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The home run rate declined dramatically in the last week. We are now on pace for just 5,501 home runs this season. This unexpected power drought probably isn’t a sign of things to come. For instance, the weather is cooler this May than in previous seasons. We’ve seen hardly any games played with 90 degree or warmer game time temperatures.
Top Performances of the Week
Adolis Garcia, 3 HR
8 others, 3 HR
I discussed Garcia in depth on Wednesday as part of the “Speed Spotlight” in Saves and Steals. He’s first and foremost a power hitter which he amply demonstrated this week. He is now one of eight sluggers with 10 or more home runs on the season. He profiles similarly to noted low-OBP slugger Adam Duvall.
The other eight triple-homer performers are all of the sort we expect to find gracing weekly leaderboards. Perhaps the most surprising of these – and surprise is really the wrong word – are Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager. The pair of Mariners preyed on Walker Buehler, combining for three home runs against him alone. Both Haniger and Seager have produced plenty of power with a sub-.300 OBP. There is scope for positive regression in Haniger’s plate discipline. He’s been unusually aggressive in his first regular action since 2019. Seager too has been strangely aggressive. His combination of high fly ball rate and increasing swinging strike rate portends volatility ahead.
Speaking of aggression, Tyler O’Neill has just two walks (and two HBP) in 100 plate appearances. Over the years, he’s often been comped to Joey Gallo thanks to impressive batting practice power and a Gallo-ian strikeout rate. However, walks are an extremely important part of Gallo’s success. O’Neill really has no hope of sticking as a Major League regular without a more selective approach. Another issue is his actual game power. If he’s not running elite barrel and hard hit rates – as he has this season – he simply doesn’t hit enough home runs to outrun his low average and OBP.
Since last Sunday, Kyle Tucker has done his best to erase a tepid start to the 2021 season. He’s hit .476/.560/1.048 with five extra base hits over his last six games. That’s dragged his seasonal line up to a passable .222/.294/.452. Prior to this week, Tucker was on the wrong end of the legendary luck dragons. His .167 ISO and .172 BABIP through May 8 were fluky bad. His ISO has already returned to normal, but the BABIP has a lot of room to grow.
The others to launch a trio of dingers include Aaron Judge, Max Muncy, Kyle Schwarber, and Jesus Aguilar. Muncy has “struggled” with an absurd 23.2 percent walk rate, an issue only fantasy managers in batting average or DFS formats could possibly lament. It puts a definite cap on his power output. Aguilar has been a hero this season, firing off a .294/.378/.571 batting line with nine home runs and 32 RBI. He was similarly hot in the early phase of the 2018 season before cooling dramatically in the second half.
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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 12 HR, 46 projected
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 9 HR, 44 proj
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, 11 HR, 43 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 10 HR, 43 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 10 HR, 42 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 8 HR, 41 proj
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 8 HR, 41 proj
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, 5 HR, 40 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 7 HR, 40 proj
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 6 HR, 39 HR proj
A general rule of thumb for Top 10 caliber sluggers – expect about two home runs per week. When someone like Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t homer in a given week, it can bump them from the list. Stanton and Nick Castellanos both dropped out of the Top 10 with Judge (11th last week) and Gallo climbing back into the upper echelons. Stanton also had 15 projected plate appearances trimmed from his estimate to account for his current minor quad injury. Presently, Castellanos and Shohei Ohtani are on the bubble. Both project for 38 home runs.
Gallo continues to produce a career-low 18-degree average launch angle. This is actually a useful adaptation to two new factors in his baseball life – his freshly pitcher friendly home park and the 2021 baseball. His launch angles are still decidedly skewed to fly balls so he should be able to produce considerable power outcomes. Curiously, his barrel rate has declined since the start of 2020 which coincides with a sharp decrease in HR/FB rate. Coaches laud Gallo’s ability to adapt, and it may be that he’s temporarily adapted into a sub-optimal approach. Especially in OBP formats, he’s an excellent buy-low target.
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique, late-May
C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies, back, late-May
Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals, concussion, unknown
A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers, hamstring, early-June
Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, groin, late-May
Ty France, Seattle Mariners, wrist inflammation, unknown
Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals, fractured rib, late-June
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres, COVID, soon
Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres, COVID, soon
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, COVID, soon
Walker reaggravated his previous oblique injury. He expects a shorter stay on the Injured List this time around. We’re still awaiting more information about Dozier and France. Most of the others seem primed for a quick recovery with the possible exception of DeJong. Non-displaced rib injuries typically take about four to eight weeks to heal.
The Padres had five players hit the COVID-19 List this week. Typically, vaccinated players are allowed to return speedily. It’s unclear if or how many of the missing Friars snagged a vaccine.
