Adolis A-Mashin'

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This has proven to be a confounding season for power hitters. Only 184 home runs were hit in the last week. The seasonal pace declined from nearly 5,600 to 5,511. Put another way, we expected about 265 home runs last week. Doubleheaders and a couple rain-shortened games may be partly to blame. Our Saturday action included three doubleheaders. That shaved a total of 36 outs off those six games and spared the worst pitchers from being overexposed.

In other news, the Toronto Blue Jays will cease playing their home games in Dunedin. TD Ballpark played like a throwback bandbox, greatly boosting the Blue Jays and visiting players’ home run output. The Rogers Centre isn’t exactly a pitcher’s haven – it boosts power too. However, it’s far less extreme than their temporary venue. As fly ball hitters, Marcus Semien and Cavan Biggio probably take the brunt of the venue change. Unfortunately, Biggio wasn’t able to capitalize on his opportunity. Semien was impressive, blasting six home runs in 97 home plate appearances. Notably, he’s hit comparably well on the road.

Top Performances of the Week

Adolis Garcia, 4 HR
Fernando Tatis Jr., 3 HR
Rhys Hoskins, 3 HR
Max Muncy, 3 HR
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3 HR
Austin Riley, 3 HR
Matt Olson, 3 HR

We can see the depressed weekly output in the top performers. When we convened last Saturday, it was to talk about a five-homer week from Miguel Sano. Five others (including Guerrero and Riley) bashed four home runs apiece and 12 more popped a trio of dingers. This is a rather vanilla collection of power hitters. All but Riley ranked within the top 20 for projected home runs – and he’s attempting to join the party.

Garcia is well on his way to a Rookie of the Year trophy. These aren’t cheap home runs either – he hit them off Lance McCullers, Andre Scrubb, Andrew Heaney, and Griffin Canning. He’s doing some things we frankly can’t expect him to maintain. Presently, 32.7 percent of his fly balls are leaving the yard – a rate usually reserved for only the most elite sluggers. For instance, Aaron Judge is one of just two players with a higher HR/FB ratio. He hits the baseball over 115 mph with some frequency. Garcia maxes out at a 112 mph exit velocity. We’ve seen this sort of outcome before. In fact, Hoskins is a fantastic example. During his 2017 debut, he posted a 31.6 percent HR/FB ratio with a 110-mph max exit velocity. In the four seasons since then, he’s averaged around 17 percent HR/FB. As Garcia’s home run pace falls, his batting average and run production will likewise suffer.

Returning to Hoskins, he’s possibly having his best season since that magical debut. His success can be traced to two changes – a more aggressive plate approach with a lower angle of contact. He has more adjustments to make before we can conclude this was a beneficial change. Presently, he’s traded about 40 points of on base for 20 points of batting average. When a player is intentionally more aggressive, it should show up via fewer strikeouts, a higher isolated slugging percentage (SLG minus AVG), or both. Thus far, he’s produced slightly less power with a four-point higher strikeout rate. It might be more optimal for him to retain the lower launch angle while revisiting a more patient approach.

What is there to say about Tatis and Guerrero? They are incredible talents playing to their ceilings. Vladito could be in for some regression. His much-celebrated launch angle change has reverted towards his career norm. The current pitching meta remains favorable to him. So many pitchers work up in the zone now which will help to maximize his home run output. Unlike Garcia, his 30.8 percent HR/FB ratio is realistic. The guys who maintain these rates – like Judge and peak Christian Yelich – have extreme exit velocities with more grounders than fly balls. Guerrero is among the league leaders in average (94.8-mph) and max (117.4-mph) exit velocity.

Like Vladito, Olson’s contact profile has regressed. Earlier in the season, I gushed about how his lower angle of contact was allowing him to avoid strikeouts. Well, he’s still skipping strikeouts even as his fly ball rate has returned to normal. He’s primed for a quiet MVP caliber season. Muncy also regressed in a sense. For him, his walk and strikeout rates are returning to normal. At one point, over half of his plate appearances ended without a batted ball. Lately, he’s making contact in about two-thirds of his plate appearances – hence the surge in home runs.

Little has changed for Riley since we discussed him last week. Now he’s hitting .313/.407/.550 with 10 home runs in 189 plate appearances. He continues to post extreme results including a .407 BABIP and 27 percent HR/FB ratio. While those numbers absolutely will decline with more plate appearances, he does have traits associated with players who outperform league average in those measures. In other words, I think he’ll continue to hit for average and power despite an unseemly 28.6 percent strikeout rate. With Marcell Ozuna sidelined, he bats cleanup.

