The Overachievers (or are they?): What to expect from the first half’s most surprising hitters

The challenge on draft day is to buy a guy at his price, what everyone expects him to earn, and then get all the production that comes with a breakout season. In other words, much more than you paid for. This year, the biggest breakouts on offense have been Jean Segura, Chris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Nate McLouth, Everth Cabrera, Daniel Nava, Manny Machado, Domonic Brown, Matt Carpenter and James Loney (with honorable mention to Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez). What should you expect from them going ahead?

Jean Segura. He cost $15 in Tout Wars and earned his owner $41 in the first half. After a hot start hitting with power his SLG has declined each month, but his July BA is .314 after a .277 June. It was expected his wheels would earn him his pay, and they have, but it was the power surge that bumped him to the top of this list. He’s got 24 steals with only four CS. Given our expectations going into the season versus his red hot first two months, it seems reasonable to expect about a .300 BA with four homers and another 15 steals. That’s a very good shortstop.

Chris Davis. Cost $20 in Tout Wars, and earned $45 in the first half. After a couple of promising seasons in Texas, Davis failed for long enough that just about everyone became skeptical about him, but now after proving himself as capable last year, he’s pushing into new territory for just about everyone this year. He was on pace for 62 homers at the midway point, and has hit six more since. The big issues here are gravity and opportunity. Can he remain aloft for much longer? And will he get fewer chances to hit, as teams work around him? He’s hitting more fly balls than ever, and hitting homers on 36 percent of his fly balls. That’s not sustainable in the long run. Still, even if his homer per rate falls to last year’s rate he’s got something like 20 homers coming the rest of the way. (Note: He tore a callous during the HR Derby, an event which has a history of messing up power hitters. The injury isn’t supposed to be a big deal, but anything that affects a hitter’s hands shouldn’t be ignored.)

Josh Donaldson. Went for $10 in Tout Wars, was earning $22 at midseason. Expectations were low because he really didn’t produce last year and with the addition of Jed Lowrie playing opportunities appeared to be limited in Oakland. Instead, Donaldson has confidently established himself as a power hitter, with an increased walk rate and a decrease in strikeouts. His BABIP and HR/FB are higher than ever before, and it seems likely he’ll end up hitting .280 rather than .310, but it also appears he’s made the adjustment to big league pitching. Now it’s up to the pitchers to block him back. Unless they succeed, look for 12 homers and a .275 BA the rest of the way.

Nate McLouth. Only $3 in Tout Wars, at the midway point he was earning $25. For those who noticed his strong September in 2012 and picked him up for a song this spring, April was very sweet. Since then, he’s been a bargain for the price, but not one of the best offensive players in the game. That’s the player you should expect the rest of the way. His past history has a $30 and $20 season in it, but those were a long time ago. Expect him to hit less than .260 with four homers and 14 steals.

Everth Cabrera. He went for $17 in Tout Wars, and was earning $33 on July 1 despite spending time on the DL. Last year he had a low BA with a high BABIP, which seemed to be a warning, but this year he has the same BABIP and a good BA. His basestealing skills are for real and are rare. He still led the league in steals after missing three weeks with a hammy strain. He’s stolen three bases in the week since he returned, so all seems to be okay on that count. Expect 25 to 30 steals and a BA somewhere between .250 and .300.

Daniel Nava. Was taken in the reserve round in Tout Wars, by Larry Schechter, and at midseason was earning $20. When he was pressed into action in 2012 he impressed at first, but then inevitably slumped some and his season ended in injury. Nava, who is 30 years old, was forgotten after the Red Sox signed Victorino and Jonny Gomes. We would do well to remember that when teams sign someone like Gomes, a power platoon player, they also create an opportunity for someone else. Nava got his chance and ran with it this year, with additional chances because of Victorino’s injuries. Nava has been much the same player this year as last, a mature hitter without special skills, who will hit with a little power (figure six homers) and post a .765 OPS (and .265 BA).

Manny Machado. He cost $14 in Tout Wars last March, and was earning $32 after the first half of the season. Promoted aggressively last year, he’s bloomed this year as a hitter. He’s a free swinger who makes plenty of contact, which thus far has led to a high BABIP and nice BA. The danger here is not that he isn’t capable of making contact and running for a good BA, at least for a while, but it’s a hard thing to pull off for an extended period because pitchers are always looking for a way to exploit your aggressiveness. He should hit another 6-8 homers, with a batting average that could range from .250 to .300 or so, though I would plan on the lower end of the range and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Domonic Brown. He went for $14 in Tout Wars, and had earned $31 at the halfway point this season. He was a can’t-miss prospect, the scouts said a few years ago, but to those of us who saw him hit (and didn’t see the projectability), he looked like a looming bust. And that’s the way he continued to look the last two years, with dismal stints in Philadelphia punctuating not-great stints in Triple-A. But when I saw him in spring training early in March he struck me as a different hitter, with a shorter stroke and a willingness to go the other way. Others saw the same thing, and though his role was entirely clear he went for a decent price for a guy who had lost his prospect luster. A slow start got everyone doubting, but when he exploded he blew up and by the end of May he was earning $28. He’s improved that in June, and though July has been quieter one senses we’re simply waiting for the next hot streak. If has just one more, look for 14 or so homers the rest of the way, but he’s a prime candidate for a huge September when rosters expand in September.

Matt Carpenter. Tout Wars went to $14 for him, and in the first half he’s earned $25. Questions about playing time kept his price down a little, and had some of us thinking his Tout price was an overbid. Wrong. Carpenter was rightly given the job at second base (when David Freese is able to play) and he’s pretty much performed as he did last year, only with middle infield eligibility. He’s got a higher batting average and a smidge more power, but that should be expected with more experience, shouldn’t it? Figure the BA will come down to .290-.300 the rest of the way and otherwise expect more of the same.

James Loney. Tout Wars price: $8, with midseason earnings of $25. Please indulge my personal grouse here: The last two years I bought Loney for what seemed like discount prices given his history of earnings, and he failed me. This year I let him go for cheap to the Tampa homer, and Loney’s back to being the dude he always was (and the Tampa homer is in first place by a lot). I hate that. Actually, Loney has been more than he’s been in the past, showing more power in Tampa than he had in LA all those years. He’s actually hitting fewer fly balls and more line drives this year, but his percentage of balls leaving the yard is up to a healthy 11 percent. My guess is that this reflects a better more aggressive approach, and as long as he stays focused and motivated earnings in the $20-25 range are sustainable. That means another six or seven homers, but probably with an average closer to .290-.295.

Two Short Notes:

Yasiel Puig‘s hot start is an illusion. It’s fantastic fun, but obviously he’s not going to hit .391 while striking out 24 percent of the time. It’s really hard to tell where he’s going to land, however, and how hard he’s going to fall. Based on the strikeouts and ground balls, I’d expect him to hit .270 the rest of the way, with 10-12 homers, but that’s really just a WAG. If the pitchers figure out the swing sooner he could be in the minors just like that.

Carlos Gomez has added power the last two years, is still fast, and is way over his head right now in BA. Line drive percentage suggests he should perhaps be hitting for a slightly higher average, but he’s currently got a BABIP .040 points above his career number. The power and speed are real, but his batting average should come down closer to .260 the rest of the way.

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