience at the highest level of professional baseball, especially if you consider the influence that experience could bring to the influx of young talent the Yankees acquired in 2016.

The baseball season is long, and much will be written about it. Much of what will be written about it will focus on the extraordinary — and that’s absolutely the way it should be. But whenever it feels like things are dragging, and you’re watching “just another” ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game between the Yankees and some other team, and the pinstriped third baseman steps into the batter’s box, I want you to turn to your friend, significant-other, or dog, and say, “that’s me right there”.

Because you’re Chase Headley. And I’m Chase Headley. And Chase Headley is all of us.

Mark Davidson is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him and send him bat flip gifs at @NtflxnRichHill