Let the stat leader predictions roll on.
In my lead up to the MLB’s regular season, I’m covering a wealth of futures that are available over at BetOnline.
So far, I’ve covered MLB team win total over/under predictions while also diving into AL and NL hits leader predictions.
Although it’s similar to the hits leader, the batting average is a different cat. As long as the player garners enough at-bats to qualify, it’s all about the average with factors such as walk and strikeout rates inadmissible in this department.
Like I’ve done with my hits leader predictions, I’ll be rolling out three worthy players from various odds tiers so we can try and grab a little extra value as we move along.
With that in mind, let’s dive in and see who will win the American League batting title in 2020!
3 Players Worth Backing to Lead the AL in Batting Average
Mike Trout, Angels (+600)
Trout is one of seven players listed at BetOnline with triple-digit odds to win the AL batting title, and I think we have to go ahead and get the best player in the world at +600 despite being the odds-on favorite.
I also have Trout as a play at +2000 to lead the AL in hits, but mentioned his insane walk rate as something that could hinder that pick. As noted above, that’s a non-issue here.
The guy is a career .305 hitter and has twice hit at least .323 in his eight full big league campaigns to this point.
He hit ‘only’ .291 in 2019, however I’m willing to chalk that up to a .298 BABIP that fell far below his .348 career mark.
In fact, it’s the second time in three seasons that he seemingly suffered from poor batted-ball luck after a .318 mark in the 2017 season.
With positive BABIP regression quite possible here, we should see more hits coming for a guy that owns a career hard-hit rate of 39.1%, but has been north of 40% in four of the last five seasons.
He should see some better pitches to hit with newcomer Anthony Rendon likely hitting a spot behind him in the lineup to boot.
This is a guy who has hit .300 or better in three of the last four seasons and with renewed hope for the Angels after a productive offseason and the return of Shohei Ohtani, luck could be on the side of baseball’s best player in the batting average department in 2020.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) June 27, 2020
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (+1400)
There are a lot of young, exciting shortstops in today’s game, but it seems to me that Bogaerts flies under the radar compared to his positional peers.
The 27-year-old is coming off his best big league campaign after hitting .309 with 33 homers and a 141 wRC+. Add in the superb defense and Bogaerts was worth a career-best 6.8 fWAR a season ago.
Although 2019 was his best year in the bigs, his .309 average actually was not a career-high as he hit .320 in his sophomore 2015 campaign, a season in which he homered only seven times.
Still, despite shattering his previous career-high in homers in 2019, he certainly didn’t sell out for power and I don’t expect he’ll do so again this time around.
What he also didn’t do is benefit from batted-ball luck as his .338 BABIP was in line with his .333 career mark. He also hit the ball harder than ever with a career-best 38.8% hard hit rate last season.
While Trout has seemingly been in his prime since day one, this is a player that is truly entering his prime seasons and reaching maturity at the plate.
He was more disciplined than ever at the plate as judged by O-Swing% – a number that represents the percentage of pitches a player swings at that are outside the strike zone. His 29.4% mark last season was the best mark of his career while his swinging strike rate was a career-best 7.9% as well.
So, let’s add it up.
In 2019, he hit the ball harder than ever, was more patient than ever and swung-and-missed at a career-best rate. All while not benefitting from BABIP-infused luck that can artificially bloat batting averages at random.
There isn’t much expectations for this Red Sox club, but perhaps Bogaerts can put a silver lining on what could be a disappointing season in Boston.
George Springer, Astros (+2500)
Of the long-shot players near the bottom of BetOnline’s board, I would roll with Springer.
At 30 years old coming off a career-best .292 average, Springer is set to hit the open market after the 2020 season, meaning this is a contract year, or in other words, the most important year of his career as he seeks a big-money, long-term deal on the open market.
Like Bogaerts, the 2019 season was the best of Springer’s career in most all categories including home runs (39), wOBA (.400), wRC+ (156) and fWAR (6.5), just to name a few.
Also like Bogaerts, Springer hit the ball harder than ever before, only in his case it’s by a country mile as his big-time 45.1% mark shattered his 36.7% career mark.
Springer also did not benefit from BABIP-related fortune as his .305 mark from last season was actually slightly below his .310 career figure.
If the comparisons to Bogaerts weren’t enough yet, plate discipline numbers are also similar.
While Springer’s swinging strike rate was not a career-best but rather in line with his career norm, his 22.8% O-Swing% was indeed a career-best number, meaning he’s laying off more pitches out of the zone and, in turn, forcing pitchers into the strike zone and getting better pitches to hit.
There are better options on the board, but as far as the long-shot options go, Springer is at the top of my list.