June 23, 2017
Sticking It Out With Avisail Garcia
Even for a sport that revolves around unpredictability, this has been a weird fantasy baseball season. There have been complete collapses from fantasy mainstays, unfathomable performances from rookies, and breakouts from players we’d written off years ago. One member of the latter group is Avisail Garcia.
The White Sox outfielder is, within the most basic buy-low/sell-high line of thinking, the classic sell-low player. After years of being mediocre at best, he has broken out in a huge way in 2017. Through his first 279 plate appearances this season, the outfielder is hitting .341/.384/.552 with 11 home runs, 39 runs and 55 RBIs. That production has been good enough to be ranked eighth among all outfielders on the ESPN Player Rater. Of course, much of his production at the plate looks like it can be attributed to luck, as he’s put up a .413 BABIP. So, the easy answer is to simply trade him now before he comes crashing down to Earth, right?
I can’t see it being worth it, though. For one thing, Garcia has made enough changes this season to believe he won’t completely fall back to Earth. Sure, there’s no way to expect this kind of BABIP to keep up over a full season, but there’s still room for him to be a good player. The question becomes just how good of a player you can expect him to be.
To start with, I’d still expect Garcia to be a strong contributor in terms of AVG. For one thing, he’s improved his contact skills. Although he isn’t elite at avoiding strikeouts or anything right now, he is striking out only 21 percent of the time rather than his typical 25 percent. While he’s still being as aggressive as ever (he’s always been among the most frequent swingers in the game) he is being aggressive on better pitches. His 80 percent Z_Swing_RT is easily the highest rate of his career and it’s the highest rate among all hitters who have seen at least 750 pitches. That has helped lead to a 29 percent swinging-strike rate. This is still a high rate, which explains his higher-than-average strikeout rate, but it’s the first time he’s whiffed less than 30 percent of the time since 2013.
This approach isn’t only helping his strikeout, but also is helping his quality of contact. This is where the real improvement has come for Garcia in 2017. Not only does it help explain some of his BABIP success, but it also goes a long way toward explaining his .211 ISO. It goes without saying that swinging at more pitches in the strike zone is going to lead to better contact than swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. That’s showing up in his batted-ball stats, too. Compared to last season, Garcia has seen a jump in his line-drive and fly-ball rates, to go along with a decline in ground-ball rate. Not only do the line drives help lead to more hits, but trading ground balls for fly balls has helped the power.
With all of that in mind, I think it’s fair to expect Garcia to be something close to a .280-.300 hitter with about the same power production (overall, not on a rate basis) as he’s shown this year. That’s not a top-10 outfielder, but it’s still better than the value you are going to get for him in a trade.
For one thing, consider where he is being ranked among outfielders for the rest of season. A quick glance at the Fantasy Pros consensus rankings show that he is viewed as the 52nd best outfielder in fantasy baseball. Even the top end has him as the 25th best outfield, and while that doesn’t seem like an unfair ranking it does sound like an unfair ceiling. Additionally, he fills a position that is as deep as any other in fantasy.
Even with his hot start to the season, the expected regression probably outweighs the downturn his season is likely to take. Considering he’s always been a relatively high-BABIP player in his career, while also making tangible changes that point to him being a better hitter right now, the high average should mostly stick around. While Garcia certainly isn’t going to keep this pace up all season, you will be much better off benefitting from a slightly lesser version of the White Sox outfielder than trying to move him for pennies on the dollar.