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Power Hitting Risers & Fallers for Week 14 - Buy or Sell?

Welcome to this week's Power Hitting Risers & Fallers. All stats are full season through Monday, July 1 (unless otherwise noted). The season is just over halfway done, and the home runs are still coming in bunches. That doesn't mean everyone's always hitting them all the time, and good thing for this column.

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. The Statcast Search feature is used to obtain partial season Statcast numbers. The league-wide ratio of barrels to home runs is historically around 67-70%.

Read on for this week's risers and fallers.

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Power Risers

Lourdes Gurriel (OF, TOR)

Gurriel was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo on April 15 this season. At the time, he was hitting .175/.250/.275 with zero home runs in 44 plate appearances. He was not getting particularly unlucky in April, with a .368 xSLG and an average exit velocity of just 82.7 mph.

Since getting called back up May 24, he's hitting .360/.401/.750 in 147 PA, with 14 bombs. He hit four in two games on June 26 and 28. What in the world is going on? Well, he's certainly hitting the ball better since his recall, with a .583 xSLG and 91.7 mph EV, although that's not quite a strong as the results have been.

The most consistent thing for pre- and post-send-down Gurriel is launch angle; 15.3 those nightmarish first couple weeks, and 14.1 degrees since. On the season, he's averaging 95.9 on his flies and liners, and a mid-double figures launch angle is enough of those flies and liners to matter.

Gurriel probably won't be this dominant a hitter going forward, especially if pitchers adjust, given his 14/16 HR per barrel and the xSLG of "just" .583 since his return to the big leagues. But he sure looks like a legitimate power hitter now.


DJ LeMahieu (2B/3B, NYY)

LeMahieu, hitting .345/.392/.534, has a sub-.200 ISO. But given his career high in home runs at Coors Field was 15, that he has 12 already certainly makes him a power riser. And five of those have come just since June 17.

LeMahieu has never elevated the ball at a double-digit average launch angle, and this year is no different in that he only has a 7.2 average. But that would still be a career high. That would seem to indicate that his power is capped around where it is. Indeed, his xISO is .175 (.492-.317), slightly lower than his current .189 ISO.

LeMahieu's value has been mostly in his batting average rather than his power, and that should continue to be the case.


Miguel Sano (3B, MIN)

Sano is somewhat the opposite of LeMahieu: his batting average will never be good, but he can crush a baseball. Most to blame: He has a 39.9% strikeout rate this season and 36.6% for his career. The result so far this season has been a .214/.301/.556 line, which a three-home run series against the White Sox had raised from .195/.278/.483.

His ability to generate exit velocity and loft cannot be doubted, however. Sano has never had a season below a 90.3 mph exit velocity or 12.9 average launch angle, both of which came last season. This year, he averages 92.8 mph at 17.3 degrees. A 98.2 mph EVAB this season ties him with Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani for sixth-best in MLB.

It's a pretty basic story for Sano. He's not going to make enough contact to be dominant, but the contact he does make is top-shelf. He's going to slump at times, like last year. But this year is looking like he's taken the reigns from Joey Gallo as baseball's .200/.300/.500 hitter, after Gallo's graduation of sorts this season.


Todd Frazier (3B, NYM)

Frazier had a great June, going .274/.384/.547 with eight home runs in 112 plate appearances. It's a solid turn for a player whose OPS+ has fallen every year since peaking in 2014, and looked like it would again at the start of the year. Truth is, it still might.

Statcast didn't like the month so much with a .451 xSLG. With an 87.5 mph average exit velocity, that discrepancy shouldn't be too surprising. That's completely in line with his season mark of 87.4 mph as well. And it's not as if he's getting the worst EV out of the way on the ground; his 90.6 mph EVAB ranks 298th of 385 hitters this season with at least 50 batted balls.

And so it's looking like a bit of smoke and mirrors for Frazier. His expected slugging is under .400 for a second straight season; he only has 12 barrels to support the 11 homers. Expect the gradual regression he's shown since 2014 to continue.


Nelson Cruz (DH, MIN)

Is it really fair to call Cruz a power riser? He's always crushed the ball, this year being no different with a .284/.372/.572 line and 16 home runs. But in the last 30 days he's done even better, .303/.398/.663 and nine homers, three of them in the past seven days while hitting .435/.500/.913. So yes, we'll roll with it.

Cruz just turned 39 on Monday, but he is showing no signs of aging. His expected slugging rate on the season, .618, is actually higher than his real rate. With a 94.1 average exit velocity at 12.8 degrees, he's pretty much in line with his Statcast-era numbers in that area. His 30 barrels give him the fourth-best barrel rate at 12.1% of plate appearances. His 99.2 mph EVAB is second behind only Gallo.

Any age-related concerns about Cruz can be put aside again this season. Injuries like the left wrist strain he sustained are one thing, but nothing in the bat has shown any sort of decline this year.


Power Fallers

Austin Meadows (OF, TB)

Through May 31, Meadows was hitting a nearly unstoppable .354/.431/.673. But stoppable he was -- he's gone .207/.273/.297 since.

