A Buy-Low Home Run Target

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With the All-Star Break in the rearview, there were only three days of games between our last episode and today’s column. Sluggers delivered 133 home runs in that limited action, raising the seasonal pace back to 5,777 home runs. The surge towards 6,000 will continue as we enter the dog days of summer.

We also have a home run derby to discuss, and boy was it a doozy. Every round was won by a narrow margin. The battle between Trey Mancini and Matt Olson came down to the final swing, as did the duel between Trevor Story and Joey Gallo. Pete Alonso’s first-round victory over Salvador Perez was the only round that wasn’t resolved by a mere one home run or a tie-breaker round. That’s no knock on Perez. He posted the second-most home runs (28) of any round. He simply had the unfortunate luck to run into a 35-homer barrage from eventual winner Pete Alonso. The first-round battle between Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani was the most exciting. It required two tie-breakers for Soto to walk away the victor. Alonso’s batting practice pitcher, Dave Jauss, threw three pristine rounds of meatballs.

Let’s jump straight into the action.

Top Performances of the Week

Jed Lowrie, 3 HR
Dansby Swanson, 3 HR
Brandon Lowe, 3 HR
18 Others, 2 HR

This is now the third time Lowrie has returned to relevance as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He’s put together career best exit velocities – both average and maximum – along with an optimized launch angle and 10.1 percent barreled rate. He could surge in the second half as more of his contact falls for doubles and home runs. He certainly profiles as a player who could finish strong – health allowing.

Even in a much-diminished Braves lineup, Swanson is batting sixth. He’s now just one home run shy of his career-high of 17. His batted ball traits and peripherals speak to somebody who should be able to consistently plunk 20 or more dingers. It just hasn’t happened yet. He’s also on pace to eclipse 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career. His improved power since the start of 2020 has come at the expense of more strikeouts. Without the BABIP fortune he experienced in 2020, he’s still a roughly league average hitter – albeit with improved fantasy outcomes.

Lowe was a Power Spotlight guy early in 2020. Aside from a slow start to this season, he’s maintained the necessary pace to consistently deliver over 30 home runs. A high whiff rate with copious pulled, fly ball contact rates as a double-edged sword. He gives away just shy of half his plate appearances as walks or strikeouts. Discipline helps him to play up in OBP leagues, but his path to value in batting average formats is narrow and perilous. Although he has a .306 career BABIP, he profiles as a low-BABIP hitter. Incidentally, his .245 BABIP this season is roughly on par with expectations.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, 33 HR, 52 projected
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 28 HR, 47 proj
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 30 HR, 47 proj
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 24 HR, 45 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 20 HR, 42 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 22 HR, 40 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 21 HR, 39 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 17 HR, 38 proj
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 18 HR, 37 proj
Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays, 23 HR, 37 proj

The loss of Ronald Acuna is a devastating blow for the sport. He likely won’t return to the lineup before mid-May of 2022. Nobody else dropped out of the Top 10 in this shortened week. Olson and Judge made modest gains to their standing while Walsh and Cruz slipped slightly. Semien rose in past a few players. Jose Ramirez, Brandon Lowe, Sal Perez, and Adolis Garcia are in a virtual tie for 11th. All four project to finish with 36.55 home runs. Pete Alonso, the home run derby champ, is riding right on their heels with a 36.2 home run projection. These decimal places likely overstate the difference between players – the margin of error is roughly three full home runs. Everyone between Martinez and 24th-ranked Austin Meadows is potentially on track for a Top 10 finish.

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Injured Sluggers

New

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, knee, out for season
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, COVID, soon
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees, hand, late-July
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, thumb, mid-July

Acuna’s was the only major injury of the week to a power hitter. Judge and teammate Gio Urshela have to clear COVID protocols before they can resume playing. Judge reportedly has not suffered any symptoms. Andujar could also make it back in short order. Posey is days away from a return.

