Batter’s Box: First Half Reflections

Scott Chu reflects on Sunday's best hitters and a few things he noticed in the first half.

With the All-Star break upon us, I wanted to take a moment or two to reflect on a few things over the first half:

  • I was dead wrong about Ketel Marte and Tommy La Stella by dismissing them based on prior years performances, but I wouldn’t go back and change anything about those calls. I’m not afraid of being wrong, and you shouldn’t be either. Most players with their histories don’t change like they did.
  • I’ve said all season that shortstop is the deepest position in fantasy, and sure enough, there are 12 shortstops in the ESPN Player Rater’s top 40 hitters. It’s so, SO deep.
  • I’ve said all season that second base is the most shallow position in fantasy, and sure enough, there are only seven second basemen in the ESPN Player Rater’s top 40 hitters. It’s so, SO shallow. Three of those guys are also shortstops.
  • Catcher is as bad as we thought it would be, and not nearly enough of you are streaming. There are no more than six catchers who merit “set it and forget it” status, so the other 40% or more of you who DON’T own one of those guys should be streaming. Buster Posey and Robinson Chirinos are not among that list of six, by the way.
  • Rookies are still unpredictable. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was supposed to be the can’t-miss guy, but he’s struggled while unheralded guys such as Daniel VogelbachChristian WalkerLuis AaraezKevin Newman, Oscar Mercado and Bryan Reynolds have found great success. It’s only one half and Vlad Jr. is almost certainly going to be better than these guys over the rest of their careers, but still. It’s an unpredictable game.
  • Dingers. So many dingers. In 2018, 19 players had 20 home runs in the first half and 58 had 15 home runs. In 2019, 34 have 20 home runs and 77 have 15 home runs. It’s real, and it matters for fantasy. Don’t get too tied up in the raw number, but instead focus on the league context. Guys need to do more than just hit 30 home runs to matter.

None of these are terribly revolutionary, but that’s by design. It’s just one half of a season, folks. Have we learned things? Of course we have. Have there been serious takeaways? Absolutely. Is it over yet? Not even close. We still have much more to see and learn, and all of these points (except for the second and third ones) could easily look stupid by season’s end.

Greg Allen (OF, Cleveland Indians)—4-6, 3 R, HR, 3B, 2 RBI. The release of Leonys Martin opened up a fifth outfield spot for Allen, and he looks poised to fill that vacancy for the long haul. Role-wise, he’s a bit of a redundancy with Oscar Mercado on the roster, but he may find occasional pinch-running opportunities and get a handful of starts each week. He should steal some bases and be worth an add in AL-only, but he’ll need a full-time gig to be worthy of consideration in mixed leagues.

Michael Brantley (OF, Houston Astros)—4-6, 3 R. The plate discipline and contact abilities of the fragile-but-productive Brantley are as strong as ever, though the stolen bases appear to be drying up quickly (which is not unusual for a 32-year-old with an extensive injury history). He has back-to-back four-hit performances, and he’ll remain a solid outfielder for fantasy purposes even without the steals thanks to his elite ratios, though the lack of speed keeps him out of the top-tier conversation.

Omar Narvaez (C, Seattle Mariners)—4-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. He’s top five in home runs, runs, and OBP among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances and should remain a solid starter at catcher for the second half thanks to his full-time role and ascension to the fifth spot in the order.

Danny Santana (2B/OF, Texas Rangers)—4-5, 2B, RBI. I know I’ve been such a downer on this guy, who is hitting .300 despite my constant bashing of his skills. There’s enough data now to suggest that he’s found a way to get the ball off the ground more, and he’s hitting the ball considerably harder than he has for the past few years. I don’t think he’s a strong outfielder for fantasy purposes, but you could do worse for a fifth guy in 12-team and deeper leagues—just be ready to drop him if he slows down or stays at the bottom of the batting order.

Jesus Aguilar (1B, Milwaukee Brewers)—3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. He’s still a ways away from winning a full-time job, but he did have a nice weekend, hitting three home runs and driving in six runners. At best, he can win the short-side of the first base platoon with Eric Thames, but he’s not really worth owning in anything but very deep NL-only leagues.

Yordan Alvarez (OF, Houston Astros)—3-5, 2B, 3 RBI. He now has four straight games with an extra-base hit and is slashing .342/.415/.726 in his first 82 plate appearances. It looks like he might get just enough plate appearances to hold on to that outfield eligibility in most leagues next season, and he looks like he’ll be a big-time time bat for years to come in the heart of the Astros’ lineup.

Jay Bruce (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)—3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. He’s a notoriously streaky hitter, and he’s walked into the All-Star break with a hit in each of his past seven starts. We’ll see if he can carry that heat through the break, but even if he doesn’t, he should get to about 35 home runs if he can stay healthy. The ratios won’t be any good, but the power and counting stats will be.

