Here's why Aguilar is a buy-low candidate

July 25th, 2019

On Tuesday,’s Mark Feinsand and Juan Toribio reported the Rays’ interest in Brewers first baseman .

It’s a possibility that might seem a bit head-scratching at first. After all, the Brewers are in the postseason race in the National League, just as the Rays are in the American League. And Aguilar has hardly performed like a hot trade commodity, carrying a meager .228/.325/.381 line through Milwaukee’s win over Cincinnati on Wednesday.

So why would Tampa Bay, or any other contender, want to add a first baseman who has been a well below-average hitter (86 wRC+) this season? Here are a few reasons why Aguilar might draw some serious interest in this last week before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

1) Not much has really changed

After a promising partial 2017 season (.265/.331/.505 in 311 plate appearances), Aguilar was a breakout smash success last year. The imposing right-handed batter made the NL All-Star team and participated in the Home Run Derby amid a campaign that netted him some down-ballot MVP consideration. Aguilar tied for fifth in the NL in home runs (35) and fourth in RBIs (108), and ranked sixth in slugging (.539) and ninth in wRC+ (134).

Even after Aguilar cooled down in the second half, the depth of his struggles to begin 2019 came as a surprise. He went just nine for his first 73 (.123) before hitting his first two home runs of the season on April 29, and finished June with a .634 OPS, losing play time to the left-handed Eric Thames along the way. Aguilar started 33 of the Brewers’ first 48 games at first base, but then just 17 of their past 56, becoming mostly a platoon player against lefties.

And yet, a check of Aguilar’s 2018 and ‘19 Statcast expected stats -- which take into account strikeouts, quality of contact, and on some batted balls, speed -- reveals that under the surface Aguilar is pretty much the same hitter he was when he was tormenting NL pitchers a year ago. His expected wOBA of .351 is just nine points off his 2018 mark, sits well above the MLB average of .320, and is roughly equal to those of Eddie Rosario, Charlie Blackmon, and Rhys Hoskins, to name a few.

In terms of approach, Aguilar is chasing out of the zone less and swinging in the zone more than he did last season. His whiff rate on swings is down slightly, and his 22.7% strikeout rate is almost exactly MLB average. And while Aguilar is hitting the ball on the ground a bit more and hitting it hard a bit less, this has hardly been a dramatic change.

In 2018, Aguilar may have overperformed a bit. In ‘19, he is underperforming his expected numbers more than just about anyone.

Largest gap between xSLG and SLG, 2019
Min. 250 PA (228 batters)

  1. Justin Smoak (TOR): 88 points (.517-.429)

2) Jesus Aguilar (MIL): 78 points (.461-.383)
3) Jose Martinez (STL): 74 points (.502-.428)
4) Yonder Alonso (COL): 68 points (.377-.309)
5) Danny Jansen (TOR): 67 points (.424-.357)
Through Tuesday

2) Starting to heat up?

He hasn’t won his regular starting job back, but Aguilar has picked it up of late. In a limited sample due to his role, he is 13-for-40 (.325) with four doubles, three homers, and a 1.028 OPS in July.

So far this month, Aguilar has made significant gains in hard-hit rate (51.6%), line drive/fly ball rate (67.7%) and barrel rate (16.1%), meaning he is making a lot of the most productive sort of contact.

It could turn out to be a blip in an otherwise disappointing season, but right now, Aguilar is looking more like the guy who posted a .995 OPS before last year’s All-Star break.

3) He’s budget friendly

Aguilar isn’t making much more than the Major League minimum in 2019, as the 29-year-old won’t go through arbitration for the first time until this coming offseason. He isn’t scheduled to reach free agency until after 2022.

That means Aguilar can easily fit any team’s budget -- including, say, the Rays -- and also be an option beyond this season.

He certainly makes sense for the Rays. Unlike the Brewers, Tampa Bay could give Aguilar at-bats at DH as well as first base, providing a right-handed complement to Nate Lowe, Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi -- especially with Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe on the injured list.

A return to Cleveland also could make some sense. The Indians, who signed Aguilar originally and played him for a total of 35 games from 2014-16, haven’t gotten much production from primary DH Jake Bauers.

Of course, for all the reasons above, the contending Brewers may decide to keep Aguilar and hope a continued hot streak helps propel them back to the postseason. But whether he remains in Milwaukee or not, Aguilar should have the chance to help a contender down the stretch, and beyond.