Home Run Hitters: Second Half Sleepers
Next Monday, we will see some of the best power hitters in the game today launch balls into crowd with ease. These are big strong guys that everyone knows and we all expect to hit for great power … what fun is watching people do what they are supposed to? What players possess the type of underlying statistics through the first half of the season that hints at extreme power upside in the second half, potentially making them the home run derby champion of the second half?
Let’s start with the most obvious of the three and work backwards: Nolan Arenado. Not only does he rank in the Top 5 in ISO and Top 10 in FB%, he also has the lowest BB+K% of any player in the Top 50 in ISO. In fact, his BB+K% is lower than 36 of those player’s strikeout rate. In other words, strikeouts and walks are rarely results, maximizing his contact opportunity and thus his home run total (especially in Coors Field). Add in the fact that the Rockies have played 10.3 percent more games on the road than at home up to this point, and it is easy to see Arenado continuing his power surge that has lasted most of the first half. I’m not saying that a player with 28 career home runs entering this season could hit 45 when all is said and done in 2015, but I’m not disputing it.
Arenado isn’t a well kept secret any more, but he isn’t traditionally viewed as an elite power source. The next two, however, could surprise in a big way.
Stephen Drew and Mookie Betts.
Two names that probably don’t come to mind when you think “power”, but they’ve got the sort of underlying numbers that project nicely as we approach the dog days of summer. Drew owns an impressive .188 ISO (higher than that of Comeback Player of the Year front-runner Prince Fielder), but that’s not why I’m buying in. His power is often generated against rights and, well, most pitchers are right-handed. In 2012, 34.04 percent of his hits against RHP went for extra bases. In 2013, 45.12 percent and 2014, 52.78 percent. Through the first half of this season, Drew’s rate sits at a robust 58.62 percent. Notice a trend? He has been earning an increased role in the Yankees attack and as long as he can stay on the field, he boasts more power than anyone seems to want to give him credit for. Only Chris Carter owns a higher FB% this season and I’m told fly balls are critical to hitting homers. Furthermore, Drew owns a Top 30 Contact%, second highest of any batter ranking in the Top 20 in FB%. He trails only …
Mookie Betts. The promising center fielder may only be 22-years old and have a slighter build than Dustin Pedroia, but that hasn’t limited his big league pop. Just two players have a higher ISO and lower K% this season and you may have heard of them: Albert Pujols and Buster Posey. Young players typically go through swoons as a result of their confidence levels, but that has not been the case for Betts up to this point. His slash line continues to move in the right direction (.230/.313/.345 in April, .259/.296/.422 in May, .330/.375/.567 in June) and while consistent improvement is difficult to bank on, it is becoming evident that Betts is skipping any sort of assumed learning curve. He ranks fifth on his own team in home runs per at-bat this season, but his metrics suggest that that’ll change, and change in a big way, sooner rather than later.
Bold Prediction (Drew): He finishes the season inside the Top 5 in terms of home runs hit by middle infielders.
Bold Prediction (Betts): Only one of his teammates will hit more homers from this point forward.
Photo via Getty
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