I don't think many people last year predicted Gerardo Parra to end the season with the best batting average on the team. After all, he came in with a merely respectable .277 hitter, and was expected to be the fourth outfielder for the Diamondbacks. However, injury helped provide an opportunity which Parra seized with both hands, and he ended up getting nearly 500 plate appearances, and was hitting .300 as late as September 14. He came up just a bit short down the stretch, but still ended up with the best number of 2011.
Can he repeat it in this campaign, or will someone else make a run at the Arizona batting crown? And for the more sabermetrically-inclined, we also take a look at on-base percentage.
We start with batting average, which is the most "obvious", if not most accurate, measure of the worth of a player. Pretty much everyone knows a good BA when they see it - up toward the .300 mark - something which is not necessarily true for the other numbers. Fortunately, Fangraphs.com has collated a number of the projection systems and includes their predictions on a player's page, from where they can easily be harvested. So here are the average averages, if you see what I mean, expected for those position players expected to be on Arizona's Opening Day roster, along with Stephen Drew, along with the 2011 BA.
They're in descending 2012 order, and except for Kubel, the 2011 figures shown are with Arizona only. Which makes Aaron Hill look like a beast, and John McDonald like something left behind by said beast...
The National League mark last year was .253, which does tend to suggest the team will hit better. However, that does include pitchers, and doesn't take into account park factors. The overall BA at Chase last year, for the Diamondbacks and visitors combined, was .260, which shifts Goldschmidt and Hill from being above-average to below the line. As you'd expect, most of the upper end are expected to come down, while those are the bottom rebound somewhat: this is regression in action. However, most are expected to be within ten points either side of their numbers from last year.
That even applies to Hill, whose overall number last year was .246; the system think he'll hit a bit more than that, but that would still be a significant improvement over the last season and two-thirds in Toronto, where Aaron hit a chilly .213. On the other hand, Kubel is projected to drop a few points, though it's not clear how many of the projections have been adjusted for his signing with the Diamondbacks in late December. Obviously, they don't take into account either, changes like Chris Young's adjustment to his hands, which seems to have been paying off in spring training. Whether this can continue into regular season games remains to be seen; we can only hope it does.
We move across the line to on-base percentage, a number which takes into account walks, and so is a better predictor of overall offensive success than mere batting average. As you'll see, there are some significant changes in position.
The two big winners here are Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts, both moving up several spots in the rankings. In Goldschmidt's case, this is largely because of the love the Bill James system shows for Goldzilla, projecting a .367 OBP, which is...well, Uptonesque, obviously. The rest are in the .334-.349 range, though even the most pessimistic is still pretty good for a guy in his first full major-league season, given the NL average last year was .319, and the Chase average just a few points higher at, .325. A key factor will be how well that gels with Paul's K-rate. James reckons his K:BB will be below 2:1, but most have it nearer 3:1.
The other thing that stands out is that Bloomquist and Hill at the top of the order makes little sense from the simple perspective of giving most at-bats to those most likely to get on base. Indeed, those two are expected to have the lowest OBP of our expected normal starting eight. Putting Parra on top, with Roberts backing him up, would seem more sensible based on the table above, though the question does remain, how much of Parra's OBP is a result of him hitting eighth. It's a valid qualm, since last year, his OBP in the #8 spot was .389, compared to a much-lower .312 in other places.
Anyway, time to start our 2012 prediction contest. As well as the simple poll, give us your top three players for both batting average and on-base percentage. We'll revisit these predictions and the others we'll be doing between now and Opening Day at the end of the season, and see who proved to be Nostradamus and who was Nostradumbass. :)
[If you want the full numbers, here is the spreadsheet listing all the players and the batting average and on-base percentage stats projected for them across the various systems.]