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Power Risers/Fallers for Week 18: Buy or Sell?


Welcome to Week 18 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 blown by into August and the MLB trade deadline has passed, the window of opportunity to snag a surging slugger or to deal a down-and-out disappointment grows shorter with every plate appearance. Most Fantasy Baseball Leagues, in fact, have their trade deadlines sometime in early August. 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

Jonathan Schoop - (2B, MIL)

On the year to this point, Jonathan Schoop boasts some ugly peripherals that clearly demonstrate how this season is considered a big disappointment when compared to his 32 HR All-Star campaign of 2017. His soft contact rate is horrendous and is the highest of his career at 25.5%, while his hard contact rate of 26.6% is down by nearly 10% from last year. That runs the risk of turning into a whole lot of nothing when paired with an 86.3 mph average exit velocity and 1.15 GB/FB ratio, though a decent pull rate of 41.4%.

Despite this and a strikeout rate north of 20%, the 26-year old infielder still has 17 bombs in 2018 and an ISO of .203 which sits just .008 away from his 2017 figure. He has accomplished this despite his sluggish start to the season with a torrid two-week run, accumulating seven dingers and a slash of .349/.349/.860 over just the last 43 AB. So what changed Schoop's offensive fortune in July? Well after failing to produce a hard contact rate above 26.8% over the first three months, he finally produced 31.7% hard contact on batted balls through July. He subsequently lowered his soft contact frequency to 19.5% from an astounding peak of 34.2% in June. He paired this with his first sub-1.00 GB/FB ratio of the year (0.91) and produced an ISO of .340 for the month; miles better than his previous three months of .115, .165, .155, respectively. There seems to be plenty to worry about with Jonathan Schoop. It's hard to make an optimistic forecast for a player who's first three months of the season were so consistently stagnant at the plate. This recent hot streak certainly supplies hope that he can return to a 30+ HR pace, and if he is ripping the ball in hitter-friendly Miller Park now, he can supply plenty of offense in the Brewers batting order (even if he manning shortstop). Proceed with caution however, even in his dominant July, his batted ball contact wasn't even of much higher quality.

Juan Soto - (OF, WAS)

It's safe to say that with 13 homers and a .985 OPS through 217 AB for the Washington Nationals, Juan Soto has successfully burst onto the scene as the MLB's youngest active player. Soto has been consistently exemplary in his well-rounded offensive performance all year, and has demonstrated plenty of power over the last fourteen days alone with four HR and a jaw-dropping slash of .366/.447/.780 in 41 AB. However, like Schoop, Soto displays some erratic batted ball tendencies. He produced excellent hard contact (50% exactly) and solid soft contact (16.7%) in a limited 38 AB run in May, but has since produced two consecutively decreasing months of hard contact with rates of 33.9% and 31.7% in June and July. At the same time, his soft contact shot all the way up to a concerning 30.7% in June, though he lowered it back down to 15.2% during his hot run in July. Soto also hits way more grounders than he does fly balls, and holds a GB/FB ratio of 1.73 (ironically this figure is up in the stratosphere) while his pull rate tends to be about mid-30% from month to month.

Despite this, Soto has powered his way to eleven HR across the last two months and has yet to hit for an ISO of less than .227, with .293 in June being his best. His plate discipline is apparent by his 15.2% walk rate that counterbalances his 18% strikeout rate, and his speed that he exhibits through his work and the outfield and maintenance of a .348 BABIP all year (this figure is actually lower than his previous minor league figures) all roll together to make a very talented and well-rounded major league player (not to mention teenager). It's very likely that we have been watching the progression of a soon-to-be phenom, and this has by no means come out of nowhere considering Soto's incredible 1.043 OPS and 22 HR in three seasons (just 453 AB) in the minors. Though the low-30% hard contact and fluctuating soft contact shows some clear areas of future improvement, Juan Soto looks poised to finish 2018 as well as he started it.

Michael Conforto - (OF, NYM)

2018 has marked a down year for Michael Conforto, which he has achieved with mostly pedestrian peripherals on the year. His GB/FB ratio sits at 1.09, he produces a pull rate of 39.8%, a hard contact rate of 34.6%, and a soft contact rate of 17.7%. He has combined this with slightly below average figures for exit velocity (87.4 mph) and HR distance (392 feet) to accumulate 14 HR, a .754 OPS, and .176 ISO through 321 AB. That is a far cry from his 27-homer, .939 OPS All-Star season from 2017. However, things have been looking up for him considerably over the last two months.

