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Power Risers and Fallers for Week 10 - Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Week 10 of the 2018 MLB season and a new week of our investigation into the steepest power trenders in baseball, whether those trends be positive or negative.

As the year rolls into June, the window of opportunity to snag a surging slugger or to deal a down-and-out disappointment grows shorter with every plate appearance. Getting the jump on identifying the catalytic variables and telling trends in these player's recent offensive performances could be the key factor in the management of your roster in the summer months.

To do this, we'll be taking a look at the batting metrics that influence a hitter's power (Fly-Ball%, Pull%, Hard-Hit%, Exit Velocity) and determining whether you should buy or sell respectively on these surgers and strugglers. Since we can already feel confident in the power play from players like Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, Joey Votto, and Mookie Betts, we are going to be focusing on players who have seen a change in their power profile due to a change in batting metrics and has either warranted greater attention for waiver wire pickups or for a potential trade to cash in on what's left before it's too late.

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Power Risers

Brett Gardner - (OF, NYY)

Brett Gardner used to be a stolen base superstar, but starting in four years ago he was able to roll his speed and newfound power together, and he went on to average 15.25 HR and 20 SB per season between 2014-2017. In 2018, Gardner already looks poised to recreate that dual-threat success at the plate. He's raised his hard contact rate to it's highest mark (29.3%) and while his soft contact rate is less than ideal at 19%, it is still below his career norms.

In fact whether it's quality of contact, pull-rate, or fly ball rate, Gardner is almost perfectly mimicking his figures of successful power/speed seasons of immediate past. That alone should inspire further confidence in the New York left fielder. Gardner has especially caught fire lately by producing a slash line of .366/.366/.683 and three of his four HR on the year in just the last two weeks. While his average exit velocity and HR distance sit below the MLB averages, Gardner should get an assist from playing on one of baseball's best offenses inside the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium moving forward. If his likely 15-22 homers isn't enough for you to stick with him, remember that he hasn't ended a season with a Power/Speed figure below 9.7 since 2010.


Matt Olson - (1B, OAK)

Last season Matt Olson burst onto the scene by hitting 24 bombs and slugging .651 in 189 AB with Oakland on his way to finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. After a relatively average start to this season through April and May, Olson has erupted to in the last 14 days by producing a 1.092 OPS and five HR. As we have a limited major league sample size from Olson to work with, the key to assessing his power potential going forward is in comparing his peripherals from this season to his 2017 coming out party.

Most eye-popping is the difference in his hard contact rate, which has jumped all the way up from 40.3% to 54.3%! This has in turn caused his soft contact rate to drop by 10% down to a meager rate of 7.9%. That's a big shift in terms of bunnies and dingers. So with these subsequent adjustments, what is holding Matt Olson back from being an unstoppable force with the bat? While it is a good sign that his grounder rate has dropped by 3%, his fly ball has also dropped by 4% due to a 7% increase in line-drive frequency. While these hard-hit line drives explain how he can currently maintain his .317 BABIP, they aren't particularly preferable for producing consistent HR. Combine that with a pull-rate that took a -12.5% hit and it is easy to see how Olson could struggle to avoid mild streakiness.

Even so, don't let that cloud objective judgement of Olson's 2018 value. He is making hard contact more than half of the time for a lineup that ranks top-10 in the MLB in run scoring, so his rate of slugging will surely translate to high-volume R and RBI accumulation. Although he plays in possibly the worst park in the majors for hitting balls deep, his tremendous exit velocity and average HR distance (94.7 mph and 423.4 feet) should more than make up for that variable.


Franmil Reyes - (OF, SD)

Franmil Reyes has certainly made the most out of the time he's seeing in the San Diego outfield while Wil Myers and Franchy Cordero have been hurt. With just 59 AB so far in 2018, it's hard to make many inferences about him. So what DO we know about Reyes? For one, we know that his HR hitting didn't come out of the blue. In two full seasons in the minors between 2016-2017 he hit 41 combined moonshots with ISO figures of .174 and .205. This happened before his 2018 Triple-A explosion where he slugged .738, with a .392 ISO, and 14 HR in just 130 AB. That's a homer in nearly 9.1% of PA!

His brief time in the majors has been a great first impression: a .686 slugging percentage and five HR in just the past two weeks. However, his peripherals don't necessarily paint a picture as obvious as the surface indicates. He isn't exactly a well-rounded offensive player. His 36.5% strikeout rate and measly 6.3% walk rate suggest that it's bomb or bust for the 22-year old newcomer. His hard and medium contact rates are dead split at 41.7%, while his soft contact frequency reads 16.7%. His pull-rate is below average at 36.1%, and it isn't great that he hits 47.2% grounders either. This makes his incredible HR/FB ratio of 50% seem quite unsustainable over the long term despite his recent hot streak.

His average exit velocity sits six miles per hour over league average and he has registered long ball distance of 442 and 455 feet in games just since May 30th, but he may have to become a more well-rounded, believable package if he doesn't want his playing time reduced once other Padres return from injury.


Joc Pederson - (OF, LAD)

Joc Pederson's 2017 struggles have been thoroughly documented. So what could indicate that the Dodgers 26-year old former All-Star could get back to the version of himself that smacked 51 HR and registered ISO of .206/.249 a couple years ago? He's looked well on track in the last 14 days with a .990 OPS and three of his four HR on the year. These apparent improvements could be due to a few different statistical alterations:

First off, he lowered his K-rate significantly down to 14.2%, the lowest figure of his MLB career by a long shot. With his walk frequency actually decreasing, this means he's putting more balls into play than before, to the tune of a 7% inverse shift in his fly ball and ground ball rates. Which is a good sign, considering his hard contact rate has jumped up to it's highest mark (36.4%) since his All-Star rookie season of 2015.

