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Power Risers/Fallers for Week 14: Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Week 14 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 into July, 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

Yadier Molina (C, STL)

Yadier Molina is a 35-year-old, eight-time Gold Glove winner who may be on his way to the best power hitting season of his fantastic career. He has never hit more than 22 bombs in a season, which he did through 505 AB in 2012. This season, Molina has hit 12 homers through 199 AB. So what has been the cause of Yadier Molina's offensive explosion, and can it be expected to continue through the second half of the season?

Molina saw only 14 AB in May but has been consistently hot all year and in the last month has a .920 OPS and six HR. Molina has accomplished this by making hard contact on batted balls 46% of the time this year. That is a career-high for Yadier Molina by 10%. He has also been hitting for a 1.13 GB/FB ratio in contrast to his career mark of 1.40 and he has been producing a pull rate of 53.4% as opposed to his career average of 37.5%. The other encouraging note is that he hit for less than 11% soft contact in each of the two months preceding July.

The story for Molina's season seems to simply be that he is constantly making great contact, in addition to striking out infrequently. He has been hitting for power consistently through the year and while a resurgent season for a 35-year old player always carries the fear of second half regression, this seems to be the direction that he has been taking his approach at the plate for the last two years. With such eyebrow-raising monthly hard contact percentages, it is easy to see Yadier Molina reaching 25+ HR if he gets a full helping of AB through the season's second half.

Aaron Hicks (OF, NYY)

2018 has seemingly belonged to players in their late-20s having breakout seasons. Aaron Hicks is no exception. Hicks has made the most of his increased AB volume for the Yankees by producing an .870 OPS and 15 HR which already ties his previous career high through 237 AB. Just in the last two weeks Hicks has a 1.176 OPS and five HR. So how has he been able to accomplish this grand season at the plate for 55-28 New York?

Hicks (like Molina mentioned above) has also produced a concrete hard contact rate (42.6%) that is much higher (11.6% higher to be exact) than his previous career best which he accomplished all the way back in 2013 for the Twins. This is in addition to holding a soft contact rate of 16.3%, which also currently stands as the best mark of his MLB tenure. He has also been producing some peripherals ideal for power-hitting, such as his 44.7% pull rate and 42.8% fly ball rate. That, combined with his hard contact frequency, goes a long way in offense-friendly Yankee stadium in the mighty New York batting order.

Two of his homers might have (incredibly) been inside-the-park dingers, but we know speed is a part of his game, as he also already boasts six steals to boot on the year. While his 90.5 mph exit velocity isn't as impressive as his 105.5 mph throws from the outfield, it has proven more than serviceable for the parks of the AL East. If Aaron Hicks continues to see 85+ AB per month for the Yankees, we could be looking at a 25+ HR/15+ SB season, not to mention all the runs and RBI he will accumulate for the top-tier New York offense.

Jose Peraza (SS/2B, CIN)

24-year-old Jose Peraza has never been known for even an inkling of power, yet in the last two weeks he has produced a .306/.370/.633 slash line with three HR to add to his season total of five. Those five HR through 329 AB in 2018 already ties his highest HR total for a season, which he accomplished last season for the Reds in 487 AB.

While the power peripherals for Peraza are far from spectacular, the important thing is that they are an improvement. His hard contact rate of 29.9% is 8.5% higher than his percentage from last year while his soft contact rate is down to 18.5%, 8.1% lower than his 2017 figure. He has also improved his pull rate to a tolerable 35.9% while his fly ball percentage is up by 5% to 36.4%. While his quality of contact on batted balls is comparatively pedestrian, the optimistic note is that through the month of June he produced hard and soft contact, respectively of 39.1% and 11.5% and is hitting for 33.3% hard contact in the brief time that has been played in July. This comes after the first two months of the season when Peraza struggles to hit for greater than 25% hard contact and less than 20% weak contact.

His average exit velocity and HR distance are both well below league average, and it is likely fair to say that we shouldn't be expecting explosive HR totals for Jose Pedraza month-to-month, though he is aided by playing in Great American Ball Park. His forte has been batting for a high average, stealing plenty of bases (14 steals in 16 attempts so far), and scoring runs for the revitalized Reds offense. This improvement in power hitting has helped to answer a few questions about Peraza's ailing bat that he exhibited in his first two seasons for Cincinnati, and if he could actually turn into a 12-15 HR hitter while batting north of .270 and stealing 20+ bags by the end of 2018, then he offers a fantastic bargain for fantasy baseball managers in need of a middle infielder.

