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Welcome to Week 11 of the 2018 MLB season and a new week of our investigation into the steepest power trenders in baseball, whether those trends are positive or negative.

As the season steamrolls through 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

Ketel Marte - (SS/2B, ARI)

Ketel Marte has never amassed more than five HR or a slugging percentage higher than .402 prior to 2018. Already through 229 AB this season and Marte is already on pace to shatter his previous career bests. He currently has an NL-leading seven triples; in the last two weeks (35 AB), he has really heated up to the tune of 11 XBH (including three homers) and an impressive 1.407 OPS.

Marte's up-trending power is supported by a hard contact rate of 34% which is 6% higher than his 2017 percentage. Unfortunately, this hard contact has come at the expense of his medium contact, not his soft contact. With a GB/FB split of 55.8%/27.9% and a below average pull rate, Marte also isn't putting the ball in the ideal location when he is making said contact. It is more likely that his increase in hard contact, when combined with his speed, will translate into more total bases, as seen through his total number of triples, which will then result in an increase in RBI and R totals. Even though his HR totals may not reach huge heights, you could do worse for a guy mostly known for speed. His average HR distance of 413 feet still leaves hope for the occasional string of dingers.

 

Jose Martinez - (1B/OF, STL)

29-year old journeyman Jose Martinez is finally starting to pick up where he left off in 2017, for real, with his recent barrage of bombs. Five in the last seven days to be exact, to add to a scorching slash line of .436/.500/897 over the last two weeks.

Martinez has made mild improvements to both his hard contact percentage (3.7%) and soft contact percentage (-1.5%), though his pull rate sits below average by about 5% and his GB/FB ratio of 1.79 is a bit off-putting. The silver lining with Jose Martinez is that his plate discipline and overall offensive production adds value. He is striking out only 13.4% of the time and his .340 BABIP is supported in part by hard contact being applied to line drives which make up more than a fourth of his batted balls. Martinez definitely hits too many grounders, but his well-rounded offensive approach, increased power on batted balls, and demonstrated ability to steal a sneaky total of bases in the past bids well for him moving forward.

 

Cody Bellinger - (1B/OF, LAD)

Didn't we all see this coming from a mile away? Just as Dodger teammate Joc Pederson has started boiling with the bat after his pedestrian first couple of months, Cody Bellinger has finally started looking like the near-40 HR and 97 RBI player who was named Rookie of the Year in 2017. Just in the last two weeks Bellinger has helped propel Los Angeles to an 8-3 record with four balls gone yard and a slash line of .273/.415/.727.

There didn't appear to be much cause for concern with Cody Bellinger to begin with. While he is hitting slightly more grounders at the expense of fly balls, his GB/FB ratio of 0.91 is still solid and allows him plenty of opportunities to go deep. Likewise while his hard and soft contact on batted balls have regressed slightly (6% each) he is still hitting for hard contact 37% of the time, which is more than enough to take advantage of his frequent flyers. His pull rate has even leaped up to almost 49%.

Bellinger may not reach his power totals from last year, but he doesn't need to in order to still hold tremendous value. Especially when he has been uncorking homers at 407 feet on average out of the top-5 Dodger offense and is one of the few power-hitting first basemen to be able to steal 10+ bases to boot.

 

Jonathan Villar - (2B, MIL)

When Jonathan Villar added 19 HR to 62 steals in 2016, he was arguably the Fantasy Baseball Sleeper of the year. Though he got off to a slow start to 2018, his performance from the last two weeks (three homers and a .892 OPS) and his current season totals of six HR and nine SB has caused some to wonder if Villar could once again flirt with a power/speed figure in the twenties.

Playing in HR friendly Miller Park always helps, especially when you are in the Brewers offense that sits middle of the pack. The good news for Villar moving forward is that his hard contact rate of 35.2% is sitting about even with his percentage from 2016 and his pull rate sits just under 40%. The bad news is that both his average exit velocity and HR distance sits dead set with the league average at his position, his soft contact frequency is way too high (29%) and he only hits fly balls 16% of the time. Not to mention that he still walks scarcely and strikes out at a 30% rate.

His frequent grounders and speed will undoubtedly support Villar in terms of improved BA as well as his usual healthy dose of stolen bases. Though with how infrequently he puts the ball in the air and how often that translates to soft contact, streakiness should be expected. It would be a bit surprising to see him reach anymore than 15 long balls.

 

Power Fallers

Didi Gregorius - (SS, NYY)

After knocking 10 HR in the month of April, Didi Gregorius had a well-documented horrific time at the plate in May, posting a .151/.186/.215 slash throughout. On the bright side for the Yankees shortstop, Didi just had a two-HR game the other night and has recuperated with a .799 OPS in the last two weeks. Having said that, his month of May was disturbing, and so he warrants a deep look into.

