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Power Risers and Fallers for Week 9 - Buy or Sell?


Welcome to Week 9 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 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

Andrew Benintendi - (OF, BOS)

Andrew Benintendi hasn't been on an overall slugging tear like this since his last season as an Arkansas Razorback. He got off to a less than spectacular start to the season, posting a .740 OPS and just a single HR through April. Since then however he has looked unstoppable at the plate for Boston and has produced a .395/.479/.842 slash line and four homers in the last two weeks. Benintendi's value has always come from his well-rounded offensive talent with an upside towards BA and stolen bases. Considering that his BA/OBP split has remained high at .292/.378 on the year and he has managed to grab eight bags in eight tries (that's a 100% success rate if you did the math), is Benintendi's surge in power legit enough to push his value to the next level?

For one thing, Benintendi has some concerning power splits depending on the circumstances. While he holds a fantastic OPS of .968 in 149 AB against RHP, he can't seem to dial in on lefties as he has managed a figure of just .655 against them. Even more concerning is that in 94 AB on the road in 2018 (nearly 50% of his AB) he has produced an ugly slash line of .202/.315/.330. The power peripherals also don't paint a clear picture of what is to come from Benintendi. While his ISO of .228 is his highest since he made it to the majors, his soft contact rate increased by 1% and his hard contact dropped by a substantial 10%. While his FB and GB percentages have each improved in favor of power, the difference is rather insignificant at less than 2%, and his pull-rate has enjoyed a nice uptick of 10%.

Boston has scored more runs than any other team in baseball. Benintendi's peripherals show uncertainty (average exit velocity of 88.2 mph and average HR of 388 feet both sit well under league average). It's more likely that his streaky affinity to get more XBH at home combined with his speed will reward Fantasy Baseball Managers in the form of increased runs and RBI than it will in more than 20 HR on the year.

 

Devin Mesoraco - (C, NYM)

In 2014 Devin Mesoraco hit 25 HR and received an All-Star selection for his work that year with the Cincinnati Reds. In the three years since, due to numerous injuries and medical procedures, he hit six HR and took just 243 AB. Power hitting or not, it's just good to see him back. He started 2018 slow for the Reds but has exploded since he was shipped to the Mets in exchange for Matt Harvey. He has hit five HR in his 46 AB with New York and has managed three homers and a slash of .290/.371/.645 in the last 14 days.

One thing is for sure: the Mets went out and acquired a catcher because they were in desperate need for one. After Travis D'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki went down in quick succession and they were forced to resort to Jose Lobaton for a bit, the window of opportunity opened up wide for Mesoraco to make a good first impression. Mesoraco has succeeded in doing so and has produced a hard-contact rate over 30% (32.4%) for the first time since his All-Star campaign of 2014. His pull-rate is still solid at 46.5% and his current fly-ball and ground-ball rates of 43.7% and 36.6% lean far more in favor of power hitting than even Mesoraco's career averages. Mesoraco is still a widely available asset for the difficult catcher slot, not to mention a feel-good story. He looks like a nice offensive option moving forward if he can stay off of the disabled list.

 

Ronald Guzman - (1B, TEX)

Despite a cringe-worthy BA and OBP of .216/.283, the 23-year old Ronald Guzman has achieved a decent offensive performance with six HR and a .448 slugging percentage through the first 116 AB of his major league career. Most of that success has come lately though. He has four of those long balls and a SLG of .600 in the last two weeks (40 AB), though his BA and OBP have barely recovered at all (.225/.295 in that period).  The real issue in trusting the power that Guzman has demonstrated of late is that throughout his minor league career, he displayed a nearly opposite skill set.

Guzman never hit more than 16 HR in a minor league season and his slugging percentage through Triple-A was .421, while on the flip side of that his average BA and OBP for three years at that level was .289/.361. He looked more comparable to Josh Bell than he did to a prototypical slugging first baseman. He even showed the ability to steal 5-7 bases. That appears to be a more realistic expectation when viewing his hard contact rate of 28.8%, GO/FO ratio of 1.16, and average exit velocity of 87 mph.

His plate discipline has tanked since he arrived at the big show and this has prevented his overall offensive performance of reaching the level that he has in the past. Maybe he has just opted to swing for the fences more? Even once his surge of late starts to decline, his skill set still holds sleeper value in the 93% of leagues he is available in.

 

Brandon Crawford - (SS, SF)

Though the 31-year old Brandon Crawford has accumulated several offensive and defensive accolades throughout his career, he is currently on pace for his best season yet at the plate. The veteran infielder had an agonizingly slow-start through April but has recovered tremendously in the last two weeks with three HR and a 1.149 OPS to put his 2018 HR and slash totals at six and .311/.355/.481.

Some of his figures such as FB rate, pull-rate, and strikeout rate have deviated in favor of suppressed power (especially in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park). Yet Crawford has put up an ISO of .166 through dropping his soft contact by about 4% and raising his hard contact by nearly 7% to an impressive total of 39.3%. Crawford has never stolen more than seven bases in a season, a feat which he accomplished back in 2016. He needs this power advantage and subsequent BA/OBP improvement due to harder contact to remain relevant. Add in the extra factor of reliability that is demonstrated through Crawford's nearly identical Home/Away and RHP/LHP OPS splits, and it's no wonder that he has been one of the most rapidly added infielders of the past week.

