You know the feeling. We’ve all done it. You’re putting off reading about race and gender in nineteenth-century coastal Ecuador by just casually clicking through Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, or whichever other site your baseball fandom dictates. It was a five minute break twenty minutes ago, when suddenly a certain statistic just sticks out so glaringly it disrupts your deep dive. Now admittedly, my trawling wasn’t particularly intense today – I was feeling vaguely on the ball when it came to my schoolwork – but Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last year?!
As a career .277 hitter, and someone who had never hit above .284 coming into 2013, Cuddyer’s mark of .331 was not only hugely surprising, but blew away the competition; the 34 year old’s clip was a full 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor (Chris Johnson), and left perennial batting average contenders like Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki in the dust. Throw in his 20 HRs, 84 RBIs, and 10 steals, and Cuddyer probably swung more than a few fantasy leagues in his second year as a Rockie. Alas! Fantasy baseball is not real, nor is the idea that Cuddyer will put up a good fight in defending his average crown; his deal with the baseball Gods is likely over.
Quite simply, the regression monster is coming – and in a big way; the former Minnesota man’s 2013 batting average success was all smoke, mirrors, and good ol’ luck on batted balls in play. Trailing only the aforementioned Johnson and former Twin’s teammate Joe Mauer, Cuddyer’s 2013 BABIP of .382 was a full 70 points higher than his career rate, and more than 16 percent higher than his previous career high of .328 all the way back in 2006. And while both Johnson and Mauer were also among the leaders in line drive percentage (27.0% and 27.7% respectively), Cuddyer only managed a rate of 20.2% – only his fourth highest percentage in a season in which he stepped to the plate at least 250 times; based on such a number, Cuddyer’s BABIP should have been at .295, making his average .264. Which y’know, would put him right in line with his 2012 season, in which the then-33 year old slashed .260/.317/.489 thanks to a .287 BABIP and was a 1.5 WAR player – the sort of normal figures that restore my faith in baseball reality.
My aim in pointing out his inflated average is not to rag on Cuddyer, or suggest he is a bad player who simply got by last year by faking it – far from it. In fact, the Virginia native has recently been remarkably consistent, his peripheral numbers remaining mostly the same despite his advancing age and a change in home ballpark. But as fantasy draft season rapidly approaches, such knowledge of obvious regression candidates should be deemed absolutely necessary – kind of like a buyer’s beware PSA. The 16-20 HR power? Legit. Plenty of RBI opportunities batting behind Carlos Gonzalez and Tulo? Assured. 10 steal potential? Sure. A DL stint and a final total of around 140 games played? Inevitable. Terrible defense in right field guaranteed for another year because the Rockies went out and signed Justin Morneau to play first this year? Lock it in.
The batting average though? I’ll let you work that one out.