With the All Star Break looming, let’s check some descriptive statistics. As a reminder, 117 players hit 20 home runs in 2017. Only five crossed the 40 homer plateau. This year, 19 sluggers have already reached 20 home runs. A full 114 are on pace to reach 20 by the end of the season, and that excludes vaunted power hitters like Kris Bryant, Marcell Ozuna, Ryan Braun, Jose Altuve, and Jonathan Schoop. Everything is in place for another record breaking season.
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Week 15 Leaders
Wil Myers: 6 HR
Jose Ramirez: 4 HR
Albert Pujols: 4 HR
Brett Gardner: 4 HR
Jesus Aguilar: 4 HR
Stephen Piscotty: 4 HR
Alex Bregman: 4 HR
Justin Smoak: 4 HR
Myers kicked things off with three home runs last Saturday. He proceeded to add three more over the next six days. Since returning from the disabled list, he’s batting a robust .293/.384/.667. The power numbers are nice to see even if regression is likely – it’s a sure sign he’s fully healthy. A closer look at his peripherals reveals no change from past seasons. He’s a good bet to bat about .260/.340/.470 while slugging long balls at a 30 homer pace. His willingness to steal bases is a nice bonus.
Ramirez has shown no signs of slowing down. With a couple games left before the All Star Break, he’s just one homer shy of the 29 big flies he slugged last season. He’s also tied with J.D. Martinez for the season lead. Ramirez is firmly in the running for American League MVP. Fantasy owners are even happier. His .299/.399/.624 batting line is complemented by more walks than strikeouts, 19 stolen bases, and serious run production. I’ve advised buying high for most of the season. If you haven’t pulled it off by now, it probably isn’t possible.
Pujols’ strong week transformed his season from hideous to salvageable. Unfortunately, he’s now on the disabled list with knee stiffness. The former superstar wouldn’t be playing in the majors right now if not for his mega-contract. After this season, the Angels still have three years and $87 million to pay. His most recent home run was the 630th of his career, tying him with Ken Griffey Jr. for sixth on the all-time list.
Gardner’s two homer game on Thursday fueled a solid week for the Yankees leadoff man. Yankee Stadium wasn’t even involved, although The Rogers Centre, Camden Yards, and Progressive Field are all quite friendly to left-handed power. Gardner is up to just nine home runs on the season after popping a career best 21 last year.
After yet another standout performance Aguilar is begging for our attention. If nothing were to change in his batted ball profile, he would be likely to eclipse 40 home runs. However, as I recently detailed on my personal blog, there are many ways in which Aguilar is likely to regress. Even so, he’s emerged as a legitimate power source for fantasy owners. Now is a great time to sell high too.
Beginning last Saturday, Piscotty homered on four straight days. The once vaunted outfielder is batting .301/.346/.644 over a recent 78 plate appearance hot streak. While it’s possible Piscotty is turning a corner, it’s more likely he’ll sink back to middling production. His plate discipline has gotten worse this year, and his batted ball profile doesn’t resemble a typical power hitter. Even with my pessimism, it’s a good idea to pick him up in most formats. He’s only 29 percent owned. You never know when a fluky looking breakout will turn into the real deal – just look at Aguilar.
Last season, Justin Smoak hammered 38 home runs in his much-delayed breakout campaign. Ironically, Smoak credited his 2017 success upon an unusual change in approach – he tried to hit the ball less hard. By taking more controlled swings, he made more contact and barreled up with greater frequency. This year, he’s maintained those gains while improving his plate discipline. Unfortunately, fewer balls in play mean fewer home runs. He won’t repeat his gaudy 2017 performance, although he does have a shot at 30 homers.
With another home run on Friday, Bregman established a new career high. It was his 20th of the season. Fifteen of those have come since the start of June. Bregman has many of the same traits as Ramirez – as many walks as strikeouts with frequent hard contact. He’ll even steal some bases too. If you can’t find the bullets to acquire Ramirez, Bregman serves as a slightly more affordable Plan B.
My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 28 HR, 46 HR projectedJose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: 28 HR, 46 HR projected
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees: 25 HR, 45 HR projected
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, 23 HR, 43 HR projected
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 25 HR, 42 HR projected
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox: 23 HR, 42 HR projected
Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners: 22 HR, 41 HR projected
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 22 HR, 41 HR projected
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: 23 HR, 40 HR projectedFrancisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians: 25 HR, 40 HR projected
Bryce Harper, Max Muncy, Jesus Aguilar, Manny Machado, Khris Davis, and Edwin Encarnacion are all just outside the top 10 with 38 or 39 projected home runs. The Indians have both of the big movers this week. After hitting another four home runs, Ramirez’s projection saw the biggest increase. Lindor managed to squeeze past Harper for the last spot in the projected top 10. If you do a little subtraction, you’ll notice Judge and Stanton are expected to hit the most home runs through the rest of the season – that includes unlisted players too. They’re the only two boppers who project to hit 20 home runs between now and September 30.
***Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (sore knee)
***Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (back strain)
***Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers (oblique strain)
***Todd Frazier, New York Mets (back soreness)
***Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox (left shoulder inflammation)
***Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers (right hamstring strain)
Zack Cozart, Los Angeles Angels (torn labrum – out for season)
Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (back tightness)
Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (hamstring strain)
Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians (calf strain)
Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners (ankle bone bruise)
Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees (right hip strain)
Jay Bruce, New York Mets (right hip strain)
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (groin strain)
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants (fractured hand)
Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals (fractured foot)
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (ruptured biceps tendon – out for season)
Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays (calf strain)
Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres (forearm strain)
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (mild hip flexor strain)
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (back soreness)
Nick Delmonico, Chicago White Sox (fractured metacarpal)
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (TJS – out for season)
***denotes new injury
Kris Bryant was the only power hitter to return from the disabled list this week. A flood of players are due back by this time next weekend. Although six more players landed on the shelf, only Puig is expected to miss much more than the minimum. Clubs like to use the All Star Break as a rehab opportunity.
For years, Eugenio Suarez has been a favorite sleeper of mine. The soon-to-be 27-year-old offers consistent five category production at a minimal cost. This might be the last year he’s a bargain. Although he’s stopped running, Suarez has made up for it by avoiding soft contact. He’s one of just four batters with a soft contact rate under 10 percent. The others are Joey Votto, J.D. Martinez, and Matt Carpenter. Nice company. Unsurprisingly, his 52 percent hard contact rate is second best in the league and only one-tenth of a percentage point behind league leader Matt Olson.
The batted ball quality represents a massive improvement over past seasons when he was merely decent. Nothing obvious has changed to explain the difference. His plate discipline is same as last season. So is the distribution of his batted balls. None of the usual indicators explain his breakout, and a deeper delve into his performance against specific pitch types offers no hints either. Statcast verifies his hard hit profile – he ranks 17th in average velocity and 13th by hard hit percentage. His average launch angle is around 14 percent which is ideal for power.
When witnessing superlative performance without explanation, the specter of regression looms ominously. However, there’s a decent chance we’re seeing a mix of signal and noise – meaning he’ll regress but not all the way back to his career norms. Suarez puts about 70 percent of his balls in play, of which a hair under 40 percent are in the air. Since he regularly plays at Great American Ballpark, his power potential is boosted. Suarez already has 19 home runs on the season. He projects to add 14 more based on his batted ball profile.