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Power Hitting Risers & Fallers for Week 11 - Buy or Sell?


Welcome to this week's Power Hitting Risers & Fallers. All stats are full season through Monday, June 10 (unless otherwise noted). Your weekly reminders: EVAB (pronounced ee-vab or ev-ab) is simply exit velocity on "air balls" - meaning fly balls and line drives, as shown on Statcast. Isolated power -- ISO -- is slugging percentage minus batting average, and so xISO is xSLG minus xBA. And lastly, the Statcast Search feature is used to obtain partial season Statcast numbers.

It's time to make home runs per barrel, which has been touched on for several weeks, a statistic of note in this column. We don't need an exact conclusion here, just a ballpark of how many home runs a player might be expected to have on a certain number of barrels. Last year, there were 8,451 barrels and 5,585 home runs. This year, there have been 3,944 barrels and 2,646 home runs. Going back to 2017 we get 7,913 barrels producing 6,105 home runs; 2016 gave us 7,954 and 5,610. And we might as well complete the set with 2015, which saw 6,943 barrels and 4,909 home runs. That's a 71% ratio in 2015, 70% in 2016, 77% in 2017, 66% in 2018, and 67% so far this season. 2017 appears to be somewhat of an outlier.

Roughly speaking, then, significantly less than a two-thirds to 70% ratio of homers to barrels will be used to indicate poor luck, and a significantly higher ratio good luck. This framing implies a couple of questionable ideas -- one, that non-homer barrels and non-barreled home runs cancel out in the long run, and two, that all barrels are created equal -- but it should be a good rough estimate of that nebulous concept, luck. At least for a week.

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Power Risers

Matt Olson (1B, OAK)

Olson broke his hamate early in the year, which is always a scary injury for a power hitter. Since returning from the injury on May 7, however, Olson has nine home runs in 32 games. And with 17 barrels on the season, Olson could have even more home runs.

Olson's exit velocity has tanked this year, from 93.1 mph last season to 89.8 this year. However, ignore his grounders, and his EVAB is down just a tick from 97.4 to 96.3 mph. An average launch angle of 20 degrees, up from 17.8 last season, seems to have helped up the barrel rate from 12.2% of batted balls to 21% now.

Olson's 24 home runs in 59 games in 2017 represented no one's true talent level, but as the weather heats up this season, if Olson keeps hitting the ball as he has, he could reach 30 bombs for the first time. It's unfortunate he missed a month or he might challenge 40.

Edwin Encarnacion (DH, SEA)

Most of the Mariners stopped hitting at some point this season, but not Encarnacion, who is tied for third in MLB with 20 home runs. He's hit seven of them in the last 14 days. With 25 barrels on the season and only six during that 14-day stretch, there's been a bit of Statcast luck here.

However, Encarnacion has made some improvements. There's the 21.8 degrees of launch angle after a previous career high of 18.1 last season. Hard to argue he's hitting it too high given the results, and that includes barrels -- 25 in 278 PA is good, just not enough to sustain 20 homers. More importantly, however, after uncharacteristic 10.9 walk and 22.8 strikeout percentages last year, Encarnacion has regained his plate discipline footing with 13.7% and 19.1% this season.

Encarnacion has done a lot to fight off the effects of age. At 36, he's all set for an eighth straight year of 32 or more home runs. He may slow down a little bit as the year progresses, but he's still an eminent source of power.

Colin Moran (3B, PIT)

Moran hit 11 home runs in 144 games last season and is already up to nine this year in just 62 games. Five of them have come since May 29. He has five barrels since that cutoff and 12 overall. That's a little bit of luck but not a lot, and his pace this season is still just 23-24 homers per 162 games. The mini-hot streak has seen a little more luck, but that's how hot streaks happen.

Moran has made some improvements, on the whole, this year, including upping his launch angle to 12.1 degrees, as well as seeing 6.2% of his plate appearances turn into barrels. Those figures were 10.5 degrees and 3.9% last season.

However, he is also striking out a lot more often, 24.9% of the time this season after 17.6% last year. One suspects the possibility that he is selling out for power. Of course, he's striking out 20.4% of the time since May 29, so maybe there's some real improvement here. Leave him as an NL-only type asset for now but check back later.

Scott Kingery (3B, PHI)

Kingery was terrible last year with a 62 wRC+. He hit eight home runs in 147 games. This year, after two more on Monday, he has six through 34 games. With seven barrels, he's not this good -- only one of his Monday homers was barreled up, for instance -- but he's so much better than in 2018.

Everything Statcast is better: exit velocity from 85.5 to 89.7 mph, EVAB from 90.3 to 94.1 mph, 3.5% barrels/PA to 6.3%, xSLG from .364 to .493. That last figure nonetheless suggests that Kingery's .610 SLG this year is a bit of a fluke, but it would still make him a perfectly productive hitter. Kingery is also hitting the ball lower, 14.0 degrees after 16.8 last season, but it's hard to argue with his results given last year's disaster.

It's not all roses, as Kingery's surface plate discipline numbers are no better (a 26.0-5.0 K-BB% last year is now 25.2-3.6). But the quality of contact is undoubtedly up, which is undoubtedly helpful. Kingery may or may not get to 20 home runs this season, but he's now on the map once again as a potential future star.

Christian Yelich (OF, MIL)

Oh yeah, him. He hasn't gotten much air time around here (pun not intended). Even now, he is not leading off this week's risers section, despite leading the Majors in home runs by three.

Even this fairly lucky version of Yelich -- his 24 home runs are supported by 27 barrels -- is arguably the best hitter in the game with 99th percentile exit velocity, 98th percentile xSLG, and 98th percentile xwOBA. He responded to the launch angle criticism by hitting 12.6 degrees so far this season, which has raised what was a .572 xSLG last season.