 

Power Fallers

David Peralta - (OF, ARI)

I'm not the superstitious type, so let's just say that there have been some unfortunate circumstances for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the first month of the season, David Peralta was rolling with an OPS of .914 and five HR to boot. Since then he has tanked, along with the rest of the Arizona offense, and in the last two weeks has produced a horrendous slash line of .175/.195/.175.

With an exit velocity of 90.7 mph and a hard contact rate of 43.9% (up impressively by 12.1% from 2017!) the problem isn't in Peralta's power when he gets a hold of a ball. However with a GB% all the way up at 54.3% and a FB% subsequently sitting in the trenches at 27.9% with a mediocre 33.8% pull-rate, it is clear that any pop Peralta puts into a pitch is powerless when they end up dribbling into an infielder's glove. On the  bright side Peralta has always hit a high-volume of grounders and has ended up with successful HR totals on numerous occasions, so current horrific slump aside the increase in 2018 hard contact still bodes well for his power moving forward. With half of his batted balls routinely turning into grounders, streakiness is to be expected. He is still available in nearly 40% of leagues if you feel like taking the chance.

 

Scott Schebler - (OF, CIN)

The crowded Reds outfield isn't exactly the place you want to be if you are skidding offensively. Last year Scott Schebler's power manifested itself into 30 HR and a .252 ISO. Like Peralta, Schebler also got off to a hot start in April with a .930 OPS but has faltered tremendously and holds a slash line of .206/.325/.206 and zero homers in the past two weeks (34 AB). So how can Schebler get back on track to recreating his success from 2017?

First off, he is only hitting for hard contact 0.7% less frequently than last year and has decreased his soft contact by 4.2% to 15.1%. The issue, as it was for Peralta, is his GB/FB ratio. In 2017 he was able to turn his hard contact into 30 balls-gone-deep because he held a 45.6% ground ball rate and 38.2% fly ball rate. While these figures are less than ideal, they are much better for power hitting than his figures this season respectively of 58.5% and 25.5%.

This is now a different issue than that of Peralta: Peralta had found success in year's past despite his GB%, while Schebler's only legitimately successful MLB season came with different peripherals entirely. His hard/soft contact rates as well as his average exit velocity of 90.8 mph bring decent tidings, but Schebler won't have close to his value from 2017 if he can't find a way to produce more fly balls. Let this situation play out before you take another dig at Scott Schebler, this skid brings him dangerously close to falling behind and losing even more AB to other young Reds like Adam Duvall.

 

Evan Longoria - (3B, SF)

At first, Evan Longoria looked to be comfortable in making the transition to his new home of San Francisco after ten star-studded seasons in Tampa Bay. With six HR and a .520 slugging percentage through April, Longoria looked a decade away from regression. Since then his power hitting in the confines of pitcher-friendly AT&T Field has plummeted and until Tuesday had failed to hit a single HR in the past 14 days, slugging a rather pedestrian .378. Despite this, not only is there no reason to panic on Longoria, there is actually plenty of reason to buy now.

While his plate discipline is down slightly from his career norm, he still managed a .311/.360 BA/OBP over this recent slump, so there is nothing wrong with his approach. His current ISO of .224 is significantly higher than his mark from 2017 while none of his relevant peripherals such as pull-rate or FB% have deviated significantly from his career averages despite the change in scenery. Most important: his soft contact rate (12.3%) is his lowest figure since 2013 while his current hard contact rate (46.6%) would be his best of his career if the season ended today. That's impressive for a 32-year old playing his first season in a notoriously power-suppressing park.

Mix that in with an average exit velocity and HR distance both sitting above league average (90 mph and 407 feet) and nearly 35% league availability, and the former ROY and MVP candidate looks like a solid buy-low option. Others may have thought that an early 2018 slump spelled the beginning of the end for Evan Longoria, but his move to San Francisco may just have been the start to chapter two.

 

Zack Cozart - (SS/2B/3B, LAA)

After reaching what was so far the highest point of his career in his 2017 All-Star campaign with the Cincinnati Reds, Zack Cozart has struggled to find the same footing as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Cozart achieved well-rounded offensive success as a member of the Red Legs by accruing a .297/.385/.548 slash with 24 HR last season, but has been only able to reach an OPS of .707 with five HR in his time as one of Mike Trout's newest teammates. This humdrum figure on the year has been mostly spurred on by his two-week slump of late, with a goose egg in the long ball department and a .222/.362/.250 slash.

In terms of overall production Cozart's strikeout rate has increased minimally (1.7%) though his BB% fell by 4.3% from the career-high mark of 12.2% he set in 2017. In terms of power he has still managed an ISO of .163 due to a hard hit rate of 36.5% that is actually the best of his MLB career, while his soft contact dropped to 17.3% (believe it or not, his lowest mark since 2012!). His pull-rate (51.9%) is even his highest major league figure achieved while his fly ball and grounder rates have changed marginally.

His exit velocity is a full three mph below league average while his average HR length is 15 feet shorter than the average league clip. There is a cap to his power, but his well-rounded offensive ability is usually the factor that bridges the gap left by this cap. Cozart has always been a solid offensive option if you were looking for a powerful shortstop. Now that he is eligible at three infield positions and is roughly available in 45% of leagues, the potential rewards if he gets going again soon are exciting, especially as a part of the top-10 run scoring Angels offense.

 

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