The First Half All-Sell-High Team

The All-Star game has come and gone, but the festivities are ongoing here at RotoGraphs. It’s time to rank the first half’s “All-Sell-High Team.” These are players who had big first halves, but who aren’t necessarily the best bets to repeat that performance in the second half. Without further ado, let’s get right to the list:

C: Yadier Molina

Molina’s strong first half (112 wRC+) was buoyed by a .200 ISO that would easily represent a career best. Most notably, he homered on 18.8% of his fly balls, a figure that’s more than double his career average of 7.4%. Could the 36-year-old Molina have tapped into a new source of power? Sure — relative to his career averages, he’s hitting the ball harder, and he’s hitting it in the air more often. But for a guy with a 15-year track record that has amounted to league average offense, I fully expect his performance to wane in the final months of 2018.

1B: Yulieski Gurriel

The love for Gurriel has never made a ton of sense to this writer. He’s a 34-year-old first baseman with a .335 wOBA and 113 wRC+ spanning over 1,000 career plate appearances. The Astros are excellent, so Gurriel doesn’t necessarily stand out as a problem on their team, but there’s a reason they’ve been linked to first basemen like Jose Abreu in trade rumors. Gurriel has a strong .297 batting average in his major league career, but his .162 ISO since 2016 ranks 28th out of 32 qualified first basemen. Houston could afford to upgrade at first base, and if they do, Gurriel’s value will plummet.

2B: Scooter Gennett

This was a tough call between Gennett and Javier Baez, but Gennett was the pick here because his perceived value is probably higher. This is the second straight year of excellence from Gennett, and owners are undoubtedly salivating at the idea of bringing him onto their teams. And it’s hard to blame them: Since the start of 2017, Gennett boasts a .308/.356/.527 slash line, good for a .373 wOBA and 130 wRC+ which both rank third among second basemen behind Jose Ramirez and Jose Altuve.

So why on earth would you trade this guy? Well, believe it or not, Gennett has a significantly lower ISO in 2018 (.195) than he had in 2017 (.236). Carrying his performance this year is a .371 average on balls in play, up from .339 last season and .334 in his career. ZiPS and Steamer project major regression to Gennett’s BABIP moving forward, and it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t. ZiPS buys into the power, projecting a strong .187 ISO the rest of the way, but with a BABIP regressed to near his career average, Gennett’s wOBA moves down to .343 — which is still excellent, but way down from the .380 mark where it stands right now. Ask for the moon for Gennett, and feel confident that you’re selling someone who’s probably more good than great.

3B: Eduardo Escobar

Like Gennett last year, Escobar has burst onto the scene this year with newfound power after several years of irrelevance and obscurity. His average on balls in play is 21 points higher than his career norm, so even if you buy into the power (as ZiPS does, to an extent), Escobar looks more like a slightly above average hitter than a budding star.

SS: Brandon Crawford

The story of the day is average on balls in play, apparently. Crawford has had an impressive career, transforming himself from a glove-only shortstop into one of the more complete players in the game, but his .347 wOBA and 121 wRC+ this season are fueled by a .345 BABIP that’s 43 points higher than his career average. His modest power looks real, and he’s probably slightly above average offensively the rest of the season (in terms of wRC+), but having a home ballpark like AT&T Park will drive his results-based numbers down.

OF: Nick Markakis

Could the veteran Markakis have tapped into the fountain of youth at age 34? Sure, anything’s possible. But expect his BABIP to fall about 25 points to his career norm, bringing everything down with it. Markakis probably is who he is at this point, which is a modestly useful outfielder and nothing more.

OF: Matt Kemp

Kemp’s .212 ISO this year is better than his career average (.203), but it’s not better than it was in 2016 when he slugged 35 home runs. That year, Kemp produced only a modest .333 wOBA thanks to a .297 BABIP that was significantly worse than his career average. This year, everything points to a .362 BABIP carrying the load of a .310/.352/.522 line. Kemp still looks solidly above average offensively moving forward, but again, we’re talking good, not great. His defense remains a liability, and if the Dodgers land Manny Machado (as they’re expected to), Kemp could lose playing time in a crowded outfield mix.