Sure, the Bondsian .745 SLG isn't supported by that .639 xSLG, but there isn't much useful analysis to be said about Yelich. Whoever has him is thrilled by him with no questions asked, and that will be the case even if he slugs "only" .639 the rest of the season.

 

Power Fallers

Rougned Odor (2B, TEX)

Odor had some pop from April 27 to May 20, hitting seven homers. He has none before or since. Even during that one stretch, he was hitting just .182/.241/.481; on the season, he's at an atrocious .175/.246/.328.

Odor had seven barrels in that time and has 12 overall. A bit of good luck during the run and a bit of bad luck overall. Not nearly enough bad luck to justify a 45 wRC+ or .328 slugging rate given the .286 xwOBA and .379 xSLG.

Odor this year is basically a worse version of the 30-homer, 58 wRC+ hitter we saw in 2017, even though he's kept the walk rate up at 8% instead of 4%. He might end up at 20 homers if he continues to play, but who would really care? Far more likely the Rangers just tire of it eventually and he loses playing time.

Michael Brantley (OF, HOU)

Since Brantley was identified as a power riser in Week 7, he has hit zero additional home runs. Because he's Michael Brantley, he's remained an above average hitter in that time with a 108 wRC+. But what happened to the homers? Well, he only has two barrels in the last 28 days; one was a double and the other caught.

As we discussed in Week 7, however, Brantley's 10 early homers weren't sustainable. He now has 12 barrels on the season and a .512 SLG that continues to exceed his xSLG, which is currently .453. So further decline is possible.

Brantley's ability to succeed without bombs, which is thanks in part to his always unreal strikeout rates, protects his productivity floor and keeps him in a strong Astros lineup, even when the club is at full strength. Brantley continues to just be himself, and the distribution variance is just what happens in a long season. There's a lot of time for him to continue to challenge his previous career high of 20 homers.

Nick Senzel (OF, CIN)

In the first four games of his Major League career, Nick Senzel hit three home runs. The second and third came on May 6. But his fourth came on May 29 and he has none since. That's one home run in five weeks. In some ways, the overall result has been fairly just, given his .460 SLG compared to a .445 xSLG. On the other hand, he has 12 barrels, so the home run total seems a bit low.

During the falling stretch, Senzel has barreled up eight baseballs with just the one home run to show for it. You have to figure there's more power in the bat than what he's gotten in that month-plus. Obviously not three-in-four-games the way his career started, but more than one per month.

What that means for Senzel's overall production given, that he's fully deserved his slugging and isolated slugging rates per Statcast, is not clear. But keep running Senzel out there and see how this goes. That applies both to the Reds and fantasy owners.

Yadier Molina (C, STL)

Molina was on the injured list with a thumb injury, but he returned Tuesday. A lingering thumb issue plus a layoff could combine to continue Molina's power struggles, as he had four home runs in 50 games before the injury. That came just a year after he hit 20 home runs, the second highest total of his career, in 123 games.

There was some bad luck behind Molina's power decline. His xSLG is in fact identical to last year's at .440. And with eight barrels, he could have had an extra homer or two. Molina also made it his business to put the ball in play this season, with a 3.5 BB% and 8.5 K%. That didn't translate into extra barrels, given the 4.4% per-PA rate set last year has fallen to 4.0%, but it's still extra chances in the future.

Overall, Molina was better before the injury than his .265/.294/.397 showed, but a recently-injured catcher isn't the best kind of player to bank on recovering. Catcher is thin enough that patience is warranted, but temper expectations.

Lorenzo Cain (OF, MIL)

Lorenzo Cain has never crushed the baseball, with 71 career home runs in 959 games. He had 10 in 141 games last season. He had four by May 3 of this season, but none since. Like Brantley, Cain has two barrels during the no-homer run, also a double and an out. The pre-May 3 Cain ended seven PA with a barrel, so he wasn't getting absurdly fortunate.

Nonetheless, the overall results for Cain have been discouraging. His .254/.314/.371 line is one of those unlucky-but-not-by-enough lines given a .275 xBA and .387 xSLG. He's going on a second straight year with a single-digit launch angle; after 9.5, 9.3, and 10.1 degrees from 2015-17, he's hit it just 4.7 and 5.5 degrees in 2018 and '19. Hence the sub-.400 xSLG's each year after exceeding that mark the three years previous.

Overall, Cain seems like he might hit 10 home runs again, but after working his walk rate to a career-high 11.5% last season, he's fallen to 7.4% this year, and the overall productivity has taken a hit. A Cain who steals 30 bases is worth it with 10 homers, but much lower on the steals and the value starts to become questionable. There's still a track record here, but it's not in the power department.

 

Last Week's Risers

Player Last Week Update
Derek Dietrich 1-for-15, 0 HR; have pitchers adjusted or for how long?
Renato Nunez 3-for-18, 1 HR; same question as for Dietrich
Mike Moustakas Four homers in a week as he continues to crush it, now tied for 3rd with 20 total
Bryan Reynolds 8-for-26 but no additional homers is somewhat more in line with expectations
Robinson Chirinos Wacky .182/.438/.545 line with homer #10, no significant regression yet

 

Last Week's Fallers

Player Last Week Update
Jose Ramirez 4-for-18 and still waiting on HR #5...can't say much more
Aaron Hicks .235/.316/.647 with homers 3 and 4; here he comes
Trea Turner Even hotter than Hicks at .346/.370/.923 with homers 3, 4, and 5
Manny Machado .176/.176/.235 has him stuck on 10 HR and down to .242/.327/.403
Ozzie Albies Two homers on Monday after five walks in previous five games for .368/.520/.789 seven-day stretch and some optimism

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