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Power Hitting Risers & Fallers for Week 19 - Buy or Sell?


The last edition of Power Hitting Risers & Fallers came out on the trade deadline. News had broken about a big trade involving Cleveland. So far, in this very young post-deadline campaign, both sluggers Cleveland acquired have had a rough couple of weeks. Before we get there, there's the happier news of several risers to get to. That part will be happier for some more than others, however.

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%.

Now, for this week's risers and fallers. Stats are through August 5 unless otherwise noted.

Editor's Note: Get our 2020 MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our draft kit, premium rankings, player projections and outlooks, our top sleepers, dynasty and prospect rankings, 20 preseason and in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research and tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Power Risers

Max Kepler (OF, MIN)

Kepler is on another power run, with 10 home runs since the All-Star Break that ranks behind only insane teammate Nelson Cruz (14). He's been a bit lucky to get there, with just a .488 xSLG since the break. His launch angle has actually fallen over this stretch but is still a solid 15.2 degrees (17.8 on the season).

That said, Kepler has 31 home runs on the season with 33 barrels and a 93.5 mph EVAB. The barrel rate, overall exit velocity, and launch angle are all improvements on 2018, so the 2019 breakout is real in that sense. But Kepler's contact quality this season hasn't quite justified his lofty stats. His xSLG on the year is nearly 100 points below his slugging percentage (.463 vs .556).

This isn't necessarily the time to sell high on Kepler, certainly not in any kind of challenge trade. He's a more trustworthy power hitter for the last two months than, say, Khris Davis. But unless Kepler starts hitting the ball harder, he won't be a truly fear-worthy home run hitter.

 

Trey Mancini (1B, BAL)

What a difference three weeks makes. Back then, Mancini had gone 14 games without a home run due to trouble finding the right launch angle. Now, he has nine home runs in his last 19 games, and already his 26 home runs this year are a career-high.

Thing is, Mancini still hasn't quite begun hitting the ball in the "sweet spot" lately either. While his launch angle in the past three weeks has averaged 9.5 degrees, an improvement over 6.4 degrees, his sweet spot percentage has not improved so much: 17 out of 59 batted balls, 28.8% of the time.

So the sweet spot isn't the answer really either. His average exit velocity in that sample is 93.3 mph, although Mancini's power numbers going back to Week 16 haven't shown much correlation with that stat either. Nonetheless, the barrels have returned, with eight in the 19 games. With someone like Mancini, it's time to just trust him, and with full-season numbers like a 96.2 mph EVAB and 35 barrels, his 26 homers are perfectly legitimate.

 

Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL)

At this point, Goldschmidt appears to be one of the streakier hitters in baseball. Last year, there was the terrible May followed by three great months. This year, Goldschmidt hit a fairly long rut from April 23 through July 4 (covered in Week 9) but has 11 homers in 26 games since including six in a row from July 22-27.

As with Mancini, let's not try to interpret each hot and cold streak for Goldschmidt. We do know that Goldschmidt's contact has mostly justified his current hot run given a .631 xSLG for a .674 SLG, and this despite 89.0 mph average exit velocity. And his 17.7-degree launch angle is a somewhat substantial change, bringing his season angle up to 14.5 degrees.

But over the full season, Goldschmidt's contact has declined since last season. He isn't hitting the ball as high or as hard as last season, and it's visible also in a falling xSLG and barrel rate. From a full season view, then, Goldschmidt simply is not as good as he has been before. The current hot streak may maintain, but the possibility he hits another cold spell appears slightly stronger based on how his full season has gone. That said, while he's worse now, he's not at all bad.

 

Jeff McNeil (OF/IF, NYM)

Entering the All-Star Break, Jeff McNeil was a powerful source of batting average, but not power, hitting .349/.409/.509. Since the break, however, he has exploded for a .294/.381/.612 slash line including seven home runs in 97 plate appearances.

Before the break, McNeil was averaging 89.1 mph at 13.3 degrees on his contact. Since the All-Star break, it is 88.5 mph at 16.7 degrees. That alone does not explain such a substantial leap in power output. Nor has McNeil's approach at the plate appeared to have changed, with a 7-17 BB-K ratio after the break vs. 18-38 before. So this simply seems to be a case of good luck. Confirming this: he somehow only has two barrels since the break despite the seven bombs.

It's probably good news for McNeil's fantasy owners that his approach doesn't seem to have changed. It would be not great (Bob) if the average declined and the homers dried up. As long as McNeil remains true to himself, he should keep delivering in batting average over time. But don't expect the power ride to continue.

 

Adam Duvall (OF, ATL)

Duvall fell hard from back-to-back 30-home run seasons in 2016 and '17, hitting .195 in 2018 and spending months in 2019 in the minors. Since getting called up on July 27 (while leading the International League with 29 home runs), Duvall has homered five times in just 10 games and 42 plate appearances.

With a 99.6 mph EVAB, plenty of balls in the air thanks to a 22.8-degree launch angle, and six barrels, Duvall's hot start to his 2019 MLB campaign is more real than not. But he has also remained strikeout prone, fanning in one-third of his PA so far.

Duvall's success this season is somewhat reminiscent of Austin Riley's earlier in the year. The power is legitimate but the approach is wanting. Ride the hot streak but don't buy in too hard and become unwilling to move on if/when the cold spell hits.

 

Power Fallers

Yasiel Puig (OF, CLE)

Puig was in a bit of a power decline even before his trade from Cincinnati to Cleveland, so don't blame it on the park. Puig's last bomb came back on July 15 at Wrigley Field. Two days later, he struck out three times, and overall since July 16 he's hitting .225/.304/.310. In that span, his average contact has been 86.8 mph at 11.1 degrees, both marks substantially lower than his full 2019 numbers.

