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Power Risers and Fallers for Week 8: Buy or Sell?


Welcome to Week 8 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 we power through the second half 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.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Power Risers

Yasiel Puig - (OF, LAD)

Is it hard to believe that it has already been five years since Yasiel Puig exploded onto the scene. It may be harder to believe that after the best season of his young career being in 2017, that he has gotten off to such a sluggish start with a slash of .221/.294/.393 and just five HR in 122 AB. The great news for Puig believers is that all five of those homers came in the last 14 days, to the tune of a 1.128 OPS.

All indications for Puig, in light of his recent stretch of fire, would be that he is simply bouncing back from a rough first month of the season. Some of his peripherals on the year could spell trouble. His BB% is down by a small amount (1.5%), his K% is has inversely gone up by a small amount (3%), and while his hard contact rate is nearly identical to that of his stellar campaign last season, the drop in medium contact has led to 8% more bunny shots.

Puig's exit velocity on batted balls is hovering around 92 mph while his average HR is travelling about 410 feet. Puig's seasonal ratio figures are skewed due to his horrid month of April, so with the barrage of HR that he has brought with him into May points well moving forward. His five steals in six tries this year (83.3%) bodes well for fantasy baseball managers also.

Gleyber Torres - (SS/2B, NYY)

Gleyber Torres is the new kid on the block in the Bronx for the elite Yankees offense, and 88 AB in he's already made a strong impression. This far into the year Torres has a highly impressive slash line of .330/.394/.602, to add to seven bombs, and a single stolen base. While Torres has never displayed power in the minor leagues to the extent that he already has in major league pinstripes, he does hold a .878 OPS at the Triple-A level.

In his brief time at the MLB level in 2018, he has been making hard contact on batted balls 37.7% of the time while he made soft contact 17.4% of the time. His pull-rate has been 49.3% and while his strikeout and walk figures have looked a little raw as compared to the standard he set for himself in the minors, the fact that his ground ball/fly ball ratio of 0.48 gives Torres plenty of opportunities to go yard in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

He must be hitting the fly balls hard despite his average exit velocity of 88 mph because his HR/FB ratio sits at 17.5% and his average homer travels 415 feet. Add that to the fact that power hitting middle infielders are that much more valuable and Torres has shown the ability to steal 20+ bases earlier in his professional career and Gleyber Torres looks like someone to be excited to hitch your wagon to for the remainder of the year, New York's lineup permitting.

Jesus Aguilar - (1B, MIL)

Last season, at age 26, Jesus Aguilar hit 16 HR in 279 AB for the Milwaukee Brewers. That's nice. So far in 2018, he has produced a slash line of .321/.382/.585 with seven HR, five of them coming in the last two weeks. Now that's fantastic. Perhaps he took a note from Scooter Gennett and decided to have his coming out party sometime in his late twenties. Regardless, the indications given from Aguilar's peripherals paint a promising portrait as the season progresses.

First off, in terms of plate discipline, Aguilar has finally raised his walk rate to slightly above leave average (8.9% compared to 8.1%) while he has lowered his strikeout rate from a ghastly 30.2% to 22.8% (still mediocre, but serviceable for a power hitter). He has been making hard contact on batted balls an impressive 40.2% of the time and has lowered his soft contact rate all the way down to 11%. In conjunction with a 51.3% pull rate in HR-friendly Miller Park and a GB%/FB% split of 25.6%/46.3%, it is no wonder how Aguilar has managed to improve upon his 2017 ISO of .240 to the .264 mark at which it currently stands.

Aguilar has demonstrated 30+ HR power before in the minors, so this isn't exactly outside of his wheelhouse. Although his average homer isn't even travelling 400 feet, his current average exit velocity of 92.5 mph is a good sign.  He looks like just the offensive boost that the Milwaukee Brewers might need to remain contenders in the NL Central. By the way, is Jesus Aguilar hitting this way WITH BRACES IN HIS MOUTH? That's even more impressive considering bubble gum and sunflower seeds present a substantial mental hurdle.

Josh Bell - (1B, PIT)

Let's make something clear: we never needed Josh Bell to be an Albert Pujols-level power hitter at first base. His value doesn't sink if he fails to hit with anything but ill-will and raw power. Where the value starts to take a tumble for Josh Bell is when the power is non-existent. Through 172 AB in 2018 Bell has produced a serviceable OPS of .734 in addition to three HR. Far from beating the leather off of the ball. He has started to turn the show around in the last 14 days with a slash line of .278/.325/.528 and although he only smacked one long ball in that period of time, he did produce six XBH in those 40 PA.

Bell is a valuable asset when he adds power to his already strong overall play at the plate. The peripherals on his power seem to point a few different directions, likely the cause for his inconsistent and underwhelming power play in total. His hard contact rate of 31.9% is the lowest of his young career while his soft contact rate of 20.3% is the lowest. His pull-rate is down 7.4% while he is simultaneously hitting 4% more fly balls, and 4% less grounders. Also, his average exit velocity of 89.5 mph is just a tick over league average while his average HR is travelling a daunting 425 feet.

