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Welcome to Week 19 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 and many likely have already occurred. 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

Rougned Odor - (2B, TEX)

Though it flew under the radar, 24-year-old Rougned Odor strung together two straight seasons averaging 31.5 HR and 14.5 stolen bases per year leading up to 2018. Though he has only hit 14 bombs thus far for Texas this time around, he has a current slash line of .271/.350/.478 through 299 AB, including a 1.323 OPS and seven dingers alone in his last 45 AB that resulted in AL Player of the Week honors. He was unable to produce an OPS higher than .565 in each of the first two months of the year and managed just one total HR in that time. This led to consecutively poor ISO figures of .059 and .116. However, after the month of May, Odor started turning things around in a huge way. With ISO of .153 and .284 through June and July, he powered his way to consecutively improving months with three HR and a .765 OPS, then six HR with a 1.035 OPS respectively. Now, already in 23 August AB, Odor has hit four balls yard and produced an OPS of 1.457.

It's a little difficult to figure out why Rougned Odor went through his lagging period in the first place. With a hard contact range of 41.3% to 45.5% from April through July, he has yet to produce a poor month in that category and besides his horrid month of May in which he produced soft contact at a 30.4% frequency, he has produced a solid soft contact range of 10.3% to 14.3% in all other months. Also in May he produced season-worst figures for walk percentage (2.8%) and strikeout percentage (33.3%), but other than that one month of lackluster power combined with poor plate discipline, none of his offensive peripherals would indicate that Odor was in serious trouble at the plate. He has even produced helpful figures in the realm of GB/FB ratio (0.98) and pull rate (47.7%) that are consistent with his past successful offensive campaigns, though his increased line-drive tendency and career-high total hard contact rate of 43.7% likely explain part of his transition from 30+ HR power to more well-rounded offensive play. Whether it be through 447 foot no-doubters, blistering 112.6 mph bombs, or his mean right-cross, we know that Rougned Odor possesses raw power. With nine stolen bases (albeit in 17 attempts) and the best OPS of his career, this recent torrid two week stretch of power hitting is making him a must-have asset for Fantasy Baseball Managers down the home stretch.

Nick Ahmed - (SS, ARI)

Up and down as his season may have been to this point, Nick Ahmed has still actually only had one bad month at the plate and has already turned 2018 into by far the best year of his five-year career. That bad month came in his 89 AB in May when he produced a slash of .146/.172/.281 and three HR. This poor month of plate appearances was caused by Ahmed's worst month of plate discipline with a walk rate of 3.2% and a strikeout rate of 23.4%, while at the same time producing a 27.5% hard contact rate and a stumbling soft contact rate of 24.5%. This, along with a high GB/FB ratio of 1.45, resulted in an ISO of just .135. This month came in the middle of a .864 OPS, five homer period in April and a June period in which he produced just two HR, but ten XBH total on his way to a .765 OPS. In July he ramped it up with four HR and a slash of .302/.340/.581 (which led to 20 RBI) through a .279 ISO in 86 AB. Just over the last 39 AB Ahmed has four dingers (two in July, two in August) with a 1.153 OPS and two of his four steals of the year.

Not only has Nick Ahmed received much more offensive opportunity this year with the D-Backs, he has made it count at the age of 28. While his strikeout rate and GB/FB ratio of 19.6% and 1.13 are high, they are considerably lower than his figures from 2017 of 21.9% and 1.49, and he has hit for 8.4% fewer grounders this year from last. He has also been producing many career-best peripherals: his walk rate of 7.2% helps counterbalance his high strikeout rate, his hard contact rate of 39.8% is his best figure yet by 7.8%, and his soft contact rate beats out all of his previous marks by about 2%. Though some of his peripherals sit slightly below league average such as his pull rate (39.8%), exit velocity (87.2 mph), and HR distance (396 feet), Nick Ahmed has overcome his ugly May showings for Arizona and has hit 16 total HR in 369 AB after only ever producing nine in a season. Now that his poor month seems to be more the exception than the rule for this campaign, he could ride this pace and his .217 ISO to probably as many as 23 total dingers by the end of the regular season.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa - (3B/C/2B, TEX)

