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Power Risers/Fallers for Week 15: Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Week 15 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 inches ever closer to the All-Star break, 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

Wil Myers - (1B/OF, SD)

Wil Myers has only been able to take 104 AB this season, and he only accumulated two total HR through 72 AB in April and June. Now, just in his 32 AB at this point in July, Myers has already knocked six out of the park in addition to a .366/.447/.976 over the last two weeks. He got off to a good start to the season in terms of a batted ball contact quality with a 58.6% hard contact rate and 13.8% soft contact rate in April, though he didn't hit HR successfully in part due to a low fly ball rate of 27.6%. Through his limited June time at the plate, he struggled with a 29.2% hard contact rate, though almost all of that hit was absorbed by medium contact. Now into July, Myers has exploded with a 69.2% hard contact rate and just 3.9% soft contact.

Wil Myers has also greatly increased his production of fly balls, with his percentage for the month currently sitting at 42.3%, while some of that increase came at the expense of line drives as opposed to grounders. Even still, he has received a nice assist in pitcher-friendly Petco Park with a 48.1% pull rate on the year and he holds a nice average exit velocity of 92.5 mph. Now that he has started hitting for real and getting on base, he has finally started to once again be a base stealing threat, and has grabbed three of his four on the year in the last two weeks also. If he's healthy and getting his share of AB each month, he could easily sustain a 30-HR season pace for the campaign's remaining months. Though his current torrid stretch is obviously unsustainable, it is certainly a good start.

Jed Lowrie - (2B/3B, OAK)

Let's take a look into how, at age 34, first time All-Star Jed Lowrie is about to have by far the best season of his 11 year career. First off, he is hitting for a career-best 38.6% hard contact and just 12.3% soft contact. He has been applying this high quality contact and a 39.4% pull rate that stands above his career average to balls that turn into flies at a 43.8% rate. This is a big indication of how he could be producing a 13.2% HR/FB rate that sits 5% above his career rate and has already hit 16 HR with a .856 OPS through 352 AB. He got on a roll after an up and down month of May and held ISO of .238 and .269 for June and July (to this point). Even in the last two weeks Lowrie has hit for a .556 slugging percentage and three HR.

Jed Lowrie has been striking out more than usual, but with the quality of contact he has been producing this season and the affinity for power that he has displayed, it has been little issue as he has powered the offense for the surprise Oakland Athletics. Players usually don't break out in their mid-30s, but Lowrie's success with the lumber has been legitimately and mostly consistent through all of 2018. Keep an eye on him in the weeks after the All-Star break, and if he manages to skate out of it without a skid or slump that could be expected for a player in their breakout season, then Jed Lowrie looks like a safe ride to the finish for well-rounded offensive production and 25+ homers to boot inside a top ten run scoring offense.

Chris Davis - (1B, BAL)

Between 2012 and 2016, Chris Davis clobbered 197 HR. Even last season he managed to look like a semblance of that version of himself with a .732 OPS and 26 HR in 456 AB. This year though, he has looked bad. Very bad. He currently sports a .160/.234/.284 slash line and nine HR through 275 AB. While he picked up the pace a bit in the last two weeks with three homers, he is still moving at a sauntering pace with a mediocre .694 OPS in that time. It's not just that he is striking out. While his current strikeout percentage of 35.5% is horrid, it's barely higher than his career average. The real problem, and the most concerning note seems to be that his power looks drained. His ISO figure of .124 on the season is his lowest mark since 2010 when he took 120 AB with the Texas Rangers while his hard contact rate is down by 8% to a measly 33.7%  just from last year. Yikes. He is still producing above-40% for both pull rate and fly ball rate, but that is little comfort when Davis' power is trending in the direction it is currently bulldozing.

I wish there was even an iota of evidence to suggest that Chris Davis could start hitting at even a 25-30 HR pace for the rest of the year and that he could become a viable power option for fantasy baseball managers down the road in spite of his ugly BA and OBP, but alas, there is not. His BA and OBP were never his appealing qualities, and make especially less difference this year for the basement-dwelling Orioles. Those being poor, that isn't a big problem. However when his ISO, hard contact rate, and pedestrian average HR distance (396 feet off of 88.8 mph of average exit velocity) suggest that his once devastating pop that could take the leather off of a ball isn't showing up in 2018, that is a huge problem.

