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Power Risers/Fallers for Week 17: Buy or Sell?

Welcome to Week 17 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 is already nearing the beginning of August, 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

Matt Carpenter - (1B/2B/3B, STL)

Thanks to his recent unconscious 36 AB stretch of eight HR and a slash of .389/.488/1.167 (including a single game of three dingers and two doubles), Matt Carpenter is now tied for first place in the National League home run race with 25. The 32-year-old three-time All-Star is well on pace to best his previous career high total HR count for a season of 28, and although this current pace is well out of the stratosphere of long term feasibility (his current 36 AB streak would put him on a 77 HR pace over his current total of 345 AB!), many signs seem to point to Matt Carpenter continuing to put up gargantuan offensive numbers for the remainder of the year.

Even when Carpenter got off to a poor start to the season, he was still only producing 6.7% soft contact on batted balls while his hard contact rate of 36.7% during that same month of April was solid. He would go on to produce an ever-improving hard contact rate greater than 50% every month since; with consecutively impressive figures of 55.4%, 56.3%, and 57.1% off of a 91.6 mph average exit velocity on his way to eye-popping ISO of .323 and .535 for June and July. He has also yet to have a monthly soft contact rate higher than 10% and holds an average of 8.6% for the season. Carpenter has been applying this quality contact to fliers, for the majority, as well. He has posted GB/FB ratios of 0.47, 0.47, and 0.40 for the last three months. Even his plate discipline has caught an intimidating rhythm as he improved his strikeout rate from 24.6% in June to 17.2% in July, while he is taking a walk with an equivalent frequency of 17.2%. Matt Carpenter has been one of 2018's hottest hitters for a hot minute, and every offensive peripheral indicates that for fantasy baseball managers, he could be your team's offensive MVP for the latter months. Though, one could contend that as his value may never get to a higher point this season that it is right now, he could be a prime sell-high candidate with many league deadlines looming.

Corey Dickerson - (OF, PIT)

Then there is the interesting case of Corey Dickerson: the power hitter that usually doesn't hit hard but still frequently hits for power. Let's untwist that. Dickerson's career hard and soft contact rates are highly underwhelming at 34% and 18.7% respectively. Even during his 27 HR All-Star campaign last season he only hit for hard contact 33.6% of the time and managed a seemingly stagnant soft contact frequency of 18.7%. Even his career pull rate (32%) and GB/FB ratio (1.02), from which his 2018 figures do not greatly deviate, do not seem to indicate any sort of high-volume homer capabilities. Despite all of that, in every season in which he has taken 436+ AB he has hit an average of 25 dingers and produced ISO of .255, .224, .207. He looked to be in serious jeopardy of reaching 20+ homers on the year for Pittsburgh, that is until his recent razor-sharp 39 AB stretch of five HR and a .385/.415/.949 slash line (including a 447 foot bomb).

Dickerson has put this lovely stretch together by finally hitting for a solid hard contact rate during a month with a 42.9% frequency so far. That mark sits a jaw-dropping 10.3% higher than his previous best figure of the season, and also brought along with it his best soft contact rate of the year of 15.9%. This is in part reflected through his .429 July ISO after the only month in which that peripheral lived up to his career norms was April when he produced an ISO of .202. This month he has also raised his pull rate to a respectable level of 39.7% and lowered his strikeout rate back down to a good rate of 9.6% after whiffing 20% of the time in June. Though a discouraging ongoing trend has also been in his GB/FB ratio, which has read 1.50 and 1.35 over the last two months with grounder frequencies of 50% and 42.9%. Luckily, the majority of his hard contact on batted balls has been applied to liners (44.3%) and flyers (35.4%).

While Corey Dickerson's peripherals hardly seem impressive outside of his offensive play during July, they have actually always looked about as unimpressive, yet he manages to find a way to smack 20+ bombs and produce well-rounded figures at the plate (if the season ended right now, four of his six MLB seasons would be capped with a BA of .282 or better). So it is an even better sign that his work with the lumber has been looking up of late. There may not be as much time left as he needs to reach his previous full season HR average, but you can't recover time lost, and he could still be a consistent power option for the rest of 2018 at a time when everyone in Pittsburgh seems to be on an offensive onslaught. That means a lot when you also take note of his six steals he boasts at this point, his highest bag total in four years.

Joey Wendle - (2B/OF, TB)

Joey Wendle got off to a decent start to 2018 in his first season with Tampa Bay, but he sputtered through May and June with increasingly worse OPS of .638 and .429 and just one combined HR. However, since the start of July, Joey has seen a big offensive jolt. In his 57 AB through the month so far he has hit three bombs and has a slash line of .351/.422/.614. This has been in large part due to a strikeout rate of 12.5% this month after consecutively uglier figures of 18.3%, 22.2%, and 32.9%. Though the reason for the uptick in his power is less clear.

