Lowe Hits 'Em High

·7 min read



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For the third consecutive week and fourth time over the last five weeks, the home run pace has dropped. Gasp! Overall, 176 home runs were hit, lowering the seasonal pace to 5,176 big flies. That's a drop of 30 in just one week.

A cool month can maybe be written off as a fluke. Now, it certainly feels like we're looking at something systemic. Perhaps a new batch of pitcher-friendly baseballs are in play. Or maybe the humidors are starting to chew into home run totals again. August was unusually mild in much of the country which could fit the humidor narrative. If the humidors are to blame again, then we should expect a sharp downtick in power during September.

Weekly Leaders

Nate Lowe, 4 HR
8 Others, 3 HR

Once a touted prospect in the Rays system, Lowe has spent the last two seasons in Texas where he's slowly improved at the plate. He's been on a tear since late-July, batting .368/.413/.654 over his last 143 plate appearances. This week's power outburst sealed a new career-best home run total for the 26-year-old. This season, he's dumped a long history of exemplary plate discipline. Sometimes, it pays to swing more. That's especially true for hitters with a contact approach that yields high BABIPs. While his typical low launch angle isn't ideal for power outcomes, he has enough pop belt 20-25 dingers per season if he continues with this more aggressive approach.

We went out of our way to highlight Albert Pujols in last week's edition because it felt like a last opportunity to do so. Well… he's back! Pujols sits at 693 career home runs, just three shy of Alex Rodriguez for a share for fourth All Time. By wRC+, this is his best season since 2011 – aka the last time he played in St. Louis. If only he'd never left. If the Cardinals can continue to widen their lead in the NL Central, they can be a little more cavalier about getting Pujols into the lineup more often in pursuit of 700.

Among the seven others to launch three dingers, Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, and Mitch Haniger are all old friends of this column. They scarcely need introduction. It's good to see Trout hop off the injured list and back into the homer column. Ian Happ isn't exactly an outlier either. While not exactly an elite slugger, he has 40 home runs over his last 1,037 plate appearances. We expect such hitters to have an occasional three-homer week. He's in the midst of his best season thanks to putting more balls in play. Not only is he taking fewer walks, which is obviously a mixed bag, his strikeout rate is down because he's taking fewer strikes AND whiffing less often.

A couple latter day prospects round out the list – Franchy Cordero and Keston Hiura. At one point, both were highly touted. Cordero was well-regarded for incredible athleticism while Hiura was believed to be a near-savant as a hitter. Things don't always work out for top prospects. Cordero played a little more than normal this week because the Red Sox needed Bobby Dalbec to do silly things like play shortstop. Still, Cordero received just 13 plate appearances so this qualifies as an impressive performance. His raw power remains among the best in the game with a 117.9-mph max exit velocity that's tied fifth-best with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The soon-to-be 28-year-old still has the time and tools to get his career back on track. He'll want to either find power outcomes more consistently or improve upon his 32.3 percent strikeout rate. Hiura recently turned 26 so he also has plenty of opportunity to salvage a sidetracked career. He's belted 13 home runs in 183 plate appearances, but that comes with a hideous 41.5 percent strikeout rate. The Brewers carefully manage him to get the most out of his bat.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Aaron Judge, 58 HR
Kyle Schwarber, 44 HR
Pete Alonso, 41 HR
Paul Goldschmidt, 40 HR
Yordan Alvarez, 38 HR
Christian Walker, 38 HR
Austin Riley, 38 HR
Mookie Betts, 36 HR
Mike Trout, 36 HR
Matt Olson, 35 HR

Judge has probably already ensured he'll finish the season as the top slugger. Kyle Schwarber, for all the big months he's had in his career, is unlikely to make up a 14-homer deficit – even if Judge doesn't add to his total. Others are even farther behind. Presently, Judge is on pace for 690 plate appearances and 62.7 home runs. As you'll recall, the Roger Maris pre-steroid era record is 61 home runs.

Goldschmidt and Walker edged up the list this week with Betts, Trout, and Olson rejoining the Top 10. Corey Seager and Shohei Ohtani dropped off the list due to a lack of homers while Buxton fell via injury. Alvarez and Riley saw their projected totals drop.

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Injured

New

Yasmani Grandal, knee, soon
Vinnie Pasquantino, shoulder, early-September
Jared Walsh, shoulder, out for season
Byron Buxton, hip, early-September
Ramón Laureano, oblique, late-August
Brandon Belt, knee, early-September
Eduardo Escobar, oblique, soon

Grandal is already in rehab games and will return when first available on August 31. Pasquantino, Buxton, Laureano, and Belt are all hoped to return quickly as well. For Belt, this is just part of the new normal. His knee is in bad shape. He'll need regular breaks. Pasquantino injured himself swinging which can sometimes be a difficult issue to overcome. Worst case, it could be an early symptom of the same issue that's plagued Fernando Tatis Jr.

Walsh will consider undergoing surgery to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome. It's unknown how long he's been nursing the injury. As a first baseman and slugger, it's possible to play through the pain. He had his worst season at the plate and will likely be a bargain target next spring.

Escobar's injury technically isn't new. I missed covering it last week. He could return today (Saturday).

Existing

Joey Votto, shoulder surgery, out for season
Matt Carpenter, broken foot, early-October
Miguel Sano, knee, late-September
Alex Kirilloff, wrist, out for season
Kris Bryant, foot, late-September
Adam Duvall, wrist, out for season
Trevor Story, hand, late-August
Ryan Jeffers, thumb, early-September
Wander Franco, hamate, early-September
Mitch Garver, TJS, out for season
Jorge Soler, back, early-September
Trevor Larnach, abdominal strain, early-September
Jazz Chisholm, back, mid-September
Austin Meadows, both Achilles, uncertain
Ozzie Albies, foot, mid-September
Anthony Rendon, wrist, out for season
Mike Zunino, shoulder, out for season
Royce Lewis, torn ACL, out for season

Story is expected to be activated today. Franco had a setback in his recovery. He's still feeling discomfort in his repaired wrist. While hamate surgery is often very successful, a few players report lingering discomfort for several months. For now, this is considered only a small setback.

Returned

Bryce Harper, thumb
Giancarlo Stanton, Achilles
Kole Calhoun, heel

Harper returned early from his rehab assignment because he absolutely torched Triple-A pitching. Why wait? As Jayson Stark noted, the Phillies experienced unlikely success in Harper's absence. He had a hit and two RBI on Friday. Stanton was activated a couple days later than originally expected he's gone 1-for-8 with two walks and 3 RBI. Calhoun is 1-for-10 since his return. He might not find consist playing time for a Rangers squad looking ahead to the future.