Jesse Winker (OF, CIN)

Jose Peraza's fellow 24-year-old teammate Jesse Winker has also been on a tear for the Cincinnati Reds offense that scored the third most runs in all of baseball during the month of June. In the last 14 days (34 AB) Winker has knocked three of his six HR on the year while producing a tremendous slash line of .382/.523/.676. He has always been a highly touted offensive prospect, but he was never regarded as a tremendous power threat, as his highest minor league HR total for a season came in 2013 for the Single-A Dayton Dragons.

His plate discipline has remained fantastic, which always bodes well for offensive production. His strikeout rate of 14.2% is rather low while he is walking quite frequently at a rate of 15.2%. Month to month Winker's soft contact rate has stayed consistently good at between 12.5% and 14.5%, but it is in his strong contact where he has made the biggest change from the start of the year. He has made a significant improvement in hard contact each month, and produced respective percentages of 35.4%, 41.9%, and 48.4% from April through June in addition to his hot start to July. He also started producing a pull rate north of 40% after April ended, though his inconsistent GB/FB ratio has prevented him from blasting more balls yard.

Winker has come on very strong, like many of his young Reds teammates, and produced a lot of offense in the last month out of Great American Ball Park. He is also one of the best pinch-hitters in the game right now with a 1.532 OPS in 12 AB (that is just an interesting fact). His average exit velocity of 90.6% could very well do the trick moving forward and his consistent improvement as each month has passed means that Jesse Winker has a great chance of reaching 18-20 homers by season's completion to add to his usual well-rounded work with the bat. That could mean a whole lot if Cincinnati stays red hot.


Power Fallers

Eric Hosmer (1B, SD)

Eric Hosmer has hit 25 HR in each of his last two seasons, but that was with the Kansas City Royals. This year in his first season with the San Diego Padres, Hosmer has managed nine HR and a .770 OPS through 319 AB, though he has struggled significantly in his last 41 AB with a slash of .195/.250/.195 with a goose egg in the HR department. Hosmer's struggles have been so apparent that some fantasy baseball managers have even resorted to dropping him. While that may be extreme, are those managers right in selling on Eric Hosmer?

A positive indication for the remainder of Eric Hosmer's season is that his hard contact rate of 37.9% currently stands as his career-best mark. Hosmer has even steadily improved his hard contact reason on a monthly basis since the season began. Unfortunately, he has also increased his soft contact rate each month as well. Although he hit for hard contact 45.1% of the time in June, he hit for soft contact 24.4% of the time. This amount of soft contact isn't a good indication when a player has a pull rate of just 31.7% and a ground ball rate of 60.1%. In addition to his strikeout frequency of 21.4% and the fact that his home field is Petco Park, that doesn't leave a high total of opportunities to go yard.

His average HR distance of 413 feet shows that he is capable of launching some batted balls quite deep, and he has been offering a higher rate of stolen bases this year than he has in at least five seasons. However, soft contact and well over half of batted balls being grounders is a problem. We've seen plenty of starts stumble in their first seasons in San Diego, and if Eric Hosmer proves to be a similar case like several of his peripherals indicate, he will have a very hard time reaching 25 HR again regardless of how durable of a player he has proven to be.

Salvador Perez (C, KC)

Salvador Perez is yet another 28-year-old offensive staple, like former teammate Eric Hosmer, who has been in such a bad slump that fantasy baseball managers have started to give up on him. To be fair, that slump has been bad: Perez has been limping away from the plate with a .143/.163/.190 slash line and zero HR in the last two weeks. Though, it hasn't been as bad as it may look. Perez produced monthly hard contact rates of 64%, 45.4%, and 35.2% leading up to the start of July where he has produced a rate of 33.3% in limited work during his current slump. Has the issue been soft contact? Nope. Through the whole year he averages just 12.4% soft contact on batted balls and his only mediocre figure of 17.5% came back in May. The issue has been way too much medium contact, which he produced at a 56.3% frequency in June and 66.7% in his limited July AB.

