Haase Hammers Homers

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As we head into the All-Star Break, the torrent of home runs slowed slightly in the last week. Sluggers deposited 215 balls over the wall. Eric Haase contributed a 216th home run via a misplayed lazy liner to shallow center field. The seasonal pace of home runs declined to 5,724. Rainy conditions might have contributed to the slight downturn.

Let’s jump straight into the action.

Top Performances of the Week

Eric Haase, 4 HR
10 Others, 3 HR

An inside-the-park homer is all that separated Haase from the masses. The Tigers outfielder and backup catcher is having a solid season at the plate, popping 13 home runs to go with a .250/.296/.559 batting line. Haase has a long history of mashing minor league pitching, but he’s struggled to transition to the Majors in the past. This is his fourth try at carving out a big league role. Notably, his success comes with a sub-.300 OBP. That puts him in a class with the likes of Adam Duvall (.274 OBP) and Adolis Garcia (.315 OBP). Duvall is losing playing time in the Marlins outfield while Garcia has retained a grip on a mid-lineup role in Texas. Both Duvall and Garcia are more athletic outfielders than Haase – Garcia even plays center field on a regular basis. All of which is to say, don’t be too certain Haase will convert his power display into a long-term everyday job. Detroit has some better boppers in the pipeline and plenty of money to spend on free agent upgrades. He should see plenty of action in the short term.

Among the triple-dinger crowd, some are names you expect to see atop home run leaderboards like Joey Gallo, Shohei Ohtani, Rhys Hoskins, Manny Machado, and Pete Alonso. Javier Baez and Trea Turner are probably better known for other talents, but their power is not to be ignored. It’s nice to see Max Kepler piece together a good week. He’s struggled to replicate his potent 2019 campaign when he launched 36 home runs in 596 plate appearances. Since then, he has just 18 home runs in 414 plate appearances.

Garrett Cooper, when healthy, is having a nice season. That’s been the case for three years running. The guy can hit, but he just can’t seem to stay on the field. The 30-year-old makes plenty of hard contact with a low launch angle. An all-fields approach has helped him to post high BABIPs. His power ceiling is limited by his spray contact and launch angle. While over a fifth of his fly balls leave the yard, the majority of his contact is on the ground. He’s widely available and makes for a useful four-category streaming target.

The last name among the weekly leaders is our old friend Ben Gamel. He appeared to be breaking out early in 2020 when he cloned Christian Yelich’s hitting mechanics. His fast start was met with an even lengthier slump. Gamel has again adjusted his mechanics to hit for more fly ball contact while shaving a few points off his strikeout rate. The result, a .245/.318/.444 batting line, isn’t exactly earth-shattering. His new home venue, PNC Pack, isn’t built for his approach. He should be streamed any time he visits Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago (especially if the winds are blowing out), or other hitter friendly parks.

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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, 33 HR, 53 projected
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 28 HR, 48 proj
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 28 HR, 45 proj
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 24 HR, 44 proj
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 23 HR, 44 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 22 HR, 41 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 20 HR, 41 proj
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 18 HR, 38 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 18 HR, 38 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 17 HR, 38 proj

Our Top 10 remains the same as last week a few players swapping spots. The next eight guys off the list project for 36 home runs. Perhaps the most interesting note regards Ohtani. While he projects for 53 home runs, he’s actually on a 61-homer pace. That gives him a real shot at matching or bettering Roger Maris’ 61 big flies – all while also chipping in with the occasional start on the mound.

Injured Sluggers

New

Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox, calf strain, August
Eddie Rosario, Cleveland Baseball Team, abdominal strain, late-July
Carlos Correa, Houston Astros, COVID-list, soon
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, hamstring, mid-July
Mitch Moreland, Oakland Athletics, COVID-list, soon

Rendon might have avoided a trip to the injured list if not for the upcoming break. He, along with Correa and Moreland, will hopefully return in short order. Grandal is in for a lengthier visit to the shelf as is Rosario.

Existing

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
Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics, hip tendinitis, mid-July
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
J.D. Davis, New York Mets, hand, early-July
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, September
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
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September

Garver is expected to return immediately following the All-Star Break. Seager, Canha, and Davis are on a similar timeline. Marte might not be far behind although there have been no fresh updates. His original hamstring strain took multiple weeks longer than expected to heal. The Diamondbacks aren’t playing for anything but draft picks so there’s no rush to bring him back. Upton had a setback. His timetable is uncertain.

Returned to Action

Well, this might be a first. No power hitters returned to action this week. Again, the break likely has something to do with it. The Mets don’t have a place to start Davis at the moment or else he’d have been activated by now.

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

Power Spotlight

We’re officially in buy-low season when struggling, established veterans can be acquired for pennies on the dollar. Jorge Soler looked like a draft bargain with a 140 ADP in NFBC. His performance to date, .185/.280/.321 with seven home runs in 310 plate appearances, has proven to be disastrous. Despite this, he looks like one of the juiciest trade targets.

Let’s start with the most meaningful peripherals. When power hitters collapse, it can usually be traced to lessening quality of contact, more whiffs, and/or a change in batted ball profile. Soler is still smoking the ball. His 115-mph max exit velocity is elite as is a 91.9-mph average exit velocity. These are also in line with his performance since the start of his breakout 2019 campaign. His walk, strikeout, and swinging strike rates are all normal too. That’s backed by his plate discipline which is slightly above average. He has swung – and connected – with more pitches out of the zone which is generally a bad thing. However, we’re talking about a handful of suboptimal batted balls. It doesn’t come close to explaining his struggles.

Where we’ve seen a meaningful difference is in his batted ball profile. Soler has a meager 13.9 percent line drive rate. He usually hovers just shy of 20 percent. That explains his painful .243 BABIP (usually around .300) but not his .136 ISO. Those line drives are usually singles and thus only contribute to batting average, not isolated slugging.

The good news is that line drive rates can naturally vary by this degree over a half season. Positive regression is likely. The same goes for ISO. Power output is notoriously fickle. Case in point, consider Joey Gallo. The Rangers slugger has hit 12 of his 23 home runs in his last 70 plate appearances (.667 ISO). His first 276 plate appearances came with a modest .177 ISO. Soler could piece together a comparable barrage. His 8.8 percent HR/FB ratio is ludicrously low. He projects for closer to a 25.0 percent HR/FB ratio going forward. Combined with around a 40 percent fly ball rate, we’re looking at a projection of 18 home runs over the remainder of the season – on par with the likes of Pete Alonso and Rhys Hoskins.

The elephant in the room is the 2021 baseball which carries less than the 2019 and 2020 iterations. Kauffman Stadium is a homer run suppressant environment. It’s possible the combination of stadium and baseball has contributed to Soler’s low HR/FB ratio. I’m skeptical of this explanation because less powerful teammates like Carlos Santana have maintained typical production.

If you find yourself in need of power, go ask about Soler. Odds are, his current manager is keen to accept any sort of return – even if they believe in a rebound.