Tupac once said that “the only thing America respects is power, and power concedes nothing”. The general consensus surrounding the late rap artist was the he was ahead of his time, but who knew he was into advanced baseball statistics?
It is understood that the rap game is full of subliminal messaging: lyrics that are layered in meaning, allowing the artist to spread his beliefs without being blatant. Now, the following is an unofficial interpretation, but please allow me to decode what the great Tupac was trying to tell you, a Fantasy owner who is looking to make a move in the second half of the season.
“The only thing America [your Fantasy league] respects [fears] is power [home run hitters] and power concedes nothing [an owner who knows how to maximize said home run hitters]”. Make more sense now? The simplest way to determine the sustainability of a player’s power is to take a look at his ISO (Isolated Power), the measure of how well a player is hitting for extra bases. Obviously, there are many ways to earn Fantasy value, but for power hitters, the ability to consistently produce extra base knocks is the driver to their lofty value. With that being said, which players are poised to see an increase/decrease in power numbers from this point forward?
The man, the myth, the legend that is Mike Trout holds a plus-.300 batting average and has held an ISO in the neighborhood of .290 all season long. Over the last decade, just 24 players have finished a season with those ratios, averaging 43.7 homers in the process. That is roughly 10 more homers than Trout is on pace to hit, making him a good bet to see an uptick in power should his batting average and ISO stay at their current levels. His ISO is 47 points above his career average and his fly ball rate is up 38.8 percent from his 2012 campaign that saw him crush 30 homers in 139 games. The stolen bases are down a bit (keep reading for more on that), but the uptick in power is a more than suitable tradeoff for his Fantasy owners. Think of Trout as LeBron James: if he made up his mind to lead the league in any one category, he probably could, and it appears that his move out of the leadoff spot has shifted his focus to driving in runs as opposed to creating them.
Drop the qualifiers to a .280 batting average and a .230 ISO and you’ll notice that Michael Morse and Seth Smith are also capable of providing much more pop in the second half. Morse (26 home run pace) and Smith (19 home run pace) are behind the 34.7 homers that those 176 players who have reached those plateaus in the last decade have averaged. Morse’s ISO is approaching his 2011 form, a season in which he had more extra base hits (67) and a higher batting average than Albert Pujols (.303). Smith, on the other hand, is displaying the type of pop that you may remember from his days in Colorado. In order to maximize the value you get from Smith, make sure to only use him against right-handed pitchers if at all possible. This season, the Padres outfielder is averaging an extra base hit every 7.3 at-bats against RHPs, a greater rate than Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez, or Freddie Freeman.
While those three players are likely to increase their power in the coming months, these three are walking the fine line of regression a little too closely to earn my (or Tupac’s) trust/respect for the long-term. We’ve had six players hit more than 26 homers with an ISO less than .200 over the last six seasons.
There are three players on pace to do so this year (Adam Jones, Ian Desmond, and Ryan Howard), raising significant red flags moving forward. Of the previous six players to do so, only three had a strikeout rate that was at least double their walk rate: Jones, Desmond, and Howard all have a K-rate that is at least triple their walk rate. What’s that mean? These three players are swinging for the fences at the expense of consistently making solid contact, a dangerous way for Fantasy owners to live.
Jones – Let me try to put Jones’ plate aggression into perspective for you: since the middle of September 2012, Jones has as many multi-walk games in 1,048 at-bats as Homer Bailey has no-hitters (two). His Isolated Power is on the decline for a second consecutive season, a serious concern when you consider that his groundball rate is at its highest since 2009 and his line drive rate is at an all time low.
Desmond – Let me be clear, I still like his skill set for the middle infield position and think he is a more than capable Fantasy option moving forward … but his power isn’t the reason. His strikeout rate (29 percent) is far too high for my comfort and makes him susceptible to major slumps. Desmond’s contact rate on pitches thrown outside the strike zone is way below his career rate of 60.6 percent, giving pitchers zero reason to attack the zone and making it very unlikely that we see his elite power continue without drastic changes to his approach.
Howard – His resume suggests that the power is real, but major league pitchers make adjustments, and that is more than likely to affect Howard in a negative fashion moving forward. Likely as a reaction to consecutive injury plagued seasons, pitchers have attempted to beat Howard with their best fastball (his 54.2 percent fast ball rate is his highest since 2005). Howard possesses a negative pitch value score for every other pitch known to mankind this season, indicating that struggles are on the horizon should future opponents learn from past victims.
More fun with ISO:
Albert Pujols is the only player with at least 30 homers, a .270 ISO, and a single digit strikeout rate over the past nine seasons (he did it in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009). Victor Martinez is on pace to be the first player not name Pujols to do so since some guy named Bonds in 2004.
There have been 13 seasons since 1900 in which a player had an ISO north of .300 and stole at least 20 bases, nine of which were recorded by a player who ranks among the Top 6 home run hitters of all-time. Mike Trout’s ISO currently sits at .287 and he is on pace to swipe 20 bags.
For the third time in his last seven road starts, Zack Wheeler shut out the opponent while giving up one hit every three innings (or less) and striking out at least seven. Also, in three of those seven road starts, the 24-year-old has given up at least four earned runs with a WHIP of at least 1.50. It’s impossible to ignore the skill, but he’s essentially been an elite situational Fantasy starter, as he has beaten down vulnerable opponents (Cubs and Marlins) while struggling against reasonably effective offenses (Yankees, Nationals, and Giants).
Adam Wainwright, Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, and Yu Darvish all are dominant pitchers that are having outstanding seasons. They are all also giving up more hits per inning than the Astros Colin McHugh.
Another pitcher who has all the tools but occasionally struggles to harness it: Danny Duffy. The impressive southpaw holds a 0.79 ERA in starts in which he has at least two more strikeouts than walks.
Through 15 starts, Tim Lincecum owned a 4.80 ERA and ranked 90th. Henderson Alvarez’s 2.39 ranked as the tenth best earned run average: Lincecum had given up fewer hits per inning than Alvarez.
David Price has been the tough luck loser in three June starts in which he struck out at least 10 batters. Prior to this month, he hadn’t lost such a start since September 2011.
Edwin Encarnacion has totaled 47 homers and 129 RBI in 604 at-bats from April – June over the last two seasons.
George Springer has helped Fantasy owners (via reaching base or knocking in a run) in 84.7 percent of his games. For some perspective: Chris Davis finished 2013 as the second best Fantasy player and helped his owners in 82.5 percent of games.
How hot was Evan Gattis to start this month? Through June 20th slashing .398/.437/.712 in June.
Miguel Cabrera has won two MVP’s and hit for the Triple Crown since the last time he had a month like that (July 2011).