Up until 2017 when he knocked five pitches deep for Double-A Frisco, Isiah Kiner-Falefa hadn't hit a HR in four years of professional baseball. Now the Honolulu native has produced two HR with a 1.212 OPS over the last 26 AB alone to give him four total HR and a slash of .272/.334/.386 on the year in 304 plate appearances. Even though he has improved his slugging capabilities, with such little power in his minor league track record and figures such as 85 mph and 373 feet for average exit velocity and HR distance, the unusual catcher-infield utility man doesn't appear to be a threat yet for double-digit HR totals. So the question is, with his current skill set, what is his offensive value?

The problem is, the 23-year-old Kiner-Falefa has been all over the board with his peripherals at the plate. Including his limited sample of August; he has had two months with strikeout rates below 8% and three between 20% and 26.9%, three months with soft contact rates lower than 13% with two months higher than 20%, and has produced month by month hard contact rates as low as 27.3% and as high as 51.3%. Though his averages for strikeout rate, soft contact, and hard contact read 16.8%, 17.2%, and 31.7% respectively, this makes him particularly hard to get a read on. He certainly has some redeeming offensive characteristics. He draws walks at a decent clip of 7.2% and produces a manageable pull rate of 40.1%, and his stolen base potential is big for a catcher-eligible player. He has stolen seven bases in twelve tries this year and wracked up three seasons of double-digit swipes in the minors including going 17-23 in his five HR, 2017 season. The fact is, if Isiah Kiner-Falefa wasn't eligible as a catcher, his value might be nonexistent. Since he is, his ability to steal bases and produce a solid BA/OBP warrants attention from Fantasy Baseball Managers in deeper leagues. He is still new to this whole HR hitting thing, and the growing pains that it took to even reach four this far in 2018 have been apparent. Encouragingly, his best ISO for a month this season was .184 in July. If he could harness that into even 1.5 HR per month on average, while exhibiting his usual BA/OBP and stolen base combo, Kiner-Falefa could translate modest power into Francisco Cervelli-like offensive production.

Austin Hedges - (C, SD)

With a recent 31 AB stretch of three HR and a slash of .290/.361/.645, Austin Hedges is finally starting to display some worthy offensive capability to add to his top-tier defense that at one point made him one of the top twenty prospects in all of baseball. He started the season off limping to OPS of just .528 and .485 in April and June and had only two combined HR through those 91 AB. After June, something seems to have clicked for the Padres catcher. He had four HR and a .905 OPS off the back of a .231 ISO in July and has already crushed two balls yard to the tune of a 1.165 OPS with a .412 ISO in limited August work. During his heating up in August, he has so far produced hard contact on batted balls at a season-high clip of 46.2% while also producing his lowest soft contact rate of the year at 7.7%. Hedges had poor figures in those departments during April with a hard contact rate of 26.7% and a sky-high soft contact rate of 31.1%. Optimistically, his hard contact rates improved with each passing month to 40% in June, to 42% in July, to its current standing thus far in August. Also, he has continuously produced significantly lower soft contact rates of 10% in June and 18% in July as compared to his April showers.

An average exit velocity of 86.2 mph and HR distance of 389 feet may be a tough sell in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, and his strikeout rate of 29.6% isn't exactly helpful no matter where you play. Despite this, Austin Hedges gets to take a stroll to first base 7.2% of the time he steps to the plate and he sports power-friendly peripherals for GB/FB ratio (0.84) and pull rate (46.6%). His defensive prowess kept him on the field, and his new offensive skills have helped to cement his place there for the Padres. Hedges has demonstrated the ability to hit for 20+ HR in past professional campaigns, and at a relatively shallow position like catcher, the strides he's made with the lumber make him one of the best widely available offensive options for fantasy baseball managers heading into the last couple of months.