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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 15 HR, 47 projected
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, 15 HR, 46 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 13 HR, 45 proj
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 11 HR, 43 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 12 HR, 42 proj
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 16 HR, 41 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 13 HR, 41 proj
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 10 HR, 41 proj
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, 12 HR, 41 proj
Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers, 16 HR, 40 proj

New players are the hardest to project because we have to bake in considerable regression. Garcia is on pace to top 50 homers – remember he missed the first 12 days of the season – but he only projects for 40. Much of the cause is an expected decline in his HR/FB ratio as we discussed above. We also can’t be sure about his true fly ball rate.

The other player to re-join the Top 10 is Guerrero. Besides Garcia, this is the projection that strikes me as too bullish. As pitchers recommit to working him low in the zone, I expect his home run production to decline. Dropping out of the Top 10 are Jared Walsh and Freddie Freeman. Walsh even had a decent week, but his plate appearances were over-projected previously. He still ranks 11th.

Injured Sluggers

New

Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves, dislocated fingers, mid-July
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies, elbow inflammation, mid-June
Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres, bruised heel, early-June
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants, oblique, mid-June
Darin Ruf, San Francisco Giants, hamstring, late-June
Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays, neck discomfort, early-June

After last week’s injury disaster, this was a relatively tame week for new injuries. Most of them are straight-forward soft tissue damage. There’s the usual risk of players ramping up too fast and experiencing a setback, but otherwise full recoveries are expected. Ozuna had the lone traumatic injury, and he’ll need six weeks to recover.

Existing

Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees, wrist strain, out for season
Wilmer Flores, San Francisco Giants, hamstring, early-June
Dylan Moore, Seattle Mariners, calf, unknown
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, calf, early-July
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, wrist, early-June
Michael Conforto, New York Mets, hamstring, late-June
Didi Gregorius, Philadelphia Phillies, right elbow impingement, early-June
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds, heel soreness, early-June
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, broken hand, late-June
Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds, knee surgery, August
Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals, fractured rib, late-June
Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, groin, early-June
A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers, hamstring, early-June
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique, early-June
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, early-June
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, finger, early-June
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, hip, early-June
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, broken thumb, June
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, second half
Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring surgery, late-July
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, early-June
Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds, fractured hamate, early-June
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September

Springer and Nimmo are progressing slower than anticipated in their rehabs. Neither is participating in minor league action.

Returned to Action

Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks, fractured toe
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres, COVID
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, quad strain
Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals, broken finger
J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies, wrist pain
Ty France, Seattle Mariners, wrist inflammation
Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals, concussion

This was a fairly big week for returning players including the much-anticipated revival of Bellinger. Dozier shook off post-concussion symptoms quickly. O’Neill must be playing through pain – his broken finger couldn’t have possibly healed. That won’t always affect performance – I recall a recent season when Trea Turner played with half a hand.

For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.

Power Spotlight

The spotlight took a siesta last week due to the flood of injury news. With a normal week, let’s turn our attentions to finding affordable power threats to pad our numbers. A trio of Red Sox have crossed my radar – Enrique Hernandez, Danny Santana, and Bobby Dalbec. They all have a combination of traits suited to Fenway Park including at least a 40 percent fly ball rate, 109-mph max exit velocity, and 90-mph average exit velocity.

We’ll start with Hernandez since the Red Sox do too. An atypical leadoff hitter, Hernandez doesn’t have the on base skills to retain the role long term. He spent most of his career with the Dodgers where he was consistently used against left-handed pitchers. However, Madison Bumgarner aside, there isn’t much evidence suggesting he’s a platoon-only bat. As temperatures warm, I’m expecting more of his chip shot fly balls to clear the Green Monster. If he continues to bat leadoff most days, I anticipate between 15 and 20 more home runs over the remainder of the season.

Dalbec is a soon-to-be 26-year-old prospect who is frankly struggling as the semi-regular first baseman. He typically bats at the bottom of the lineup. Although his .200/.255/.385 triple-slash with just five home runs is miserable, he did have a recent hot streak that flashed what a breakout could look like. From May 7 through 20, he hit .316/.366/.737 with four of his five home runs. He also trimmed his eyesore strikeout rate to a tolerable 26.8 percent. A four-game set against the Orioles helped though this wasn’t simply a matter of facing bad pitchers. Over his last four games, he’s 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts. When he makes contact, it’s high value. His 13.9 percent HR/FB rate might nearly double.

Santana offers the spiciest ceiling because he can steal bases. I’m sure we all remember his aberrant 28-home run, 21-steal 2019 season. Since then, he’s struggled with health and strikeouts. Including his minor league rehab stint, Santana has hit four home runs with two stolen bases in 42 plate appearances. His cleanest path to regular action might be through Dalbec. If he can stay healthy and trim his strikeout rate below 30 percent, he has a chance to be a five-category contributor.