Perhaps Perez has just been a bit unlucky in all of his medium contact. He has a pull rate of 50% on the season and a 0.78 GB/FB ratio. Also, while his average HR distance of 389 feet is moderately below the league norm, his average exit velocity of 90.2 mph is certainly serviceable. Salavador Perez is a player who has averaged 23.33 HR per year in the three seasons that preceded 2018, and his hard contact rate of 43.6% currently stands as his career best. However as the months have progressed and his medium contact has increased, it appears as if he is getting just a little bit less of a handle on each pitch. He is striking out at a 19.6% rate, but that is less than one percent higher than his career average. With eleven HR already on the season and still such a low soft contact rate, don't panic on the five-time All-Star and count on this slump to subside soon.

Daniel Descalso (2B/3B/OF, ARI)

31-year-old Daniel Descalso has come up big with the best season of his career for an Arizona Diamondbacks club that sits atop the NL West. He has already smacked nine HR (which led to 42 RBI) with an .828 OPS through 209 AB on the season. Though as the Diamondbacks have started to get some players recovered from injury issues and his role has diminished a bit, his performance has also started to lag and he produced a .103/.206/.241 slash with just one dinger over the last two weeks.

He has been striking out at a relatively frequent clip of 25.4% but also has taken walks at a 13.5% rate this season. While his monthly soft contact rates have hovered between 14.6% and 17.4% before July came, his hard contact has been a little up and down with tremendous peaks and valleys. He produced hard contact 49.1% of the time in April, then downgraded to a 28.3% rate during May, and then boosted back up to 52.1% in June. Though in limited opportunities since July started, he has hit for soft contact on 100% of batted balls. Some encouraging signs also exist in the form of a pull rate and fly ball percentage that have increased as each month has progressed and he holds respective season averages of 52% and 50% in those departments, which helps significantly at power-friendly Chase Field. His average exit velocity only sits about one mph above the league norm while his average HR distance of 380 feet is far below-par, not to mention that Descalso was caught in his only stolen base attempt on the year when he could typically be counted on for a handful at least. His power peripherals indicate that his offensive performance in 2018 has been legitimate albeit rather inconsistent and difficult to project. If his role continues to diminish for the first place Diamondback club, his value for the remainder of the season will be in serious jeopardy.

Justin Bour (1B, MIA)

Fantasy baseball managers have been able to count on Justin Bour for between 15-25 HR and an OPS between .800 and .902 for the last three seasons. Though he looked well on his way to recreating his usual stat line this year with 13 total knocks and a .770 OPS for the Marlins through 284 AB, Bour has struggled in the last two weeks at the plate with a slash line of .214/.298/.286 and just one bomb over 42 AB. While his hard contact rate of 37.9% is slightly down from last season, it is still relatively solid and his pull rate of 44.8% is a solid figure.

Though, Justin Bour does display some glaring gaps. His strikeout rate has risen steadily each month and his bad rate of 35.7% to start July has given rim an average of 24.1% on the season, though his walk rate of 16.2% on the year remains fantastic. His GB/FB percentage currently sits at 1.37 on the year and was significantly hampered by Bour's month of June when he produced 50% grounders and just 32.4% fly balls, and his rates have gotten even worse to start July to the tune of 55.6% ground balls and just 22.2% flyer frequency. His hard contact rate started off bad at 24.2% in April, but has been between 41.2% and 55.6% each month since then. Even with such high volume hard contact, Bour still produced monthly soft contact percentages of 24.2%, 25%, and 19.1% respectively then added a 33.3% rate from the start of July to that total for his current season average of 23.2%. That is a discouraging volume of soft contact when you consider how little he has been able to hit fly balls lately.

Bour's batting average has suffered while his typically high OBP has remained around the same as it was last season. This and his hard/soft contact rates with his GB/FB tendencies clearly explain how such a power outage could be possible for him during stretches of time like this. With 13 dingers already on the year, it looks like he will easily reach his past career range of 15-25 HR, but with a guy like Justin Bour who fantasy baseball managers have on their rosters purely for his power upside who has seen a big dip in BA, the question is how many total can he possibly accumulate? With his current grounder-heavy results and very frequent soft contact in the weak Marlin offense, it looks unlikely that he will reach the 30+ homers that fantasy baseball managers may have been hoping for, though his hard contact rate alone will likely carry him over the hump to his usual zone of 25 homers. His 402-foot average HR distance displays his true power when he gets a good rip.


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