We’re back, and as always, we’re here to help. If, like us, you play almost exclusively in redraft leagues, it avails you naught to know that a recognizedly good player who’s underperforming will probably improve, perhaps a whole lot, in the second half. Someone else has him, and probably won’t trade him, even if your league permits trades. Thus, you don’t really want to know that we envision an MVP-caliber rest-of-season performance from Justin Turner, although we do. Our beat is instead the overlooked, the disbelieved, and the unforgiven—players who will be cheap, or even costless, to acquire, and might produce some value in the second half. So what follows is an annotated list of ten players, none of whom is owned in more than 30% of CBS leagues and most of whom are owned in fewer than 5%, who might assist you when, or maybe even before, your team springs a leak.
1. Johan Camargo (owned in 26% of CBS leagues). Can we get partial credit for our early-season take on the Braves’ third base situation? We opined that Charlie Culberson might get the job, and indeed, he has delivered some unexpected value, albeit as a fill-in outfielder. But we also opined that Camargo “can’t hit,” and in this we appear to have erred. Nobody in MLB has upped his Hard-Hit Percentage more than Camargo—from 28.5% in 2017, which put him in the company of Caleb Joseph and Jose Iglesias, to 40.3%, which puts him in the company of Joey Votto and Mark Trumbo. His Pull Percentage has likewise shot up. We can’t figure out, from the interviews we’ve looked at, what he might be doing differently, but we imagine he will keep doing it.
2. Greg Allen (1%). Boy, people have soured on this prospect fast. His epochally awful June, which featured a 1-for-35 stretch before the Indians banished him to Columbus, may have had something to do with this. But then he hit almost .500 during his two weeks in exile, and now he’s back, apparently as the strong side of a center field platoon. So what happened? It looks to us as if there are two Greg Allens. One of them—the one who played in Cleveland—hits the ball weakly in the air and strikes out incessantly. The other one—Columbus Greg—still strikes out a bunch, but succeeds by hitting the ball on the ground and running like hell. Allen’s had 36 at bats since he’s been back, and only 8 hits, but he’s hitting the ball on the ground a lot more and striking out a lot less than his first Cleveland stint. He’ll always strike out a lot, and he has no power, but he’s fast (6 for 6 in SBs in the bigs so far), and if he can come anywhere close to his Columbus slash line of .326/.429/.434, he will be valuable.
3. A.J. Ellis (0%). That zero percent must be the result of rounding, because we own the guy in our CBS league, and we’re glad we do. Ellis has been defense-first since he turned pro, and he is indeed a terrific catcher, but people forget that now and then he’s shown some significant offensive skills. In 2012, he was a top-10 Fantasy catcher with a .270/.373/.414 slash line and 13 home runs. We don’t know why, at 37, his bat has revived. (Actually, Ellis himself is 37; we don’t know how old his bat is.) But we don’t see anything in his granular stats to suggest the revival is illusory. His power seems to be gone, and he hits at the bottom of a weak lineup, but in two-catcher or monoleagues, a catcher who hits .280 is nothing to disdain.
4. Carlos Asuaje (1%). Don’t be fooled by his .229/.315/.319 slash line. As he’s proven in the minors, Asuaje can hit. In fact, he’s proving it in the majors this year, though his fantasy-relevant stats don’t show it. His granular numbers this season qualify him for what we call the Quadrinity (see here for an explanation), which looks at who’s hitting the ball hard, drawing walks, and not striking out. Moreover, he’s one of 2018’s unluckiest players so far—see here for how we determine this—and we figure that luck will balance out in the second half. His upside is limited, but he could hit .300 with a couple of home runs and a couple of steals the rest of the way, which is better than a dead roster spot in the middle infield.
5. Seth Lugo (17%). Yes, we know that Lugo is having a fine season pitching out of the bullpen, and that Mets manager Mickey Callaway wants to keep him there. Even as a non-closer he’s underowned in Fantasy leagues, perhaps because the current Mets exude heavy karma. But what nobody’s noticing is that Lugo actually didn’t do badly in the five starts he made between bullpen assignments. His BABIP and HR/FB rate as a starter were high even though his hard-hit rate was pretty low and his strikeout/walk rate not bad. He even did okay third time through the order, which was his undoing last season. So maybe someone in the Mets rotation gets traded, maybe someone gets hurt, quite possibly both. We envision Lugo getting plugged into the rotation sooner rather than later and performing creditably. Until that happy day, he shouldn’t hurt you if you put him in your lineup.
