These Hitters Love To Lay Down The Wood
This is the third in a series of articles in which we will evaluate potential fantasy baseball sleepers by looking at deeper statistics and advanced sabermetrics. Today we are going to try and project four hitters that should see increased production in batting average, and subsequently, in runs, RBIs and OBP for the remainder of the season. The guys that are household names may be easier to buy low from frustrated fantasy owners while the guys that are more obscure may be available to pick up off the waiver wire. The moral of the story is this: if you need cheap help in BA, R, RBI and OBP, then you should consider targeting the following guys up.
Nick Castellanos – Third Base / First Base, Detroit Tigers
Detroit’s once-touted third base prospect hasn’t exactly lived up to the preseason expectations that many were expecting. In all honesty, most of those expectations were pretty lofty.
Through 65 games, the 22-year-old Florida native’s numbers are rather ordinary- .269 BA, .306 OBP, .406 SLG, 5 HR, 20 R and 27 RBI. That’s not terrible for a first year guy but when fantasy owners are looking for a prom date, they go for the head cheerleader before getting the “safe yes” from the lab partner who you can tell will be extremely hot in two years (unless you’re like me who got denied from everyone). The potential is there for Nick Castellanos. Of all players with the qualified number of plate appearances, his 28.8% LD (line drive) rate of all batted balls is good enough for second but his .324 BABIP places him at number 50. That’s just unlucky. It's like finding out the head cheerleader has a crush on you but she already said yes to the captain of the football team.
In all probability Castellanos has been a victim of his own early season success as he’s facing the pull shift, as well as the fast ball, at a much higher rate. He struggled at first when facing the shift but is starting to come into his own by using the entire field. Since early May, his .268 BABIP has steadily climbed. Trust in the line drive rate and look for Castellanos to have a nice second half.
Yes, yes, I know. It’s tacky to select one of the best contact guys for the better half of a decade in this piece, but being tacky doesn’t mean being wrong. Joe Mauer has been awful for Mauer standards: .261 BA, 2 HR, 36 R and 22 RBI.
Considering that Minnesota’s offense has been prolific at times it’s hard to believe Mauer has been somewhat detrimental hitting out of the fourth spot of that lineup. He will bounce back. His 28% LD rate is fourth among all players and if you haven’t paid attention so far, you should know to trust the line drive rate (line drives have a tendency to translate into hits at roughly a 70% rate). The catcher, turned first baseman, also has the ability to hit to the opposite field when facing the shift, thus keeping defenses honest, something too many of today's hitters are unable to do.
It would seem like he is striking out a lot more or not walking enough, but Mauer’s K-rate and BB-rate are comparable to his career numbers. He’s making contact for line drives, can hit opposite field and is not striking out, but the best evidence that Mauer will bounce back is when the weather gets hot, so does he. He’s a career .326 hitter in July, .316 in August and .324 in September and October. Trust in Mauer and you'll be rewarded with a much improved second half for him.
Aaron Hill – Second Base, Arizona Diamondbacks
We’re going to travel back to high school for a second. Remember that semi-attractive, really fun girl who would always flirt with you, but then was always “doing something” when you asked her out? Or was I that unskilled with the opposite sex? Anyway, that girl is Aaron Hill.
He tantalizes all fantasy owners with his potential and raw power at such a premium fantasy position that he’s always thought of as “that guy” you’d love to have preseason. Hill is heavily owned in most leagues, but judging by a ton of threads and messages in those fantasy leagues, his owners are done flirting with him. In 300 plate appearances, Hill has 6 HR, 38 RBI, 14 BB, 54 K and a .251 BA.
If you trust in baseball science, then Hill is your perfect experiment. Of all qualified hitters, Hill’s 23.6% LD rate puts him at 32nd in the league- tied with a Larry David-esque pretty, pretty, pretty good Troy Tulowitzki- but his .287 BABIP is bad enough for 123rd in the bigs. This is due most likely to Hill’s high fly ball % but low HR/FB rate, meaning a lot of his balls in play are staying in the park and driving down his BABIP. This shouldn’t hurt Hill in the hot summer months as nearly all North American ball parks air density typically lowers and humidity typically climbs thus helping the ball travel farther. Even Ron Burgundy knows that’s just science. Look for Hill’s line drives and fly balls to climb and travel farther. Trust in line drives in favorable weather.
Nick Swisher – First Basem / Outfield, Cleveland Indians
Now this may take some convincing. Nick Swisher, in limited time due to injury, has been borderline putrid. He’s seeing career lows in HR, R, RBI, OBP, OPS, and a career high in his K-rate, and his .198 BA would be more than 30 points below his career low. Ironically, his 24.1% LD rate would be a career high.
The baseball gods are surely having a good laugh at Swisher’s expense. The two guys he’s tied with in LD rate, Jose Altuve and Anthony Rizzo, have a .354 and .309 BABIP, respectively and are two of the leading candidates for making the All Star squads at their respective positions. Swisher’s biggest problem is that he hasn’t been able to beat the shift and he refused to even try for much of the early season. He’s also been in a 5-for-38 slump since his return from the disabled list on June 12 which surely hasn’t helped at all.
His timing has been a little off since his return as his K-rate has jumped and his contact rate has plummeted. As soon as Swisher gets his timing back, that LD rate will translate into success and help Swisher’s owners get some late season hits for a prolific Indians offense.