Injury Apocalypse

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·9 min read
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Now the home runs are flying. After a banner week of slugging, the seasonal pace for home runs increased from just over 5,500 to 5,593. This weekend is the first time temperatures are entering the 90s for much of the country. Meanwhile, more and more teams are starting to run into pitching depth issues. With just over one-quarter of the season already on the books, I’ll make an educated guess. I think 5,850 home runs will be hit this season – neither a record nor anything to sneeze at by historical standards. Oddly enough, we’re already at seven no-hitters – a tie for the Major League record in a single season - so it’s not as if the pitchers aren’t doing their part to fight back. (The Bumgarner no-no counts)

Top Performances of the Week

Miguel Sano, 5 HR
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 4 HR
Austin Riley, 4 HR
Ian Happ, 4 HR
Eduardo Escobar, 4 HR
Jesse Winker, 4 HR
12 Others, 3 HR

Sano is a frustrating player. He has a nasty habit of slumping his way to the fantasy bench prior to wild weeks like this. If you had him in your lineup on Tuesday, you nabbed a coveted triple-dinger – two against Lance Lynn and a bonus deep shot off Aaron Bummer. Sano’s had some bad luck this season including a 25 percent infield fly ball rate. That’s an outlier compared to his eight percent career rate and entirely explains his .224 BABIP. Normalize those two numbers, and his output would look closer to his superb 2019 season.

Guerrero’s superstar season continued this week with a rebound in the power department. While he never really slowed at the plate, he was in a bit of a power drought for much of early May.

Riley has a glowing .310/.410/.503 triple-slash but how he’s gotten there is a tad unusual. He’s built upon the mechanical changes he made after a somewhat failed debut in 2019. Last season’s performance basically echoed 2019 albeit with less power and fewer strikeouts. This year, a .409 BABIP has helped to buoy his output. He’s also working counts better than ever which could help explain part – but not all! – of his success.

Since returning from injury a week ago, Happ is slashing .407/.448/.963 with three doubles in addition to these four homers. He’s always been an odd hitter – consistently above average but also frequently mired in a slump. His plate discipline helps him to play up in OBP leagues. I’ve noticed Wrigley Field has benefited from unseasonably favorable winds early this season. Those are only going to swing further in favor of hitters in the summer months.

Escobar was one of my favorite buy-for-nothing targets this spring, and we’re getting the expected dead cat bounce. His .230/.274/.446 batting line isn’t valuable in and of itself, but he’s smacked 11 home runs with 24 runs and 32 RBI – paces of 39 homers, 86 runs, and 114 RBI. He’s adopted his most fly ball-oriented approach ever – leading me to believe the average, OBP, and home run paces are all legit. That puts him at risk of losing playing time if one of the Diamondbacks many utility pieces finally clicks – like Josh Rojas did earlier this season.

Years ago, I tried to buy low on a then-injured Winker in a deep dynasty league. My offer was rebuffed, and I was told in no uncertain terms that Winker would be the next Joey Votto. I scoffed at the idea. The plate discipline aspect was obviously present, but how was this worm-burner supposed to produce Votto’s power? At the time, there were very few swing change success stories – maybe Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, and Josh Donaldson. Since then, practically the entire industry has increased their launch angle. Winker’s among the cool kids, and he’s bolstered his hard and barreled contact rates too. He still hasn’t solved fellow left-handed pitchers, but nobody is complaining when the overall line of .356/.416/.664 is only a tiny bit luck aided (.394 BABIP, should be around .333 BABIP).

The three-homer crowd is mostly a collection of names you’d expect. Randy Arozarena is showing signs of awakening. Ryan McMahon is back after a lull. The one guy who’s really surprised everyone is Brandon Crawford. After years upon years upon years of indifferent offensive contributions, Crawford has built upon a solid 2020 mini-season with a .254/.333/.549 line and 11 home runs. A 29.7 percent HR/FB rate stands out as completely unbelievable. While his peripherals show some hints of subtle improvement, he should be expected to revert to around his career rate of 9.8 percent HR/FB.

