Starting Nine: Second-Half Targets
FINALLY, after four long days, there is a Major League Baseball game tonight that counts in the standings. If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last 96 hours staring at your roster, as well as everyone else’s, to scratch together a bunch of trade offers out of sheer boredom. You’ve watched a Home Run Derby, as opposed to the Home Run Derby we’ve been collectively watching for the last 100 days, and you’ve watched ESPN hand out their annual awards voted on by the prestigious Deflated Football PSI Tom Brady Hate Club Committee.
During the time off, I’ve put together a starting nine of hitters who may have a bit more to offer in the second half.
The lineup is a smorgasbord of players, from the elite to the under-the-radar. The one commonality is that these players have an Expected wOBA (xwOBA) that is much higher than their first-half wOBA. What do these abbreviations mean that I’m throwing at you? Well Baseball Savant’s Statcast Leaderboard explains it best here, but in short,”Expected Outcome stats help to remove defense and ballpark from the equation to express the skill shown at the moment of batted ball contact.” We’re concerned with the quality of the contact, compared to the outcomes. Anything with an “x” at the start, signifies “Expected”.
Jason Castro: Twins, C
There are two veteran names that appear in this lineup who seem like they may be outliers, but in fact, are sitting in the middle of a group of some of the most prominent names in the game in a variety of different metrics. The first is Jason Castro. Castro, Mitch Garver, and Willians Astudillo have all received between 142 and 176 plate appearances (157 for Castro), with the position-flexible Astudillo currently sitting on the DL with an oblique injury. Using the Barrels per Plate Appearance metric, Castro is second in the entire league at 12.7%, sandwiched between guys named Sanchez and Trout. His ownership is at 17% or less on all major sites, despite being 18th on ESPN’s Player Rater at catcher, where he contributes positively in all hitting categories except for stolen bases. Generally speaking, buying into the Twins offense is a great decision after an 89-game sample size where they are on pace for 102 wins, have scored the most runs in MLB, are great at home and on the road, and have a usable fantasy option at all nine positions, including two at catcher (Garver has a .984 OPS). Castro is a great target in two-catcher leagues and could be a decent fill-in for some one-catcher leagues where you need to protect your average, or if you can’t bear to look at Buster Posey’s numbers anymore.
Justin Smoak: Blue Jays, 1B
In BA leagues, Justin Smoak has carried very little value due to a very poor .217 average. However, if his expected numbers are to be believed and he can creep that batting average into the .260’s, you could be getting Joey Gallo Lite on the cheap in the second half. Granted, Smoak is a career .232 hitter whose 2019 Exit Velocity sits at the 70th percentile, and his hard hit rate at 53rd percentile. But, Smoak has hit .242 and .270 over the last two years, respectively, keeping an OBP in the .350s. Smoak is worth a flier at a Corner Infield spot.
Howie Kendrick: Nationals, 2B (1B & 3B)
Howie Kendrick, along with the aforementioned Castro, is the other veteran name that is hard to believe on this list. However, the soon-to-be 36 Kendrick has been the epitome of consistency throughout this season, which is backed up by almost all metrics on his bright-red Statcast page (https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/howie-kendrick-435062?stats=career-r-hitting-mlb). Kendrick’s Exit Velocity, Hard Hit Rate, and expected BA/SLG/wOBA are all 94th percentile or better. His .327 expected BA is second in the league, which is equal to his actual .327 average. He qualifies as a 1B/2B/3B in most leagues and ranks in the top-17 in each of those three positions. There is a place for Howie Kendrick in any league that is 12-teams or deeper, provided the Nationals continue to find at-bats for him, which is not a guarantee.
Justin Turner: Dodgers, 3B
You pretty much know what you’re getting with Justin Turner, which is usually an average over .300, with a little power, and the security of a good lineup ahead and behind him. While it took him a bit to get going, he’s doing exactly that this year, and, according to Statcast should be over .300 again.
(Honorable Mention: J.D. Davis has been coming off the bench in recent weeks, but it would be great to see him get more at-bats in the second half on the 40-50 Mets. His xwOBA of .380 greatly outperforms his wOBA of .344, along with an xBA of .311 which is well ahead of an already decent .279 average).
Dansby Swanson: Braves, SS
While Lucas Giolito is reminding us to never give up on prospects with elite talent, Swanson is a slightly different case. After two straight full seasons with every day playing time of an average under-.240 and an OPS under-.700, there was little reason to think the former 1.1 pick would take a step forward. He’s finally done so in his 25-year-old season, popping 17 HRs to go with 7 steals and a .270 average that has room for improvement, according to Statcast. The shortstop position is loaded this year, with very few disappointments at all, but a Hard Hit Rate and Exit Velocity in the top quarter of the league back up that Swanson can fit into the MI or Utility slot on winning teams this year.
Jose Martinez: Cardinals, OF
A career .309 hitter, with a career .365 OBP, Martinez has gotten the everyday at-bats recently that fantasy owners had been pleading for, but he hasn’t really run with it as we might’ve expected. According to Statcast, while his Exit Velocity and Hard Hit Rates are only above-average, his expected stats are all in the top-20 percentile. Martinez won’t kill your average, and he is a stable option in five-outfielder leagues who should contribute more in the second half.
Kyle Schwarber: Cubs, OF
We all know Kyle Schwarber hits the ball hard, just by the Eye Test. But with a top-10 Exit Velocity, as well as Hard-Hit Percentage in baseball, Schwarber is having a sneaky pretty good season. Although Schwarber is a career .228 hitter, this year’s BA would be expected closer to .256. With underlying stats showing some improvement ahead to go along with 18 home runs, Schwarber may help teams down the stretch this season, especially those with some cushion in BA or OBP.
Mike Trout: Angels, OF
There is admittedly no creativity behind this choice whatsoever. I just wanted to remind anyone who wants to get cute with the #1 pick in any format next year, that Trout continues to be the safest pick year in and year out. After seeing some leagues where Mookie Betts was selected first overall, Trout sits at #3 on the Player Rater while Mookie is at #24. He is sporting a .301 BA (.455 OBP), 28 HR, 67 RBI, 71 runs and 8 steals, despite the fact that he’s actually gotten fairly unlucky so far. He hit six home runs in the last five games before the break. Trout is 27 years old. What a waste that we can’t watch him play in October year after year.
J.D. Martinez: Red Sox, DH (OF)
While .304 BA with 18 HR and 48 RBI is by no means a disappointment, J.D. Martinez hasn’t quite produced like the first round investment that fantasy players were expecting this year. However, there is plenty of reason to think that a killer second half is imminent. Martinez’s expected numbers speak for themselves, as does his track record in the second half in recent years. In 2017 from Game 82-on, Martinez went .301/.365/.714 with 31 HR and 73 RBI. The same time range in 2018 featured a .332/.409/.602 with 18 HR and 66 RBI. Boston has 39 of their 72 games remaining at home, where the ball flies out of the yard in the summer. Just inside the top-50 on the player rater thus far, I would see if J.D.’s value is creeping down to 20-25 range and make an offer before it’s too late.
(Follow Bob on Twitter @BobOsgood15)