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2018 Breakout Infielders Due for Regression in 2019


Nothing sinks a fantasy season quite like a bust, and the last thing we want to do as fantasy owners is deal with one of those headaches all season. Last year players like Brian Dozier, Marcell Ozuna, and Jonathan Schoop drove us mad, The goal of this article is to identify an infielder at every position who could spoil a fantasy season in 2019 and as such should be avoided at his current ADP.

Every player in this article is currently going in the top-150 picks in NFBC leagues, making them players that will start and be heavily relied on by their owners in 2019.

While these players don't need to be strictly avoided, they could be due for a negative return on investment given their going rate and the likelihood of decline from last year's stellar stat lines. Let's take a look.

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Jesus Aguilar (1B, MIL) ADP - 77

Aguilar was one of the biggest waiver wire finds of 2018, going from undrafted in pretty much every format to 100% owned by season’s end. The hefty slugger posted a .274/.352/.539 slash line along with 35 home runs and 108 RBI in his first season as a full-time player for Milwaukee, and he’s going to bat third behind Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, so what’s not to love?

For starters Aguilar fell victim to a second-half swoon, posting a 101 wRC+ in the second half after posting a 160 wRC+ in the first half. A big reason for Aguilar’s second-half struggles was his uptick in groundballs, as his groundball rate jump from 30.6% in the first half to 41.1% in the second half. That’s not what we want to see from a 250 LB first baseman. It caused his BABIP to drop nearly 50 points and his ISO to drop over 130 points. Obviously, Aguilar wasn’t going to maintain his first half .995 OPS; that would’ve made him an MVP candidate, but this performance dip has brought his sustainability into question.

It would be an oversimplification to merely state that pitchers “figured out” Jesus Aguilar and that’s why his numbers took a hit, but one thing pitchers did do in the second half was throw more curveballs to Aguilar. Overall, he saw about 3% more curveballs in the second half of 2018, but where pitchers really started hammering him was ahead in the count or with two strikes. Aguilar was three times as likely to see a curveball in when he fell behind in the count or when facing two strikes in the second half compared to the first half. The curveball was a tough nut to crack for Aguilar, as he posted just a 78 wRC+ against the pitch last season and hit groundballs 53% of the time against the pitch.

The power hitter that struggles with curveballs is a cliché at this point, but in Aguilar’s case, it gives pitchers something to use against him. This isn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and Aguilar can best manage it by staying ahead in the count, but this combined with the second half slump and complete lack of track record make Aguilar risky pick. Unlike some of the other players on this list, Aguilar isn’t totally off my radar on draft day, but I’d hesitate to pay full freight on him. He’d have to slip a round or two before I’d consider drafting him.

 

Jurickson Profar (1B/2B/SS, OAK) ADP - 119

Profar isn’t going nearly as high as some of the other players in this article; his current FantasyPros consensus ADP of 139 makes him more of a middle infielder than a starting second baseman in standard leagues. Despite being only 26 years old, Profar has been on our radar for 10 years after signing with Texas back in 2009. Once considered the top prospect in all of baseball, injuries derailed Profar’s path to the bigs and he never got a chance to play full time until last season. Profar finally delivered for the Rangers, posting 20 home runs and 10 steals along with a .793 OPS.

Texas returned the favor by shipping him to Oakland, where he’ll take over for Jed Lowrie at second base and hit leadoff. Many are hoping for bigger and better things from Profar in 2019, and he’s an attractive fantasy option considering he’ll be eligible at all four infield positions in most formats, but outside of the versatility, there isn’t much to get excited about with his profile.

One of Profar’s biggest gains in 2018 was his power, as his .458 SLG was the highest he’s posted at any level since 2011 in Single-A. Unfortunately, it looks like Profar’s moderate power was boosted by good luck and his home ballpark. His 13.2% HR/FB wasn’t outrageously high, but it’s still the highest rate of Profar’s professional career and a little higher than one would expect given his 31.8% hard hit rate. Profar also greatly outperformed his expected numbers, as his .391 xSLG was nearly 70 points lower than his actual slugging percentage. Most of his damage was done at home in batter-friendly Globe Life Park, where Profar put up an .874 OPS and .240 ISO compared to a .712 OPS and .168 ISO on the road. The Oakland Coliseum is much less forgiving than the ballpark in Arlington, and Profar would be lucky to repeat with 20 home runs.

Along with concerns about power, one must wonder what, exactly, Profar is going to do fantasy teams in standard 5x5 leagues. He isn’t going to hit for a good batting average; he’s a career .240 hitter and had a .253 xBA last season. He also doesn’t run enough to make a big impact on the bases. Profar swiped 10 bags last season, which was the first time he’d hit double digits since 2012 in Double-A. His manager won’t be giving him the green light much either, as the Athletics stole a league-low 35 bases on 56 attempts last season. It’s against Oakland’s team philosophy to run, and with Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Khris Davis due up, why would they ever risk an out on the basepaths? His speed provides little more than chip-in steals, and with his new situation, it’s hard to tell whether Profar can even reach double digits in 2019.

So that leaves us with a player who will hit .250-.260, likely hit under 20 home runs, and probably max out around 10-12 steals. So why is he being drafted in round 12? Positional eligibility? Sure, it’s nice that Profar can move around if injuries occur, but in a standard mixed league one could find similar production on waivers anyway. A nice alternative on draft day is a new Texas Ranger, Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera is triple eligible in the infield, will play every day in Texas, and going over 60 picks later than Profar. Cabrera has a good chance to be a better source of home runs, RBI, and batting average than Profar. Profar is better in points leagues due to his good plate discipline and above average strikeout rates, but in Roto and categories steer clear of this one.