Existing

Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox, calf strain, August
Eddie Rosario, Cleveland Baseball Team, abdominal strain, late-July
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, hamstring, mid-July
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, mid-July
Emmanuel Rivera, Kansas City Royals, broken hamate, August
Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, fractured wrist, August
Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers, fractured forearm, unknown
Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals, hamstring strain, unknown
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants, knee inflammation, unknown
Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks, broken wrist, September
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels, sore back, late-July
Daniel Vogelbach, Milwaukee Brewers, hamstring, mid-August
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, fractured hand, unknown
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, quad, early-August
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants, shoulder, late-July
Kyle Garlick, Minnesota Twins, hernia, status unknown
Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins, groin, mid-July
Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers, separated shoulder, August
Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners, knee, out for season?
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves, domestic violence, out for season?
Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees, wrist strain, out for season

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, calf, late-July
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds, heel soreness, August
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, broken hand, mid-July
Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds, knee surgery, August
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, August
Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, July as DH-only
Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, season-ending
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, late-July

Robert received a positive update. He’s participating in baseball activities and could return at some point in August. The original prognosis was for a mid-September activation. His teammate, Jimenez, is also well-ahead of schedule. He was initially doubtful to return this season. He’s now rehabbing with the Sox Triple-A affiliate.

Seager is also progressing well and could be activated at some point next week. In his case, he’s on schedule. Trout and Upton are on course for a late-July activation. Garver is due to return any day now. Anderson is ready but won’t be eligible until next Sunday.

Returned to Action

Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring surgery
Carlos Correa, Houston Astros, COVID-list
Mitch Moreland, Oakland Athletics, COVID-list
Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics, hip tendinitis
J.D. Davis, New York Mets, hand

A couple COVID-list guys, Correa and Moreland, made it through protocols. Calhoun is finally recovered from a strained hamstring. He returned last Saturday, just after the previous Homer Report was submitted. Canha was activated for today’s game while Davis returned to the Mets bench yesterday. For now, it seems Davis will play matchups. He finished his lengthy rehab stint on a high note, going 8-for-15 with three home runs, three doubles, and four walks over his final four games.

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

Power Spotlight

Last week, we discussed the buy-low case for Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler. Let’s focus our attention on another buy-low candidate: Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez. The slugger has struggled mightily this season, batting .177/.262/.376 with a .196 BABIP. This is a continuation of a poor 2020 season which saw him hit .202/.312/.470 with a .214 BABIP. The lone bright spot for Suarez’s fantasy managers – 18 home runs in 363 plate appearances.

The low BABIPs offer a hint as to what’s happening. The 29-year-old makes a high volume of pulled, fly ball contact. As his fly ball rate has climbed in recent seasons, it’s come at the expense of line drives. As we know, liners are high BABIP events – they typically turn into hits between 60 and 75 percent of the time depending on the hitter. With Suarez’s line drive rate at a career-low 16.1 percent, it’s no wonder he isn’t hitting for average.

He’s also struggling in another way. His 18.4 percent HR/FB ratio is the worst he’s posted since his breakout 2017 campaign. He was a different hitter back then, one given to lower angle contact with less of a homer-or-bust approach. Both line drive rate and HR/FB ratio can wander over the course of a season.

We used Joey Gallo as an example when discussing how Soler might positively regress. The same points apply here. Gallo had a 19.6 percent HR/FB ratio through June 18. Since then, an absurd 61.9 percent of his fly balls have cleared a wall. Overall, his 31.2 percent HR/FB for the season is on par with his career norms. Suarez could easily experience a similar surge – especially with the help of Great American Ballpark and fast-fading NL Central division rivals.

Suarez has something else in common with Soler. His max exit velocity, launch angle, and rate of barreled balls are all within his normal range and well above average for a big leaguer. One thing that’s worse than usual is his rate of hard contact. It’s declined precipitously. Given his missing line drives, it’s not an unexpected observation. Line drives are usually hard contact. Add five liners or so and he’d have his typical line drive and hard contact rates.

Going forward, Suarez projects to flirt with the Mendoza line while hitting in the neighborhood of .235/.320/.500. He should double his current 18 home run total despite only 71 games remaining on the Reds calendar. If you need to add a jolt of home runs with shortstop and third base eligibility, you’re unlikely to find a better deal than Suarez. He’s all the more valuable if you’ve built a cushion in batting average to absorb any continued struggles. Despite how poorly he’s played, he’s still on pace for over 30 home runs, 80 runs, and 90 RBI.