The launch angle is almost in line with Puig's career 12.5 angle, but far below the 16.0 degrees he's reached in 2019 as a whole. What's really changed for Puig is his walk and strikeout figures. He's in line for a career-low 5.9 BB% while his 21.5% strikeout rate would be his worst since his rookie campaign. That said, the higher launch angle has probably helped Puig sustain in home runs (22 in 105 games this year, 23 in 125 last) even as his OPS has fallen from his Dodgers years.

The Indians have Puig hitting 6-for-18 with two walks and two K's, which are promising but extremely early and likely close to meaningless returns. That said, if his plate discipline does improve, Puig could well be rewarded with more hittable pitches, which could, in turn, return him to that extremely hot June 15-July 15 period (11 HR, .372/.421/.826). For now, however, treat that as a streak and temper expectations going forward (although Puig will, of course, go deep again at some point).

 

Franmil Reyes (DH, CLE)

Like his new teammate Puig, Reyes was in a bit of a trough prior to being sent to Cleveland, the city whose river used to regularly catch fire. Unlike Puig, Reyes has not shown positive signs since the trade, which is the more concerning since Reyes moved from an easier park to hit in. Franmil is hitting just .105/.100/.158 in his first 20 PA with Cleveland and put up four strikeouts on August 4. And since the All-Star Break to include the end of his run in San Diego, Reyes has only two homers while hitting .222/.306/.365.

It's not as if Reyes has stopped hitting the ball hard. He's averaged 92.9 mph on all contact since the break, doing it with a 9.9-degree launch angle. And of his four barrels, two are the home runs while the other two went over 380 feet. But overall, he's only posted a .387 xSLG, thanks in part to 21 strikeouts in 72 PA (29.2%).

Reyes on the season still is one of baseball's hardest hitters, with a 97.4 mph EVAB that ranks fifth among players with 200 total batted ball events. But given the six K's in just his last two games, it seems pitchers are playing on his free-swinging ways. Perhaps Reyes is pressing with his new team. Either way, something has to change if he's going to get back to his 25-HR first half. Given how hard he's hit the ball when he does make contact, his strikeouts seem to be the main problem. He's succeeded in the past with moderately high rates already and should ultimately do so again.

 

Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, MIA)

After hitting a two-run homer as part of a 2-for-3, two-walk day on July 16, Cooper was hitting .315/.389/.520 with 11 home runs and looked like one of the big breakouts of the summer. But he hasn't gone long since, with three walks against 24 strikeouts in just 66 plate appearances.

The good version of Cooper had an xSLG of .506, but there were also warning signs such as a 1.7-degree launch angle. The struggling version of Cooper has only gotten it up to 4.3 degrees. It was always going to be difficult to sustain his home run power without hitting the ball higher. He's also averaging just 86.4 mph during his slump.

Pitchers have clearly found a way to exploit Cooper based on the 36.4% strikeout rate that 24 out of 66 represents. Too many strikeouts and too low a launch angle is a recipe for dead power, and until at least one of those changes, Cooper will continue to struggle.

 

Nick Senzel (OF, CIN)

Sometimes fallers stay fallers for a while. Senzel has not gone deep since June 21, a span of 122 plate appearances during which he's hit .286/.339/.393. Senzel's averages of 88.7 mph at 7.9 degrees don't seem to scream homer-less, but that is where he's at.

Senzel's calling card has never been mammoth power anyway. He hit 14 home runs across High- and Double-A in 2017, his one full professional season to date. Given how his season started, it may be a little disappointing that the juiced ball hasn't helped him at all for well over a month now. But it's not terribly surprising.

Despite the long rut, Senzel is still benefiting from his early home run success, with his .458 SLG held up by just a .419 xSLG. His track record in both the Majors and minors certainly indicates something roughly in between those two numbers.

 

Shohei Ohtani (DH, LAA)

In his final series before the All-Star Break, Ohtani homered twice. That's twice as many as he's had since. He appears to still be seeing the ball well, having walked 11 times (10 unintentionally) in that span. And he's been fairly unlucky, with a .441 xSLG despite only a .338 SLG since the break.

Everything appears to be fine here. He's hitting the ball 91.3 mph at 12.5 degrees on average. That's a decline in EV, but more than a doubling in launch angle in 2019 (5.6) while also being a return to the level he established in 2018 (12.8 degrees).

Of all this week's fallers, Ohtani is the least concerning. It's no guarantee, but it would not be surprising if he left the yard a couple of times in the coming week.

 

Last Week's Risers

Player Last Week Update
Teoscar Hernandez 5-for-16 despite eight K's, no additional HR. Only one BB as well and streak may be over
Danny Santana 7-for-22 and another HR despite 0-7 BB-K, which is consistent with season-long form
Starling Marte .273/.304/.636 with 2 HR/3 SB
Nelson Cruz 21 total bases in 16 PA thanks to four more bombs, just unstoppable right now
Jose Altuve Left yard twice more, seems to be more himself at the plate each week

 

Last Week's Fallers

Player Last Week Update
Yasmani Grandal 2-for-22 without a HR, also 4 BB, week a microcosm of where he's been since fall began
Josh Bell 3-for-17 (3 BB, 4 K) with still no HR of late and it's getting more confusing by the week
Mike Moustakas .417/.462/.583, homered again, only struck out once; seems back on track
Ozzie Albies .269/.296/.385, 0 HR, still waiting on consistency
Charlie Blackmon .444/.474/.722 and a homer in just 4 games, 19 PA...at home, naturally

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