Starlin Castro - (2B, MIA)

Starlin Castro has hardly looked like much of a power puncher through the majority of 2018. The only month in which he managed to produce a slugging percentage and ISO higher than .400 and .124 was May, a month in which he hit three HR but still only managed a feeble .691 OPS due to a .278 OBP. For the other two months, Castro looked to be playing towards the exact opposite result. In 222 AB in April and June he was able to knock just two total dingers and produced good BA of .312 and .274, as well as OBP of .366 and .336, respectively. In the last two weeks and especially since the start of July, Castro has been playing to a different tune with a 1.087 OPS and two homers in his last 53 AB.

While his monthly hard contact rates have hovered between 36.2% and 39.3% for April through June, through that same time period he also produced a soft contact rate that grew each month from 12.4% in April to 17% in June. This doesn't allow for many HR with such a low ISO and a more stagnant fly ball rate of 29.7% for the year. Since July began, however, he started smacking batted balls for a hard contact clip of 45.5% while keeping his soft contact at a low frequency of 9.1%. Now his ISO for the month sits at .220 and he has been hitting his HR for an average of 408 feet, while his BA and OBP have remained superb. A high BA and OBP from the four-time All-Star may not be worth a whole lot in the Marlins batting order that sits in the bottom five of MLB run scoring offenses, but it will add a lot to his remaining value for the year if he can remain on a steady 2-3 HR per month diet and possibly push for 15 total bombs. For that to happen, his hard contact can fall a bit, but he can't let his soft contact rate get away from him again.


Power Fallers

Brandon Nimmo - (OF, NYM)

After three months of looking nothing short of spectacular and being in many people's view a serious All-Star game candidate, 25-year old Brandon Nimmo has batted his way out of the Mid-Summer Classic with a .150/.306/.200 slash line and a goose egg in the HR department over the last two weeks (not to mention zero steals in two attempts in that time). How did Brandon Nimmo go from the new power/speed darling to a hot drop so quickly? His peripherals have been all over the place the whole season, but there are a few key figures that warrant the firmest consideration.

First off on a positive note, he has been hitting the ball with force. He has been producing above average figures in both exit velocity (90.7 mph) and HR distance (400 feet), while his monthly hard contact rates hovered between 40.9% and 42.1% from April through June. This powered him to twelve HR and ISO figures of .250, .301, and .250, respectively. While his pull rate has been a bit inconsistent, it never deviated too far below what is ideal and he still has an average rate of 43.4% on the year. On the negative side, Nimmo started putting way more balls on the ground at a certain point in the season. His GB/FB ratios of 0.60 and 0.66 for the first two months quickly ascended to dirt-treading figures of 1.53 and 1.67 for June and July. Since June, he has been hitting more than half of his batted balls as grounders. That's when he gets a club on it, by the way. While he kept his strikeout woes to a tolerable level early in the year with monthly rates of 23.3% and 21.8%, Nimmo has been whiffing at an unacceptable rate with percentages of 36.1% and 32.5%. On the highly negative side, after hitting for such consistent hard contact until July, he has a meager hard contact rate of 21.1% this month, while his soft contact is identical. Nimmo has quietly struggled with soft contact all season under the guise of his consistent power, and also had sky-high soft contact frequencies of 22.7% and 29.5% in April and May.

In between all of that soft contact, ground balls hit, and striking out, I would be surprised if he had found the time to knock a ball yard in July. He is a young outfielder who looked good to start the year and clearly has the tools to offer fantasy baseball managers a solid power/speed threat when he isn't slumping so heavily. That being said, he has a lot of holes to patch up in his game if he wants to end the year on a positive note. Otherwise, managers may have to start dropping him at a faster pace than they already are.

Teoscar Hernandez - (OF, TOR)

The 2018 season marks the first time that 25-year old Teoscar Hernandez has seen more than 100 AB in a campaign, and he has displayed the impressive play that he is capable of in the 289 AB he has now seen in the year. With 13 HR, 39 total XBH, and an ISO of .246, Hernandez has powered his way to an OPS of .807 despite a poor OBP of .305. In the last two weeks he has limped to a mediocre slash line of .235/.297/.353 and doughnut for dingers. From a young player who thoroughly proved at the Triple-A level that he was capable of well-rounded offensive play and nice HR/SB totals, we must delve into whether it is likely that he can continue to offer these assets for the remainder of the major league year for the Blue Jays.

