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As we enter the seventh week of the baseball season, there is a large enough sample size to rightfully pass judgment on a player's performance without expecting a sudden or dramatic change. While it's easy to glance at the HR leaderboard and determine that these players are tearing the cover off the ball, there are some under-the-radar players who are hitting the ball equally hard, but haven't yet reaped the fruits of their labor. Likewise, some veteran players who are off to slow starts may in fact be performing worse than surface stats indicate.

Many fantasy baseball owners are starting to see the value of MLB's Statcast advanced stats in order to help identify potential risers and sleepers. Just as we've done for pitchers, this weekly series will examine a handful of hitters who are performing surprisingly well or poorly according to sabermetrics.

Each week, we'll take a look at some key Statcast offensive metrics in order to assess risers and fallers. This time, we'll start with the most telling stats to indicate players that are hitting the ball hard, Barrels and Exit Velocity.

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Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of May 12, 2018

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR) - There's Mookie Betts and then there's Teoscar Hernandez. Those two names don't often go together, but only Betts is above Hernandez in terms of Barrels per Plate Appearance this season. At 15.1 Brls/PA, Hernandez should be taken seriously after his relatively strong start. His 93.3 average exit velocity is in the top 20 as well. While the sample size is smaller, it appears Hernandez is making quality contact. He isn't projected to have a ton of raw power, so expecting 30 homers by season's end still may be a stretch. He isn't producing eye-popping numbers and probably never will, so add him as a fourth outfielder or look for a buy opportunity in dynasty leagues where you know he can be a solid performer.

Mike Zunino (C, SEA) - It's quite reassuring to see the catcher I own in about seven leagues (not exaggerating) near the top of the Barrels leaders. Not just for catchers, mind you, but all MLB hitters. Zunino popped 25 HR in 287 AB last season and has 81 HR in his first 491 games in the majors, so we already know the power is legit. While a 35.3% HR/FB rate will go down, his hard-hit rate of 47.4% is outstanding and is no fluke either. It would be nice to see him bat higher than seventh or eighth, but the Mariners' lineup is potent enough that he should continue to get RBI opportunities. An awful .194 average will worry many fantasy owners, but he should swap out some fly balls for line drives over time and at least get to an acceptable range. As a catcher, the bar is pretty low anyway for what's acceptable.

Daniel Palka (1B/OF, CHW) - Palka is tied for 11th in average home run distance at 425 ft., and sixth in Brls/PA at 13.6. His hard hit percentage isn't quite as high, but it's still a good start for the 26-year-old rookie in his first taste of the majors. He's picked up six hits in his last three games, including a homer and three RBI. He's also got two DNP in the last five games and has hit the field just three times in the last week due to scheduling. He's got a shot to make a good impression with the rebuilding Sox, but is not stable enough to be considered in anything but AL-only and 14+ team leagues just yet.

Pedro Alvarez (1B/OF, BAL) - It's like 2015 all over again, with Alvarez going through spring without a team, ultimately rejoining his old team (in this case the Orioles), and scorching the ball in the first month of the year. Alvarez wasn't expected to be a regular, but nothing about the Orioles' season has gone as expected, with the exception of Manny Machado being a stud. Alvarez is 10th among all batters with at least 25 batted ball events with 12 Barrels/PA. Increase the threshold to 50 BBE and he's tied for sixth with Gary Sanchez. One thing that hasn't changed over the years is his inability to hit lefties, which limits his playing time. It's fitting that his lone hit against a LHP in four at-bats this year is a home run, though. Alvarez is mashing early on, but a confluence of events conspire to make him a drop candidate very soon. His 198 foot average distance is 60th among qualified batters, which indicates that his 24.1% HR/FB will likely decrease. A hamstring injury has him limited and could linger. Finally, his playing time will never be regular enough to consider in H2H weekly leagues. Much like the previous couple of seasons in Baltimore, Alvarez is nothing more than a temporary streamer whose time as a fantasy asset may be over.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

Evan Gattis (C, HOU) - If we were handing out hardware for the biggest busts at each position after one month, Gattis would come away with the award at catcher easily. Injuries robbed him of half the 2017 season, but he was supposed to be good for an automatic 25+ homers and solid RBI production for the World Champions. Instead, we've been treated to a .196/.264/.278 slash line and one big fly over 32 games. His paltry 0.9 Brls/PA is down there with Mallex Smith, Ketel Marte, Jose Iglesias and a bunch of players who don't even make an effort to drive the ball hard. Even worse, his strikeout rate is eight points above his career mark and his fly ball rate is nearly at its worst. He's not old enough to blame age (31) and there are no reported injuries either. You can hope that he turns things around, but with Max Stassi actually hitting the ball well, it's best to cut bait for now.

Ian Kinsler (2B, LAA) - Kinsler is now in his 13th Major League season, so it's expected that he won't hit the ball quite like he used to. Still, it's somewhat alarming that Kinsler is only hitting the ball hard 24% of the time and has an 80.8 MPH average on ground balls, which he's hitting 40% of the time. That results in many easy outs considering he's not much of a speedster these days. He began the year on the DL with an adductor strain that slowed his start to the season, so one of two things are possible: he's not fully recovered and the injury is nagging him when he swings or he's still rounding into regular season shape and offers a great buy-low opportunity. Then again, last year Kinsler was 203rd among batters with at least 100 BBE with a 3.8 Brls/PA. Perhaps the positive regression coming may not be enough to make him a fantasy asset any longer now that 20 HR and 15 SB are his absolute ceiling.

David Dahl (OF, COL) - Dahl finally made his way to the Rockies as a regular lineup fixture and has been doing what we expect, posting a .300/.352/.480 slash line. Except there are major issues that are being masked by his batting average. The fact he's only gone deep once isn't the only problem - it's a lowly 84.7 average exit velocity, 1.9 Brls/PA, and a 0.15 BB/K that would tie him with teammate Ian Desmond for 10th-worst in the league if he had enough PA to qualify. The fact is Dahl has an insane .483 BABIP and has offered nothing else for fantasy owners to be optimistic about. It may not be long before the club realizes they're better off promoting the steady Raimel Tapia instead.

Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS) - It might seem that Benintendi is due to turn things around any day now, having hit just two homers with a hard hit rate of 21.1% so far. He was one of baseball's top offensive prospects last year and delivered a 20/20 season at the age of 22. He wasn't a hard-hitting monster last season, however, posting a 4.0 Brls/PA rate and 87.1 avg exit velocity that both ranked in the bottom half of all batters. His current exit velocity is nearly identical (87.2 MPH), although he's only barreled the ball three times in 109 BBE. The raw power he possesses may simply be another year away. That or he'll start tearing the cover off the ball in the second half. Either way, his average and speed will keep his fantasy value afloat, so there's no sense worrying about the power alone. If anything, he could be a great buy-low candidate in redraft leagues on the chance that his power manifests itself sooner rather than later.

 

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