Future outlooks on aggressive sluggers

This year we saw not only one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory thanks to the return of the long ball, but still more strikeouts from the kings of the long ball. With such extremes, there is no doubt a surplus of highlights for the morning recap shows, but it also has mysterious implications going forward. Some can handle the high risk, high reward lifestyle of being a low contact slugger, but many fail once pitchers are able to expose weak spots, and bat speed and instincts decline to not allow any counterbalance.

Today I’ll look at three hitters who have such profiles (isolated slugging over .200, strikeouts over 22%), and if their batting profiles are established such that they can maintain productive years, or if they’re headed towards the Adam Dunn, or worse yet, Mark Reynolds, trash cans.

Nelson Cruz

Seattle Mariners LogoIf you’ve read my articles before, or had a conversation with me, you’ll know that Cruz absolutely baffles me. This guy was coming off injury plagued seasons and a PED suspension, which should have predicted death for his career. Instead he responds by hitting 40+ homers over the next three seasons, never with an ISO below .254. He started hacking more (particularly outside the zone) and got better  long ball results.Those results were also evident in his batting average – .294 two year average compared to the .260 we’ve become accustomed to.

He’s had a track record of improving his walk rates despite high whiffs, but where he’s really made his gains have come from a spread out swing. He changed his path from the distinct uppercut that sent balls to the back row of the upper decks, to a more spread out swing that can chase dingers with more consistency.

While Cruz has improved himself well from what seemed like the end of the road, his batted ball profile is shading towards more grounders, which is not conducive to power hitting, His HR/FB rates have had to creep towards 30% to maintain his high homer rates, something that goes down with age and as his strength and quick twitch reflexes will decline. Nelly still has the contact and walks, and the power is still legit, but you should be expecting closer to 30 going forward.



Khris Davis

Oakland A's LogoOff the bat you’ll see the 27.2% strikeout rate and say this is just a reincarnation of Mark Reynolds. And similar to Cruz, he needs his HR/FB rate sky-high to be hitting 40 bombs. But there’s more beneath the surface of Davis. His ISO of .277 isn’t far off his career average of .256, as he’s been a strong power hitter his entire career.

What we saw in 2016 for his homers to jump up was just abandoning walks, as his batting average stayed the same but his slugging percentage was driven up almost 20 points. His 16.6% whiff rate is one of the highest in the league, and definitely a sign of concern. While we like his isolated slugging numbers and his ability to abandon the walk for some power, his issue of not drawing any free passes and lack of plus contact hurts him too much to be elite. Davis has the raw tools and numbers to put together a dominant fantasy season, but until the discipline peripherals come around he’s going to be too volatile to rely on for any consistency.

Yasmany Tomas

Arizona Diamondbacks LogoThe youngest of the bunch at a fresh 26 years old with a birthday earlier this month, the imported Tomas sports true plus-plus power that has not just appearances in games, but shows staying power. In just 140 games he was able to knock out 31 bombs with a .236 ISO. On the downside, he struggled with contact, striking out 24.2% of the time with low walks and lots of whiffs.

What he’s done well is finding ways to improve on his contact since signing with the Diamondbacks, lowering his strikeout rate from 25.8% in his rookie stint. He also managed to do this while immensely increasing his power. In his debut season his ISO was just .128, well below league average. Without much power and high strikeouts he was relatively useless, with a low wRC+ of 88, but his power surge increased that number to 109, as he became a net positive hitter to start realizing some of his hype.

Tomas has all of the tools to become a successful power hitter with the best of them. His lack of patience hurts him, but as he’s gotten older and more adjusted to the MLB pace, he’s improved himself in every area. Tomas might not be an elite talent yet, but he’s ready to become one of the stronger fantasy value picks.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.
James Krueger

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