Wendle is currently producing a rock-solid hard contact rate of 38.8% which has translated into his conservatively optimistic ISO of .263 for July and 90 mph average exit velocity on the season as a whole. The strange thing is, although this is easily Wendle's best month of hitting homers, this is only his third-highest monthly hard contact rate for the year. What's more, this month he is also producing a soft contact rate of 18.4%, his highest rate of the year by 4.6%. The only noticeable differences in his batted ball peripherals is in pull rate which he has steadily increased each month from 28.8% in April to 38.8% this month, and in GB/FB tendencies where he has started hitting grounders at a 34.7% rate (his lowest on the year) after producing figures north of 60% in two out of three previous months (though his fly ball rate on the season sat at just 30%). He appears to be a well-rounded offensive asset and when he plays well (as his minor league track record would also indicate) he is capable of anywhere from 3-4 HR (averaging 403 feet in distance) and 2-3 steals per month. Though in value for the remainder of 2018, he can't have another month of 60% ground balls or 32.9% strikeouts...or both as he did in June.

Justin Smoak - (1B, TOR)

After a rather forgettable month of June for Justin Smoak, he has exploded for his best month of the season in July. So far he has a slash of .288/.373/.606, with five HR, and a .318 ISO, and it's due to a plethora of peripheral improvements. His strikeout rate of 20% for July is his lowest on the season by 3.1%, while his July hard contact rate of 41.2% is also his highest on the season, but by 6.6%. This, combined with a 90.5 mph average exit velocity for 2018, has been powering Smoak out of the park lately in the already hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. On an unfortunate and odd note, this increase in hard contact frequency has been accompanied by his highest soft contact rate of the season. In fact, Smoak has been producing more and more soft contact each month, progressing from an encouraging 7.9% in April to 17.7% so far in July.

Thankfully, there have been other peripheral progressions in Justin Smoak's game. His pull rate also increased every month from 43.4% in April to 51% for July, and he has also produced a season's best GB/FB ratio this month of 0.68 on 49% fly balls. While these figures have been mostly well above his career averages, they certainly aren't beyond the scope of his demonstrated capabilities, and as an added bonus, he has remained remarkably consistent through the year with no month of less than three homers and a .728 OPS. That may not be a frantic enough pace to equal his 38 bombs that he launched during his 2017 All-Star campaign, it's certainly an offensive train you want to be on board for the rest of the season.


Power Fallers

Kyle Seager - (3B, SEA)

Hard to believe that a former Gold Glover who averaged 27 HR a season between 2014-2017 has a lone All-Star appearance, but that is the case with Kyle Seager. Bad news has befallen the Seager brothers this year: first, Corey needs Tommy John surgery, and now Kyle is limping through the last two weeks with a goose egg in the long ball department and a slash of .233/.281/.300 in 32 AB for the battling Mariners. This stretch now puts the 30-year old on pace for his worst offensive campaign since he was a rookie, and his numbers aren't particularly promising in projecting the end to his 2018 season. On the bright side, he hit increasingly more HR each month up until July hit; smacking four, five, and six respectively on his ISO that progressed as well from .179 to .221. Not surprisingly, his batted ball contact was steadily improving as well. His hard contact improved every month with rates of 34.5%, 38.6%, and 39.2% from April through June while soft contact remained between 9.1% and 11.5%.

Since the start of July however, his quality of contact has been rather unsightly, and it's no wonder that he has struggled to hit for power. His soft contact rate this month is 18.4% and, while that's certainly not ideal, it's far less ideal that this matches his hard contact rate on the dot. This in combination with his slightly underwhelming average exit velocity (89.4 mph) and HR distance (379 feet), seems to indicate a bit of a power regression for Seager. His fly ball rate of 30.6% also sits 12.4% below his previous season-low, so the bottom line is that he just hasn't been getting a very good rip at the ball lately, and he has been moderately below his career standards at the plate all year long. Though his consistency in power hitting from April to June reads optimistically that he can get back to that kind of work once August gets cracking, and this poor play of late could be the result of some sort of injury or fatigue and as such a different monster entirely, proceed with extreme caution with Kyle Seager. He doesn't steal bases anymore and his hard contact rate is gasp-worthy.

Yan Gomes - (C, CLE)

2018 hasn't been the best season for Yan Gomes, but it certainly hasn't been the worst with ten HR and a .719 OPS for the division-leading Tribe. In fact, some shallowness at the catcher position even presented Gomes with the first All-Star selection of his seven-year career. Unfortunately, most of his offensive success this year has come in two separate months: April and June where he produced OPS of .839 and .897 with seven combined homers. In between, he threw in a hideous month of May with a .566 OPS and just two balls gone yard. Though somehow, in a pattern of month by month suffering and success, he has managed to be worse on offense so far through July than he was in May with a slash of .211/.246/.316 and just one deep ball in 57 AB.

