Hello you rabid RotoBallers, and welcome to this little look in at some early power risers and fallers.
This isn’t a blind checkup on who is crushing the ball, but rather people who are making waves with a changed batted-ball profile or need a hot/cold start given some context. You don’t need me to tell you that Khris Davis’ current 97.6 mph exit velocity is second best in the MLB -- his power isn’t rising, simply sustaining.
As with every April analysis article, the standard “it’s really early so read with heaping grains of salt” note applies.
Nicholas Castellanos (3B - DET):
No grains of salt needed here, though! Castellanos, who has a wonderful first name, is currently listed atop Statcast’s early leaderboard for average exit velocity with a 98.4 mph mark. Yeah, it’s only based on 28 batted-ball events but his average generated velocity is also the best by nearly four mph at 12.3 mph. Khris Davis is the name in second place in both of the aforementioned categories. That means something pretty special is happening. When you consider how Castellanos broke out before breaking himself in August, the early-season pop points to good things down the road in 2017.
Francisco Lindor (SS - CLE):
Lindor currently has a 94.3 mph average exit velocity, good for seventh on the leaderboard ahead of Arizona’s Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt. While no one expects Lindor to hold around that spot all season long with his nearly 30 percent HR/FB rate, this is quite the splash after posting an 89.3 mph AEV last season. The 23-year-old shortstop appears to be extremely comfortable in the batter’s box right now, and growing into his frame a bit more for some extra pop was always on the table. Enjoy, Lindor owners!
David Peralta (OF - ARI):
Peralta’s .216/268/.405 triple slash isn’t what his owners were hoping for, but the man does have two homers and a 50% hard-hit rate to go with his 95.9 mph AEV. That’s third best in the bigs thus far, and he checked in at 90.2 mph in his injury-marred 2016. Back in his mini-breakout of 2015, however, he was 22nd in the MLB with a 92.6 mph AEV. Looks like he’s feeling healthy, and I'd feel healthy owning him.
Maikel Franco (3B - PHI):
Yet another hard-hitting guy with a zesty 95.1 mph AEV who simply hasn’t been doing much with the pop thus far. His two homers and eight RBI are solid, but the .242 average and .222 BABIP are strange to see given how hard he’s striking the ball. Fangraphs pegs him with only six fly balls thus far, backing his having the lowest average launch angle (7.7 degrees) within the top 10 of AEV thus far -- but then we’d expect the hard-hit balls to be finding holes a bit more readily. Expect the raw percentage of grounders/liners to decrease, but the amount of them finding open field should rise with his average. Mind you, the 25-homer power should stay on course.
Joe Panik (2B - SF):
This is a little cheap because he isn’t a “power gainer” in the traditional sense of power meaning homers. I suppose this would be the only appropriate time to panik this early in April. After slogging through a concussion-affected 2016 that yielded a gross .239 average with a tough 86.6 mph AEV, Panik has returned to form with a 93 mph AEV out of the gate in 2017. And what do you know, but his batting average has rebounded to .323 thus far with a .357 BABIP, close to his .343 and .330 marks from 2014 and 2015. Leave that weird .245 BABIP from 2016 in the rear-view mirror and pick up Panik if you need a .300-hitting middle infielder. This likely still won’t lead to a ton of homers, but his bat is back.
Albert Pujols (1B - LAA):
Pujols only has two extra-base hits in 42 plate appearances thus far, with an uncharacteristically low 88.7 mph AEV holding him back at the moment. For context, Pujols checked in at 92.5 mph last season. We’re not going to jump ship on the age-37 slugger yet, though, as this is either just early-season noise or he’s dealing with an injury. The aging curve will claim Pujols one day, but it’s unlikely to be this sharp of a dive.
Justin Turner (3B - LAD):
Turner enjoyed a 91 mph AEV in 2016 as he blasted a career-high 27 homers with 90 RBI for LA, but he just hasn’t found his power stroke yet in 2017. That’s not to say he isn’t hitting, though. His current .355 average is surely acceptable to his fantasy owners, but he doesn’t have any homers through 35 PAs. He does have five doubles, but a slip to an 89.1 mph AEV may explain why a couple of those doubles haven’t turned into tenants of Souvenir City.
Gregory Polanco (OF - PIT):
Polanco has a decent .273 average to go with four runs scored and three steals, but only two doubles and zero homers has yielded an unbecoming .061 ISO out of the starting gate. Realizing that his early-season shoulder injury may not have simply been affecting his throwing abilities -- as Pittsburgh let on -- we could be looking at either a buy-low candidate if you believe he’ll come back, or a “sell low and move on” if you think this kind of thing will nag at him all season and produce a result like his second half from 2016. This writer is in the former camp, but won’t begrudge anyone for avoiding his current 89.8 mph AEV.
Lorenzo Cain (OF - KC):
Cain isn’t appearing on the Statcast leaderboard yet, but where he does show up is on Fangraphs’ soft-contact leaderboard. In fact, he’s at the very top of it with an absurd 47.4 percent mark. The difference between he and some of the other names at the top of that list is that he’s, A) not a slappy speedster like Jarrod Dyson, and B) only has a 10.5% hard-hit rate to “balance it out”. Now, Cain is making value with his four steals and 10-to-7 BB:K ratio, but there’s a reason that he only has one XBH (a double) out of his 10 hits on the season. His .455 BABIP will fall, but will his ISO rise back up toward .150 and give us a 16-homer season like in 2015? Time will tell, but I’d bank on 12.
Marcus Semien (SS - OAK):
So, Cain isn’t alone at that 47.4 percent soft-contact mark. Oakland’s shortstop is actually tied with Cain, though at least he has a 31.6 percent hard-contact rate to offer some early hope outside of just thinking “well, it’s too early to worry” (which is fair, you can definitely still say that!) but Semien’s 5-for-33 start is only being buoyed by four steals. He has yet to homer, which is notable simply because that’s his main draw. He won’t help you in average and the speed likely tops out at around 15 bags. He needs to tap into that 27-homer form from last season if he’s to be a mixed-league option. He should get it together, but he definitely qualifies as an early faller.