As we look ahead to the 2014 season, consider offseason moves, and project player performance, I think it’s important to reset our perspective on what “average” performance looks like in an increasingly offensively-challenged environment. Time was, it was easy to spot a “good” hitter – his OPS was at least over .800. Anything below that, and you started to wonder if the guy couldn’t carry third base. As you’ll see, that’s now hilarious.
Thanks to FanGraphs’ leaderboard tool, it’s relatively easy to determine league average performances in a variety of ways. To keep things simple, I’m looking only at the 2013 season, I’m looking only at the National League (because Cubs-related context is what we’re looking for here), and I’m excluding pitchers from the offensive side of the equation (we don’t care if a projected Cubs third baseman is outperforming the average pitcher at the plate).
In 2013, the NL average (non-pitcher) batter looked something like this: He hit .258, got on base at a .323 clip, and slugged .401. He put up a .318 wOBA.
Striking when you look at it that way, yes? Hitting .260? You’re above average. Getting on base a third of the time? You’re quite an asset. Slugging .500 – the former benchmark of a decent slugger – and you’re an easy All-Star.
Breaking it down by position (slash line, and then wOBA):
C: .246/.308/.383 – .303
1B: .256/.334/.416 – .328
2B: .254/.313/.375 – .303
SS: .255/.310/.371 – .299
3B: .254/.316/.392 – .311
LF: .253/.319/.396 – .315
CF: .257/.324/.389 – .315
RF: .264/.330/.430 – .332
Things to note:
- The big bats reside where we have always thought they do, at first base and in the outfield.
- Left field actually was home to a below-average crop of bats in the NL last year, though I suspect Ryan Braun’s return in 2014 will bump that number up a bit.
- Look how far second and third base has fallen, in terms of offensive production relative to other positions.
- Batting averages are almost identical across the spectrum.
- If you can put a merely league average hitter at catcher, second base, shortstop, and/or third base, you’re going to be sitting pretty, relative to the rest of the league.
- But, of course, you still need to have several above league average bats to produce a truly competitive offense.
- In case you’re wondering, those numbers for the Cubs last year looked like this: .238/.300/.392 – .304. Woof.
As for pitchers in the NL last year, your averages look something like this: 3.74 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 3.81 xFIP. That guy was giving up 0.89 homers per 9, was striking out 7.49 per 9, and was walking 2.97 per 9. He had a 45.7% groundball rate.
Breaking it down by starters and relievers:
Starters: 3.86/3.82/3.83, 0.92 HR/9, 7.19 K/9, 2.80 BB/9, 45.8% GB rate.
Relievers: 3.50/3.66/3.77, 0.82 HR/9, 8.06 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 45.5% GB rate.
The numbers here give you some pretty easy benchmarks to remember. If a pitcher’s ERA is 4 or above, he’s decidedly below average. If his groundball rate is above 45%, he’s probably a groundball type. If he’s striking out 7.5 per 9, he’s just about average (I can’t believe it’s that high, by the way). And if he’s walking more than 3 per 9, he’s probably giving up too many free passes, especially if he’s a starter.
Consider your baselines revised.