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Power Risers/Fallers for Week 16: Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Week 16 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 has already hit 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

Kole Calhoun - (OF, LAA)

Kole Calhoun got off to a horrible start to the year. After consecutive months with OPS of .418 and .314 with just one total homer in 185 AB, he steadily found a more Calhounesque groove and produced a slash line of .243/.310/.432 and smacked two HR in June. However, since July has begun, it's been a whole new story entirely. In his 47 AB through this month he has a fantastic slash line of .298/.327/.745 and has already notched six dingers. Kole Calhoun could typically be counted on for anywhere from 17-26 HR in a season since 2014, and while his last month of play brought him to a great striking distance for that range, he had to start hitting for power at a fervent pace to get there. So what changed for Calhoun since his ugly start to the year?

The two most notable changes that are indicative of his recent play is the shift in batted ball contact and GB/FB ratio. While Calhoun has been able to keep his monthly soft contact rates consistent by ranging from 10.8% to 16.7% through the year's first half and even produced a nice hard contact rate (39.1%) in April, that rate dropped to 30.7% in May. Since then, through June and July, he has produced hard contact rates of 46.7% and 40.5% on his way to ISO of .189 and .447. Most importantly, Calhoun posted GB/FB ratios of 2.29 and 1.79 through the season's first two months and was hitting grounders about 55% of the time. Through June and July, Calhoun has started taking to the air with much greater frequency as demonstrated by his 0.85 and 0.78 GB/FB ratios and a 48.6% fly ball rate for July.

His average exit velocity of 89 mph is very slightly above league average on the year and his average HR has been belted for a distance of 410 feet. This major power recovery added to the fact that Calhoun has already grabbed four steals after never taking more than five in a full season makes the rate that he has been getting added by Fantasy Baseball Managers justified, and we should see him back to his old self and possibly better than ever after the All-Star Break.

Carlos Gonzalez - (OF, COL)

Carlos Gonzalez has been heating up ever so steadily every month since the 2018 season began. Though he posted just seven HR through the first three months combined, he posted consecutive OPS of .709, .728, and .812 and has gotten red hot for July in Colorado with a slash line of .341/.396/.682 and four yard balls in 44 AB. Now, despite CarGo's encouraging offensive play, there are a few very concerning factors regarding his projections for the remaining months. First off is that he is hitting for a soft contact rate of 21.4%. If that rate remains, 2018 will mark the third season in a row where Gonzalez has produced soft contact at a greater frequency than 20%. This is in conjunction with his paltry 33.2% hard contact rate, a 33.2% pull rate that sits far below his career average, and a ground ball percentage of 50.3% which currently stands as his highest yet, though he has still managed an ISO of .198.

Luckily, indications seem to be that Carlos Gonzalez has slowly shaken off the cobwebs. While he usually strikes out more than 20% of the time, he has only been getting K'd 14.6% of the time for July, he has started to produce soft contact at a sub-20% level over the last two months of play, and lowered his GB/FB ratio to 1.27 with a 40.5% fly ball rate while increasing his hard contact rate to 37.8%. While several of his peripherals such as pull rate have continued to hop back in forth, consecutive months of improved play at the play is an optimistic sign. It always helps when someone's home turf is Coors Field, and CarGo has demonstrated more than enough pop to take full advantage of the Rocky Mountain climate with a 90.2 mph average exit velocity and average HR distance of 427 feet. Like Kole Calhoun, Gonzalez has also seen a recent uptick in stolen bases grabbed as well. Though it is nowhere near his 20+ steals pace from previous seasons, the possibility of him being close to 20 dingers and maybe eight to ten steals adds plenty of value down the road for a player in the batting order of a top-ten run scoring offense.

Stephen Piscotty - (OF, OAK)

Stephen Piscotty hit just three HR through the first 172 AB of 2018 and even produced an unsightly OPS of .509 in May. Since the end of May however, few players in baseball have been revving up like he has with a combined nine HR through June and July and five dingers with a slash line of .310/.341/.714 over his last 42 AB alone. On the optimistic side, Piscotty has posted three straight months of hard contact rates over 40%, and was even able to produce a rate of 46.4% through his woeful month of May. He has also kept soft contact relatively infrequent with a season average of 13.9% and has produced solid pull rates of 43.1% and 44.7% over the last two months.

