Hi, I’m Average

In the statistical community, you’ll generally see two baselines for metrics that compare players one to another – average and replacement level. There have been a lot of arguments about what replacement level is, whether it’s the same for each position, and whether or not it works for every team. However, most people generally don’t quibble with above average metrics, because the concept of average is taught in third grade math. Everyone knows what average is.

But what does average look like? When we talk about contribution over an average player, who are we talking about? Who is the personification of average production in MLB?

For 2008, one man stands above the rest – the most consistently average player in baseball. That man is Kelly Johnson.

His batting average is .266, compared to a league average of .259.
His on base percentage is .335, compared to a league average of .330.
His slugging percentage is .416, compared to a league average of .413.

He’s posting an average BB/K rate, an average ISO, and an average BABIP. His WPA/LI (which is measured as above average) is -0.01. He’s even average defensively, as the Fielding Bible +/- system ranks him as just +3 plays as a second baseman, which is not quite a premium position but not a spot for oafs either.

You name the skill, Johnson is probably about league average at it. So, the next time you hear someone refer to runs or wins above average, feel free to reinterpret it as runs or wins above Kelly Johnson.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

8 Responses to “Hi, I’m Average”

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  1. tangotiger says:

    According to Braves fans (click my name), his fielding skillset has no holes and nothing great stands out. Just a shade above average across the board, just what you’d expect someone at +3 runs to be.

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  2. Sky says:

    How about some veterans who are league-average — might sound a little more impressive to the casual fan rather than a guy many have never heard of.

    Although I’m now a Kelly Johnson fan — what a useful guy.

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  3. Rajmond says:

    Well, as for veterans, Jimmy Rollins’ .269/.336/.439 fits in nicely with a park-adjusted pitchers-removed .272/.344/.435 line, although there’s nothing else remotely ordinary about his game. Mike Lowell’s SLG is pushing it at 18 points above the mean at .270/.335/.446, but he also plays premium D, so no match there either. Luis Gonzalez is a nice fit at .264/.342/.411, although at 40 nobody can accuse him of being an average fielder. Unless I missed somebody (I used 250 PA as a minimum), that’s more or less it.

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  4. Terry says:

    So what is the appropriate average?

    Major league average?

    Major league average for his position?

    Average for his position within his own league?

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  5. Sky says:

    Kelly Johnson has a MLB-average bat by raw numbers, so it’s slightly below-average since he’s an NL player.

    And second base is an average defensive position.

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  6. What about selection bias of average players? Those who are below average are easily replaced and players who are above average see more PAs. This makes “average” players more valuable than they might appear.

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  7. Rob says:

    I was looking at other sites and found league averages for obp and slugging that were much higher (about .340 and .440 respectively). You would think that with league averages there would be no discrepancies. Are the .259, .330, and .413 averages definitely correct?

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  8. ChapelHeel66 says:

    This would seem to be born out by the BRAA and FRAA on BP’s site: Johnson is +2 BRAA and +5 FRAA, although the latter figure is pretty good.

    Although, if you buy that +7 total, and 10 runs = 1 win (which it pretty much does in NL 2008), a player contributing 0.7 wins above average is getting away from “average.”

    I still like the post, though. :) I couldn’t find anyone closer to average than Johnson in either league.

    Of note:

    Luis Gonzalez has posted a .263/.340/.411 line, which is pretty close on that score. However, BP has him at -7 FRAA (which might be generous, since I watch a lot of Marlins games and he is a disaster out there). I don’t have access to the fielding bible. And his WPA/LI is a below average -0.37.

    Rich Aurilia is another candidate at .268/.324/.403, with -2 FRAA, but a -.25 WPA/LI.

    Gonzo might serve as a name veteran benchmark. And at age 40, there’s no shame in being average.

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