 

Power Fallers

Ian Desmond - (1B/OF, COL)

Ian Desmond has been a power/speed threat for years and, despite his disappointing campaign of 2017, his 19 HR and 12 SB so far this season prove no exception, though he has hit a Rocky Mountain low over the last two weeks with zero homers and a slash of .184/.295/.211 in a span of 38 AB. There are a few positives on Desmond's side moving forward. Namely, he produced consecutively improving months of hard contact frequency, going from 34.3% in May to 41.2% in July before his August struggles. Also, while his ISO of .042 is more than mediocre, he has produced a solid monthly ISO range of .158 to .307 during the rest of the year. He has drawn a walk at a nice rate of 8.5%, and his cumulative hard contact rate for 2018 of 36.4% is surprisingly the best mark of his career by 3.5%.

On a concerning note, Desmond's soft contact rate of 20.8% puts the former Silver Slugger on pace to finish the season with a soft contact rate north of 20% for the fourth MLB year in a row. On an even more concerning note, although he has always been deficient in terms of fly ball production and pull rate, those issues have escalated and he holds the most extreme figures of his career in those departments this season with a pull rate of 29.3% and a dirt-rousing 3.16 GB/FB ratio. When taking those figures into account with his 25.1% strikeout rate, and Ian Desmond hasn't been taking full advantage of the Mile High atmosphere. Even though these figures sit on the extreme side, they aren't far off his career tendencies. With an average exit velocity of 89.8 mph and homers that have traveled as far as 459 and 472 feet since June, the 32-year-old two-time All-Star has gas left in the tank. He has never been the perfect player, but with a power/speed number of 14.7, who needs perfect? Proceed with some caution on Desmond: striking out and hitting grounders at a high volume is a poor formula for home run hitting, and he hasn't been making improvements in these departments. He will have to get back on track very soon if he is going to take a crack at eclipsing his previous season-best HR total of 25, and a 20-20 season at this point looks like a bit of a stretch.

Christian Villanueva - (3B, SD)

After a nice showing in a small sample of work in 2017, Christian Villanueva came bursting into 2018 with 15 bombs over the course of 166 AB during the first two months. Despite this, the 27-year old native of Guadalajara has produced peripherals that point the remainder of his season in several different directions. In April, he produced a 1.103 OPS and a .372 ISO in addition to his eight dingers. After April and despite his seven HR during May, Villanueva went on to produce OPS of .650, .547, and .547 for the next three months with just four combined HR coming in June and July. Although he has hit a single homer and managed a 1.277 OPS for August, this comes at from a limited 17 AB sample. During his time in August, he has managed a .235 ISO despite an ugly hard contact rate of 18.8% in contrast to his ballooned soft contact rate of 31.3%. Strangely, despite his impressive highs and discouraging lows, his hard contact rate remained rather consistent between 31.7% and 35.6% for the months leading up to this one.

His plate discipline has also remained paltry with a 26.6% strikeout rate and a 6.2% walk rate and, though his homers travel decently well at 394 feet on average, his exit velocity of 86.5 mph does little to weather the conditions of playing home games in San Diego. Even still, Christian Villanueva gives himself a swinging chance with a 0.67 GB/FB ratio and 49.1% pull rate. He has still managed a .226 ISO on the year despite the month by month turbulence, and making it to 20 bombs already at this point in the year speaks to his ability to get red-hot. Though he produces a lot of soft contact (23.9% on the year), the fact that his hard contact has barely wavered is a good sign. His minor league track record indicates that Villanueva may be closer to a 20 HR player than a 30 HR guy and that he may have been batting a bit beyond his means early in the year. Though this doesn't mean Fantasy Baseball Managers should abandon ship on the possible 4-7 additional HR he could reasonably produce by season's end, though he'll need to keep his BA and OBP above water on the lower side of that HR range to remain usable, especially when considering he is a member of a Padres batting order that ranks fifth-worst in the MLB in team run scoring.