On the slightly more hesitant side, Piscotty hits a lot of line drives (23.7% on the year) and has yet to produce a GB/FB ratio of less than 1.00 for a given month. In fact, his fly ball rates have decreased to 33.3% and 31.6% over June and July. Despite the nine homers he hit in those months, that flyer rate is still concerning. Line drives are better than ground balls for HR hitting, but they are obviously more primed for well-rounded offensive production in contrast to an influx of power hitting. His ISO of .193 on the year is nice, but his average exit velocity of 88.4 mph and average HR distance of 385 feet seem to indicate that Piscotty doesn't posses any elite or burgeoning power, and Oakland is typically a pitcher-friendly place to play. We've seen what he produces when he is batting well, and it is likely that 20-25 HR in combination with a solid BA/OBP and no particular talent for base running could be his hard cap. Though that still has quite some value in the A's top-ten run-scoring offense.

C.J. Cron - (1B, TB)

C.J. Cron was already close to his career-high amount of AB for a season at 2018's halfway point, and he has certainly made the most of it during his first season with Tampa Bay. He hit for 12 combined homers through April and May and produced OPS of .832 and .805. Even though he limped through June with a .130/.244/.299 slash line, he was still able to club four HR, and most recently he has been explosive with a 1.247 OPS and three long balls over just the last 35 AB, ultimately giving him an ISO of .223 on the year. Many other signs seem to point towards more great things to come from Cron in the second half of the season. He has maintained a solid pull rate of 45% and his hard contact rate of 37.5%, along with his ISO, currently stands as his best career mark yet. While his exit velocity of 88.2 mph may be a bit inconspicuous, his 406 foot average HR distance is solid and yet, doesn't even tell the full story on some of C.J.'s monstrous mile-long bombs.

On the other hand, Cron hits for a lot of soft contact. His rate for this season is currently at 20.8%, and this would mark the fourth consecutive season of soft contact above 20% for him. His fly ball rate has also been lower this year (37.1%) than in years passed, which subsequently explains his career-high HR/FB ratio of 21.3%. C.J. has also been striking out way more this year with a 26.3% rate, though the good news that ties all of these questionable peripherals up is that his numbers for the year are largely swayed by his skid through June. For instance, in June he hit for 49% ground balls, struck out 36.7% of the time, and hit for soft and hard contact of 26.7% and 28.9%. C.J. Cron is currently tied for 14th in total HR among American League players, and Cron packs a well-rounded offensive package. Forget his month of June, we know that players go through slumps, it doesn't mean abandon ship. Count on Cron to continue to belt it for a Rays squad that is nearly a top-five run scoring offense since the start of July.


Power Fallers

Matt Kemp - (OF, LAD)

Matt Kemp may have reached his career plateau in 2011, but in a year of resurgent seasons he has already hit 15 HR for the Dodgers and currently has an OPS of .874 which would be his highest in six years. Though he has stumbled a bit in the last two weeks of play with a .576 OPS and zero XBH, the only cause for concern for the 33-year old former MVP candidate seems to be some power peripherals that are all over the board at times. His strikeout rate has remained relatively constant, but still relatively high at 22.8%. So far in July Kemp has only been able to create fly balls at a 22.2% rate en route to a stagnant 1.88 GB/FB ratio which has so far put his fantastic 52.8% hard contact rate for the month to poor use.

Luckily, that seems to make up a big part of the explanation for Kemp's recent power outage. While he has had a one or two poor months for each peripheral in question, his hard contact for the season currently stands at 44.7% while his soft contact remains well under control at 13.6%. This has helped Kemp tremendously on his way to a .212 ISO, 90.6 mph average exit velocity, and average HR distance of 406 feet. After managing a pull rate of just 32.1% in April, his pull rate has gone up every month since from 47.5%, to 50.9%, and finally 52.8% for a 45.6% average for the first half. Proceed with confidence with Matt Kemp through the end of 2018. His power and quality of contact on batted balls has made him a power threat and well-rounded offensive threat yet again, and he could quite possibly be well on his way to 25+ HR by season's end (not to mention the NL batting title?). That means a whole lot of offensive production coming to a player in the Dodgers batting order who just added Manny Machado to an already potent offensive mix.

Eddie Rosario - (OF, MIN)

After his breakout, 27 HR season with the Twins last season, Eddie Rosario looks like he's well on his way to recreating his 2017 success and much more in his age 26 season. He has only hit one dinger with a .417 slugging percentage over the last two weeks of play (48 AB) and had a bit of a pedestrian start to the first month of the season with three HR and a .231/.263/.396 slash line, but in May and June he was borderline unstoppable. In the 220 AB through those two months he hit 15 total bombs and produced OPS of 1.004 and 1.084. So what will Rosie have to do to get back on his rampant offensive pace from May and June?

