It takes a lot of talent to hit for a .311 batting average, a .425 on-base percentage, and a 211 OPS+ like Aaron Judge. It also takes a lot of talent to hit .202 with a .239 OBP, .561 OPS, and a 62 OPS+ like Jonathan Schoop. But today, we’ll look at the average MLB hitters. The four most average MLB players hit for an exactly league-average 100 OPS+ in 2022: Alec Bohm, JP Crawford, Wilmer Flores, and Carlos Santana. Let’s rank their hitting outlooks for 2023.
Ranking 2022’s Most Average MLB Hitters for 2023
4. Alec Bohm
Does anyone know how good of a hitter Bohm is yet? In the shortened 2020 season, he was incredible, hitting .338 and posting a 137 OPS+ that had many people thinking the hot corner was going to be his for the next decade. 2021 was awful, as he posted negative WAR in a season that had those same fans calling for his replacement. 2022 started rough for Bohm in the field, with Bohm going viral in April for saying he hates Philadelphia mid-game, but well at the plate, where he posted a 144 OPS+ in April/March.
Other than that month and a blistering July where Bohm hit .434 with a 204 OPS+, Bohm was a well below-average hitter last year. May, June, and September/October saw his OPS+ in the 69-79 range, reverting to his 2021 form. While the Philadelphia Phillies went far in October, Bohm wasn’t adding much to that run, with a negative win probability added. Fangraphs has his 2023 projections at a .272 average, 13 home runs, 72 RBI, and a 104 wRC+ (offensive production stat, same scale as OPS+).
I think that’s way less harsh on Bohm than it should be. Other than two hot streaks last year, with his July streak having an unsustainable .469 BABIP, Bohm looked like his 2021 self. He may very well have those hot streaks again in 2023 that lifted him to an average MLB hitter last year, but he needs to eliminate the majority of the season where he looked lost at the plate if he wants a jump forward. I feel safe in projecting Bohm for a below-average 91 OPS+ in 2023.
Carlos Santana has been a staple of Major League Baseball for the last 13 years, so calling him an average MLB hitter feels like a slight. As far as 2023, it almost feels like this upcoming stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates is going to lead to one of those pictures you see 10 years later and say “since when did he play for them?” Santana was an underrated trade deadline acquisition last year for the Mariners and hit some very timely home runs to help them clinch a playoff spot down the stretch. Those 15 home runs were canceled out by a .190 average, potentially signaling that the wheels are falling off after a long career. He did hit a massive 3-run shot to help the M’s win the Wild Card Series in Toronto, still showing that he can make a difference and come up with timely hits for a contender.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not a contender. While Santana will certainly be happy with the $6.725 million he’ll get to suit up and play in PNC Park this year, his career may suffer as a sacrifice. He becomes one of Pittsburgh’s best hitters, with Fangraphs projecting him to slot in the cleanup hole. It was hard to pitch around Santana in Seattle, but Andrew McCutchen and Ji-Man Choi don’t provide that same level of threat around him. I foresee a situation similar to the one Santana had with the Kansas City Royals, where he hit .216 with only 4 home runs in 52 games. His .349 OBP in KC would be amazing to keep up in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think the pitchers will be as scared of him after he hit below the Mendoza Line with Seattle last year.
Make no mistake, Santana is still an extreme power threat and can still change games with one swing, I just don’t think the right fit for him is in Pittsburgh. A trade near the deadline like last year is still possible if he shows enough for a contender to add him. In 2023, I’m projecting Santana for a .223 average with only 12 home runs, but his strong walk rate from batting cleanup in Pittsburgh will leave him with a 94 OPS+ unless a midseason trade happens.
Unless you’re a San Francisco Giants fan, it’s pretty easy to forget Wilmer Flores is still in the MLB, much less an average MLB hitter. Surprisingly, the former New York Mets shortstop is only 31 years old and now covers first and second base at AT&T Park. Flores has been a consistently good hitter since 2016 now, posting above a 105 OPS+ in every year before his drop to 100 in 2022, and that’s precisely why he is the hardest player to rank out of these 4.
Flores is leaving his prime, and with that came the change from shortstop to the lesser infield positions like first and second, playing some third as well. Despite the position change, Flores still posted atrocious numbers defensively, with -9 Defensive Runs Saved and -4 Outs Above Average in total, and it’s become more and more evident that he is not a viable option at second base. The only position where he can legitimately claim to be a solid defender is at first base, which is the most replaceable defensive position in MLB.
This ranking is a headcase because if Flores regresses hitting-wise, the likelihood of him being replaced in the starting lineup is much higher if he’s playing first base or if he continues his awful defense at second. However, he’s been an above-average hitter throughout his career and there’s no indication other than being on the wrong side of 30 that he will regress in the first place. I’m going to compromise here and put him at two, as I do think he will see a lot more games on the bench due to his defensive shortcomings. However, I expect him to hit well when given the chance, so I’ll pencil him in for a 111 OPS+ but only in about 100 games, which drops him below Crawford.
1. JP Crawford
The Seattle Mariners will be much more concerned with Crawford’s defense than his offense. After consistently being a solid defensive shortstop, posting six Defensive Runs Saved in a shortened 2020 and 8 DRS in 2021, Crawford plummeted to negative four and was one of the worse shortstops in MLB last year. However, Crawford’s offense has taken a jump in the last two years to league average, making 2023 a make-or-break year for the 28-year-old shortstop. A shortstop providing elite defense with league-average offense is a great asset to have on a playoff contender, while bad defense at a very important position cannot be made up for by league-average hitting.
While I don’t think Crawford has a credible case to make another offensive jump and become an above-average hitter, he hit for a 100 OPS+ last year while seeing his average go down by 30 points, from .273 to .243. Positive regression seems to be in order for the 28-year-old, and somewhere around the .252 figure that he’s hit with Seattle so far seems accurate.
The main point against a solid offensive season for Crawford is his horrific end to last season, where he hit for a 75 OPS+ in the second half of 2022 and finished it out by hitting .190 in the playoffs. I do think that an offseason to recover and fix any mechanical issues Crawford had been having last year will do him well, and I expect a slight uptick in 2023. I’ll say a career-best 105 OPS+ and the #1 spot on this list of average MLB hitters.
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