Probably most important, Bell's strikeout and walk rates (and consequently his BA and OBP) are nearly identical to his 2017 marks from is age 24 season. His XBH% is finally trending in the correct direction given his play of late, it is just his HR totals that are suffering. His numbers look in line with his performances of the past, and the drop in hard contact is marginal (0.7%), so the drop in power from his 26 HR campaign last year doesn't look like an inevitability. Any pop from Bell has added 2018 value considering the pleasant surprise that is the Pittsburgh Pirates offense.

 

Power Fallers

Eduardo Escobar - (3B/SS, MIN)

Last year Eduardo Escobar was able to rack up 21 HR after never having accumulated more than 12 in an MLB season. Now, 158 AB into 2018, and Escobar looked poised to repeat his power prowess he achieved at age 28 by knocking in seven homers in the first 115 Ab. In the last two weeks, however, he has been dreadful. He hasn't hit a single HR and he has produced a menial slash of .209/.261/.256. His stolen base totals have never been impressive for a 3B/SS combo, so his ability to hit with strength is imperative.

His peripherals still prophesies good results. Though his K% is up slightly, his BB% is also up by a similar margin. His HR% is nearly identical to his mark of last year, his XBH% has improved by 5.4%, and his ISO has gone from .195 to .241. His hard contact rate has also improved by nearly 7%, and while soft contact has come with minutely more frequency, his average HR still travels about 405 feet. The real problem appears to be his pedestrian exit velocity of 86 mph. That's low, and a mark that low certainly explains how a slump like this could be possible.

The last two weeks for Escobar have been ugly, and as we said before, he isn't an infielder that can contribute his share from the base paths. His exit velocity leaves a whole lot to be desired, but if you need a multi-eligible infielder with power, there are certainly players with grimmer projections proceeding forward.

Mitch Haniger - (OF, SEA)

In two years at Triple-A Mitch Haniger compiled an excitement-worthy 1.074 OPS and, while he achieved some of that potential in part last year when he smacked 16 HR and produced an OPS of .843, he got off to an explosive start in 2018. In 169 AB this year he has produced an All-Star worthy slash of .296/.381/.568 and eleven HR. In the last two weeks, Haniger has skidded downward, but still hasn't looked mediocre. In that time span he was still able to produce a slash of .298/.365/.426 and a single shot to the sky.

These last two weeks and the lapse in HR frequency may cause skepticism, but Haniger still has the makings of a safe and consistent power play, regardless of the not-so-hitter safe confines of Safeco Field. Haniger is making hard contact 42.7% of the time (up 8% from last season!) while his soft contact has remained virtually equivalent. He has also inversely improved both his walk and strikeout rates by six percent. Even his plate discipline figures have seen a modest uptick in percentage points.

His average HR of 401 feet isn't exactly a country mile but his exit velocity is flirting with 93 mph, so there is certainly no ample reason to abandon ship on this Mariner after he failed to look divine at the plate for a fortnight's stretch.

Maikel Franco - (3B, PHI)

Ah finally, someone we can all be tastefully uncertain about. Maikel Franco is just 25 years old and in his fifth MLB season with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet don't we all feel like we already have a complete sense of what his ceiling is? He is unfortunately a little like Josh Bell without the reliable BA/OBP, and his performance peripherals cast a grim forecast for the remainder of 2018.

Despite pedestrian OPS of .733 and .690 in the previous two seasons, Franco has still managed to meander his way to about 25 homers. While he started this year off decent with an OPS of .740 and seven long balls through 147 AB, he has been so bad in the last 14 days (slash of .147/.171/.147, ZERO XBH in 34 AB) that it fully warrants the ENRON like pace that Franco's owners have been selling his stock.

How's this for depressing? Franco's hard contact rate has dropped to a measly 26.2%, his soft contact rate is nearly as high at 23%, and while his pull-rate has increased by 4.5%, he is hitting 1% less fly balls, and 5% more grounders. Yikes. That's not the starting third baseman for an NL contender...for long anyways. Not to be overly harsh on Franco, his track record of home run hitting leaves trickles of hope. With an average exit velocity and HR distance also sitting right at league average though, he isn't giving us much to think he is anything more than just that: league average.

Matt Davidson - (3B, CWS)

Did all the 27-year olds get together before the season started and agree to give us all mixed signals in the season's first two months? Despite 26 HR and an ISO of .232 last season, Matt Davidson still pulled down a forgettable .711 OPS through 414 AB. This season, Davidson rolled the power and improved discipline at the plate together and got off to a scorching start. Through 140 AB in 2018 Davidson has hit 11 HR with a much more well-rounded slash line of .243/.368/.521. He accomplished this in part with a 5% decrease in strikeouts and a whopping 11.5% inflation in walk frequency.

Davidson has slowed down and regressed to his former appearance in the last two weeks and produced just two HR with a .212 BA. Unfortunately, this abandonment of well-rounded power is likely closer to true form for Matt Davidson given his track record and perfectly reasonable BABIP of .303 despite a thunderous 48.3% hard contact rate.

That being said, he is also making bunny contact 19.5% of the time, and the average exit velocity and HR distance he is sporting (90.85 mph/409 feet) may demonstrate that his power is here to stay, but that we may have already seen the fullest extent of it. While expectations of Davidson's heat should be realistically insulated, he can be ironically counted on as streaky power option moving moving forward into June. Don't expect the BA/OBP padding he provided earlier either.

 

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