What to Do With Aristides Aquino? (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
One Google Image search of Aristides Aquino should tell us all we need to know about his home run prowess. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Aquino simply doesn’t look the part of a power hitter. He’s long, lanky, and, at times, downright lean. Yet the rookie burst onto the scene in 2019 by hitting a hefty 19 home runs in half a season. However, it was better than that. He hit 15 home runs in August alone.
2019’s Late-Season Regression
Everyone saw Aristides Aquino at the end of last year … and everyone saw the same conclusion. He simply cannot sustain his home run pace. As soon as Aquino’s hot streak started, it ended.
In September, he hit below .200 with only five home runs. It was as expected a regression as we’ll ever see and it happened right on time. Book opened. Book closed. Thanks for the run, Aristides.
Yet, months later, as we sit down to prepare for an upcoming draft, his name continues to appear in the middle rounds as a player that could be more. He could do it. Because he has. Are we being unfair to both him and ourselves by ignoring what happened?
Maybe. It might just be that we don’t like the price we’d have to pay to acquire Aquino. After all, he was a waiver wire pickup in virtually every single redraft league and even the deepest of keeper leagues had him sitting at incredibly low ownership percentages. However, arguing that we don’t want to overpay simply doesn’t align with our actions because, as fantasy owners, we overpay all the time. Often, willingly. We see what could become of the player we targeted and we recognize that even a high price tag may still be a value.
What it Means for 2020
With Aquino, we’re looking for a discount on a player already being discounted and that’s where we’re making a mistake. It’s partly due to Aquino’s pedigree.
In today’s prospect-hungry world, we see a large concentration of our focus pointed at those players who routinely appear on the top-100 lists, which is an important round number that most major websites use as the gold standard. Sometimes, we extend our research — and league size and competition level force us to do so — but even the deepest leagues with the most dedicated owners would have had to comb through hundreds of names before landing on Aquino’s. He was the 21st ranked prospect on the Cincinnati Reds, according to Baseball America’s 2019 Prospect Handbook. If we look for pedigree, then Aquino certainly doesn’t have it.
What Aquino does have going for him is relative stability within his type of game. That is, he won’t hit for a high average, he’ll chase too many pitches, but he will consistently provide power. That power could even increase.
Removing all biases from the equation, think about that last paragraph. Re-read it. Attach any name you choose to that write-up. Then ask yourself, “In today’s league, in which home runs reign supreme and bad plate discipline is not nearly as punished as it used to be, isn’t this a prospect I would normally be targeting?”
If anything, this sounds like almost all prospects we normally target, at least outside of the top 100 — players with shaky plate discipline and an all-or-nothing approach who might develop more power. If those were the only comments about a prospect, we’d probably be buying.
This leads me to ask again, “Why are we selling Aquino so aggressively?” The easy and obvious argument is what I already addressed in the form of a September collapse. He was Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin and we all knew that midnight was approaching.
However, isn’t that nothing more than bias? It’s the same reason why I made the intentionally subjective comment that he doesn’t “look the part” of a power hitter. There is no part. There is only a hitter and the presence or lack of power.
If there’s one thing we can’t deny about Aquino, it’s that he has power. In the second half of the 2019 season, using only hitters who had at least 100 plate appearances in that timeframe, Aquino tied for 13th in the league in home runs. Not surprisingly, he was also in the top 25 under the same conditions for home runs per fly ball.
If taken alone, these two statistics are positives for Aquino. Only 12 people hit more home runs than he did despite Aquino not playing a single game in July. Keep in mind though, he also wasn’t the “luckiest” of hitters since he didn’t scrape an impossibly high home run rate for the amount of batted balls he put into the air. He is in a range that is, against the biases we’re seeing, sustainable.
I’ve mentioned the presence of “bias” a number of times already in this article and it in itself needs some statistical support. As much as I find myself struggling with the value of Aquino, I know that I’m not alone. The average draft position data confirms this.
Using FantasyPros’ Average Draft Position as our metric, we can see that Aquino is being drafted on average around the 150th pick. Much of his better drafts probably came before the Cincinnati Reds signed Nicholas Castellanos, which means that Aquino could fall further before Opening Day. Anyway, sitting around pick 150 isn’t noteworthy, but what we should care about most is the group of players who are being drafted before Aquino.
Returning to the previously mentioned statistic, 21 other players had at least 100 plate appearances in the second half of 2019 and a higher home-run-per-fly-ball rate than Aquino. Of these 21, 15 are being drafted before Aquino. Some of the names are clearly more well-rounded, but others — like Yordan Alvarez, Danny Santana, and Jorge Soler — are also major regression candidates in their own right.
Discounting a Discounted Player
The problem isn’t that Aquino is being downgraded, but that he is being downgraded too much compared to other hitters in similar positions. If we compared each factor, we would arguably find more positives for Aquino batting in a good lineup in an excellent hitters’ ballpark.
The reality is that we are taking a chance with either action we make regarding Aristides Aquino. Drafting him is legitimately as risky as passing on him when our turn appears and we need an outfielder in the middle rounds. With that being said, part of draft success is taking calculated risks when the downside is limited and the upside is extreme. With someone who has hit for power at the Major League level in a limited capacity, we do have the path for it to happen again.
When sorting through other options of risk-reward players in the same range as Aquino, I’ll be heavily buying the player who is being downgraded by fantasy owners and not his own play on the field. If anything, we’re the ones swinging and missing. Aristides Aquino might just continue to drive it out of the park.
Mario Mergola is a featured writer for FantasyPros.