 

Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY) ADP - 70

Andujar had an awesome rookie season in 2018, posting a .297 AVG and .855 OPS en route to a second place finish for AL Rookie of the Year. That season has caused him to skyrocket up draft boards as a seventh-round pick in 12-team leagues. There are a couple of hang-ups with Andujar that make me hesitant to draft him at or near this price tag.

First, his 2018 performance was a large outlier based on the profile, second is the depth of the third base position, and third is Andujar’s role and security on his current team.

On a surface level, Andujar hung with some of the big boys at the plate. His 47 doubles tied him with Mookie Betts for third-most in the majors, and his OPS was higher than that of Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton among other highly regarded players. Andujar came up to the majors and performed much better than he ever had during his time in the minors. Prior to 2018, Andujar’s highest home run total was 16 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, and his highest ISO at any level was .191 at High-A in 2016, nearly 40 points lower than his 2018 ISO. His .297 AVG was fueled by a slightly above average .316 BABIP, which came from above average BABIP fortunate on both groundballs and flyballs.

He also displayed pitiful plate discipline, with his 4.1% walk rate the seventh lowest among qualified hitters, and his 39.4% chase rate the 12th highest among qualified hitters. Furthermore, Andujar has the seventh-largest positive gap between his xSLG (.438) and actual SLG (.527). This profile is contingent on Andujar maintaining a .316 BABIP and the home run total hinges on a 15.7% HR/FB rate. He could repeat on both of those things, but if Andujar’s batting average trends down closer to his .277 xBA then all of a sudden we’re looking at a sub-.310 OBP and a player sinking farther down the loaded Yankees’ lineup.

Andujar is currently slated to enter the season as the Yankees’ fifth hitter, which is an amazing spot to hit for run production, but if Andujar slumps early or his performance trends downward he could easily be moved down to sixth or lower. The Yankees have Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit towards the bottom of their order, along with veterans Troy Tulowitzki, Brett Gardner, and DJ LeMahieu rounding out the lineup, all players that could threaten Andujar’s grip on that fifth spot. Furthermore, if Andujar struggles badly enough his playing time could be in jeopardy. Andujar was a butcher at third last season, posting a -25 defensive runs saved (DRS), so he needs to perform with the bat or he could find himself riding the pine more often than not. That would be a worst-case scenario, but with LeMahieu in a bench role and Didi Gregorius due back mid-season, the Bronx Bombers have options. This is not likely, but not impossible either.

Finally, Andujar’s price seems a little rich given the depth at third base this season. Going just three picks before Andujar is Matt Carpenter, who is coming off an even better power season and has much more favorable peripherals to support his 2018 performance. One could also wait on the position because going 20 picks after Andujar is Travis Shaw, Justin Turner, and Josh Donaldson. Going 30 picks later are Matt Chapman, Joey Gallo, and Wil Myers. Going 40 picks later (and my personal favorite value this draft season) is Max Muncy. All of those players could realistically have better seasons than Andujar and carry similar risk.

 

Javier Baez (SS/3B, CHC) ADP - 13

Those who believed in Javier Baez were vindicated in 2018, as Baez exploded for 34 homers and 21 steals along with an .881 OPS. As a five-category contributor with multi-positional eligibility, it’s easy to see why fantasy owners are clamoring over Baez, and his draft cost has inflated all the way to pick 16. Currently, Baez is being drafted ahead of elite bats such as Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper. None of the downside is being factored into Baez’s draft day price, and there should be a legitimate concern as to whether he can repeat last season’s performance.

Baez put up career numbers in nearly every category last season, but something he still struggled with was plate discipline. Baez walked just 4.5% of the time last season, which was tied for ninth-lowest among qualified hitters. He also had the second-highest swing percentage and second-highest chase rate among qualified hitters in 2018. We know Baez is a free-swinger, but compounding the issue is his inability to make consistent contact. He was tied for the fourth-lowest contact rate in 2018, and the only qualified hitter with a higher swinging strike rate than Baez last season was Joey Gallo. Baez was also the only qualified hitter with a swing rate above 50% to also have a contact rate below 70%. Baez’s 12.9% barrel rate and 43% hard hit rate indicates that he makes quality contact, but the contact comes far too infrequently. With a profile like this, maintaining his .290 AVG seems unrealistic at best. His batting average could regress 20-30 points with no changes, and with some bad luck, the average could get even worse.

Even a small decrease in batting average would hurt Baez’s overall numbers since his walk rate is so poor he’ll OBP could crater, meaning fewer stolen base attempts and fewer runs scored. In both 2016-2017 Baez had an OBP under .320 and would’ve paced out for fewer than 15 steals in both seasons if he played 160 games, the number of games he played in 2018. Baez used to bat seventh and eighth back then, perhaps limiting his stolen base opportunities, but the fact remains that he needs to get on first before he can steal second.

It’s not as if Baez will utterly collapse and succumb to mediocrity, but there are too many question marks in this profile to consider taking him at pick 13. He would need a full repeat to provide value, and that seems like a longshot consider the good fortunate it took for his 2018 season to happen. Even looking at early shortstops, this writer would recommend Trevor Story at pick 23 over Baez at pick 14. Both have a nice power-speed combination and strikeout problems, but Story has better plate discipline and plays his home games at Coors Field. In a straight one-for-one comparison Story seems like the better option, and he’s going several picks later than Baez. With Baez it seems like there isn't much room for further growth, making a full repeat too dependent on unreliable factors.

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