6. Sam Gaviglio (7%). Midterm Exam Question Number 1: how many of the 139 starters who’ve thrown at least 50 innings this season have a better Strikeout Percentage, Walk Percentage, Ground Ball Percentage, and Hard-Hit Percentage than Gaviglio? We’d have guessed something like fifty, but in fact there’s only one: top-five starter Aaron Nola. So it looks like Gaviglio should be having a pretty good season, especially since the changeup he’s been working on avidly is now a plus pitch. Where, then, do the 4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP come from? He’s done poorly third time through the order, which also happened last year and gives us pause. But mostly it looks to us like he’s just been unlucky, and we expect the luck of someone whose granular stats are as good as Gaviglio’s to change. Don’t believe us? Check out the incomparably more sophisticated and nuanced discussion of Gaviglio by our Fangraphs colleague Al Melchior, who winds up in the same place we do.
7. Midterm Exam Question Number 2 (multiple choice): The Oakland A’s Opening Day starter was (a) Sean Manaea; (b) Andrew Triggs; (c) Paul Blackburn; (d) Catfish Hunter; (e) None of the above. The answer, of course, is (e)—it was Kendall Graveman (3%). There are so many reasons not to like him: his poor spring; his 1-5 record, 7.60 ERA, and 1.66 WHIP in 7 major league starts; his dicey injury history, especially the forearm strain that has kept him on the minor league DL for six weeks, and about which we can find out nothing. Nonetheless, Graveman actually started pitching quite well in his last two major league starts, and did exactly the same thing in Nashville after his demotion and before he got hurt. Moreover, if you squint hard you can even see some positive signs in his overall record: the enhanced strikeout and groundball rate, his usual low hard-hit percentage. So we suggest monitoring the situation, and if he puts together a couple of decent rehab starts, grabbing him.
8. Can we agree that, when it comes to relievers, we care mostly about closers, and that there’s little more satisfying in Fantasyland than identifying and owning a longshot non-closer who gets the closer’s job? So here are three possibilities. First, Adam Cimber of the Padres (1%). We don’t get why the Padres are supposedly hot to trade All-Star closer Brad Hand. If they do, by common consent the heir apparent is Kirby Yates. But Yates has been perhaps the most fortunate reliever in all of MLB this season, as a glance at his microscopic BABIP and high hard-hit rate will reveal. If he gets the closer’s job, we think he’ll lose it quickly, and Cimber, who’s having the best season of any of the Padres’ non-closer relievers, looks like he’s next in line.
9. Next, in ascending order of improbability, is Adam Morgan of the Phillies (0%). This team has a deep and underrated bullpen, and closer du jour Seranthony Dominguez is having a superb year. Nonetheless, manager Gabe Kapler seems willing to spread the saves around a bit, and he’s using Morgan, who’s been quite good for the past month, in ever-higher-leverage situations (a save and four eighth-inning holds in Morgan’s last ten appearances). A big reason that Kapler found his way to Dominguez in the first place is that Dominguez, unlike his ill-starred predecessor Hector Neris, keeps the ball on the ground—a necessity in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park–and Morgan’s even better at that than Dominguez is. Maybe he shares the wealth, or even takes over if something untoward befalls Dominguez.
10. Guys like us toss around “sell high” advice promiscuously in articles like this. We never have before, because such advice generally assumes that your counterparties are cretins, and generally they aren’t. But here’s the rare situation where the recommendation might actually go somewhere. Thus: Blake Treinen—Sell High. This isn’t because we believe the tepid trade rumors about him. Nor is it because we remember his instantaneous meltdown as the Nationals’ closer last year. No, what gives us pause is this: Although he is widely revered, he’s getting hit harder than ever before; he’s surrendering more fly balls than ever before; his BABIP is microscopic. Something, we think, has to give, and you don’t want to be standing underneath when it does. Of course, all know and agree that, if something wicked happens to Treinen, Lou Trivino gets his job. But what fun would it be to tell you something you already know? So we call your attention to A’s setup guy Ryan Buchter (1%), who’s been essentially unhittable since his return from the minors last month. If Trivino’s gone and you have a deep roster and a vacant space, why not?
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.