Though his average exit velocity is slightly above league norm, his average HR distance (385.5 feet) and pull-rate (35.5%) reveal some unfinished pieces to the puzzle. Regardless his improvement in hard contact, batted ball action, and plate discipline bode well for his chances to reach 20+ homers again inside the eighth ranked LA run scoring offense.


Power Fallers

Ozzie Albies - (2B, ATL)

As my colleague Brant Chesser just pointed out, it may be time to sell high on the 21-year old Atlanta Braves young gun Ozzie Albies. It's not that the peripherals don't look good at the moment for the Curacao native, it's that based on his career history and demonstrated skill set, it looks a little unsustainable. Albies has a solid soft/hard contact split of 18.7%/35.2%, an above average pull-rate of 43.8%, and has been 7% more likely to hit a fly ball than a grounder this year.

He has achieved his 14 HR on the year by taking a knock in plate discipline, causing both an inflated strikeout rate and deflated walk frequency. This is uncharacteristic of the average .304/.365 BA/OBP split he displayed through his time in the minors. The six stolen bases on the year helps, but Albies had never even hit more than nine balls yard in an entire minor league season.

It's more likely that his kind of power translates into more doubles in the long term than his HR tendencies of 2018 indicate. His below average exit velocity of 87 mph and HR distance of 390 feet would also indicate that he's probably more of a well-rounded power/speed asset down the line than an elite power-hitting infielder. His slash line of .193/.258/.246 with a fat goose egg in the HR department over the last two weeks seems to already demonstrate this expected regression.


Shohei Ohtani - (SP/DH, LAA)

Let me first say that, as far as SP go, you certainly have no better power options than Shohei Ohtani (even if MadBum notches another Silver Slugger season). Having said that, it's also possible that Ohtani could be a sell high candidate. Ohtani has been throwing heat and has at times looked dominant as a starter, holding a 1.89 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through his last three starts. In contrast, he has slowed down significantly at the plate from the .289/.372/.535 and six HR pace he set to start the season. In the last 14 days (30 PA) his slugging percentage has dropped to .348 and he has yet to hit a single homer. Even his BA has been poor at .217 over that period.

Playing in the Angels offense helps and with the endless array of athletic ability the 23-year old rookie possesses, we can't ignore his potential to stuff the stat sheets from all over the field. However, while his soft contact rate is minimal at 10%, he is hitting for medium contact 6% more often than he is hitting for hard contact (42%). Combined with a below average pull-rate (37%), 25.6 strikeout percentage, and extreme ground ball tendencies (50.6%) as compared to a sluggish 27.2% fly ball rate, and it's easy to see how Ohtani could experience a skid.

Ohtani only reached 20+ HR once while playing in Japan, a feat he achieved in 2016 through 323 AB. His speed may allow him to maintain a chunk of his .360 BABIP, but if he's hitting a combined 73% of batted balls either on the ground or as line drives, that doesn't register a heavy rain of homers on the forecast. He has already been truly a spectacle to behold, but his role for the Angels is still largely experimental. If you think you can parlay his heavy success from the mound into a sell high deal, you should feel more than comfortable to pull the trigger.


Miguel Rojas - (SS/1B/3B, MIA)

Miguel Rojas may have at one point looked like a waiver wire "zombie" as a power-utility option this season, but that brief point is now over. After never having hit more than a single dinger in Miami each of the last four years, Rojas stepped it up in May of this season and knocked three HR (bringing his total and career high to seven) with a .789 OPS. In the last two weeks (37 AB) he came to a crashing hault and produced a hideous slash of .162/.244/.162.

The one bright side for Rojas statistically had been his hard contact improvement. His bar was set very low in that department however, as can be seen by hisĀ heavily improved soft/medium/hard contact split of 21.3%/49.2%/.29.5%. He was able to hit more HR this year also due to a 5% increase in fly balls, but as can be seen by his contact strength, he just isn't able to turn those into legitimate HR contenders. His average exit velocity is three mph below league average, and he doesn't even carry a SB upside since his highest total from a season in the minors was 15, and that was in 2011. Miguel Rojas has made himself a not-commodity for Fantasy Baseball Managers and, once Martin Prado returns from the disabled list, possibly the Miami Marlins.


Gregory Polanco - (OF, PIT)

Let's start with the bad news for Gregory Polanco. He's two years separated from success at the plate (or on the base paths), and even then he only ever reached 22 HR with a .786 OPS. This year while his BB% increased by nearly 6%, while strikeout frequency increased by 9% (it now sits at 23.7%). This alteration in plate discipline is a huge cause of Polanco's substandard BA and OBP of .207/.313. On top of that, in his last nine games played he is producing a slash of .138/.212/.241 and hasn't hit a homer in two weeks.

Now for the good news for Polanco: it looks like he'll be just fine. His ISO has jumped up from .140 in 2017 to .207 this year, while Polanco has already crushed eight HR to the tune of 410 feet on average. His peripherals indicate that he's accomplished this by boosting his hard contact rate by 10% and his FB rate by 13%, in conjuction with maintaining his usually above average pull-rate at 45%.

Polanco is having a resurgent season and this last two weeks is likely just a minor hurdle. His increased strikeout volume is a bummer, but for a player who runs like Polanco who has been making good contact, his BABIP of .200 over that 14 day span is quite low. Trust his improved all-around power game and fly ball tendencies within a Pittsburgh Pirates offense that's been hovering in top-10 territory all season.



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