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Jesús Aguilar: When a waiver claim goes right

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In December 2019, the Marlins selected the Venezuelan first baseman off waivers from the Rays. So far, it has paid off big time.

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I’m writing this article on Thursday, April 29, at 5:52 p.m. (ET). After 24 games into the 2021 season, Jesús Aguilar’s name is leading the National League in runs batted in, with 22. The same senior circuit where stars such as Fernando Tatís Jr., Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Freddie Freeman play.

The slugging first baseman posted a .295/.383/.538 slash line through Wednesday. He’s hit four doubles and five home runs, along with 12 scored runs, 13 bases on balls, only 13 strikeouts, and a high .921 OPS batting in the middle of the Marlins’ offensive order.

Aguilar has been a surprise for the Marlins. When they claimed him off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays back in December 2019, they were taking a low-risk bet. But a bet’s a bet no matter what. Right when the Rays didn’t make more room for the 30-year-old and gave up on him after an unproductive 2019 season, Miami was there to welcome Aguilar with arms wide open.

Every time a team places a player on waivers, it’s not for a good reason. I mean, you won’t see the Angels waiving Mike Trout or the Mets waiving Jacob deGrom. These transactions are meant for expendable players who have little to no value. So you can choose to bet on them or not. And from time to time, among failure and failure, there’s an Aguilar that goes to a new team and exceeds every expectation while making a friendly salary.

Aguilar revived his career when he got to Miami and start hitting as he used to in Milwaukee. After putting underwhelming numbers in 2019, he was a vital piece for the Marlins team that made the playoffs last year.

Getting 0.6 fWAR from a waiver claim as the Marlins did from Aguilar in 2020 already constitutes a success. Just one month into 2021, he has remarkably matched that output.

Not only is he carrying a six-game hitting streak with all of his five homers and 11 runs batted in during that span, but he also leads the Majors with nine games of two or more ribbies. But that’s not the brightest part of Aguilar’s experience as a Marlin.

The Venezuelan keeps cutting down his strikeout percentage, which sat at 30.2% in his first complete season (2017):

· 2017: 30.2 K%

· 2018: 25.3 K%

· 2019: 22.0 K%

· 2020: 18.5 K%

· 2021: 13.8 K%

Aguilar’s K% by zone, 2021
Baseball Savant

As long as Aguilar keeps his strikeouts at a low rate and keeps making solid contact, hits will keep falling. He’s been the biggest threat in Don Mattingly’s lineup and there aren’t signs to think he will slow down.

This time, the Marlins won that waiver claim. This time, the Marlins hit the jackpot with the National League leader in RBIs.