MASTER NOTES: Under- and over-owned hitters

By the time you read this, what we sometimes call “the second half” of the baseball season will be underway. It isn’t the second half; the season was at the 55% mark when the all-star break began.

Nonetheless, the break creates a natural, uh, break I like to use to compare ownership lists with projected value, to find players who are not on a lot of rosters—and therefore might be available—but who project to some value in the rest of the season. I’m using the percent-owned lists from The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, an NFBC-style experts “league of leagues” with 315 owners in 23 leagues.

In general, most leagues identify and roster the most worthy players, and this massive league is no exception. Of the 210 top hitters by BHQ projected dollar value (p$), 203 are on TGFBI rosters. That’s 97%, if you’re keeping score at home.

But opportunity might lie in the players who make up that other three percent, particularly the players who are projected for more than a buck, who will be interchangeable with rostered players who are also a buck. Not much to choose between Joe Panik (p$1, 3% owned) and Joey Wendle (p$1, 85% owned).

That said, there are three hitters projected at $3 or more who are less than 50% owned, and who therefore might interest owners at least enough to take a quick peek at them, and to see if they are in their leagues’ free-agent pools. Remember that none of these guys is a breakout, but might be better than the 14th hitter on your roster. They are:

CHC OF Albert Almora (p$7, 17% owned): Almora is is on just 17% of the rosters, but is projected to earn $7 in the second half. He's the starting CF for the Cubs, and projected for 250 AB the rest of the way. He offers a little power, with 8 HR so far this year and six more projected. And because he puts the bat on the ball (14% K rate), he also offers some BA upside—his average so far is .250, but his 27% Hit Rate should get better, and BHQ has him slated to bat .272 the rest of the way. That’s a useful jolt to a team BA: By dropping a 250-AB .225 hitter and adding a .270 guy like Amora, a team on pace for 6,000 at-bats would gain 4.4 BA points, going from, say, .2500 to .2544. A 4.4-point bump in BA almost should gain points in the category.

CLE OF Tyler Naquin (p$5, 22%): Naquin projects to get about 200 AB in the crowded but largely unproductive CLE OF, and could offer a little power-speed help 7 pHR, 3 pSB), with a serviceable BA (.261 pBA). Of course, .261 in 200 AB isn't on the same level as Almora for BA support, but give him a few more AB and a few more hits, and he could be a help for a team with a low-BA hitter dragging it down in the category.

TEX 1B Ronald Guzman (p$3, 49%): Guzman has missed some time, but when he’s been in the lineup, he offers usable power. He has 7 yHR in 204 yPA, which is a 21-HR/600 PA pace. His near-30% strikeout rate limits BA upside—his pBA is just over .250, which won't help much—and his usual eighth spot in the batting order limits run production, but his ROS calls for 9 pHR and 30-ish pRBI, which might be playable. He also faces little PT risk, in that, absent a trade, the Rangers have few alternatives at 1B as they find themselves somewhat surprisingly in the wild-card race.

Those three players should be on more rosters, but there are also players who should be on fewer. Fifteen hitters are more than 75% rostered despite p$ values under p$-5—hitters who will actually harm their teams. Nine of the 15 are catchers, whom we can ingore because, well, catchers—but six are position players:

Hitter                  p$   %
====================  ====  ===
Aguilar,Jesus         -$ 6   95
Lowe,Nathaniel        -$ 7   98
Profar,Jurickson      -$ 7   92
DeShields Jr.,Delino  -$10   86
Frazier,Clint         -$11   83
Sogard,Eric           -$19   80

Let me quickly discuss two of these guys, one who probably shouldn't be dropped and one who almost certainly should.

MIL 1B Jesus Aguilar had an eye-opening 2018, but has gone quickly from $22 breakout to $4 breakdown. It’s hard to see why. His plate discipline metrics look great—walk rate up, K rate down, and he’s swinging at fewer balls out-of-zone and more balls in-zone, and making more contact both ways.

His Average Exit Velocity of 90 MPH is unchanged from last season., although his Launch Angle has dropped a little, resulting in a higher GB rate, at the expense of both LDs and FBs, and a Barrel Rate down to 8.6% from 11.4% in 2018, and now keeping company with Jackie Bradley Jr., Scott Kingery and Curtis Granderson. The new GB tilt has hammered by his Hit Rate, too—it’s down to around 26% from over 30% the last two seasons. As well, he’s seeing some pull-side infield shifts, against which he’s 1-for-12. With all of this going on, little wonder his BA has taken a 50-point nosedive.

There might be a sell-high opportunity here, despite a projected -$5 line that has Aguilar scraping together fewer than 100 AB, with 6-26 and a .250 pBA. This projection feels unduly pessimistic. Aguilar’s 95% ownership says the fantasy community isn’t giving up yet, and he had a good stretch to close the first half, going 6-for10 in July games, with 3 HR, 6 RBI, and an 1.872 OPS. I'd hold.

And finally, what the heck is going on with TOR UT Eric Sogard? A .294 yBA (career before 2019: .238)? And 21 HR/600 PA (career pre-2019: 4)?

Sogard does have some markers on his side. He is generating 45% FBs this season after a career in the mid-30s, he draws walks (10%) and he makes contact (84%). It's possible that he's made a sustainable gain via a La Stella-style launch-angle adjustment that has taken advantage of the Rawlings/Titleist baseballs, and it's possible that projections systems have been slow to catch up.

But Sogard’s Statcast metrics say his batted ball profile is among the worst in MLB: 49th-lowest (of hitters with 50 batted-ball events) in Average EV and 16th-lowest in hard-hit (95+ MPH) rate. La Stella added 10 points of hard-hit percentage, while Sogard's hard-hit rate is actually down from last year. In the July 9 edition of Facts & Flukes, BHQ analyst Brant Chesser summed up Sogard’s 2019 BA as “more fluke than fact,” an analysis with which I heartily agree.

In addition to performance risk, there’s also the possibility of PT risk as TOR continues its youth movement. Sogard has played 37 games at 2B, which now looks like the home of Cavan Biggio; 6 games at 3B, where Vladito hangs out; four games at SS, where Freddy Galvis has been solid (and where Bo Bichette has mostly been playing in Triple-A, and is reportedly en route to TOR); and a few in the OF, where he’s unlikely to push past newly-extended Randal Grichuk, newly re-arrived Lourdes Gurriel, and potential slugger Teoscar Hernandez.

I know no projections system is infallible, and that we shouldn't make roster decisions with only the projections in mind. But Sogard is literally the third-lowest projected ROS hitter in the BHQ lists, at p$-19, with 2-16-1-18 and a category-killing .184 BA.  The 80% of owners who have kept Eric Sogard on their rosters have likely enjoyed the ride, but the carousel is more likely to slow than to keep spinning, and from here, at least, it looks like time to jump off.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.