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Welcome to Week 12 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 it's always best to wait and trudge through with 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

Evan Gattis - (C, HOU)

Evan Gattis was looking rather dispensable for Houston and Fantasy Baseball Managers after a disastrous month of April in which he produced a .200/.281/.300 slash line and a single dinger. Since then Gattis has been one of the AL's best backstops with a bat with 13 HR and 39 RBI knocked in during May and June, including the last two-week period in which he produced an eye-popping .356/.375/.733 slash line and five homers on the way to earning AL Player of the Week honors.

After having a difficult time in 2017 and the start of 2018, it appears as if Evan Gattis is back to the version of himself that can accumulate 25+ HR at the age of 31. This month Gattis was able to maintain a 52% pull rate, 36.5% hard contact rate, and a measly 13.5% soft contact rate. Those figures have improved by 8.3%, 9.2%, and 10.1% respectively since the first month of the season. He is also putting batted balls in the air at a very frequent clip of 56%, while he is producing ground balls less than a fifth of the time.

The kind of hard contact and batted ball placement that Evan Gattis has been displaying for the last two months makes it look like he's going to be letting them fly for the rest of 2018. That is rather good news for a guy batting in one of the top five offenses in baseball.

 

Pablo Sandoval - (3B/1B, SF)

Pablo Sandoval is another player who seems to be going through a bit of a revitalization at age 31, after not having had a successful offensive season since 2014. After only hitting two HR through April and May, "The Kung Fu Panda" has already hit four up to this point through June and is producing an impressive slash line of .308/.390/.577 that appears eerily similar to his stats from his All-Star days.

It looks far more likely that Sandoval will continue to produce well-rounded figures at the plate moving forward in the 2018 season than he will produce a high volume of homers. Even in his resurgent run so far in June he has produced a few peripherals not particularly ideal for home-run hitting. He is hitting fly balls and grounders at the same exact rate (35.9%) and his pull rate of 30.8% is quite low. He has negated this by producing a hard contact rate of 41% (up 6.4% from April) and a soft contact rate in the basement at 12.8% this month. While he produced strong contact on batted balls during May, this didn't translate into a lot of offense due to Sandoval's ridiculous 2.71 GB/FB ratio.

Pablo Sandoval appears to finally be rolling together producing hard contact and fly balls into one for the first time in 2018. He even smacked a 446 foot long ball in the first week of the month. Yet even during his All-Star days for the world champion Giants, Sandoval was never an elite HR hitter; his value has always been in his well-rounded offensive capabilities. When he does manage to hit a fly ball, he plays in one of the hardest home parks to hit a ball deep in. Sandoval has value as a widely available bat with eligibility at both infield corners, just remember to hamper hefty expectations for his HR total.

 

Shin-Soo Choo - (OF, TEX)

When he started the 2018 season at age 35, Shin-Soo Choo had never hit more than 22 HR in an MLB season. He already appears on pace to shatter that career-best as he already has 13 homers in 277 AB, and has been on absolute fire in the last two weeks with a slash line of .366/.519/.634 with three dingers. His up-tick in power clearly hasn't come at the expense of his usual BA/OBP statistical mainstay, and his plate discipline has been fantastic with a walk rate and strikeout rate that sit exactly at 20.8% during June.

He averaged about a 45% pull rate through the first two months of the season, but since then has produced a percentage of just 28.9%. Despite that, nearly every other power peripheral points to good things to still come for Shin-Soo Choo. His hard and soft contact rates have both steadily improved each month from already solid marks of 40.5% and 14.6% to his remarkable June percentages of 51.1% and 11.1%. Also, while Choo had GB/FB ratios of 1.66 and 2.50 respectively in April and May, his ratio sits at 0.75 for June as he has started producing fliers at a 45.5% clip.

