The home runs keep flying. Recently, Ronald Acuna stole headlines with eight home runs over a one week period. Jose Urena sought to short circuit the light show by hitting Acuna with a 97 mph fastball. The Rotoworld Podcast covered his eventful week in full detail. It suffices to say that the vast majority of baseball fans were appalled by the ensuing injury scare. Nobody wants to see a precocious talent like Acuna derailed by a jealous opponent.
Acuna may be the next player to join the 20 home run club. He’s hit 19 in 299 plate appearances. Already, 46 players have entered the ranks. The regular season has about six weeks remaining – roughly one quarter of the campaign. Anybody with 15 or more home runs is technically “on pace” for 20 homers. Reality, of course, is more complicated than “pace.” Ten players have reached the 30 home run plateau. Giancarlo Stanton, Nolan Arenado, and Bryce Harper are the new initiates.
Shall we dive right in?
Ronald Acuna: 6 HR
Jose Ramirez: 4 HR
Paul Goldschmidt: 4 HR
Nine others: 3 HR
In at least one way, Urena succeeded. Acuna has not homered since August 14. Fortunately, he was able to avoid missing time. The Braves have him back in his leadoff role. He’ll serve an important part of the club’s playoff pursuit. They remain half a game ahead of the Phillies and seven games up on the Nationals. Since the All Star Break, Acuna has kept pace with the best hitters in the league, authoring a .353/.426/.784 triple slash with 12 home runs in 115 plate appearances.
I’ve waited all year for Jose Ramirez to drop the “I’m better than Mike Trout act.” At this point, we have to start entertaining the possibility that he’s the best hitter in the league. Trout is obviously incredible, but he comes with around a 20 percent strikeout rate. Ramirez ranges from 10 to 11 percent strikeouts. All those extra balls in play can add up. Ramirez has a legitimate shot at the home run crown this season. Trout is on the outside looking in due to a couple minor injuries.
The Diamondbacks certainly had a potent week at the plate. Goldschmidt chipped in four big flies with Eduardo Escobar and David Peralta adding three apiece. The power display helped Arizona to maintain a narrow lead in the NL West.
The least surprising player to bash three home runs was Giancarlo Stanton. He’s quietly hit .311/.370/.593 with 20 home runs since the start of June (305 plate appearances). The most surprising “slugger” to pop three bombs was Freddy Galvis. Who had him in the office pool? Marcus Semien, Michael Conforto, Miguel Andujar, Ryan Zimmerman, and Rhys Hoskins round out the list.
My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 37 HR, 47 HR projected
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: 37 HR, 46 HR projected
Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics: 34 HR, 44 HR projected
Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals: 33 HR, 43 HR projected
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 32 HR, 42 HR projected
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, 31 HR, 41 HR projected
Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners: 30 HR, 40 HR projected
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 30 HR, 40 HR projected
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: 30 HR, 39 HR projected
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals: 30 HR, 39 HR projected
After a couple quiet weeks, Francisco Lindor fell out of the top 10 with Bryce Harper rising to take his place. Lindor currently projects for 36 or 37 home runs. The biggest gain over the last week was Ramirez. He launched yet another offensive tirade. Eight players are in line to reach 40 home runs – a marked increase over last season. Trout is expected to return any day now from a wrist injury and a death in the family.
***Yangervis Solarte, Toronto Blue Jays (right oblique)
***Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians (right hand contusion)
***Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (left hamstring strain)
***Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox (left hamstring strain)
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (wrist contusion)
Tommy Pham, Tampa Bay Rays (right foot fracture)
Scott Schebler, Cincinnati Reds (right shoulder sprain)
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (right knee discomfort)
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks (frayed rotator cuff – out for season)
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (left shoulder discomfort)
Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds (shoulder subluxation – out for season)
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (calcified heels – out for season)
Clint Frazier, New York Yankees (post-concussion syndrome)
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (chip fracture in right wrist)
Zack Cozart, Los Angeles Angels (torn labrum – out for season)
Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians (calf strain)
Jay Bruce, New York Mets (right hip strain)
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (groin strain)
Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals (fractured foot)
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (ruptured biceps tendon – out for season)
Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays (calf strain)
Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres (forearm strain)
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (TJS – out for season)
***denotes new injury
One of the first Power Spotlights of the year featured, Yangervis Solarte. I predicted career best power in the range of 20 to 25 home runs. Prior to injury, he had hit 18 homers. Unfortunately, the rest of his game deteriorated – mostly due to a .239 BABIP. His fantasy owners had to settle for three categories. That’s fine from a mostly free player. An oblique injury – even a minor one – usually takes at least a month to heal. Solarte may miss most of the regular season.