While his strikeout rate actually decreased by 8% this month and his hard contact rate of 46.7% is great, his soft contact has reached it's season peak of 17.8%, though that figure is hardly debilitating. His pull rate for July is tied for it's lowest of the year, but it still sits at a more than operable 40%. His fly ball rate is down by about 11%, but those batted balls have mostly manifested into line drives, as his grounder rate remains relatively low at 33.3% and his GB/FB ratio is 0.94. Also, his average exit velocity (88.9 mph) and HR distance (396 feet) both hover around the league average despite his mostly fantastic hard contact on batted balls. The peripherals seem to indicate there isn't much of a reason to fear proceeding forward with Yan Gomes, which could indicate that he is more a victim of fortune in the heat of July. Although, few are comfortable in trusting a player who flourishes and flounders back to back two times in a row. If the cycle continues, he could bounce out of August with another month of 3-4 dingers and an OPS of .800+. Regardless of apparent patterns, Gomes's numbers are trustable his BABIP of .271 and .250 for his two months of struggles despite no issues with batted ball contact do indeed seem to indicate that fortune has played a greater role in his slumps than anything else. When he gets back on track, his production at the plate has excellent value at the catcher position inside the top-tier Cleveland offense.

Elias Diaz - (C, PIT)

Did I say everyone in Pittsburgh seems to be on an offensive onslaught? The Pirates are currently on a torrid eleven game win streak, with not much thanks to Elias Diaz and his .270/.270/.324 slash with nothing in the way of HR over the last 37 AB. This disappointingly comes in the midst of the best and fullest MLB season that he has ever played at the age of 27 with a .286/.327/.456 slash and seven dingers over the course of his 182 AB campaign.

After Diaz has kept his strikeout frequency between 8.8% and 12.8% from April to June, he started whiffing out at a 21% clip once July began. Over the last two months, his hard contact has actually improved from rates of 17.9% and 29% in April and May to 45.1% and 42.6% through June and July. His pull rate (38.9%), average exit velocity (89.5 mph), and average HR distance (397 feet) all float near the league norm and seem functional enough. The biggest issue for Diaz seems to be soft contact and GB/FB tendencies. He has had one good month of keeping soft contact to a minimum which came at a rate of 13.7% in June. Aside from that stretch it seemed to be the soft contact keeping him down instead of vice versa with rates of 17.9%, 19.4%, and 23.4% for April, May, and July respectively. Diaz also has a floor-trotting 1.40 GB/FB ratio on the season off of a grounder frequency of 46.5%, with no individual month's ratio descending below 1.17. He seems to be a relatively well-rounded offensive catcher who could maybe boast consistent 2-3 HR months with healthy playing time. He even displayed a proclivity for stolen bases at the minor league level, but with soft contact and ground ball tendencies propelling his current struggles, Francisco Cervelli returning from the concussion list in the near future could seriously disrupt the remaining opportunities of 2018 for Elias Diaz.

Yolmer Sanchez - (2B/3B, CWS)

Yolmer Sanchez has plenty of speed stats to boast: he has currently stolen ten bases in twelve attempts and is currently tied with Ketel Marte for the MLB triples lead with nine. Some aspects of his game also could indicate that he has practical power in his bat. Though his average exit velocity is a bit below league norm at 86.9 mph, he has launched his five HR on the year for an impressive 414 foot average and he is also hitting for the highest hard contact rate and the lowest soft contact rate of his career. The problem is that those marks still only stand at 27.7% and 16.6%, a rather stagnant split. This season has also seen Sanchez produce a pull rate that is 2.4% higher than his career average, and yet he still only has a pull rate of 36.5%. Almost as alarming as his hard contact scarcity are his GB/FB tendencies. In that department, he has produced a sky-high GB/FB ratio of 1.73 on a meager 28.9% fly balls. Sanchez has particularly struggled since the start of July and although he was able to salvage some of his OBP by improving his walk rate to 10.3%, he also began striking out at 21.8% which is his highest monthly rate so far in the season. In his 70 AB this month he has launched zilch into the stands while producing an inadequate slash of .243/.321/.343.

Overall, Sanchez is a speed-first, speed-second, and maybe even speed-third kind of value player. His ability to wrack up steals and triples on little hard contact serves as testimony to that, and this in turn suggests that he could sustain his current BABIP of .309. His apparent two-dinger cap per month, his hardly intimidating .141 ISO, and lack of hard contact seem to be red flags that Fantasy Baseball Managers should not expect anything but speed related production from him and especially little in the way of reliable power. Though his average HR distance seem to indicate he possesses some raw power, he just isn't hitting with it at the moment. So maybe if he started hitting more fly balls, striking out less, hitting for more hard contact? Until then, his appeal can be found solely in speed, especially when he is in a slump but still getting on base due to his improving walk frequency.


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