Shin-Soo Choo appears to not only be back, but actually better than ever. He is crushing his home runs at an average distance of 405 feet and he has still been able to maintain the high BA and OBP that made him worth the Rangers taking a seven year/$130M shot on. If the casualty for Choo acquiring a greater power game was whatever base stealing he had left, it's well worth it.

 

Jurickson Profar - (OF/SS, TEX)

Former #1 MLB prospect Jurickson Profar has also caught fire for the Texas Rangers. The 25-year old Curacaoan has finally started living up to the lofty expectations held by his organization and Fantasy Baseball Managers alike with a .254/.338/.524 slash line and five HR so far in the month of June. Considering his 633 AB track record previous to this season where he produced OPS between .501 and .660, it is quite logical to question the validty of his recent offensive onslaught. So how legitimate it this?

For one thing, while his soft contact percentage of 23.7% is a little higher than ideal, Profar has improved his hard contact rate a whopping 28.3% since last month to it's June rate of 47.5%. That's a massive turnaround in batted ball strength. His pull rate has also been quite an assisting hand for him at 47.5%. While he has been producing a higher volume of ground balls than fly balls in 2018 with a 1.18 GB/FB ratio, Profar has the speed to make those grounders count for something. He has also joined teammate Shin-Soo Choo in crushing balls comparatively deep as his average HR has been travelling 409 feet.

Profar's potential for power/speed production on offense is one of the main reasons why he was at one point the most anticipated prospect in the game. He is putting balls in play at a high frequency (his strikeout rate for June is just 5.6%!) and he is finally putting force behind them at the MLB level. This kind of play certainly didn't come out of the blue this year, it's more like we have been waiting for it to arrive (albeit, fashionably late).

 

Power Fallers

Austin Meadows - (OF, PIT)

Austin Meadows made an immediate and explosive impact for the Pittsburgh Pirate offense on his way to claiming the NL Rookie of the Month award for May. In his first 44 major league AB he slashed .409/.426/.795 with four HR and three SB to boot. However, since then the 23-year old highly touted prospect has cooled off significantly to the tune of a .618 OPS and zero long balls in the last 14 days. Meadows was never really known for hitting a lot of HR in the minors and in fact produced stolen bases at a much higher rate than homers, while his performance on offense rang similar to players like Jesse Winker or teammate Josh Bell. So what can we make of Meadows moving forward?

A huge reason for his recent poor play is the fact that his strikeout rate went from a laser-focused 6.4% in May to a sloppy 23.5% that is well below his minor league career norms. His soft contact rate increased by 7.6% to a stagnant 24.3%, though it came completely at the cost of his medium contact while his hard contact remained stationary at a solid 40.5%. Coincidentally his pull rate also rested at 40.5% for his first couple of consecutive months, while his GB/FB ratio went up from 0.85 to 1.07. Meadow's average exit velocity and HR distance also currently stand at about league average.

The fact is that Austin Meadows hasn't even yet been through a full two months of big league ball and already has shown glimpses of the many weapons he offers, both with the bat and on the base paths. This sort of regression seems quite typical of the growing pains associated with being a 23-year old first-timer in the MLB. Meadows is also much more of a well-rounded offensive player than he is projected as a bombs-away HR hitter. If the Pirates continue to find AB for him for a significant amount of time, that will still hold plenty of value in the Pittsburgh top-10 run scoring offense.

 

Chris Taylor - (2B/SS/OF, LAD)

Chris Taylor came up big for the Dodgers last year with 21 HR, 17 SB, and an .850 OPS. He got off to a good start to the year with seven HR through the first two months and an .843 OPS in May, but in the last two weeks has sputtered off with a slash of .225/.295/.325 and a goose egg in the HR department. After emerging for Los Angeles last year in their run to the World Series, is the 27-year old Taylor due for a significant regression?

