Second Half BABIP Hitters to trade or target

Sunday I took a look at a few starting pitchers to target and trade for the second half based on BABIP. Today I’ll do the same thing but with hitters. With approximately six weeks left in H2H leagues before the playoffs – four more weeks in roto and points – time is running out. And with the trade deadline approaching in most leagues; this could be your last chance to target or trade those over/under-performers.

TARGET

Carlos Santana: .204 BABIP, .209/.353/.400

Did Santana forget to pack his “Wonderboy bat” when he left Cleveland? He must have because his line drive rate is in the toilet. I know, Wonderboy hits home runs and not liners – this makes no sense! Well, that’s the point… nothing makes sense this year when it comes to Santana.

Through Sunday Santana was posting his second best walk rate (18.4%) and a career low strikeout (13.6%) and swing strikeout (6.5%). His plate discipline is fine with both a swing and contact rate in line with the past five seasons – actually a tic higher. Outside of the career low line drive rate (13.4%) there is not much to see in his batted ball profile. No additional balls on the ground, no increase on infield flies, no change in field distribution. Even the power checks out: ISO is close to career average, hard hit rate is at its peak (or higher according to Statcast), exit velocity in line with last year and above league average. I don’t get it.

So what does that leave us with? Reduced line drives and no real explanation. Santana is the posterboy for bad luck making him a prime trade target. Granted there is no guarantee the batting average ever comes around. Fortunately he is still hitting for power and the counting stats are there so if you buy-low, you will not get completely burned.

Ian Kinsler: .220 BABIP, .225/.286/.382

I was one of those that didn’t believe the move to Los Angeles would benefit Kinsler and so far I was correct. At his current pace he’ll be lucky to match or even come close to last years total when he batted just .235. With a 39% ownership rate on Yahoo it appears most owners have moved on, but while others are zigging maybe you should Zag.

Over the past two weeks Kinsler has hit .316 (12 for 38) with a home run, two stolen bases and 11 runs+RBI. Is this a sign of things to come or just Kinsler finally getting his due? Well, his 7.0% walk rate is lower than his career average but higher than his 2014 to 2016 totals. The strikeout rate (10.0%) is the lowest we’ve seen from him since his time with the Rangers as is his 4.9 SwStr%. Unlike the past two seasons his contact rate is back at elite levels (89.0%), and just like when he was in Texas he is chasing less outside the zone with improved overall results. The BABIP is at .280 in July, and that rise correlates with an increase in line drives. This is important because both his ISO and hard hit rate are down this year so if he is to have any success it will have to come from hitting it through the gaps as opposed to over the wall.

Kinsler is still hitting the ball hard enough and in the air enough to reach 20 home runs. He is also running well enough to steal 15 homers. With a jump-start to the batting average he has a chance to go 20/15, or I should say 8/6 the rest of the way. He should also see a bump in RBI production now that he is batting 5th as opposed to leading off. I’m not sure I would want Kinsler as my starting second baseman, but if he continues to hit the ball well he could easily make a worthy middle infield option.

Bryce Harper: .230 BABIP, .216/.365/.470

You can’t have a poor BABIP article without mentioning Harper. We’ve seen the best of Harper (2015 & 2017), we’ve seen the Average Joe version (2012 to 2014), and we’ve seen the version where we want to pull our hair out for wasting a top pick to get him (2016). This year is one of those hair pulling years. However, not everything is going bad for Harper. The power is there and he should easily beat his 2016 and 2017 total. He also has 56 RBI which exceeds his Average Joe years and puts him on pace to exceed his 2016 and 2017 totals as well. But that average…. to quote Charlie Brown “AAUGH!!!” So what’s wrong with Harper?

The Answer is somewhat simple – he’s not making contact. The contact rate which normally settled in the mid 70s has fallen to 69.2%. Some players thrive in this range (Stanton, Judge, Baez), but the other players in this range fall to the other end of the spectrum (C.Davis, M.Davidson, Gallo). What makes Harper different than these players is his strikeout rate (until this year) generally sat in the 20% range. This year he is up to 25.1% with a SwStr% of 14.0. This is somewhat new territory for Harper who has just one season with a K% over 20.1.

There is some good news, though, as everything else looks good. His F-Strike% is the second highest of his career as is his 18.7% walk rate (second behind Mike Trout). His batted ball profile is in line with career norms, all except his hard hit rate (40.9) which is equal to his career best 2015 season when he crushed 42 home runs. In comparison with his 2016 season (.243 BA) the additional power behind his swings and increased line drives lead me to believe things will turn around. However, I can’t ignore the poor contact rate and additional strikeouts.

So what should you do with Harper? Well, almost every player that has a poor year has at least one month of strong to borderline elite production. Last year Joey Gallo hit .209, but in August he managed to turn in a .246/.402/.768 line with 11 home runs and 39 runs+RBI. Harper is easily a better hitter than Gallo – and he’s due. I would be a buyer simply because a month like that in August can vault you into the playoffs, and if that happens in September you’ll be raising that championship flag. If you decide to sell don’t take less than what you paid for him. Even though the average is bad he’s still doing everything else right so the value is still there.

