We’re not quite a quarter of the way through the season—enough for most owners to figure out what they’ve got and what they need, but too early to pack it in. And, as usual, that makes for some fairly interesting trade opportunities. Of course, it also makes for some preposterous trade offers. Our Trumpian desire for peace and comity among owners prevents us from telling you about the most egregious ones we’ve received so far, but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing about yours in the Comments section if you’re so inclined.
Nonetheless, the melancholy fact is that even the most reasonable, temperate, and unassuming of your adversaries are trying to get the better of you in a deal. True, they probably need what you’ve got. But sometimes, you and/or they don’t have what you and/or they appear to have. So, as a public service, we’re identifying guys who, as measured by BABIP, HR/FB%, and Hard-Hit Percentage, have been unlucky and can be expected to improve, or, in the case of one player, lucky and likely to decline. And since Cheap Players R Us, we’re tossing in a guy who might actually be available on your league’s waiver wire, though you won’t want him unless something bad has befallen or befalls your regular at the position.
With each of these guys, we’re positing that they will end the season approximately where their preseason projections (we are partial to those of our man Ariel Cohen, aka ATC) had them, and thus that their stats for the remainder of the season will bring them up (or down) to that level. And since we live to serve, we are for each such guy identifying a player at the same position whose stats figure to be roughly comparable. Except by roughly we mean very roughly, so please don’t give us a hard time about it. And we’re not suggesting that you actually trade one of these guys for his comparable, so please don’t give us a hard time about that, either.
We aren’t going to insult your intelligence, or any other part of you, by telling you that, say, Anthony Rizzo figures to improve a bit. The guys we’re talking about are the ones for whom a plausible narrative can be and has widely been constructed to account for their malaise and predict its continuation. We are offering a counternarrative: they have been, essentially, unlucky, and their luck will balance out.
—Max Kepler. He is intensely interesting. First of all, he’s already hitting rather better than he was projected to (ATC says .243/.312/.425; he’s at .269/.347/.481). Second of all, he is hitting lefthanded pitching, which he’s never been able to do before, including in spring training this year—or so people think. His career line against lefties going into the season was an appalling .176/.221/.238. This season, in 29 plate appearances, it’s .308/.379/.538. Small sample size, you say. True. But we note that, in his minor league breakout season in 2015, he hit .319/.390/.473 against the species, so it’s not like they’re Kryptonite to him. Maybe he’s finally figured things out against major league lefties as well. Even if you’re skeptical about that, the traditional weakness against lefties should be balanced out by his better fortune, so you can expect more of the same, which means he’s Yasiel Puig. If you’re not, make that Ryan Braun.
—Zack Cozart. The narrative here is so obvious that it could have been composed by Rudy Giuliani on acid: Cozart had an unprecedentedly great 2017, aided by the friendly confines of the Great American Ballpark. His shift to Anaheim exacerbates the already-foreseeable regression. Perhaps. Except we see a guy who’s been unlucky, and if you figure that balances out over the rest of the season, he’s Trea Turner without the steals.
—Kole Calhoun. He’s probably the unluckiest hitter of the season so far. Of course, nobody thinks he will hit .167/.195/.211 for the rest of the season. The question is what he will hit instead. Most people seem to think that he’s decisively on the shady side of his career. We think he could easily replicate his good seasons from here on in, which puts him at something like .270/.340/440 ROS, including—aided by the lowered fences in Anaheim—enough home runs to bring him to his usual 20 or so. From here on, maybe he gives you something like what Trey Mancini or Nomar Mazara does.
—Matt Carpenter. The narrative here is age (he’s 32) accented by injuries (you name it, he’s had it or has it). As with Calhoun, no one expects him to be as bad as he’s been (.163/.317/.316). But unlike Cozart, if Carpenter’s bad he probably loses his job. We, however, have faith, and if you think that, when the season’s over, he’s done about what he was projected to do, then he’s somewhere between Robinson Cano and a healthy Daniel Murphy the rest of the way.
—Dixon Machado. Here’s our waiver-wire special. Next to Calhoun, he’s probably the unluckiest hitter of the year so far. Nitpickers will point out that (1) Machado has no power; (2) he hits at the bottom of a weak lineup; and (3) though he has speed, his manager Ron Gardenhire seems disinclined to let him (or anyone else on the team) use it. But we think he can hit .280 the rest of the way, and a shortstop who can do that, even without more, is worth plugging into your lineup if something untoward befalls, to give some purely hypothetical examples, Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus, or Jorge Polanco. And note, by the way, that Machado is hitting fly balls at an unprecedented rate, so–assuming that’s not what’s been befouling his performance so far–he may even get you an unexpected home run or two.
And now the guy who’s been lucky:
—Yoenis Cespedes. This one really surprised us, since he’s hitting .246/.306/.451, well below his career norms, and everyone thinks he’s underperforming because of his various injuries. But the stats say what they say, and what they say is that this might be as good as it gets. If it is, then you’re looking at…hmmm…Drew Robinson??? Maybe not. But we still don’t want him, and would be trying to trade him if we had him.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.