He strikes out at a 25.4% clip and from his OBP we know he isn't making up for it with a high volume of walks. Like his 25-year old counterpart Brandon Nimmo (mentioned above), Teoscar Hernandez's peripherals have been all over the place. His monthly pull rate has been between 30% and 43.5% on the year, and while his fly ball rate has averaged out to 40.8% on the year, his GB/FB ratios have deviated between 0.78 and 1.11. His batted ball quality of contact is the most concerning. While he made hard contact at rates of 51.1% and 37.7% in April and June, he hit for just 30% in May and has managed a rate of just 30.4% so far in July. His soft contact rates per month have followed a similar pattern, as he produced 12.8% and 11.5% soft contact in April and June but stagnant frequencies of 20% and 21.7% in May and July. Though his average exit velocity sits at 91.7 mph, his streakiness leaves Teoscar Hernandez with a lot of question marks.

Maybe he's destined to be a month by month streak/slump guy, and maybe he just has a few gaps to cover in his offensive game. That much is unclear for the moment, but with such up and down play from a guy who is barely managing an OBP above .300 and has only managed to steal three bases in seven attempts this season, extreme caution is recommended for entrusting him with a roster spot in the coming months.

Derek Dietrich - (3B/OF, MIA)

Derek Dietrich has never hit more than 13 HR in a season, so the fact that he has already managed 11 homers and a .290/.353/.455 slash through 314 AB for the Marlins is a great sign. The 28-year old Cleveland native has entered a recent power outage with a .256 slugging percentage and zip, zero, and nada for HR over the last two weeks. Many of Dietrich's peripherals indicate that there may be plenty more good play to come. His hard contact rate per month increased steadily up until his July slump, increasing consecutively from 35.3%, 38.2%, to 39.1% in June. That averages out to a 36.5% rate for the year, which currently stands as Dietrich's career best. While he batted for high soft contact rates of 18.8% and 21.8% through April and May, he improved that rate to 11.6% for June. Also, while his current ISO of .166 is lower than his mark from last season, he did throw together ISO of .222 and .219 for May and June before he began to skid.

On the other hand, Dietrich's average exit velocity and HR distance are both rather underwhelming and definitely leave lingering doubt about whether he is capable of throwing together a month of 40% or more of hard contact even though he seems to be a 15-20 HR player with a full season of AB. He has only produced one month with a sub-1.00 GB/FB ratio and while his 38.6% pull rate is serviceable, it is below his career norm and the league average. Though his BA and OBP have remained fantastic, he still strikes out nearly 24% of the time, and that doesn't leave him the ideal amount of opportunities to hit balls yard. Dietrich had a way better power month in June than he is used to (five bombs) and he has proven to carry a focused bat en route to a good BA and OBP in the albeit poor Miami offense. While he is likely to remain a great well-rounded offensive option for fantasy baseball managers looking for widely available roster additions and a possible 20 HR guy, just be aware that 20 might be his max, and that's without any base stealing to speak of.

Kurt Suzuki - (C, ATL)

Kurt Suzuki was off to a great start to the year with seven HR and ISO of .232 and .188 over the first two months of the season. Since then he has managed just one homer and just in the last two weeks he has a slash of .179/.303/.250 and zero HR to boast of. While he may not recreate his power totals from last season in Atlanta, Kurt Suzuki has many things leaning in his favor. For one thing, though he has underwhelming average exit velocity (86.4 mph) and HR distance (373 feet), he does currently hold the highest hard contact rate of his career (38.1%) while he has remained quite consistent in 2018 by still not having an individual month dip below 34.1%, which he had in his single-HR month of June. His pull rate has been in the stratosphere at 55.6%, and his GB/FB ratio has been a solid 0.84 all season long.

Though he has had two months of more than 20% soft contact on batted balls, he also has two months of sub-12% soft contact as well. His 10.9% strikeout rate gives him plenty of chances to send a ball deep, and if he gets back to his rhythm of the early months of the season, he could easily make a push for 15+ homers to add to a high BA/OBP split (especially for a catcher). With so much inconsistency at this position, that well-rounded offense could be absolutely key in the Braves top ten ranked run scoring lineup.


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