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, late-May
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, finger, mid-May
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, hip, early-June
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins, sprained wrist, late-May
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, back, late-May
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, broken thumb, June
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, second half
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs, ribs, late-May
Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring surgery, late-July
Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins, hamstring strain, soon
Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, July as DH-only
Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, season-ending
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates, wrist strain, return uncertain
Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds, fractured hamate, early-June
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, late-May
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture, late-May
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September return
Chisholm is playing rehab games and should rejoin the Marlins lineup imminently. Yelich, Marte, and Nimmo are rehabbing in games too, although it sounds like they’ll participate in a few more before returning. Yelich and Marte aren’t playing full games yet, and Nimmo still felt discomfort in his bruised finger on Thursday.
The Twins duo of Kirilloff and Buxton have progressed to basic baseball activities and could upgrade to minor league games around the end of next week. Hayes was transferred to the 60-day IL. He’s eligible to be activated in early June.
After receiving almost no news for weeks, the Dodgers have announced a plan for Bellinger to hit the rehab trail next week. We could see him return near the end of the month.
Returned to Action
Only a few players escaped injury purgatory this week. Rendon spent the minimum 10 days on the IL after fouling a ball off his knee. Voit had a more serious knee injury and may initially be used sparingly.
Davis is in an interesting position in that the Rangers aren’t fighting for much and have other players who fit in the designated hitter role – namely Willie Calhoun. The club has been using Calhoun as the regular left fielder where he’s played passably. David Dahl may draw the short straw on playing time if Davis can assert he belongs. He’s already played one game in left field. Regaining outfield eligibility would be useful for fantasy managers.
For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.
If. It’s a helluva drug. With “if,” we can imagine almost anything. During draft season, Josh Naylor came up as a frequent what if hypothetical. What if the Indians give him a long leash? What if he hits more fly balls? What if his minor league plate discipline returns?
To date, Naylor’s fantasy managers are frustrated. His .274/.315/.427 batting line is roughly league average. Supporting stats of three home runs, 16 runs, 10 RBI, and one stolen base simply aren’t very useful. The 23-year-old (24 in five weeks) is doing just enough to stick in the Indians miserable lineup which means we can keep playing the if-game.
The reason Naylor remains so fascinating can be summarized in one number – a 114.7 max exit velocity. This is on par with the likes of Matt Olson, Yordan Alvarez, Franmil Reyes, and Marcell Ozuna. When Naylor gets a hold of the ball, he can hit it hard. The problem with this is easy to spot – Naylor hits around 50 percent ground balls. A 115-mph ground ball is probably a single. Rarely, it’s a double. Never is it a home run. As yet, Naylor has shown no capacity to lift the ball. For this season, we shouldn’t even consider it as a possibility. Scratch it off the list of ifs.
Where he could improve, dramatically, is his HR/FB ratio. Presently, just 10.3 percent of his fly balls have left the yard this season, on par with is career rate. Of course, he only has 508 career plate appearances. It takes upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 plate appearances before HR/FB becomes directly instructive. Instead, we can look at comps. It’s not uncommon for players with low launch angles and premium hard contact ability to post high HR/FB ratios. This is the Christian Yelich approach to power generation. Around a third of his fly balls leave the yard. It doesn’t much matter that half his contact is on the ground.
Perhaps a more easily replicated comp is 2019 Yandy Diaz. He hit 14 home runs in 347 plate appearances while running a 50.8 percent ground ball rate and 17.5 percent HR/FB ratio. Naylor could already be something like a left-handed version of Diaz, requiring no adjustments whatsoever. Of course, 2019 was a magic season for Diaz. He’s played parts of five campaigns. Excluding 2019, he has a whopping three home runs in 589 plate appearances. Diaz though, is a far more extreme ground ball hitter than Naylor. As a player, he’s only loosely similar. It’s just that one outlier season that stands out as a potential match.
Plate discipline is an area where Naylor could improve without heroic effort. Presently, he’s swinging at far too many pitches just outside of the strike zone. This is easy to spot because various statistical sources credit him for very different swing rates outside the zone. That means the differences must be on the margins. A very small improvement could lead to a doubling of walk rate, a decrease in strikeout rate, and an uptick in quality of contact. That’s exactly what he needs to juice up his HR/FB ratio!
All told, we’re still playing a lot of “what if.” The good news is he’s done enough to ensure continued playing time on a bad team. Experience, comfort, routine, and/or confidence could unlock the next gear. Perhaps those factors have already kicked in (“perhaps,” it should be noted, is a close cousin of “if”). Since April 26, he’s batting .327/.373/.564 with all three of his home runs. If he can adjust enough to double his HR/FB ratio, Naylor will project to hit about 30 home runs per 650 plate appearances or about 21 over the remainder of this season.