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Power Risers and Fallers for Week 5: Buy or Sell?


Welcome to Week 5 of the 2018 MLB season and the first week of our investigation into the steepest power trenders in baseball, whether those trends be positive or negative.

As the season turns the corner into the month of May, 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 current 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

Michael A. Taylor - (OF, WAS)

Last season, at the age of 26, Michael A. Taylor finally wrapped himself into the entire package out of the Washington outfield with 19 HR, 17 SB, a slash of .271/.320/.486, and a career-high ISO of .216 in 399 AB. However through his first 30 games of 2018 with the Nationals he has started to play like the Michael Taylor of old with an ugly slash line of .214/.283/.369 and an ISO of .155 that sits much closer to his previous career marks.

In the last two weeks, Taylor has seen a big turnaround at the plate posting a .611 slugging percentage, four doubles, and his only three HR of the season. He accomplished this by producing a HR/FB rate of 42.9% over that 14-day span, which ranked second in all of baseball. The problem is, Taylor hits fly balls at a dismal rate of 25.9% in contrast to his startlingly high ground ball rate of 59.3%. While this ground ball rate and Taylor's speed could account for his improvement in BA, it doesn't usually bode well for power-hitting. In greater support for Taylor sustaining this power trip, while his average rate of low/med/hard balls on the season is 30.4%/40.6%/29%, in the last two weeks he has improved across the board to 25%/42.9%/32.1%. Count on Taylor's mixed figures and improved plate discipline to cause some inconsistency in his power game, but with the speed combo he offers (nine steals and hasn't been caught once so far!) he is worth the potential ups and downs.

Yonder Alonso - (1B, CLE)

Yonder Alonso has tried his bat for a number of different ball clubs, but he looks to be finally squaring up and settling in to his new home in Cleveland. After a pedestrian start to the year Alonso has exploded in the last two weeks with a .628 slugging percentage and five HR across 43 AB. With an ISO of .263 that sits even higher than his impressive mark of .235 from 2017, what is Alonso's drawback? The answer is his hard hit rate which even though he has improved to 34.2% over the last 14 days is still relatively lower than ideal, plus his medium-hit rate of 51.2% and exit velocity of 94.9 mph on fly balls over that same time span ironically leaves a lot up in the air.

Despite that ambiguity, Alonso has healthy FB% and HR/FB% figures of 48.8% and 25%. While these are stark outliers in comparison to Alondo's career-long performance with other teams, they are very similar to the figures he posted during his breakout campaign in 2017. With a previous season of similar work to support the on-field product, consider Yonder Alonso a safe ride.

Jorge Soler - (OF, KC)

After a rocky first handful of seasons in the MLB, it is easy to forget that the former highly-touted prospect Jorge Soler is still just 26-years old. In his second season in the Kansas City outfield, Soler seems like he has harnessed his skills and is expanding the ceiling of his potential. Through 85 AB this year, Soler has a fantastic .306/.434/.494 slash line. His BA and OBP have clearly been aided by his improved K% and BB% of 25.5% and 17%.

Soler has demonstrated mostly power though in the last two weeks, with an impressive low/med/hard hit ball split of 13.3%/43.3%/43.3%, two HR, and a slugging percentage of .625. He also has the 14th highest pull-rate in the majors over that time span at 53.3%. While his exit velocity of 90.6 mph is relatively unflattering he hits his fly balls at a tolerable clip of 94.4 and the important note with Soler is that his power and exit velocity are trending in the right direction along with his plate discipline. He has all but abandoned the idea of stealing bases so he lacks the benefit of a power-speed combo, but his improved discipline serves as a viable safety net for managers who want to roll the dice on this widely available former #12 prospect while he takes baby steps with his hard-hit rate.

 

Power Fallers

Aledmys Diaz - (SS, TOR)

After a 2016 All-Star season where he demonstrated great power potential at shortstop (17 HR for St. Louis), Aledmys Diaz regressed to a very disappointing performance in limited plate appearances last year. After a hot-start to the season that saw him hit four long-balls between April 2-13, Diaz is once again dancing with the demons of 2017.

Over the last 14 days he has hit a terrible soft-hit rate of 25% and an abysmal hard-hit rate of 22.2%, which is the 13th worst in baseball during that stretch. Those are acceptable figures from certain shortstops, but not from one whose majority appeal is the pop in his bat. If there is any upside to Diaz over this horrid slump its that he has a good pull-rate of 50% and his BABIP has been .139, but what do you expect when you hit 50% GB at a mostly soft-medium clip? The exit velocity of 88.4 just won't cut it, he has to start hitting the ball harder quickly, or he will soon be untouchable, even if you're desperate for power out of the middle infield.

Justin Upton - (OF, LAA)

Any fantasy baseball manager who has experience with Justin Upton knows that his proven power-speed prowess can be a little temperamental. Upton has started 2018 with a mediocre OPS of .657, has increased his GB/FB ratio to 0.81, and his HR/FB% has plummeted to 9.5% from 21.2% in 2017.

Upton actually is producing a better figure of soft-hit balls than last season at 16.5% with the difference coming in the 6% increase in medium-hit balls so far this year. His exit velocity of 89.7 mph is actually higher than than of last year's mark when he smacked 35 dingers, with the main difference looking to be his launch angle which has descended by four degrees. Justin Upton is a long proven power-speed commodity who has always had a tendency to slump at some unpredictable times. That being said, his exit velocity figures and lack of soft-hit balls demonstrate that you'll likely get way more for your buck by waiting this out, however tough it may be. Instead of giving into panic or impatience, trust in the fact that there are just a few minor statistical adjustments needed for Upton to get right back on his usual track.

Brian Dozier - (2B, MIN)

If any case among the current downward trenders in power is possibly compelling enough to warrant thoughts on an early season hot-sale, it looks to be Brian Dozier. His current SLG% of .406 and ISO of .160 are his lowest marks since all the way back in 2012. Although his launch angle has been higher in 2018 his exit velocity is way down to 85.5 mph, while his hard-hit rate of 29.1% is his lowest in three years and his soft-hit rate of 23.3% would be his career-worst. His FB% has actually improved by a hair and he's striking out less, but he just hasn't been able to get a power-handle on the fly balls he has been able to produce with a HR/FB rate of just 10.6%.

Despite all of this, the good news is that he has notoriously struggled like this through April, even during his recent seasons as an elite second basemen. Dozier is a late-bloomer when you track the records of his fantastic play from 2015-2017 who has always played at his most dangerous in the season's later months. However, being down across the board in his batted ball metrics doesn't exactly spell out an overnight solution, so keep a careful eye on Brian Dozier's power-performance at the plate in the coming weeks. You could possibly find an opportunity to sell for more consistent production if you can't wait too long for him to heat up.

 

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