David Fletcher (2B/3B/SS/OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-5, 2 R, 2 2B, BB. If you missed out on guys such as DJ LeMahieu or Jeff McNeil and need some help with your batting average or OBP, take a look at the multipositional Fletcher. He has double-digit speed and power in a full-time role and walks more than he strikes out. The counting stats are very dependent on where he hits in the lineup, but even if he bats at the bottom, he should continue to hit close to .300 with an OBP at .350 or better.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. The sky is the limit for the young Padre, that much is certain. He’s as close to untouchable in keeper and dynasty leagues as it gets. In redraft, however, he looks like an obvious sell-high candidate because of the gap between his actual and expected stats. Expected stats are not predictive, but in cases like this, they can help us parse out what has been assisted by good fortune and what hasn’t. While his speed will help him outperform his expected stats on certain types of hits (in a very limited way), they can’t explain the massive gaps we’re seeing. I believe he’s still going to be a very good shortstop for the rest of the season—I just don’t think he’ll quite resemble the kid we’ve seen in the first half.

Kevin Kiermaier (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)—2-3, 2 SB. He recently missed a few days with a wrist issue but returned and had five hits over the weekend. There will be more instances like this where he misses a day or two, but hopefully he can avoid an IL stint. The power and speed will play in any format if you can stomach the low OBP.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/SS/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI, SB. Yes, he’s also outperforming his expected stats, but unlike Tatis Jr., Gurriel Jr.’s expected stats would still make him a top-tier shortstop. He’s making excellent contact, and the hot streak has gone on much longer than anyone could have imagined after such a slow start in the spring. It’s hard to say how long this will continue, but there’s no cause for alarm just yet. Other players have found ways to succeed with aggression combined with elite bat skills, and while Gurriel Jr. may not currently be known for elite bat skills, it’s not impossible that we come to know him for possessing such a talent.

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    When everyone hits HR at what point do we start to value them less? I have been asking that question for three years now and I don’t think people really have given it much consideration – they just keep getting excited about HR. For example, Trea Turner is so great because he might hit 20… almost anyone might hit 20! The new moneyball type of revolution is AVG. It makes sense that an old stat would be undervalued when everyone is busy looking for something new. I don’t give two [email protected] about any batted ball data and it doesn’t seem to be hurting me.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      I think we have to value the raw number in context. 30 doesn’t mean what it meant a few years ago. That said, if everyone is hitting more, that means we need more to win that category. If a player can’t hit 15-20 home runs, they’re now a drag in the category. It also makes the 5-10 HR guys harder to roster unless they REALLY stand out in other categories.

      In other words, we have to reset what the raw numbers mean. 20 home runs is just a guy, for fantasy purposes. 30 is “good power”. Guys who only hit 10-15 can hurt you in that category. That’s the lesson we have to learn (for now, anyway).

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    I would also like to say that you checking back in with comments and taking time to respond thoughtfully is making a positive difference already. I am sure writing these is tough and reflecting on them critically is even more difficult, but it will serve you well. You remind me of John Sickels in that regard. Most people lack that ability and it is the reason that they will never be any good at it. Nick is good at it too, which is the reason that we are all here. Well, that and to read my intermittent rants lol. I think you are doing fine work and I hope you stick with it. I could never do it!

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      Thanks Kraken! I really appreciate that. I feel that writing the article itself is no more than 2/3rds of the task I’ve been assigned – the other third is reacting and responding to what folks say. There’s no way i could provide relevant information to all of the different folks out there who are trying to compare and contrast players or devise strategies, so I’m glad there are folks like you out here asking the questions and providing feedback. It’s a whole lot of fun and it’s why I write these articles in the first place.

  • Avatar Syryn says:

    Honestly been hearing this “Tatis is obvious sell high” for a month. Yet he keeps exceeding expectations. If we really went with the sell high the 1st time we heard there would be great great regret.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      And you’ll likely keep hearing it, Syryn. The numbers suggest that he’s over-performing, which makes him a bona-fide sell-high candidate. The numbers can tell us WHO is a sell-high candidate is, but not WHEN they should be sold (well, at least not until it’s too late).

  • Avatar Matt Nielsen says:

    You think the Mariners move Narvaez? He seems like one of the few bright spots on the team.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      I don’t think so, Matt. He’s relatively young for a big league backstop and quite cheap, so he’s probably quite valuable to them. Cal Raleigh is their only mildly interesting catching prospect, and he’s not expected up until 2021.

  • Avatar Dan says:

    Adding Mercado in an NL-only league would be a major power move.

  • Avatar NumbersAlways says:

    100% agree with you on ketel and la stella. Sometimes people hit when they have 19 in blackjack and get the 2, doesn’t mean it was the right call. Process over results.

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      I certainly can’t disagree. I was perhaps TOO skeptical of Marte, though that conservative approach as served me well in the past. There are those who will use this to validate a more aggressive approach and they aren’t necessarily wrong – it’s just not a style that suits me.

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