John Hicks - (1B/C, DET)

Though he has freshly been placed on the disabled list with a right groin strain, the rise and fall of John Hicks during the 2018 season warrants a delving into. After achieving just two HR and a .698 OPS in 28 April AB, he turned in his best performance for a month in May when he smacked three bombs with a solid slash of .304/.345/.451 in 102 AB. From that point on, everything went downhill for Hicks at the plate. His OPS went from .796 in May to .774 in June, then to .632 in July, and then to a menial .267 in very limited August AB. Also, from the start of June to his most recent August plate appearance, Hicks managed to hit only four pitches deep and his ISO steadily decreased from .147 in May to .116 in July.

Those aren't the only figures that got steadily worse. His hard contact rate from May was a promising 42.9% and his soft contact rate was a more than manageable 15.6%. Each month, those figures steadily got worse. His hard contact rates for each month (including limited August work) dropped to 36%, then 31.3%, and finally 23.1%; while his soft contact digressed to 18%, 22.9%, and then 38.5% after May. His walk rate on the year has been serviceable at 7.1%, but his strikeout rate of 26.9% leaves a lot of opportunities to go yard squandered. His GB/FB ratio of 1.13 off of 43% grounders and his pull rate of 35.4% also leaves plenty to be desired. While some performance trends are hard to read, rest assured that there is no way to interpret constant digression as a positive sign. Miguel Cabrera being out for the remainder of the season after June 12th presented John Hicks with an excellent opportunity to cement his place on the Tiger's roster, and though this injury could've well been a lingering issue that negatively impacted his performance, he lost most semblances of power and well-rounded offense that made him the obvious replacement for Cabrera at first base in the first place. Even with catcher eligibility and an average HR distance of 405 feet, John Hicks would best be avoided like the plague if he makes a hasty return.

Greg Bird - (1B, NYY)

Greg Bird first grabbed the attention of Fantasy Baseball Managers back in 2015 at the age of 22. This year he has taken 200 AB in major league pinstripes with mixed results. He saw success in limited time during May with a .922 OPS and a single HR in just 17 AB, and has struggled to find a rhythm at the plate during his 24 August AB with a goose egg in the HR department and a .237 OPS. Smack dab in the middle of those polar-opposite stat lines, sit the months of June and July. In those months, Greg Bird knocked eight total dingers and produced consecutive slash lines of .184/.311/.421 and .265/.337/.458 in 159 AB. So how does he project for the pennant-contending Yankees moving forward?

Like John Hicks, Greg Bird has suffered from a nasty case of steady regression in many vital peripheral categories. Though his strikeout rate steadily improved from May to August from 33.3% to 23.1%, his walk rate also decreased as each month progressed after failing to draw a walk in limited May work from 13.3% to 7.7%. Also strange, though his hard contact rate bounced around from 54.6%, 36.5%, 47.6%, to 38.9% consecutively, his ISO was another figure to steadily decrease each month from .294 in May to .193 in July, with a figure of 0.00 for August thus far. This can likely be explained by a subsequent pattern of increasing soft contact volume over the same period from 0% in May, to 11.5% and 12.7% during his solid play of June and July, and so far a stagnant 27.8% rate for August. Luckily, another figure to steadily decrease throughout 2018 has been his GB/FB ratio, which reads cumulatively at 0.61. In conjunction with a pull rate of 48.6% and an average exit velocity of 88.8 mph, it is no surprise that Greg Bird is significantly better when playing games at home in Yankee Stadium. Bird is a talented, young first baseman who has demonstrated his well-rounded offensive capabilities in the past. His steady regression in some categories reads pessimistic, but his two months of solid work at the plate that came smack dab in the middle of two months of very limited sample AB bodes well for his chance to turn things around in the remainder of August and September. If he can start to limit his soft contact again while producing his consistently formidable hard contact rates, he could easily be a candidate for two more months of four HR each in the hitter-friendly Bronx. That obviously could imply statistical production mostly across the board within the elite Yankee offense. Instead of deploying one of the many "Bird" puns I've been tediously concocting over the last several hours, I'll just end by saying: Greg Bird is likely to get back on track soon.

 

More Risers and Fallers





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