In 2017 he managed his 21 HR (.105 HR/FB ratio) with an unremarkable 32.4% hard contact rate and solid 15.8% soft contact rate on 35.8% fly balls and 41.5% grounders. This year, all in all, he has made moderate improvements in each of those categories. He also improved his pull rate by 1% to a still relatively infrequent 39.3%. Once 2018 rolled into June, Taylor's hard contact rate went from 37.1% in May to a paltry 34.2%, while his soft contact this month is very low at 12.2%. The problem as we can see is that nearly 54% of his batted balls this month (and 52% on the year) have been at medium contact. This doesn't bode well for hitting plentiful HR if you are also striking out in more than a fourth of the opportunities you are presented.

His three-position eligibility in the high-performing Dodger offense makes him very interesting. Though if he can't hit for hard contact more frequently, inconsistent monthly HR totals with a hard cap may be the outlook for Chris Taylor's future. This is especially dangerous when you notice that he is just three for eight on stolen bases attempts this year.

 

Miguel Sano - (3B, MIN)

Obviously 2017 All-Star Miguel Sano hasn't hit a lot of HR for the Twins lately: he was optioned to Single-A and hasn't played a game since June 13th due to his unsightly .191/.247/.353 slash line through his last 68 AB. Though his significant struggles on offense certainly warrant a delving into.

Sano demonstrated great power in the majors from age 22-24 where his 71 HR were the product of hard contact rates of 43.2%, 40.1%, and 44.8% respectively. This season with a hard contact rate of 39.8% and soft contact rate of 14.5%, it isn't even that Sano is bringing less bash to each at-bat. His pull rate of 37.3% is a little low but he has produced numbers quite similar to this in each of his MLB seasons, and his GB/FB ratio of 0.85 is compliant to frequent power hitting. He also hits the ball at an above average exit velocity of 90.4 mph, though is average HR distance of 395 is sometimes complicated by the environment of Target Field. The issue then lies in Sano's horrific 40.5% strikeout rate.

Opposing pitchers seemed to have dialed in on his weaknesses and Minnesota clearly believes that he is in need of a little educational trip to Fort Myers. He can still belt a ball with serious power, but you have to make contact with a pitch for that to matter. This situation merits keeping a close eye on, because while you can't give up on the 25-year old slugger just yet, don't expect his 2018 demons at the plate to just magically subside when he makes his big league return.

 

Ben Zobrist - (2B/OF, CHC)

On the year, Ben Zobrist has been old reliable for the Cubbies with his approximately usual .280/.377/.407 slash line and four HR while playing a few different defensive positions. However the three-time All-Star has struggled for the mighty Chicago offense with a .207/.361/.207 slash and nothing in the HR column over the last two weeks. Zobrist hasn't stolen 10+ bases in four years, so any value he has must come from his work at the plate. When trying to shed light on the situation by viewing the veteran's month-by-month peripherals, the situation actually becomes a bit murkier.

Even over this recent down time Zobrist's OBP has still been solid due to his great ability to draw walks, and has still held a 17% walk rate through June. His GB/FB ratio has averaged 1.25 on the year and as is known, it is difficult to hit for a satisfying HR total when you are routinely hitting for 5-10% more grounders than fliers, as Zobrist has been. While there is no problem with his pull rate that has sat above 45% all season (averages 48.7%) inside power-friendly confines of Wrigley Field, there is a huge problem with his contact quality. In April, he kept his soft contact to a near minimum of 9.3% but his hard contact frequency of 30.2% was mediocre. In May, he seemed to put that package together with just 9.6% soft contact and a hard contact rate that hopped all the way up to 42.5%. Yet despite that positive trend he has fallen back tremendously in June with a near-even split between his hard (22.5%) and soft (20%) contact.

His defensive versatility helps insure he'll continue to see the field, while his plate discipline and ability to reach base translates to plenty of runs in the Cubs batting order. However, his average long ball has only been travelling 378 feet and if he can't hit for hard contact at a higher rate than 35% for the remainder of the season, then he will definitely struggle to hit 12+ HR. That makes him a little too Alex Gordon-ish.

 

More Risers and Fallers





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