Ichiro, Jeter, and all those ABs

Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter are closing in on the end of their Hall of Fame careers. I’m sorry to see them ride off into the sunset; they’ve been lots of fun to watch, and Jeter has been at the heart of some absolutely tremendous Yankee teams. And their decline will deprive me of two highly valued fantasy “secret weapons.”

Ichiro has been a tremendous asset to fantasy teams throughout his career, primarily in batting average and stolen bases. Jeter was good for a high average – not as high as Ichiro’s – and a whole lot of runs. But both players had a hidden impact beyond their own totals, because they combined those high batting averages with low walk totals and, by extension, very high numbers of at-bats.

Why does that matter? In most fantasy leagues, batting average is scored as a teamwide percentage. Add every player’s hit totals. Divide by the number of at-bats, and there’s your team B.A.. The bigger the number of at-bats and hits, the more that player affects a team’s overall totals. Ichiro’s .372 batting average in 2004 is even more amazing when you consider the fact that he had more than 700 official at-bats that season. And Jeter’s .343 batting average in 2009 came with 634 at-bats.

Ichiro is still a good bet to rack up 670-plus at-bats this season, but his batting average (.272 last year) is unlikely to create as big an advantage as in years past. Jeter’s batting average has dropped as well, and the emergence of Eduardo Nunez as a super-utility player will give Manager Joe Girardi the option of resting his captain more often; we probably won’t see 600-plus at bats from Jeter again.

That being the case, who will replace Ichiro and Jeter as “high average/high at-bat” fantasy values for the 2012 season and beyond? Here’s a list of players that is projecting to have more than 500 official at-bats and a batting average over .300 this season.

Now, it would be hard to say some of these guys have hidden value. Albert Pujols is perennially a “top overall pick” candidate. Dustin Pedroia is a former M.V.P.; Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp seem likely to win that award at some point.

But consider Michael Young. He’s on the downside of his career and doesn’t have a real position. He could be overlooked in many drafts, but this projection suggests he shouldn’t be. Or Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, who might slip into later rounds in a draft simply because their work address is in Kansas City.

Of course, just as players with high at-bat totals and high batting averages are extra helpful, high-at bat totals and low averages will kill you. Here’s a list of players that may fit that profile this season – projects them for 500 or more at-bats and averages under .250.

Now, most of these players will help you in other categories – just be sure they’re helping enough to justify the impact to your batting average.

Incidentally, this principle extends to other fantasy games as well. Dwight Howard’s dismal free-throw shooting hurts fantasy N.B.A. teams so much because he takes more free throws than anyone else in the league.


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