My son's seventh-grade math class is doing a project where they create their own fantasy team of players, using statistics to create a form of All Star Baseball spinner wheel "cards" and then playing out the games for fun.
When my son told his teacher, Mrs. Fulmer, about what I do for a living, she invited me in to speak to the class to give a kind of "Baseball Stats 101" overview to help them narrow down their selections. It was a lot of fun and the kids were quite receptive, asking tons of excellent questions.
During my visit, I found it quite interesting that, due to the structure of the cards and which categories were going to "count" for their classroom contest, players with a high line-drive percentage surged in value as a result of any outs made on line drives not counting against them.
So, for example, Kevin Pillar has a .259 batting average this season. But because of his 29.3 percent line-drive rate, for the purposes of the classroom league, his batting average is the equivalent of .297. Now, even though he's in a terrible 5-for-45 (.111) slump, Pillar was batting that very .297 mark just two weeks ago. He's also tied for second in the majors with 20 doubles on the year.
Pillar is certainly not a hitter who would have otherwise jumped out at me as a potential player to acquire at this point, but because of my brief foray back to school, he suddenly had my attention as a player to watch.
Another player who flew up the board was Anthony Rizzo, currently No. 12 on the ESPN Player Rater at first base, in large part due to his .245 batting average, up 50 points from where it was on May 16. Rizzo has hit line drives at a 27.2 percent rate this season and taking away those "at 'em" balls, leaving us with just the outs that would make our spinner, he'd be hitting a much more respectable .271.
While the window for stealing this Cub away in a trade has probably passed us by, it did make me interested to see what other potential turnaround candidates might be out there on the waiver wire so that we can take a chance on stashing them away now in the hopes that, like Rizzo, a batting average 180 is on the horizon. Here's a sampling of the results:
Jay Bruce, New York Mets (44 percent rostered): He has shown flashes of getting back on track at the plate, but can't seem to string enough hits together to elevate his batting average over .230. As manager Mickey Callaway said of Bruce this weekend, "He's doing a great job of not chasing [bad pitches]. All of his other rates are kind of in line with what he's done in his career. The hits just haven't been coming." I'd say Bruce should be batting about 20 points higher at present, so as long as he can get out of his head, he should still be able to turn the season around.
Denard Span, Seattle Mariners (34 percent): A change in scenery from Tampa Bay to Seattle isn't expected to do much in the way of Park Factor, but so far, the coast-to-coast trip has helped make the expected batting average correction for Span become a reality. Batting .244 on the year, his 27.7 percent line-drive rate seems to indicate a rise to the .280 neighborhood isn't that unrealistic -- and, through his first 25 at-bats in a Mariners uniform, that's exactly what Span has done.
Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks (6.2 percent): Although he has been hitting a sad .183 over his last 19 games, he did manage six extra-base hits (3 HR) in that stretch -- and he only had one game in which he fanned more than once. We're expecting a 26-point correction in average based on our "wheel data," which should at least keep his power potential in the Arizona lineup.
Dixon Machado, Detroit Tigers (1.7 percent): There was an 0-for-15 stretch from May 17-23, but surrounding that were two mini-runs of good hitting from May 8-16 and from May 24 onward in which the second baseman hit a combined .345. We're still talking about a "barely over the Mendoza line at present" infielder with little pop. That said, a .240 batting average and an increase in doubles -- he's currently tied for ninth at second base with 13 -- is definitely in the cards.