TRADE

Matt Kemp: .369 BABIP, .318/.362/.541

Kemp is tied for third in BABIP with Matt Duffy and Giancarlo Stanton. Not much thought was given to Kemp coming into the season, but a strong spring continued into April and he hasn’t looked back. Now here we are in July and Kemp is sitting just outside the top-12 for outfield and comfortably in the top-50 overall.

Part of me wants to jump ship. His contact rate is still below league average (73.2%) and not far off his career average. The walks and strikeouts are also in line with his career; neither are great but both are acceptable. And his career high LD% (26.4) is due to come crashing down, and with it will come the batting average. However, Kemp is hitting the ball harder than ever before (44.6% hard – 36.0% career) putting him in a unique position to continue hitting for power and average. He is hitting lefties and righties equally for both average and power. Even Dodgers Stadium hasn’t hindered his production.

Sadly Kemp has an injury stigma which will deflate his value to some. Plus he is almost 34 years old which will turn off the ageist’s in the league. Finally his up and down numbers the past five years makes it hard to find an owner that hasn’t owned him during that span who might be willing to give him a second chance – and pay full value to do so. As an owner I have my fingers crossed. I want to say sell but I’m hesitant to do so in case this does turn out to be a career year. However, if the right offer came along I’d be willing to part company with him.

Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge: GS .369 BABIP, .285/.353/.521 AJ .374 BABIP, .284/.398/.554

This seems ludicrous to even consider trading one of these men. They have 49 home runs combined and both have a hard hit rate over 40%. On the flip side, both rank near the bottom of the league in contact, have a strikeout rate over 30%, and based on their history are due for a BABIP correction. Of the two I worry about Stanton more. His FB% (33.2) is well below his career average, and for the first time in five years his walk rate is in the single digits (8.6%). He has finally increased his LD% (18.8) after sitting in the 16% range the past few years so there is that. Sadly, most of the fly ball loss has gone towards ground balls (48%) which has increased for three straight seasons. It seems like all the gains we saw in 2017 that got us excited have reverted back.  As for Judge: He has also seen a dramatic decrease in fly balls (36.6%) and uptick in grounders (41.8%).

I’ve said this a number of times: power is great and I love guys that hit the ball hard, but when that player also leads the league in poor contact and sits with just a handful of players with a K% over 30 I worry. Unlike players like Joey Gallo, Chris Davis and Matt Davidson, Stanton and Judge still have that new car smell on them which means you can sell them for a premium. Selling may seem silly, but considering you could potentially get two top-20 players in return, is it really?

Odds are both men will continue to hit the cover off the ball, produce above average counting stats, and will keep a batting average north of .270. However, given the potential for regression and their  current value you’d be silly not to see what you can get for them.

Matt Duffy: .369 BABIP, .313/.367/.406

Finally, someone I can pick on. There is nothing in the underlying metrics that suggest Duffy is any better than the guy we saw in 2015 with the Giants. The contact is similar with a slightly higher chase rate, although he has collected a few more walks – and strikeouts. The hard hit rate is up slightly, but the ISO (.094) and fly ball rate (20.5%) given little hope for power. His LD% (26.1) is in the top-20, but only 3 of those players (Jordy Mercer, Jose Peraza, Addison Russell) have a lower hard hit rate with 13 of them being 37.7% or higher. With very little speed, once that line drive rate comes down some he will have very little value.

Duffy has been a borderline middle infield option in 12-team leagues, slightly more value in 15-teamers. That usefulness could soon come to an end, and with a .271 average in July the decline may have already started. Start looking for a replacement, and use Duffy as a throw in for any trades you may put together in the coming weeks – a sweetener is all he is worth in the grand scheme of things.

Derek Dietrich: .362 BABIP, .287/.354/.463

We’ll wrap things up with one of the more popular waiver wire lineup spark-plugs. Dietrich has produced a solid batting average and enough runs and home runs to qualify for at least a bench spot in most leagues. However, we have seen this before – Dietrich goes on a solid run and then fizzles just as quickly as he came. That .300 average in May and June was nice as were the 8 home runs and double-digit run and RBI totals each month. Can it continue?

Well, he is hitting the ball harder this year which explains the career high line drive rate. However, the ISO remains unchanged and the fly ball rate has dropped down to his 2013 rookie level which doesn’t bode well for continued power. Also his walk rate is a career low (5.5%) as is his strikeout rate (25.1). He can live with both, but with only an average contact rate and a higher chase rate I can see the average coming down – that decline is already showing in July with a .263.

Dietrich had value as a utility knife to slot in anywhere when needed. A decline would put him at replacement level (at best). Like Duffy above he has no individual trade value, but if used as a throw-in he could push that borderline trade over the top.

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com

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