He started the year with two consecutive sub-30% hard contact months, but has since recuperated to the tune of 40.9% and 40.4% hard contact as well as soft contact rates of 16.7% and 14% through June and July. Add this power influx to his already solid walk rate of 14.8% (to counterbalance his strikeout frequency of 24.1%) and it is easy to see how Conforto could've thrown it all together for his July run that culminated in a .208 ISO (his best month of the year), including a recent two-week run of three HR and a 1.131 OPS in 34 AB. The 25-year old Conforto is clearly a talented player who had a humdrum beginning to 2018, and being a member of the woeful New York Mets offense isn't doing his offensive production any favors. His hard contact has been down this year and subsequently, so has his overall power. Though with demonstrations like 445 foot bombs into the bleachers and strong throws from the outfield, he has shown plenty of pop in his time in the majors, and he looks to be getting nicely back on track with his upward trending hard contact and manageable soft contact in June and July. Thus, Michael Conforto seems to be a nice option in terms of decently well-rounded bats with power upside moving through the end of the season. Though don't expect too many RBI or R, that would require a few more Mets to heat up. Look for him to end up in the 22-25 dinger range by the time the postseason rolls around.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. - (2B/SS, TOR)

Though he just got diagnosed with a sprained left knee and ankle, it is important to address Lourdes Gurriel's recent work at the plate amidst him tying Shoeless Joe Jackson for the longest multi-hit game streak by a rookie (11). The 24-year old was off to a strong first 143 major league AB with seven HR and a smooth slash of .322/.340/.503, including a remarkable 1.359 OPS and three HR over the last two weeks when he was about as zoned in as any rookie has been since The Great Depression at the plate. That kind of limited-sample performance begs the question: what can be expected from him in the future, near or otherwise?

Gurriel only hits for 29.8% hard contact so far in the majors, but that is fortunately due to a swelled medium contact rate of 54.5%, while his soft contact rate remains functional at 15.8%. He boasts a rather high GB/FB ratio of 1.26 for long ball hitting, but he makes up for that partially through a helpful pull rate of 45.6%. He also has walked very little at a mere 2% rate while striking out 19.7%, so the signs of this being his rookie season are present and apparent. The stroke of his bat seems to paint him more as a well-rounded offensive presence with conservative power. Though he has had a rather blistering exit velocity of 91.5 mph that powered him to a .225 ISO in July, he still only produced 24.6% hard contact during that same month. His soft contact was kept excellently low at 11.5%, while his medium contact frequency of 63.9% in conjunction with his exit velocity helps explain his BABIP of .456 for the month. Lourdes Gurriel has many things working strongly in his favor on offense, but with that also comes several limits to what he can do right now. By keeping his soft contact low and exit velocity high, he will have a great chance to spray pitches all over the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. He'll have limited time after he returns from the DL, but even just considering his HR pace he could be a very legitimate option for power production among multi-position eligible middle infielders.

 

Power Fallers

Brian Anderson - (3B/OF, MIA)

25-year old Brian Anderson has proven capable of slugging in his 2018 stint with the Marlins. He has produced above-average figures of 90.3 mph average exit velocity and 401 feet in average HR distance. He posted two consecutive months of 45.2% and 45.7% hard contact in May and June while keeping soft contact to just 16.7% and 9%. Even with his recent two week stretch where he produced just one HR and slugged .366, he still produced good hard contact at 38.6% through the month of July, though his soft contact increased to 16.9%. Also of note, in July Anderson struck out at his best rate of the year so far with 12.5% and produced his best ISO of the season with a .175.

His overall hard contact rate on the year is 40.4%. That's consistent batted ball contact. Unfortunately, the other thing that has been consistent has been his flightless GB/FB ratio of 1.76 off of just 28.9% fly balls and over 50% grounders. Anderson's BA and OBP for the year have seen the most benefit from his combination of peripherals this season, while his nine HR in 419 AB leaves a lot to be desired in terms of power, especially from a guy that knocked 22 bombs in 429 AB during his 2017 minor league campaign. He, like many of the players discussed today, seems to be a well-rounded bat with 20+ HR potential in a full MLB season. Though, it seems like that count leans on the optimistic side, and his two stolen bases in six attempts (33.3% success rate, if you do that math) doesn't give tidings of a high power/speed figure. Also it's hard to accumulate offensive statistics across the board when you are a part of the Marlins batting order, so Brian Anderson definitely has a good skill set, but it may be value more suited for the deeper leagues for the remainder of 2018 at least.

Brian Dozier - (2B, LAD)

We discussed Brian Dozier's struggles all the way back in week five, and since then his problems have mostly been the same. He has still hit for 16 HR and stolen eight bases on the year, but after an unsightly stretch with a goose egg for a dinger total and a slash of .182/.229/.227 over his last 44 AB, he now sits with an uncharacteristic cumulative OPS of .708 and an ISO of .178. Even with the HR/SB combo he has still offered (though at a fraction of past seasons), this has so far been a bummer for Fantasy Baseball Managers that pinned a high pick on Dozier. He still does plenty to help himself: his pull rate of 50.5% and GB/FB ratio of 0.89 were ideal for battling the mostly pitcher-friendly conditions of Target Field, and produced hard contact rates between 36.4% and 38.9% over the last three months.

