Is there hope for six hitters who've been among fantasy's first-half flops?

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Texas Rangers’ <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9630/" data-ylk="slk:Joey Gallo">Joey Gallo</a> offers power, but his batting average is a major hinderance in fantasy leagues. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
Texas Rangers’ Joey Gallo offers power, but his batting average is a major hinderance in fantasy leagues. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)

We hit on some of the most surprising hitters last week, so let’s follow that up by examining the most disappointing hitting values, according to TGFantasy’s calculator (12-team mixed league, $260 budget, 33% on pitching). Most of the stats courtesy of our friends at MLB stat provider Inside Edge.

Bryce Harper $13 is slumping due mainly to bad luck. He’s top 20 in Inside Edge well-hit average (.215). He should be hitting .300-.340 (and .333 if he was just average in converting well-hit average to overall average). Inside Edge has Harper losing 22 hits since the start of 2017 to the shift alone, but he’s gained 11 due to the shift so he’s down 11 hits over the past two years. I mean, he’s hitting .215 with all those homers. His BABIP is .222 (career .314). None of this makes any sense. You have to resist the urge to try to come up with a neat narrative, a reason for everything. Scott Pianowski dives more into Harper and outfield values. There is a lot of randomness in baseball and Harper’s 2018 seems a textbook example of it. Scott Boras is doing him no favors crying about the shift. It’s giving people the idea that hitters can determine not just whether they hit the ball but where they hit it, too. Let’s get realistic. Note Harper’s ground ball batting average last year was .359 and this year it’s .165 (15th worst), so blaming Harper for hitting them where they are seems foolish. He faced the shift often in 2017, too.

Let’s lump zero/negative earners Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak and Marwin Gonzalez together. They surprised last year greatly and the regression has come back with a vengeance. By negative value I mean that they don’t even chart among the top 168 hitters.

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Morrison actually has a better argument against the shift than Harper. Since the All-Star Break last year, he’s downs 27 NET hits due to the shift (lost 29 and gained 2). This is basically a full season. So over 600 at bats that turns a .253 average (about league average and what we’d expect from Morrison) to .206. Yikes. He’s shifted more than Harper, too, (57% to 50%). And Morrison is just 18th in pull rate so why the shift is picking on him so effectively seems mostly unlucky, too. (Note the MLB average shift percentage is 19.3%).

Smoak is walking at a top-10 rate but it’s not helping us or his hitting. It would seem that Smoak is too patient now, taking 39.1% of his pitches in the zone compared with 34% last year. This is a big downward change and probably causing some of his problems. Good hitters should not take a lot of pitches in the zone. The paragon of swinging at strikes is always Freddy Freeman (Taking 17.5% this year vs. the average of 34% and last year it was 16.9%). Hitters: Go after strikes like Freddy.

Gonzalez is taking 41.8% of strikes. This is just absurd. We instinctively get annoyed when our hitters takes strikes and this is a very rational thought because taking strikes is a hallmark of bad hitting. And Gonzalez is just giving up the first strike, taking a pitch over the plate on the first offering 70.8% of the time (average is 58% and even that is too high); try sneaking a first-pitch strike by Freeman.

Joey Gallo ($1) is managing to be on pace for about 40 homers and yet still is not mixed-league worthy even in this era where batting average is historically quite low. Assuming we need a .255 average to basically stay afloat in leagues, Gallo is down 18 hits for his slot based on his 288 at bats. That means that you need a guy to hit .316 in the same number of at bats to just stay even. This is a severe handicap. Gallo’s BABIP is low but not that low given he hits fly balls about twice as frequently as an average hitter. So should he be .238 BABIP or .250 like last year or maybe .280? It’s hard to say. He definitely should not have an average BABIP though. Gallo is consistently a batting average cipher and to think “he can maybe hit .250” (guilty) is foolish. That seems to be unreachable for Gallo, even with his better-than-average well-hit average (.189 vs. .163 league average).

Gallo and DJ LeMahieu ($8) seemed to be a good combo. But LeMahieu has really slagged off in average, coming in under .280 through the Fourth of July. LeMahieu’s average at home the past three seasons: .391, .327, .292. There is no shift to blame for LeMahieu’s average — he’s been shifted just once this year in 292 chances. But here is the crazy thing about LeMahieu: His well-hit average is .215, which is tied with Harper. So the well-hit conversion, which again includes strikeouts, suggests that LeMahieu has earned an average at least north of .300 (technically .333 assuming the average rate of converting well-hit average to batting average). Maybe at the upper end of this range, you have to adjust that 1.55 times well-hit calculation downward but the point is that LeMahieu is hitting well. His well-hit last year was just .173. So go buy LeMahieu if you need average.

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