Subprime Day 2: The Birchwood Brothers Ten Bold Second-Half Predictions (Hitters)

Let’s finish what we started yesterday and look at some hitters. We’ll assume that, like us, you’re the brawny, rugged type who likes two-catcher leagues rather than the effete sort who prefers the monocatcher variety. If so, you’re always looking for a catcher who will be an improvement on a dead roster spot, and—unless your league somehow factors defense in—what with injuries, there aren’t enough of those to go around. Thus, our next two Bold Predictees. First, and more obviously, there’s Kevan Smith. He’s spent about four weeks this season dealing first with a possible concussion and then with a sprained metacarpal, but when he’s been healthy—for about 100 plate appearances–he’s done exactly what we, you, and everyone else expected, which is a .286 batting average, high on-base percentage, little power, no speed, and a slightly higher runs-plus-rbis per at-bat than is the norm for catchers. In other words, he’s worth something, and because he’s freshly off the DL and nobody carries more catchers than absolutely necessary, he’s freely available.

If your taste in catchers is more exotic and you’re desperate for power, may we suggest Tim Federowicz? Federowicz is almost 32, has been a pro for 12 seasons, and has a career slash line of .200/.249/.345. From this information, you can surmise what is in fact the case: that he’s a weak hitter, even for a catcher; that he’s a strong enough defender to have stuck around despite this liability; and that he’s got a modicum of pop in his bat. What those numbers don’t suggest is that he actually is, or should be, a decent hitter. His career minor league record in about 3500 plate appearances is .291/.357/.461. A lot of that was in the PCL, so it needs adjusting, but adjust it however much you like and it’s still better than what he’s done in MLB. Federowicz began 2019 with the Indians’ Triple-A team, hitting as usual (.278/.353/.411) when Isiah Kiner-Falefa got hurt and the Tribe answered the Rangers’ SOS by trading them Federowicz for…we’re not sure what. For the last six weeks, Federowicz has split the catcher job with Jeff Mathis. His batting average is .204. However: Rangers Ballpark is notably hospitable to power, and Federowicz’s record there in 29 plate appearances is .240/.321/.760 with 4 home runs. Worth taking a chance that he can keep doing it, we’d say.

But wait, you riposte: Kiner-Falefa is now rehabbing and should be back soon, thereby rendering Federowicz jobless. Not so fast, we say. In 20 rehab plate appearances in Triple-A, K-F is hitting .176, so it may be a while before he’s back. More importantly, K-F plays all over the infield, and whereas Federowicz has a good glove, K-F doesn’t. As Fangraphs sees it, of the 95 guys who’ve spent time at catcher in the majors this season, K-F’s record on defense is the worst. We are guessing that, when he finally returns, he plays a super-utility role and seldom catches, whereas Federowicz sticks around, starts two or three times a week, and keeps hitting home runs in Texas.

Curtis Granderson. Most would say that it’s time to roll the credits on him, and since he’s 38 and hitting .189/.276/.369, we were inclined at first to concur. But as we looked more closely, we found some things to like. Though he’s playing in the worst park for left-handed power east of San Francisco, Granderson has more home runs per at bat in Florida (6 HR in 113 AB) than anyone on the Marlins other than Garrett Cooper. His average fly ball distance of 192 feet is down, but still pretty high, and he still gets starts in the outfield when the Marlins face a right-hander. Moreover, his .229 BABIP is low, even for a three-true-outcomes guy like Granderson, so he could up his batting average a bit. You’d still have to be pretty desperate to use him, but as the season goes on and injuries accrue, many of us are and more of us will be.

Greg Allen. He was one of our Second Half Bold Predictions last season—a pretty good one, as it developed, and we detect a recurrence of the same pattern we saw last year: he’s terrible in the majors for a while, gets demoted to Columbus, hits well there, gets promoted back to Cleveland, and keeps hitting. (This season, there was a one-week strange interlude when he got promoted, hit well, and still got sent back down, but the pattern essentially holds.) So far, so good, except: the only real reason you’d get Allen is for his speed, and whereas last season he stole 21 bases in 25 attempts in the majors, this year he’s had 30 stolen base opportunities and hasn’t tried even once. We nonetheless counsel patience. Last season, Allen had attempted only six steals in the majors before August. Then, suddenly, he (or Terry Francona) started going nuts on the bases. During August and September, he made 19 steal attempts and was successful 15 times. If there was a strategic or orthopedic reason for this switch, we didn’t see it then and don’t see it now. This year, Allen’s started four of the seven games the Indians have played since his recall. He appears, for the moment, to be the strong side of a left field platoon with Jordan Luplow. The Indians lineup isn’t the powerhouse of years gone by, and if Allen doesn’t get steals, his .260 or so batting average with no power and relatively few runs or RBI doesn’t justify a pickup. But if you’re desperate for steals and think late-summer history might repeat itself, he might be worth a shot.

Austin Hays. He was a preseason Bold Prediction, and we’re sticking with him. In January of 2018, Hays was widely regarded as a top-30 prospect. We view everything that’s happened to and with him between then and this month as attributable to injuries and rust. Hays is, finally, healthy—we acknowledge that it may not last—and has been tearing it up in the minors since the start of July. We expect him to keep doing that, such that it will be impossible for the Orioles not to call him up soon and put him in their outfield in place of Quad-A organizational soldier Stevie Wilkerson. If Hays gets 200 at bats, half of them in Baltimore and a bunch more in Boston, New York, and Toronto, he’ll hit about .260 with at least 10 home runs; more like 15, we think. Probably better than what you’ve got as your current OF5, and if you’ve got a roster spot, you could do worse than grab him right now.

We hoped you liked reading Subprime Day 2: The Birchwood Brothers Ten Bold Second-Half Predictions (Hitters) by The Birchwood Brothers!

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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.

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