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Punishing Power

Brad Johnson

We’re just past the three-quarter pole on the Major League season. Hitters fired off a fresh salvo of 299 home runs in the last week. The pace of home runs continues to surge ever upwards. Back in week 10, the league was already set to massively shatter the previous single season record of 6,105 home runs. Rather than regress, they’ve since added over 300 home runs to the pace. If this acceleration of pace continues, we have an outside shot of seeing 7,000 home runs.

Week 10: 2,279 home runs, pace of 6,507 home runs

Week 16 (ASB): 3,741 home runs, pace of 6,679 home runs

Week 21: 5,149 home runs, pace of 6,815 home runs

Shall we dive right in?

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Weekly Leaders

Aristides Aquino, 6 HR

Carlos Santana, 5 HR

Mike Yastrzemski, 5 HR

9 others, 4 HR

Last week’s Power Spotlight pick provided instant gratification. I had him projected for 51 home runs per 650 plate appearances. He’s doing his best to make a mockery of that lofty projection. After slamming six last week, he now has 10 home runs in 55 plate appearances. Fears of an over-30 percent strikeout rate have yet to materialize, although it would only take one golden sombrero for him to jump to that level. And while there’s no question his raw power is among the best in the league, it’s equally obvious he won’t maintain his absurd 55.6 percent home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB). Although he won’t qualify for the Top 10 list below, I have him projected for 12 home runs through the rest of the season. Among candidates for the Top 10 list, only Yelich projects to hit more homers through the end of the season.

Santana is in the midst of a career-best season as an ageless 33-year-old. The juiced ball mixed with his usual unimpeachable plate discipline has really brought out the best in him. He’s on pace to set career highs in myriad categories including but not limited to home runs, run, RBI, and walks. Among qualified hitters, his .412 OBP is bested only by Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, and Christian Yelich.

The juiced ball also agrees with Yastrzemski. In 426 plate appearances split between Triple-A and the majors, he’s bopped 28 home runs. Scouts consider the 28-year-old to be nothing more than a fifth outfielder, but the Giants weak roster has given him this brief opportunity to become established as a regular. Personally, I’m betting against Yaz as a long term major leaguer, but a couple more weeks like this could change my opinion.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 41 HR, 53 HR projected

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 39 HR, 52 HR projected

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 41 HR, 52 HR projected

Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 39 HR, 50 HR projected

Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals: 35 HR, 44 HR projected

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves: 35 HR, 43 HR projected

Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: 31 HR, 42 HR projected

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins: 33 HR, 42 HR projected

Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds: 33 HR, 41 HR projected

Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates: 31 HR, 41 HR projected

Bell was one of the nine sluggers to hammer four home runs last week. It was enough to propel him back into the Top 10 after an extended absence. The other nine on the list remained steady. The jockeying for the top spot remains a point of interest. A definite top four has emerged in the race for the home run crown. Trout has all but locked in the AL version in what should be an uncontested MVP campaign.

Suarez deserves a few words since he’s day-to-day with a thumb sprain. It’s the type of injury that could seriously sap power and bat control. In 2018, Suarez suffered a broken thumb and promptly returned en route to a career-best season. It’s possible he’ll shake off this latest injury too, although soft tissue damage is in some ways more concerning than a fracture. There’s presently hope he’ll return to action within a few days.

Injured

***Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs (Grade 2 hamstring strain, mid-September return)

***Fernando Tatis, San Diego Padres (stress reaction in lower back, out for season)

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (quad strain, late-August return)

Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves (LCL tear, return doubtful)

Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (left wrist strain, mid-August return)

Robinson Cano, New York Mets (torn hamstring, return doubtful)

Jay Bruce, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor sprain in left elbow, late-September return)

Derek Dietrich, Cincinnati Reds (shoulder inflammation, early-September return)

David Dahl, Colorado Rockies (high ankle sprain, late-September return)

Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins (ruptured tendon in left wrist, late-August return)

Edwin Encarnacion, New York Yankees (fractured right wrist, return unknown)

Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (flexor strain in right arm, early-September return)

Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics (stress reaction in shin, early-September return)

Dominic Smith, New York Mets (stress reaction in left foot, return unknown)

Christin Stewart, Detroit Tigers (concussion with setback, September return)

Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox (hamstring strain, late-August return)

Luke Voit, New York Yankees (sports hernia, late-August return)

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers (broken hamate, early-September return)

Tommy La Stella, Los Angeles Angels (right tibia fracture, shoulder surgery, out for season)

Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays (shin contusion, late-August return)

Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder inflammation, late-August return)

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (PCL knee strain, late-August return)

Jedd Gyorko, Los Angeles Dodgers (recovered)

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners (ruptured testicle, late-August return)

Kendrys Morales, Free Agent (calf strain, return unknown)

Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies (torn ACL, out for season)

Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners (spinal stenosis, out for season)

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (labrum team, out for season)

Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, early-September return)

Steven Souza Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks (multiple knee ligament tears - out for season)

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (broken ankles, out for season)

Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (return unlikely)

*** denotes new injury

First, let’s touch upon some good news. Although no sluggers returned from the injured list, a few received good news. Cruz is expected to play through his torn wrist tendon, and medical reports suggest the injury shouldn’t affect his performance. Voit is nearing a speedy return to the Yankees lineup. Hicks is also well-ahead of schedule. Several others could return this week.

And now for the bad news. The Cubs lost Contreras for most of the remainder of the season. However, it’s Tatis’ injury which has fantasy owners beating their chests in lament. While the Padres have been careful to describe the injury in vague terms, I suspect they’ve discovered a stress fracture to his L4 or L5 vertebrae called spondylosis. While that sounds daunting, it’s a straight forward injury to rehab with core strengthen exercises. Around 10 percent of the population has the injury – many without knowing it. One doctor told me upwards of 20 percent of athletes could suffer from it. Bear in mind, this is just my speculation.

Power Spotlight

Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez is a classic tweener. After a disappointing run in the majors, he devastated Triple-A pitching as evidenced by a .366/.450/.688 batting line with nine home runs in 109 plate appearances. To reward his potent performance, Toronto recalled him earlier this week.

In the minors, he’s shown aptitude for working counts and avoiding whiffs. However, he’s turned in relatively tepid numbers in 363 major league plate appearances. A .246/.292/.472 triple slash isn’t terrible, but it won’t cut it for a first baseman. Worse, he’s easily fooled and strikeout prone. This has caused his above average raw power to play down since he’s frequently behind in the count.

So which Rowdy is real – the Triple-A monster or the bland major leaguer? Plate discipline data is only available for major league games. He’s consistently swung at pitches out of strike zone at around a 40 percent rate. That ranks among the worst in the league. He’s not any more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone than a typical hitter – it’s only the pitches outside the zone that get him.

His contact rate on those out of the zone pitches is relatively high. This tends to produce elevated soft contact and lower hard contact rates for most hitters. Notably, Tellez makes plenty of hard contact and avoids the soft kind. This tells me he could take a huge step forward if he can transition his minor league plate discipline to the majors.

The Blue Jays aren’t stupid. They know this information. If I had to guess, Tellez was instructed to specifically work on swinging at fewer balls in his latest minor league stint. It’s encouraging that he hit so well – easily a career-best performance in his third appearance in Triple-A. Now we get to find out if he can be more selective in the majors. If last night was any indication, the Jays also plan to hide him from left-handed pitchers. Owners in 12-team leagues may want to view him only as a temporary target for juicy matchups.