Halfway through our 60-game mad-dash, power is down league wide. Pitchers came in to this season clearly ahead of the hitters, and the ball has changed again, mirroring the 2018 run environment. Thus, any type of serious power output needs some sort of recognition and has the potential to possibly completely change the outlook of a player.
I took a stroll down the home run leaderboard and took note of whose total caught my eye and tried to figure their early results were legit
*All stats as of Thursday 8/27
Slash: .279/.328/.631, 10 HRs
Santander has been a key cog in the for the Orioles, a primary reason for their surge, and a legitimate AL MVP candidate. It’s arguable he “arrived” last season smashing 20 HRs in just 93 games, but his breakout was easy to overlook being on such a poor Orioles team. However, his power has been well regarded for years. It earned a 55/60 grade on FanGraphs while Santander still had prospect status, and he cranked 20 HRs in A+ ball way back in 2016 while a member of the Indians organization. A power foundation existed.
This season, he’s barreling up absolutely everything. His 8.7% Barrels/PA is 30th in baseball (higher than Mookie Betts) and his 11.1% Barrels/BBE is 51st (higher than Kyle Lewis). If the season ended today, it would be the third consecutive in which Santander’s EV on FB/LDs increased, jumping up to 93.1 so far this year. Additionally, his max EV sits at 113.2, better than Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, or Corey Seager. There are elite, top-end power metrics here coming to the forefront and helping Santander to stamp his name up with league greats. The power is legit.
Slash: .224/.341/.505, 8 HRs
If you asked me for a corner OF with the last name “Calhoun” preseason, Kole was definitely not the first choice. A moderately productive player from 2014-2016, Calhoun struggled in 2017 and saw his production drop off tremendously in 2018 (his age-30 campaign), cratering with a .208/.283/.369 slash, 19 HRs, and a 79 wRC+. Yuuuuucckkk. He rebounded last season, earning career bests in HRs (33), Barrel Rate (11.2%), and OPS (.792). Not elite in the bouncy-ball season, but it was something.
His barrel rate has actually increased four years running, up from a lowly 5.4% in 2017 to 12.2% this season with 74 BIP. Otherwise, the main reason for his power surge this season is a refined approach against breaking balls. His average EV and xwOBA are lightyears past where they have been in years past and 6 of his 13 XBHs have come against breaking balls. However, with only 15 BIP against breaking balls, those stats should be considered noise and are uninformative to know whether he has truly made gains in this area.
He very well may have, but there is no way to be certain of it now or possibly at any point during this season. Nevertheless, his K% and BB% have remained steady through his trials and tribulations, he hits a healthy amount of fly balls and line drives compared to his grounders, and maintains an xwOBA and xSLG above league average. The power is legit, but I am not sure if his viability as a consistent performer is.
Slash: .291/.327/.515, 7 HRs
I love Wilmer, I hope all Mets fans have a special place in their heart for him and am thrilled his found some success. After not finding his way early on with the Diamondbacks last season, he found a groove through the dog days of August and September before signing an affordable deal with the Giants this offseason.
The Wilmer Flores contract really flew under the radar this week. After injuries and spotty PT, he had a great stretch of 40 games to end the season. From 8/1 on:
.368/.410/.623 slash line
11.5 K% vs 5.7 BB%
42.0% Hard Hit Rate
Path to consistent playing time 👀
— James Schiano (@JeterHadNoRange) February 7, 2020
Flores thrives with his staunchly contact oriented approach, striking out in just 12.7% of his PA (95th percentile) and whiffing on 18.6% of the pitches he sees (89th percentile). Generally, this rates are attainable when a player is sacrificing power, but Flores is enjoying the most prolific power surge of his career with seven HRs in just 27 games played. Whether it is warranted deserves to be questioned, though.
Flores has never, in his entire career, hit more fly balls than ground balls over the course of a full season.. His average EV has never reached 88 mph and is barely over 90 this season on FB/LD. His max EV of 105.9 is less than Jon Berti and David Fletcher. He has never had a barrel rate cross the 6% threshold, which alone is not great. There is value in Flores’ game and he will continue to have a productive season and hopefully career, but his power is not legit.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)