OF: Ben Zobrist

After a miserable season last year that saw his average draft position and cost plummet, Zobrist has (not surprisingly) rebounded as an above-average offensive contributor in 2018. The problem is, a high BABIP of .308, compared to a career average of .289, is masking a significant dip in power. Zobrist’s .129 ISO this season is significantly worse than his .163 career average, and it ranks 56th out of 69 qualified outfielders. Without looking closely, it would appear as though Zobrist’s 118 wRC+ means he’s back to where he’s always been, but if the BABIP falls (as it should) and the ISO decline is real (as we would expect from a 37-year-old), we’re looking at nothing more than a modestly useful fantasy contributor.

SP: Jon Lester

Based on win-loss record and ERA, Lester looks like a leading Cy Young candidate. He’s 11-2 with a 2.58 ERA! But under the hood, there are significant red flags and alarm bells going off. Lester has a 4.34 FIP and 4.59 xFIP, both of which would be his worst totals since 2007. His strikeout rate is in decline, his walk rate is up, and his success at run prevention can be attributed to an unreasonably low average on balls in play and an unreasonably high left-on-base percentage. Look for a buyer before things blow up, but it’s worth noting that it would be unwise to bet too strongly against Lester’s very solid track record.

SP: Jake Arrieta

As is the case with Lester, Arrieta’s 3.23 ERA makes him look like a stud on the surface, but a greatly diminished strikeout rate suggests trouble could be on the horizon. Steamer and ZiPS project a low-4.00s ERA moving forward, but someone will buy into Arrieta’s track record and tidy ERA this season.

SP: Kyle Freeland

Freeland’s ability to suppress homers in Colorado is remarkable. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s holding hitters to an unreasonably low BABIP (.269), stranding more baserunners than we would expect (82.5%), and not striking people out. He does generate a lot of weak contact, and the home run suppression could be real, but even then Freeland looks like someone primed for at least some regression. It’s probably almost always wise to sell Rockies pitchers when their stock is up (as opposed to keeping them for the long haul) because of their home ballpark.

RP: Kyle Barraclough

Hitters have a laughable .158 BABIP against Barraclough this season, down from a .259 figure for his career, and he’s stranded 92.8% of his baserunners this season (which is definitely not going to last). His walk rate remains dangerously high, and he could easily be traded out of a closer’s role in the coming weeks. He’s a nice reliever, but the 1.28 ERA is a mirage.

RP: Archie Bradley

Just like Barraclough, Bradley has a sparkling, yet probably unsustainable, ERA this season. He’s stranded over 88% of his baserunners, and hitters have just a .220 average on balls in play against him. Some of that actually looks like it could be legitimate (he held hitters to a low .276 BABIP last season), but the strikeout rate is more modest than excellent, and so any kind of real regression to his BABIP or LOB% (which we should probably expect) makes Bradley a low-to-mid 3.00s ERA reliever who’s still not getting saves. As with everybody else on this list, now may be a good time to sell high.

Ben Kaspick is the host Locked On Giants, a daily San Francisco Giants podcast on the Locked On Podcast Network. He is also a former contributor for the baseball statistics and analysis websites RotoGraphs and Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @BenKaspick.

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4 years ago

Thanks for the captain obvious list. How about putting yourself out there and do a deeper dive on more controversial players???

4 years ago
Reply to  Jimmyjammin

It’s the “the first half’s “All-Sell-High Team.” ” so it’s not directed towards borderline sell-high players. It’s about the most overvalued players at each position, that’s the idea.

4 years ago
Reply to  mrmariner1

It does seem more like the “All Higher BABIP Than We’d Expect Team” though