He's been one of the least lucky players since the calendar turned to June, however. Of 292 players with 50 PA since June 1, he has the third greatest gap between his expected and actual slugging rates at a 131-point difference. His .230 xBA, however, is much closer to his average.

That's good news for his expected power production, however. He "should" have a .198 ISO since June 1, but instead, it's just .090.

So Meadows is in a long and difficult slump, yes, but he's making better contact that most hitters experiencing that kind of extended downward trend, including several that have been examined in this column in past weeks. Slumps are always concerning but this one would seem to be less so than others.


David Peralta (OF, ARI)

Peralta made a 10-day trip to the 10-day injured list starting May 24 and returning June 3. He homered twice in the week following his return, but not since, and overall since June 3 is slashing just .240/.336/.385. And yet with only a .321 xSLG, he's been hitting the ball worse than even his poor results show.

Like LeMahieu, Peralta has never had a double-digit launch angle. The ball leaving his bat at an 89.9 mph average since June 3 and it's the same mark for the season as a whole, too.

It makes sense, then, that his pre-injury Statcast numbers were unimpressive. Despite a .524 slugging rate, he only had the contact of a .396 slugger.

The good news: it's not likely the injury is bothering him too much. The bad news: that's because he wasn't doing so hot beforehand either. In this era of mad homers, only having nine is a disappointment for someone who had 30 last season. Unfortunately, it's not going to be easy for Peralta to get back to that number the way he's hit the ball this season.


Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS)

Benintendi hit two home runs in April, four in May, and just one in June. And yet since June 1 he's hit .312/.354/.473. Without the power, he's relied on a .394 BABIP for productivity. But where are those power numbers? It's not as if his power numbers have been there all year; June had the least of it.

Benintendi's main shift this year has come in launch angle: it's 18.7 degrees on average after a 12.6 last season. But the exit velocity hasn't come with it: he averaged 88.6 mph last season and has fallen to 87.4 mph this year. Unsurprisingly, his EVAB is just 91.3 mph.

And yet, he has 20 barreled balls. They haven't been soft, either; he's doubled on 103.2 mph at 22 degrees, flied out on 102.0 mph at 25 degrees, lined out on 107.0 mph at 23 degrees, just as three examples. And so his 7/20 HR-to-barrel ratio, which is already particularly low, seems even less likely for him.

Benintendi has 45 career home runs in 1,776 plate appearances, but he's also only 24. With his barrels on the rise, perhaps his age-25 season will finally feature a power breakout. But despite his not-great barrel luck this season, the overall exit velocity and a spiked strikeout rate (23% this season but just 18.1% in his career) suggest that this season will end up another mid-teens effort in the home run department.


Alex Gordon (OF, KC)

Gordon homered twice on May 10, bringing his season number to eight in just 36 games. In the 44 games since, he only has two. He's slugging .356 with a .380 xSLG in that May 11-to-now stretch, so the slump is deserved. In the broader picture, however, there's a negative trend in Gordon's game.

As we get farther from the origins of the launch angle revolution, when more players are working on elevation, Gordon's launch angle has only fallen: 15.4 degrees in 2015 and '16, 13.2 in 2017, 10.9 last year and now just 9.2 this season to date. That will cap his power.

Despite falling of late, the initial run Gordon went on has him "on pace" for one of his better power seasons, but as he continues to hit the ball closer and closer to the ground, his chances for future homers are slimmer than that start to the season would suggest.


Adam Eaton (OF, WAS)

Eaton has been healthy this season, helping him to already set his three-year Nationals career-high with six home runs. He has none since June 9, however. And while Eaton's never been a big power hitter, his .384 SLG this year would be the worst of his career since back in his Arizona days in 2013; same thing goes for his .105 ISO.

Eaton is right in line this year given his .387 xSLG. That was also his xSLG last year when he slugged .411 in 95 games; his value was mostly in the other thirds of his .301/.394/.411 slash line.

Oddly, Eaton is lifting the ball more than ever this season, at an average of 13.4 degrees. But with an 86.5 mph EV and 90.4 EVAB, he's not playing to his strengths. Don't expect many more home runs, and hope that perhaps if he levels off a bit more, he can regain some of the BA and OBP losses.


Last Week's Risers

Player Last Week Update
Manny Machado .200/.227/.650, 3 HR, 8 RBI; was anything ever really that wrong?
Charlie Blackmon .450/.522/.900, 2 HR, both at Coors
Josh Donaldson No extra homers but 4 BB for a .381 OBP
Yordan Alvarez .250/.333/.375, nothing worrying about a single such week yet
Carlos Santana .333/.375/.333 as BABIP sticks but power not this week


Last Week's Fallers

Player Last Week Update
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. .214/.421/.500 and back on the HR board but lovelier is the 5-1 K-BB
Wil Myers .167/.286/.333 and now on 7/2 the team started Hunter Renfroe in CF instead of putting Myers out there
J.T. Realmuto .353/.353/.412 but still looking for that next homer
Avisail Garcia Ugly .130/.167/.261 including .143 BABIP but at least he homered again
Didi Gregorius .467/.500/.933 with homers 2 and 3

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