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Power Risers & Fallers for Week 5 - Buy or Sell?


Welcome to this week's Power Hitting Risers & Fallers. All stats are full season through Monday, April 29th (unless otherwise noted). Several "on pace" numbers just use 6x as a shortcut (one month done, five to go).

Your weekly reminders: When a Statcast ranking is mentioned, a minimum of 25 plate appearances is needed to rank in Statcast figures; 321 players now have that many. And EVAB (pronounced ee-vab or ev-ab) is simply exit velocity on "air balls" - meaning fly balls and line drives, as shown on Statcast.

And now it's time for Week 5 in power hitting.

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Power Risers

Christian Walker (1B, ARI)

Walker entered this season with six career home runs in 99 plate appearances spread over four seasons. In 2019, he has seven homers in 109 plate appearances. In a sense, he's not showing significantly more power than before, given the similar HR/PA rate. But in another sense he is, given the first regular playing time he's ever received. Can Walker keep it up with pitchers getting a consistent book on him night-in and night-out for the first time?

Of course, Statcast doesn't tell us what will happen after adjustments are made by pitchers and/or hitters. But Walker's Statcast numbers are legit. He's barreled up 13 balls already, tied with six other players for 10th in MLB; he ranks 15th at a 11.9% rate. A 99.2 mph EVAB ranks eighth and his 94.8 overall exit velocity rates fifth, which is good news with his 14.5 degree launch angle.

Walker's plate discipline, 31 strikeouts vs. 11 walks, is a bit wanting, but a slight improvement over his 40-8 ratio entering this season. That said, the biggest threat to Walker may be pitchers starting to take advantage of that, because the Statcast numbers indicate a player extremely capable of crushing baseballs. The sky is Walker's limit, although the plate discipline pushes down a bit on his ability to reach for that sky. But the power is real, and it's spectacular.

 

Ozzie Albies (2B, ATL)

Albies, who had nine home runs last April and ended the season with 24, has six homers so far in 2019. It's another hot month, but is this year's April Albies more sustainable than last year's?

Not particularly, at this rate, except for the fact that he's "only" on roughly a 36-home run pace instead of 54. Albies EVAB this year is 91.9 mph, just a couple ticks above the 91.7 he posted across all of 2018. While his overall exit velocity is up from 86.3 to 88.3 mph, his launch angle has fallen slightly from 15.5 to 12.8 degrees. On the bright side, his barrel rate is up from 3.7% to 6.3%.

Overall, it's a very similar profile to last season's full Statcast numbers. A rerun of 24 home runs feels about right here.

 

Max Kepler (OF, MIN)

Kepler has never posted a wRC+ better than 97 or had more than 20 home runs despite long being considered a potential breakout candidate. With seven homers and a 130 wRC+ so far in 2019, the Kepler breakout might be here.

Kepler has consistently raised his launch angle a few degrees every year since 2015, starting out at 2.8 that season, reaching 16.2 degrees last year and up to 17.1 degrees so far this season. That's a quite good trend, and now his barrel rate and exit velocity are trending up as well, at 7.1% and 91.7 mph, which would both be career highs. The expected rate stats have followed, a .520 xSLG and .371 xwOBA, also career high rates, and close to his .552 and .374 actual marks.

The seven home runs isn't terribly inconsistent with all of this. He probably won't hit 42 with a 94.7 EVAB, but he ought to hit more than 20 for the first time, and could challenge 30. Congrats if you believed.

 

Yandy Diaz (1B, TB)

Diaz was a solid hitter in 120 plate appearances for the Indians last year, posting a .312/.375/.422 slash line, but only had one home run. He is already at seven in 2019 as his slugging rate has jumped to .596. What is going on?

From last year, Diaz's exit velocity has fallen slightly (91.2 instead of 92.1), as has his already-low launch angle (3.9 vs. 4.4). His EVAB, however, has climbed from 93.6 mph last season to 98.4 mph this season, a solid bump. Because of this, his barrel rate is also up, from 3.3% last year to 7.0% this season. His eight total barrels matches what he did in 2017-18 combined.

Diaz needs to get that launch angle up to continue flashing strong power, but he hasn't shown an ability yet to approach double-digit degrees. If he continues to hit his flies and liners at 98-plus, he'll get some bombs those times that he does elevate, so last year's pace of a lone homer in 120 PA is unlikely to return. However, barring an adjustment, we've already seen the best power Diaz will offer all year.

 

Eric Sogard (SS/2B, TOR)

In just 10 games and 47 plate appearances, Sogard has already tied his career high with three home runs. At 47 plate appearances, analyzing Sogard uses the same sample size as most of the Week 2 players: not a lot.

Sogard has only barreled up one baseball this season. He's hitting it just 85 mph on average, and even his balls in the air are leaving at a very modest 89.8 mph. The 85 mph and 17.1 degree launch angle would be career highs, but do not add up to close to the 49-home run pace that three bombs in 10 games represents.

Sogard has a decent .474 xSLG, but that's nothing like his .732 actual SLG. The same goes for a .383 xwOBA and .507 wOBA. Matched to his .333 xBA, Sogard's xSLG would create a .141 ISO. Given Sogard's history, however, it's much easier to believe his mediocre exit velocity than his expected rate stats.

There's a chance for a few more homers here, but nowhere near what Sogard has shown early in 2019. Also likely to go cold and lose whatever PA he's gaining from his early power surge, bank on him easily well short of 10 dongs at year's end.

 

Power Fallers

Carlos Santana (1B, CLE)

Santana has hit at least 18 home runs every full season of his career, and 24 last year, but so far in 2019 only has two bombs in 26 games, a 12-homer pace. He hasn't lost any of his plate discipline skills, hitting .300/.422/.422, but whither the power?