Plenty of things are still looking good for Gregorius despite the recent power outage. He has finally raised his pull rate to an above-average clip of 42.6%. He improved upon, what was already his career low GB/FB ratio of 0.83 from 2017 to 0.78 so far this season. He has managed to bring his soft contact rate down a few ticks to an admittedly less than ideal 20.5%, but most astonishing is that he increased his hard contact rate by 13.3% from last year to it's current standing of 36.4%. That much more hard contact goes a long way in notoriously hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

As we said, Gregorius's work at the plate in May was quite concerning. However his peripherals indicate that he has many things going for him in the power department, especially now that he has improved his overall offensive performance in the last two weeks. He adds this to eight stolen bases on the year, which is already another career high at this young point in the year. Trudge forward and continue trust in deploying Didi out of the monstrous New York offense.

 

Max Kepler - (OF, MIN)

Max Kepler has gone cold up in Minnesota, and that is cutting it razor thin on his already narrow margin of error on offense. Kepler has never produced more than 19 HR, six SB, or an OPS higher than .737 in a season. Regression from numbers like that could make him a very dispensable asset for Fantasy Baseball Managers. Though, it isn't exactly clear why his work at the plate hasn't manifested into more production.

In his last 37 AB he holds an unsightly .162/.295/.162 slash. If you are following along, that means he hasn't notched a single XBH over that time period. Despite that, his hard contact rate is up 6% from last season to a solid 39%, though completely at the expense of his medium contact. His pull rate sits above the league norm at 44% and he is also getting more air time with a GB/FB ratio that decreased from 1.08 to 0.89. Even his plate discipline has seemingly improved with a strikeout percentage of 15.1% and a BB percentage of 12.4%.

There are however, some clear issues. His exit velocity of 90 sits right above league average, but his average HR distance of 384 feet sits well below. This is potentially problematic when you play your home games in historically power-stifling Target Field. Although Kepler is still young, it seems like we can infer what his ceiling is already when viewing his career history. While he demonstrated 15+ stolen base capability in the minors, that clearly isn't his game anymore. If he can linger between 18-25 homers then he has power value, but even with his improved batted ball contact he doesn't seem to be capable of much more than that with these occasional slumps factored in.

 

Willson Contreras - (C, CHC)

Willson Contreras is an unusually well-rounded catcher when it comes to offense. His BA and OBP are usually solid for a player at any position and he was able to pair 21 HR with five stolen bases in 2017. In the last 14 days (34 AB) while Contreras has produced high quality BA and OBP of .294 and .390, he has been coming up flat with a slugging percentage of .324. He also has just managed to hit four HR so far throughout the entirety of this season, well below his 21 homer/377 AB pace from last year.

Unlike some other power fallers, Contreras has a few loudly apparent gaps in his power peripherals. He has a ground ball percentage of 48.5%. Believe it or not this actually brings his GB/FB ratio down from 1.81 to a still stagnant 1.29. That is way too many grounders for a guy who has been hitting with much less potent contact on batted balls. How much less potent you ask? His hard contact has decreased by 6% so far this year to 29.8%. A little more on the fortunate side is that his soft contact has remained sub-20% and 50% of his batted balls are struck at medium contact. Contreras also has a pull rate and average velocity slightly above league norm at 41.1% and 89.7 mph, while his average HR distance of 408 (albeit on just four homers total) easily makes the mark at in the hitter-friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Contreras's well-rounded offensive ability holds plenty of value in the Cubs offense that ranks 6th in the MLB in run scoring, and his affinity for stolen bases comparatively for a catcher is a little more gravy. However with the ground ball frequency and batted ball power that he is currently producing, don't expect him to reproduce his 21 HR and .223 ISO from last season.

 

Tucker Barnhart - (C, CIN)

Just as the Reds swap longtime catcher Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart was able to throw together a solid offensive outing in the month of May, Cincinnati acquires Curt Casali who makes an immediately optimistic impression (in a very limited sample) while Barnhart has sputtered in the last two weeks with a .675 OPS and just one homer. Barnhart demonstrated in 2017 that he too could be a well-rounded catcher. In 370 AB he held a .270 BA and .347 OBP to add to four stolen bases and a very mild seven HR. Oh yeah, he also won a Gold Glove. That always goes a long way to keeping you on the field. So what can we expect from him for the rest of the year at a typically shallow position for Fantasy Baseball Managers to fill?

Let's talk downsides first. His average exit velocity of 87 mph and average HR distance of 387 feet is humdrum indeed, although it always helps to make a place like Great American Ball Park your home. Even though he has been producing slightly more fly balls this year, he still has a disheartening GB/FB ratio of 1.58. Also his strikeout percentage has increased to a relatively high 19.5%. On the upside, this rise in whiffs can likely partially be attributed to a greater abandonment for power. His hard contact rate is up nearly 5% to 37.8% which is quite encouraging. What's more, he produces very infrequent soft contact on batted balls with a rate of 12.8%. Finally, his pull rate is up to 45%. These all point to a greater power pace than he had shown in years before.

Tucker Barnhart is widely available at a position where you could be one injury away from being in desperate need of immediate help. When he's dialed in he can produce a BA between .270-.295 with an OBP in the mid-.300s to add to potential for 12-15 HR and eight to ten steals if he gets enough AB. Though runs and RBI likely won't be plentiful in the 18th ranked Cincinnati offense.

 

More Risers and Fallers





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