In July however, his soft contact rate rose to 19.4%; and even though July was the month of his best ISO figure (.208), he also started striking out at a bumbling 27.4% clip and he was only producing an average exit velocity of 86.3 mph and HR distance of 380 feet, both sitting well-below league average. Though his power/speed number still reads 10.7, this pales in comparison to his totals from just a season ago when he managed 34 HR, 16 steals, and a .856 OPS (not to mention a Gold Glove nod). It's been a season of streakiness for the 31-year old, and rampant strikeout stretches don't ease the pain that frequent highs and lows carry. The Dodgers clearly believe he was a missing piece in a possible pennant puzzle, but there is still speculation that he won't be an everyday starter at second base considering the now stacked Los Angeles bench. Maybe the change of scenery to a top-ten offensive club, like it is for so many, will be a breathe of fresh air to Brian Dozier. Though he can likely be counted on for three or four HR and steals per month, that is the cap until October unless he snaps back into his former rhythm in a huge way.

Colin Moran - (1B/3B, PIT)

25-year-old former top-100 prospect Colin Moran looked to have settled into a major league rhythm this year through the first three months of the season for the Pirates, but the future direction of his offensive play is muddied by some contradictory peripherals. First off, though his ISO steadily increased from .134 to .176 from April through June, his OPS steadily decreased over that same time period from .776 to .751. During that same time period, his batted ball contact was unpredictable. In terms of hard contact he produced respective figures of 36.9%, 24.6%, 35.7% with soft contact figures of 16.9%, 18%, and 17.9% from April through June. Through July however, Moran's statistical house of cards finally coincided in a month of mediocrity. His hard contact descended once again to 29.5%, and though his soft contact reached a season-low of 11.5% and his pull rate reached a season-high of 42.6%, his GB/FB ratio ballooned to 1.87 over the month while his walk rate and strikeout rate dropped in efficiency with respective July marks of 4.9% and 19.8%. This led to an ISO in the abyss at .052 and a .292 slugging percentage with zilch to show for HR over the last 65 AB.

Colin Moran is a huge baseball player at 6-4, 205 lbs, though his 88.6 mph average exit velocity and erratic contact on batted balls shows that he hasn't fully learned to harness that frame yet at the big league level. He has shown the ability to hit for 18 HR in a minor league season, albeit in less AB than one usually takes in a full MLB season. Though considering the fact that he hit three homers in the month of June when he took 68 AB and slugged .426 (his highest of 2018) it looks like his cap pace with his current level of playing time would be about three dingers a month. There isn't a lot of value present for Moran now, but if the cards were to be dealt in his favor in the future or a wider gap in the Pittsburgh batting order was to open up, he could easily accumulate 20+ HR in a full season. Though he will need to lock down better batted ball consistency on a month by month basis to reach that kind of yearly total in the future.

Xander Bogaerts - (SS, BOS)

At the age of 22, Xander Bogaerts won his first Silver Slugger award. At age 23, he became a two-time Silver Slugger and a first timer at the All-Star game. Now, at age 25, he has reinvented himself at the plate in a way reminiscent of Manny Machado's offensive transition. Very little has actually changed in Bogaerts statistical indicators. His BA, OBP, strikeout percentage, and walk rate are all nearly identical to his figures from 2017. His pull rate jumped up a bit to a helpful 43.9% and his GB/FB ratio went from 1.60 to 1.31 from to 2017 to now, both act as assisting hands in hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

The big difference though, has been in his leather ripping power. His ISO, soft contact rate, and hard contact rate from 2017 were .130, 19.7%, and 31.4%. This season those same figures read .238, 15%, and 38.6%. With a blistering exit velocity of 91.9 mph, Bogaerts has already blasted his way to 16 bombs (hit for an impressive average distance of 410 feet) and a slash of .275/.342/.513. This has been good for plenty of offensive production across the board in the mighty Boston batting order. Well, not exactly across the board. While he is well on pace to blow past his previous career-best season for HR hitting, he has only stolen two bases this year in 349 AB after swiping 38 total bags in the three campaigns previous to 2018. Though he had been consistently fantastic through the majority of this season, he has stumbled slightly in the last two weeks with zero HR and a .577 OPS. This should be of little to no concern. As was discussed, Xander Bogaerts has been consistently fantastic through all of this season with the minor exception of the last ten games or so and this kind of transition from power/speed play to mostly power-focused play has already been seen in other very talented young infielders like Machado. This is likely the Xander Bogaerts we can look forward to in years to come: a 25+ HR capable shortstop and no longer a 10/15 power/speed combo player like he was last year. It seems that somehow the only expense of his ramped up power volume is his stolen base totals, and you know what? I think we'll all be fine with that in his years to come. Now, for the sake of his current play, let's hope his right hand turns out to be okay.

 

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