Ringing the Bell

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After Saturday, we’ll be two-fifths of the way through the season. Once again, sluggers delivered 220 home runs over the last week. The seasonal pace has climbed to 5,088. We’re just entering the dog days of summer when the ball really flies. Weather won’t be the only reason for upcoming home run antics. As any deep league fantasy manager can attest, the supply of big league caliber pitchers in the minors is nearly depleted. Meanwhile, position player reserves remain bountiful. Natural pitcher attrition will skew the balance more and more in favor of the hitters.

Weekly Leaders

Josh Bell, 5 HR
Paul Goldschmidt, 4 HR
Rafael Devers, 4 HR
Ryan Mountcastle, 4 HR
Mike Trout, 4 HR
10 Others, 3 HR

The Nationals must be pleased with Bell’s performance over the last week. Recently, he’s upgraded his trade deadline status from interesting core performer to true mid-lineup threat. This season, he’s trimmed down his swinging strike and strikeout rates considerably while hitting for average and drawing walks. He was sleepwalking on the power side of the equation until a six-homer outburst over the last eight days, more than doubling his season total. He was especially effective on Friday, hitting a trio of home runs during an ill-fated doubleheader against the Phillies.

Most of the remaining 14 players to pop three or more home runs are commonly covered in this column. Goldschmidt has been playing like an MVP since the middle of last season. He’s slashing .341/.418/.624 with 36 home runs and 10 steals over his last 631 plate appearances. Devers has been nearly as impressive. Over the last calendar year, he’s batting .301/.367/.556 with 37 home runs in 667 plate appearances. That includes a modest performance in April.

Trout overcame a minor groin injury and an uncharacteristic seven-game hitless streak. The specter of injury continues to haunt him. As for Mountcastle, he smacks of an early-career Nick Castellanos in an era with superior baseball informatics and customized development. Hopefully, he can fully actualize faster than Castellanos. Folks forget, Castellanos didn’t provide positive fantasy value (12-team mixed) until his fourth full season in the league.

Of the remaining 10, two names jump to the fore as comment-worthy. We talked about Brandon Drury’s improbable breakout with the Reds last week. He now has six home runs in June. Kyle Higashioka delivered his first homer of the season and then two more. He only needed 13 plate appearances to do it. Higgy has picked a good time to heat up – Jose Trevino is making a strong case for the starting catcher role.

The final eight with a trio of potatoes were Aaron Judge, Adam Duvall, Luke Voit, Pete Alonso, Austin Riley, Anthony Rizzo, Bryan Reynolds, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Maybe you didn’t have Reynolds on your bingo card, but the rest of them appear regularly in this column.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Aaron Judge, 48 HR
Byron Buxton, 43 HR
Pete Alonso, 42 HR
Mike Trout, 42 HR
Kyle Schwarber, 40 HR
Jose Ramirez, 40 HR
Yordan Alvarez, 40 HR
Mookie Betts, 39 HR
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 39 HR
Christian Walker, 38 HR

There was very little movement on our leaderboard. Ramirez slid a few spots because he didn’t homer. The same goes for Bryce Harper. He was the only one to fall off the list, all the way to 14th behind C.J. Cron, Austin Riley, and Rafael Devers. Taking Harper’s spot is Guerrero Jr. He’s hit nine of his 16 home runs over his last 100 plate appearances. Judge, meanwhile, refuses to relax. He’s on pace for 63 home runs. My model obviously prefers the under on his current pace.

Injured

New

Ozzie Albies, foot, September
Frank Schwindel, back, early-July
Yoan Moncada, hamstring, late-July
Yasmani Grandal, back, late-June
Aristides Aquino, ankle, late-July
Austin Meadows, COVID, soon
Jeremy Pena, thumb, late-June
Anthony Rendon, wrist, out for season
Jesus Sanchez, COVID, soon
Jesus Aguilar, COVID, soon
Jorge Polanco, back, late-June
Kyle Garlick, hamstring, late-June

This was a rough week on the injury front. Rendon’s wrist proved uncooperative. Ultimately, he was unable to play through the discomfort and required season-ending surgery. Albies will miss most of the remaining season too, though he may return in time to participate in the postseason. COVID or illness waylaid three players, three more succumbed to back discomfort, and another three suffered straightforward leg injuries. While Aquino hasn’t exactly been useful for fantasy purposes, his only purpose is to mash so I’ve included him. Ditto Garlick.

Existing

Mike Zunino, shoulder, late-June
Wander Franco, quad, mid-June
Mitch Garver, COVID, soon
Royce Lewis, torn ACL, out for season
Edwin Rios, hamstring, early-July
Tyler Naquin, quad, early-July
Kyle Lewis, concussion, late-June
Wil Myers, knee, early-July
Seiya Suzuki, finger, late-June
Kris Bryant, back, late-June
Franmil Reyes, hamstring, late-June
Tom Murphy, shoulder, late-June
Brandon Lowe, back, late-June
LaMonte Wade, knee, late-June
Miguel Sano, knee, early-July
Mitch Haniger, ankle, mid-July
Eloy Jimenez, hamstring, mid-June
Fernando Tatis Jr., wrist, early-August

Tatis’s return keeps getting pushed back. Meanwhile, Jimenez and Garver are expected back any day now. They were both candidates to return today. Neither of them is in the lineup as of this writing. Wade is starting a rehab assignment. Admittedly, his inclusion on a list of injured sluggers is a bit of a stretch. Reyes is smashing the ball on his rehab assignment. If all goes to plan, he’ll resume designated hitter duties on Tuesday. Now is a great time to buy.

Returned

Mike Moustakas, COVID
Jonathan India, hamstring
Brandon Belt, knee
Taylor Ward, hamstring

The Reds got a couple players back. Moose even has a four-game hit streak since returning. India is back in the leadoff slot and has a three-game hitting streak of his own. Continuing a theme, Belt has performed well since returning. Ward has three 0-fers and a three-hit game. He’s also resumed leadoff duties.

Power Spotlight

Let’s backtrack a few sentences to where I said “now is a great time to buy” regarding Franmil Reyes. Few players suffered more during the humidor-plagued first month of the season. In 145 plate appearances, he’s slashing .195/.255/.278 with just three home runs. An unsightly 39.3 percent strikeout rate carries a share of the blame. His plate discipline metrics were within his typical range so we should see him regress to around his career 30.3 percent strikeout rate going forward.

But that’s not the reason to buy. Instead, I find myself drawn to his Statcast metrics. He’s regularly among the league leaders in average exit velocity. Despite his slump, he was stinging a 94-mph average. Among qualified hitters, only Giancarlo Stanton, Alvarez, Judge, and Guerrero Jr. have hit the ball harder. Nice company. He also frequently barrels the ball – he would rank 11th in the league if qualified. He’d rank 10th in hard contact rate.

Reyes typically homers at a pace of 40 per 600 plate appearances, and that’s exactly what we should expect going forward. While the early-season power outage stole several long balls from him, the weather and humidor effects now favor his bat. When he comes back on Tuesday, there’s a good chance he’ll immediately embark on an offensive tirade. Even if he doesn’t, think of him as a Joey Gallo type. You know, the kind of slugger who can blast six homers in a week without batting an eye.