Santana's main power problem is relatively obvious: a launch angle of 4.7 degrees. He's never been lower than 12.3 since Statcast began in 2015, and last year at 15.1 degrees was a career high. It's a shame, because Santana is squandering an early 94.7 mph exit velocity, when he's never been above 90.7 mph before. Santana's got a 95.1 EVAB this season, but it doesn't matter with so few flies and liners.

Santana's fate is unclear, but the relationship between his Statcast and his outcomes is not. He could raise his launch angle and keep the velocity, which could give him power he's yet to show in the Majors. He could revert to his pre-2019 state in both exit velocity and launch angle, which would be a positive adjustment for power purposes. (Although in both of these cases, his full season numbers would suffer due to the slow April.) He could keep going like he has and risk as low as single-digit home runs in 2019. Worst case would be reverting to his pre-19 exit velocities while continuing to hit the ball uncomfortably close to the ground.

The safest bet is probably for Santana to adjust back to where he has been historically. (Unless he's intentionally going against league-wide trends and trying to hit singles; his BABIP of .231 last season and .266 career mark are up to .357, after all.) But until he does so, the home runs will likely continue to only trickle through.

(Note: It always seems like one falling player homers on the day before this article comes out. On April 30, it was Santana. Still...get that launch angle up, Carlos.)

 

Manny Machado (3B, SD)

Machado had four home runs after April 12. He still has four home runs. While some players would kill for four home runs in a month, it's a bit disappointing for someone who's hit 35, 37, 33, and 37 home runs in the past four seasons.

Machado has deserved his power struggles by Statcast's figuring, mainly on account of a .354 xSLG. The 9.9 degree launch angle is also 4.5 degrees lower than his mark last season. His 90.7 mph exit velocity is right in line with his 90.8 career mark, however. A 5.2% barrel rate and 94.0 EVAB are lower than last season's 8.5% and 95.1 mph, but they don't set off deafeningly ringing alarm bells.

Like Santana, it's most tempting to bank on this being a blip that will correct with larger sample, given the consistent track record, acceptability of the exit velocities, and the four homers he did hit in the first couple weeks of the season. It would still behoove Machado to get back to his typical 13-14 degree launch angle, but if he does, another 30 homers can happen.

 

Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU)

Gurriel's never been a massive power hitter, with a combined 31 bombs in 1,137 plate appearances from 2017-18. Still, his single home run in 113 plate appearances this season is concerning, especially for someone who is nearly 35 years old. Often rostered for his .287 career average, even that is only .240 this year.

Gurriel is working on the highest launch angle and best walk rate of his career. But as his exit velocity has fallen to 88.2 mph and 89.3 mph on flies and liners, he's only posted one barrel. Without exit velocity, the higher launches aren't getting out, and it's killing that batting average in addition to resulting in even less power than before.

Don't expect much from the aging Gurriel, especially in the power department. After going from 18 home runs in 2017 to 13 in 2018, he'll likely stay stuck in single figures this year unless something unforeseen happens. And if he doesn't fix the batting average, that puts him in real trouble.

 

Jeimer Candelario (3B, DET)

By Statcast, Candelario is almost the same hitter this year as last year, but after hitting 19 home runs last season, he's one of seven qualified MLB hitters (out of 191 overall) still working on a 2019 goose egg in the home run column. Nonetheless, he's essentially in line with his 2018 Statcast performance (87.4 mph vs. 87.1), with a couple extra degrees of launch angle (17.6 degrees, up from 15.3).

Still, Candelario's modest .224/.317/.393 line last season was an over-performance based on a .203 xBA and .345 xSLG. This season the xSLG is .338. It's pretty clear by now that Candelario's small sample 2017 (.330/.406/.468 in 106 PA) was a fluke, but even then he had a .403 xSLG.

The 19 homers Candelario had last season will probably not happen again. Like Gurriel, without more oomph in his exit velocity, Candelario could be looking at single figure homers in 2019.

 

Brandon Crawford (SS, SF)

Crawford is another member of this year's qualified 0-homer club. Like Candelario, his relevance is limited to deeper, AL/NL-type leagues, and like Candelario, that is unlikely to change for Crawford based on Statcast. Crawford homered 14 times in each of the past two seasons, doing so with launch angles of 11.4 and 11.1 degrees. This year, he's only hitting the ball at 6.3 degrees. His .328 xSLG continues a streak of decline every year since 2015. Crawford has one lone barrel, just like Gurriel.

One piece of good news for Crawford is that when he does elevate this season, he's hitting it 94.6 mph. As with Santana, however, the elevation is too rare to matter. Plus, it is out of line with Crawford's 90.6 EVAB last year and his 92.1 the year before that.

Crawford is now 32, and he won't be shut out of the home run column forever. But here's yet another player for whom teens power last season will be single-digits this year barring an adjustment of which his capability is questionable.

 

Last Week's Risers

Player Last Week Update
Joc Pederson .111/.200/.222, 0 HR; continued regression coming?
Eddie Rosario .143/.217/.476 but 2 more HR
Marcell Ozuna Still afire after .318/.400/.636 and 2 HR
Hunter Dozier No more HR but .467/.529/.733 line anyway
Mitch Moreland W/24 PA and just two K, .050/.167/.050 line seems SSS fluke

 

Last Week's Fallers

Player Last Week Update
Travis Shaw Struck out 8/20 times but hit .222/.300/.611 and 2 HR
Rafael Devers Still homerless but .409/.500/.500 has season wRC+ at 107
Kris Bryant .227/.379/.591 and 2 HR makes bounce-back odds seem good
Nicholas Castellanos Much like Bryant at .280/.357/.560 w/2 HR
Jesus Aguilar Two HR 4/29 and another on 4/30; is he back?

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