Encarnacion isn’t expected to miss much time with a hand contusion. Reports on Beltre are mixed. One source said he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain which would put his return date around mid-September. Beltre himself seems to think he’ll be back much sooner, leading me to believe this was actually a mild Grade 1 strain. He’s already using the elliptical and taking swings – something the team trainers wouldn’t let him do with a more Grade 2 strain. Devers left hammy is also acting up. He may not miss much more than the minimum. Last but not least, Joey Votto is recovering from a bruise on his right leg. If the Reds were contending, he probably wouldn’t be on the disabled list.
George Springer returned to the Astros in time to do this against Blake Treinen. Woof. Jose Altuve hopes to return in time for their upcoming series against the Mariners, but he may need a slightly longer rehab stint. Belt is back for a friendly visit to Great American Ballpark. He’s floating around the waiver wire in one-third of leagues. Grab him for the weekend – at the very least. Wil Myers returned to the crowded Padres outfield. Nomar Mazara is back in Texas.
I wanted to write today’s spotlight about Ryan McMahon. Since the Rockies recalled him from Triple, he’s batting .286/.400/.524 while making frequent hard fly ball and line drive contact. Obviously, he has one major red flag – a 30 percent strikeout rate. However, strikeouts haven’t stopped the club from playing Ian Desmond. Every. Single. Day. Desmond runs a 25.4 percent strikeout rate without the potential for a high OBP. Alas, so long as Nolan Arenado and Desmond are healthy, it seems McMahon is stranded in no man’s land.
Instead, let’s turn our attention to Matt Wieters. You thought he was done, right? The once-touted backstop hasn’t performed like an above average player since 2012. The Nationals spent most of the last calendar year trying to acquire J.T. Realmuto to replace him – reportedly at the expense of Victor Robles and others (these same reports say the Marlins rejected the offer). For his part, Wieters has spent a large chunk of the season on the disabled list. He’s batting only .222/.294/.333 in 103 plate appearances since returning on July 9.
So why bother with Wieters? When looking for power breakouts, one of the easiest places to start is with hitters who are making more hard, pulled, fly ball contact. Consider: over his career, Wieters has a 38.8 percent fly ball rate, 40.1 percent pulled contact, and 30.6 percent hard contact. Since his latest DL stint, he’s posted a 44.7 percent fly ball rate, 45.5 percent pulled contact, and 45.5 percent hard contact. If we clamp down to his recent hot streak – during which he’s batting .324/.381/.541 with superb walk and strikeout rates – he’s making even more high value contact.
A surge in home run rate is a possible outcome. Wieters is unlikely to continue hitting like this without also showing some serious pop. One of two things will happen. He may regress back to the pitiful hitter with whom we’ve grown accustomed in recent seasons. This hot streak could be just that – a streak. Alternatively, if he sustains this level of production, Wieters will perform like a top 10 catcher over the remainder of 2018.
Owners in desperate need of a catcher should be able to acquire Wieters for a song – either off waivers or very cheaply via trade. If you’re dissatisfied with your current backstop consider taking a flier on a veteran rebound candidate. Remember, Wieters is a teammate of Daniel Murphy who resurrected his own career and advised others like Ryan Zimmerman. Perhaps Wieters is his latest acolyte. One word of warning though, don’t hold your breath waiting for his .242 BABIP to dramatically improve.