Let’s examine the value of batting average by looking at the power of plate appearances. Ideally, you want your .300 hitter to never walk. Sure, arguably you’ll lose runs but just as a function of batting average: the more at-bats, the better.
Before we dive in, I also recently examined finding hitters with low Ks and low BBs as being a good way to chase average. Hello, Daniel Murphy.
So for this exercise, I assessed each hitter’s efficiency in maximizing their average by converting a plate appearance to an at bat. I focused on the hitters qualifying for a batting title and hitting at least .290.
For the group, 89.4% of plate appearances are at bats (it’s mostly walks but also hit batters and sacrifice outs, too).
Joey Votto is the worst among these hitters with only 80.6% of plate appearances becoming at bats. Those walks are not free — they cost us 40 at-bats and 12 hits vs. average. Of course, almost all of them are times on base. But unless he scores or steals a base, those free passes are worthless in non-OBP leagues. And let’s pretend that Votto turned into Eduardo Nunez, who is league best at turning 95% of his PAs into ABs. Then, Votto would have 64 more at bats and 19 more hits to help your average. Note that Votto scores 25.5% of the time when he gets on base without homering.
Here’s the complete list of these hitters sorted by PA power (percentage that become at bats).
Didi Gregorius has played 24 less games than Paul Goldschmidt and has a lower average (.308 to .317). But because Gregorius rarely walks (once every 24.9 PAs) he only has 50 less at-bats than Goldschmidt. Or, using our stat, Gregorius turns 94.1% of his plate appearances into at-bats (second best) and Goldschmidt second lowest (81.2%).
Goldschmidt it should be noted is really efficient in converting times on base (non-homers) into runs. His steals are of course are a part of this. But where Votto is 22%, Goldschmidt scores 36.3% of the time on base excluding homers.
Again, leagues are contextual now (and really at all times) but if you need batting average and don’t care about runs, this price is meaningless — you want a Jean Segura (92.8% at bats at .326 (entering Friday) to fix your average before a Votto (even if you think Votto will hit better the balance of the season).
Dee Gordon (92.8%) is the perfect batting average buy because he maximizes the value of his average. So he has 15.5 surplus hits, just 6.7 behind Goldschmidt despite Gordon hitting 23 points less.
Another to acquire if you are looking to make a move in average because they limit Ks and maximize at bats is Whit Merrifield (63% owned, 91.8% PAs are ABs). Of course, as mentioned here previously, the player to really chase via a trade is Yuli Gurriel (61% owned), who walks once every 40.3 at bats (94.2% PAs are ABs) and who I would stop on the side of the highway to add if he was on waivers.