It wasn't that long ago that you couldn't make that argument. A player with a bad batting average was a bad baseball player. There was the occasional exception to the rule, but more often than not, a .210 or .220 meant that you stunk.
But that's not true anymore. You can still be a highly useful player with a low batting average. It's one of the things that makes a stat like WAR great — it helps identify a good player where you have to dig to find their value.
|C- Yasmani Grandal||.228||2.8|
|1B- Chris Davis||.221||3.0|
|2B- Ryan Schimpf||.217||1.8|
|SS- Danny Espinosa||.209||1.7|
|3B- Todd Frazier||.225||3.4|
|LF- Colby Rasmus||.206||2.2|
|CF- Byron Buxton||.225||1.9|
|RF- Trayce Thompson||.225||0.9|
|UT- Adam Rosales||.229||1.7|
So I set out to make myself a team of "Danny Espinosa All-Stars" based on the 2016 season, the ground rules being a) a sub-.230 batting average and b)legitimate skill in other areas.
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
My colleague, Sam Miller, has already espoused the virtues of Grandal, who is either the best or second-best pitch-framer in the game, depending on where you put Buster Posey. Grandal hit only .228 in 2016 but had 27 home runs. His 121 OPS+ was better than that of both Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig and was within striking distance of Justin Turner.
First Base: Chris Davis, Orioles
Davis is a “duh” choice for this list, given that he had the second-highest WAR among sub-.230 hitters (3.0). This is the second time in three seasons that Davis’ batting average cratered, this time to .221, but he still retained some value because of his power (38 home runs), his ability to get on base (88 walks) and his defense (six defensive runs saved). He's capable of being a 5-WAR player, but now that he's on the other side of 30, it might start to get more challenging.
Second Base: Ryan Schimpf, Padres
Schimpf hit .217 in little more than half a season as a rookie with the Padres, but he showed elite power, hitting 20 home runs, including 13 on the road.
Something to watch: Schimpf qualified for this lineup because of a late-season skid in which he struck out 41 times in 90 at-bats in his last 28 games. He's going to need to make adjustments in his second season.
Shortstop: Danny Espinosa
I’m sort of cheating here. Espinosa played shortstop last season, but he's not going to be displacing Andrelton Simmons in Los Angeles. Regardless, I'm putting him here because of the lack of other good options.
Espinosa gets on base in a variety of ways (20 hit by pitches in 2016), can hit for power (24 home runs) and is a good baserunner, ranking tied for 10th in the NL in Fangraphs’ baserunning stat, which takes into account steals and taking extra bases on hits. He's also a good fielder wherever you put him, with 13 defensive runs saved in a little more than 200 games at shortstop and 25 in just over 500 at second base.
Third Base: Todd Frazier, White Sox
Frazier's offensive woes actually began at the end of 2015. He hit. .225/.270/.386 in his last 82 games, and he retained the batting average, bumping the OBP to .302 and slugging to .464 in his first season with the White Sox. But 40 home runs and 15 stolen bases is still a pretty good combo, and by WAR, Frazier was a top-12 third baseman.
Left Field: Colby Rasmus, Astros
If we were picking on reputation and offensive numbers, Alex Gordon would get the call here. But we're going by one stat that indicates we should take Rasmus.
Rasmus had 20 defensive runs saved, 14 of which were in left field. He ranked fourth in total runs saved despite ranking 60th in innings played (roughly the same amount as Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier). Those runs were spread out among turning batted balls into outs (seven), cutting off balls in the gap and other valuable defensive plays (four) and the deterrent value of his arm (nine).
Rasmus might have been viewed as subpar in 2016, but his defense was elite.
Center Field: Byron Buxton, Twins
From April to August, injuries and struggles at the plate led many to wonder what was going on with the game’s top prospect, as he hit .193 with one home run in 197 at-bats. But in September, the Buxton many were waiting for showed up. He homered in his first September at-bat and never looked back, slashing .287/.357/.653 with nine home runs in his last 29 games.
Here's a hunch: We don't think he'll be making this list again anytime soon.
Right Field: Trayce Thompson, Dodgers
If the list was ".230 and below" instead of "below .230," Jason Heyward would be our choice here. Alas, .230188 is not .230, so we find the next best thing in Thompson, who split time between the three outfield spots and posted 0.9 WAR in 80 games despite hitting .225.
Thompson has pretty good power (13 home runs) and decent speed (five stolen bases, and he hit into only three double plays in 236 at-bats) and is an OK defender (one defensive run saved). He fits the bill of someone who doesn’t have to be great at one thing but can provide value in a few different ways.
Utility man: Adam Rosales, Padres
We close out our roster with another Padre, one who was up against the edge of our qualifier by hitting .229. But the hustle-and-grit Rosales is a career Espinosa All-Star, with a .227 career batting average.
He matched his career high in WAR (1.7) by hitting a career-best 13 home runs and 12 doubles in 214 at-bats. His .495 slugging percentage was six points higher than what Matt Kemp’s was in 100 games with the Padres. Rosales definitely earned his way onto this roster.