Fire & Ice: Hope For Hoskins
Fire – Jesus Aguilar
It’s taken a lengthy DL stint for Eric Thames and another shorter stint from Ryan Braun, but here we are. Full-time at-bats for Jesus Aguilar! Of course, Braun has already weaseled his way back into the lineup, but manager Craig Counsell suggested recently that Aguilar will continue to see full-time work at first base despite Braun’s return. Not only that, but he indicated that Aguilar could continue to hit in the three hole for the Brewers, where he has been since mid-May. Not a bad spot to be when you’ve got Lorenzo Cain (.391 OBP) and Christian Yelich (.349 OBP) setting the table for you.
Aguilar has taken full advantage of this opportunity. In the last week alone (five games) Aguilar has mashed four homers with nine RBI, going 8-20 for a .400 average. Not too shabby. Aguilar has teased us before, however, and now he’s 27 years old. “Jesus saves,” says many a bumper sticker. But can Jesus Aguilar save your fantasy team?
The first thing that jumps out when pulling up his player page is his current .324 average compared to his career .268 mark. You then have to look at his BABIP, which is an inflated .367. However, he has a career .336 BABIP, so is it really such an obscene mark that demands regression? Every player has their own baseline, and Aguilar’s career 43.3% hard contact rate is enough to keep that BABIP sky high, even despite his poor foot speed. He has also hit 28% line drives, which, while not predictive, enforces to an extent that his high BABIP is deserved.
What else feeds into a batting average? Strikeouts. That brings us to the other big change in Aguilar’s profile — he has cut 7.5% from his 2017 K%! What once was a 30%+ K% now sits at a much more tolerable 22.7%. His swinging strike rate has been reduced 3.7% to 10.8% and his contact rate is up 8% to 76.8%. When you combine that level of contact increase with a 40%+ hard contact rate, you’ll get yourself a much nicer batting average than you’re used to seeing.
Another important factor to consider are his lefty/righty splits. As a right-handed hitter, he’s been best suited as a lefty-masher for much of his career, and deservedly so. He had a huge .372 wOBA against lefties in 2017, while posting about league-average numbers against righties. His K% was over 31%. His hard% was a solid 40%, but tame in comparison to his 54% mark against lefties. This year? .400 wOBA, 23% K%, 42% hard contact. Yahtzee.
It’s still a relatively small sample, but these are promising signs that Aguilar has taken a step forward and is becoming a more well-rounded hitter. Over at Baseball Savant, you can see that the amalgamation of many of these factors has given him a .426 xwOBA that ranks 16th best in MLB (his current wOBA is .403). He’s carved a role out for himself in Milwaukee, with a solid (albeit under-performing) offense in a great hitter’s park. He’s worth owning everywhere for at least the next two weeks, at which point Eric Thames will be approaching a return from thumb surgery. Even if Aguilar regresses in the long run or gets squeezed from playing time, right now he needs to be started.
Ice – Rhys Hoskins
Way back in frigid February (solid way to lead into the Ice segment, Dokken!), some of the staff here at FantraxHQ (myself included) partook in a little player debate between Rhys Hoskins and Edwin Encarnacion. They were neck and neck ADP-wise, and with the vast age gap it made for a fun debate. To this point Hoskins actually has the wOBA advantage nearly a third through the season, .353 to .304. Encarnacion typically has a slow April, though (.259 wOBA this April) and has been much better through May (.378 wOBA). I would expect him to keep up his rebound, otherwise I may be writing about him instead.
Alas, it is Hoskins who I’m more concerned about. I took his side in the aforementioned debate by a nose due to his additional outfield eligibility and his upside potential. Not because he has a large nose, which he doesn’t. Your nose is just fine, Rhys. Do not fret. It also helps that Citizens Bank Park is the best park in baseball for righty hitters, which I figured would float his value a bit if he ran into some struggles. So far that hasn’t happened, as he has a .347 wOBA at home compared to .359 on the road.
His lack of home production should correct positively, though, so it isn’t that which bothers me — it’s the huge downturn in plate discipline. Last September we saw pitchers adjust to him and he struck out nearly 27% of his trips to the dish with a mere .220 average. Whereas I presumed he would adjust back to MLB pitching, to this point he has only gotten worse.
Hoskins is hitting just .157 in May with a 33% strikeout rate. His contact rate and swinging strike rate have fallen harder than yours truly flying downhill on a snowboard. That has him creeping up on a 30% strikeout rate, which is much higher than I had anticipated heading into the season. Perhaps even more surprisingly, his hard contact rate is down about 10%. Most of the regression has come against righties; in ’17 he had a 161 wRC+ vs RHP, whereas this year that has fallen to 114. Righties are pitching him inside less, and that has given him fewer opportunities to pull the ball for power.
There are a few positive signs, at least. Hoskins is still walking at a tremendous rate, with his 16.8% BB% ranking as 8th best in MLB. Last year his HR/FB rate was a crazy high 31.6%, and we all knew the type of legendary power he showed wasn’t going to carry over.
To this point, though, Hoskins’ HR/FB is only 11.1%, which isn’t even league average. His pull% is down a bit so far, but he’s still hitting as many fly balls as ever at over 50%. The .323 BABIP isn’t low — the power output is. His .390 xwOBA (.353 wOBA currently) isn’t far from the likes of Tommy Pham and Jose Ramirez.
While the batting average might not wind up as high as many had surmised, Hoskins’ OBP will still be terrific. The power will come, especially if he learns to drive the ball the other way when pitchers won’t come at him inside. He is a hold for me in standard mixers, and a buy low if anyone is selling in an OBP format.