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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 14 HR, 47 projected
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 10 HR, 43 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 12 HR, 43 proj
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, 12 HR, 43 proj
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 11 HR, 43 proj
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, 14 HR, 43 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 12 HR, 42 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 10 HR, 42 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 9 HR, 40 proj
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves, 12 HR, 39 proj

A few things happened to shake up the Top 10. First, injuries to Mike Trout and Pete Alonso bumped them from consideration. Alonso could return in time to bounce back into contention, but he was already off to a slow start. Gallo continued his slide down the rankings and out of the Top 10. Updates to the calculator also moved things around. Around the quarter-mark of the season is when I start shifting more aggressively off preseason plate appearance projections. Freeman slid into 10th place in part because he projects for over 700 plate appearances.

Tatis Jr. can also thank changes in the calculator for his surge from the mid-teens to fifth. He seems to be over the shoulder issue which cost him time early. I’ve increased his plate appearances to account for leading off in a strong lineup for the remaining one-third of the season. He also gets recognition for an elite HR/FB ratio, something I’ve perhaps over-regressed towards league average in the past. Ohtani returns thanks to his scalding pace and a shift in his fly ball rate backed by an increased launch angle. I still have a healthy dose of regression and missed time related to pitching baked into his projections. He and Acuna are the likeliest to exceed 50 home runs – and not just because they’re also pacing the league. They have the components to continue outslugging everybody else over the remainder of the season.

Injured Sluggers

New

Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks, fractured toe, late-May
Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds, knee soreness, late-May
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds, heel soreness, late-May
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, broken hand, late-June
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, calf, early-July
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, quad strain, late-May
Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees, wrist strain, out for season
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, wrist, late-May
Michael Conforto, New York Mets, hamstring, unknown
Didi Gregorius, Philadelphia Phillies, right elbow impingement, unknown
J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies, wrist pain, late-May
Wilmer Flores, San Francisco Giants, hamstring, early-June
Dylan Moore, Seattle Mariners, calf, unknown
Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals, broken finger, June

The injury apocalypse sparred few teams. The cities of New York and Los Angeles were hit particularly hard by the rash of strains and fractures. This list represents only those players I consider to be “power hitters” too. Plenty of other position players found their way off the field. Around half hope to return by the end of the month. In an earlier era, Senzel and Moustakas would be playing through their day-to-day woes. Realmuto and Alonso may only need a short break to get their wrists healed up. Kelly is already swinging – we just need to wait for his toe to handle the rigors of catching. Stanton says he’ll be back before long, but I bet we’ve all been burned by his delayed returns in the past.

Only a few injuries are expected to be particularly serious, most notably Hicks who might miss the remainder of the season. Seager, in a contract year, has a personal incentive to ensure his hand is completely healthy before he returns. Trout, with the Angels somehow fading out of the AL West race despite another talented rosters, also has cause to await full recovery. Calf issues can be tricky – nobody wants him to become another Josh Donaldson. I’m still looking for useful information about Conforto, Gregorius, and Moore.

Existing

Ty France, Seattle Mariners, wrist inflammation, unknown
Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals, fractured rib, late-June
Wil Myers, San Diego Padres, COVID, soon
Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, groin, late-May
A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers, hamstring, early-June
Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals, concussion, unknown
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique, late-May
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, late-May
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, finger, late-May
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
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture, late-May
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September

Myers should be cleared to return from his case of COVID soon. Perhaps today! We should get an update about Dozier’s concussion before long. Buxton, Springer, and Nimmo are progressing towards rehab assignments. Bellinger will return in the next couple days. Hayes has reported to Triple-A. The Pirates aren’t playing for anything so I expect a deliberate pace to his rehab.

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Returned to Action

Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies, back
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins, sprained wrist
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, back
Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins, hamstring strain
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs, ribs

If there’s any consolation regarding the spat of fresh injuries, it’s this bumper crop of returnees. Hosmer and Tatis Jr. merely had to escape COVID protocols. Kirilloff was activated on Friday after mashing in two Triple-A rehab games. He went 3-for-6 with a pair of home runs. Marte also spent a mere two games in Triple-A before rejoining the injury plagued Diamondbacks. Happ, as we discussed earlier, returned with a flourish. So too have Chisholm (7-for-20) and Cron (5-for-11). Not so for Yelich. He’s 0-for-13 since shaking off his back injury.

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