Rosario's soft contact rate of 16.4% is the lowest of his young career by a slim margin, while his hard contact rate of 38.7% is his career-high mark by a whopping 7% margin. Rosario has also seen big improvements in such areas as pull rate where his rate of 42.6% sits three percentage points above his career norm, while his fly ball rate has improved by 8% completely at the expense of his grounder frequency which decreased from 42.4% last season to 32.3% in 2018. For both of his months of struggle (April and July) Rosario has struck out 22.9% and 24.3% of the time in contrast to his sub-15% marks from May and June. His individual hard contact rates for the months of April and July also sat at 34.3% and 37.5%, both of which are serviceable and above his career average, but are sit below the 40%+ hard contact rates he produced during his elite two month stretch in May and June. Rosario has also been hitting for way too high of a mark for soft contact so far in July with a 27.1% rate. Additionally, despite a sub-1.00 ISO so far in July (.062), he still holds an ISO of .226 on the year.

Clearly it has been a tale of two pairs of months for Rosario's season. He looks well on the path to surpassing his HR total from last year and once again reaching double-digit stolen bases with the aid of improved base running efficiency (53% SB success rate in 2017 as opposed to 75% so far in 2018). His average exit velocity (89 mph) and average HR distance (379 feet) don't particularly leap off the page, but that's quite alright if Rosario continues to make new strides in his offensive approach. It is a little scary though when a player's performance can deviate so heavily from one month to the next who you count on for star-level fire power. Luckily it seems to be just a few catalytic peripherals that cause his struggles during a given month, and hopefully the All-Star will freshen Rosario up back to his May/June standards. Who knows, maybe next year his fantastic play will actually be rewarded with an All-Star selection?

Andrew McCutchen - (OF, SF)

Though there is nothing ugly about Andrew McCutchen's nine HR, eight SB, and slash line of .261/.352/.412 through 352 AB for San Francisco, the 31-year-old former MVP is currently on pace for the worst offensive season of his career. He has also struggled lately in particular with just one homer and a .680 OPS over his last 80 AB. The only apparent reason for McCutchen's recent skid is the increase of soft contact on batted balls as well as his difference in GB/FB ratio. While he was able to keep his soft contact to 8.3% and 14.1% for his first two months as a Giant, he has since produced monthly percentages of 20% and 17.5%. Though on the positive side, it has mostly come at the expense of his medium contact. In fact, McCutchen's monthly hard contact rates of 50%, 47.9%, 45.9%, and 40%, have remained quite impressive. Though from a more pessimistic perspective, it is a little concerning that they have decreased every month on his way to a .151 ISO that is well below his career norm. In terms of GB/FB tendencies, McCutchen was largely able to keep his ratio below 1.00 but has been hitting nothing but dirt so far in July and has produced a 1.90 GB/FB ratio on a mere 25% fly balls. That in addition to an increase in soft contact and waning hard contact won't create a lot of HR in pitcher-friendly San Francisco.

Andrew McCutchen's consistently impressive hard contact and 90.5 mph average exit velocity seem to indicate that he is getting a good rip at batted balls, which is a huge plus when considering that he has lowered his strikeout frequency in his tough month of July. The five-time All-Star also looks poised to grab more stolen bases by season's end than he has in a season since 2014. His six dinger month of June demonstrates the kind of pace he could carry if he was performing to his usual standards, and this is likely a slump that will soon subside and at least produce a hand full of homers in the coming month. Though you may have hoped for more than 15-17 HR and 10-12 SB from Cutch this season as a fantasy baseball manager, this is likely what he will end the season with, but his ceiling of performance is high and he could well explode and find his way to 20+ HR when the dust settles.

Ian Kinsler - (2B, LAA)

Despite a poor BA and OBP combo of .219/.270, Ian Kinsler's eight HR June after a rough start through the first two months of the season made it appear as if he was on his way out of the offensive hole he had dug himself into. Yet when July rolled around, his early struggles returned and Kinsler went on to produce a slash of .227/.277/.227 with a fat goose egg in the HR department through 44 AB. The good news seems to be that everything other than Kinsler's batted ball contact quality seems to be in order: his pull rate has remained consistent and sits at 42.8%, he has produced fly balls at a solid rate and his GB/FB ratio for the season sits at 0.87, and his strikeout rate has been superb at just 9.6% on the year.

The bad news is that his batted ball contact quality has looked quite mediocre through the majority of the 2018 campaign. He has only had one month with a soft contact rate below 19.6%, one month above 30% hard contact, and the only month in which he produced an ISO above .139 was his eight HR stretch in June. His average HR distance of 392 feet isn't too shabby, but his average exit velocity of 85.4 mph is quite shabby indeed. His weak contact on batted balls has caused damage to Kinsler's overall offensive production and while he could possibly reach his 22 HR and 14 SB from last year, he has left little indication that he is getting ready to warm up to his level of play from June anytime soon.


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