Three early power bats, and what to expect

We’re still pretty early into the season, barely 30 games played by most teams, so it still seems a little premature to me to look at any rate stats with any weight. But just because there isn’t much to gather strictly from the rate doesn’t mean we can’t dig deeper to see if there’s something underlying worth looking into.

Power is the name of the game for hitters these days, with the scrappy, slap hitting singles utility man going the way of the buffalo. Instead, today’s most valued hitters are sluggers who aren’t afraid to strikeout in return for some long balls. Of course, there’s a threshold to where there needs to be some contact, otherwise the overall value just isn’t there. But in the end, we’re just going to look for some power surges we weren’t expecting, or perhaps are at a much higher rate than we thought.

Didi Gregorius

This one comes for free, where I don’t think many were expecting a 28-year-old with a career .151 isolated slugging to be up with the power leaders. Instead, Gregorius has a ridiculous .387 ISO and is tied for third with his 10 homers.

Gregorius with power isn’t a completely ridiculous statement though, as last year he had an ISO of .191, and before that was .171. He’s been on an upward trend – of course no one expects him to maintain this ISO, but he certainly could continue improving to stay above .200. He’s also continued his four-year trend of increasing his fly ball rate, up from 34.1% to 47.8%. There’s no need to get into insane detail on this, but essentially more fly balls = better slugging, as fly balls go for homers exclusively (duh) and for doubles and triples more often.

Gregorius as a top three power hitter might be a little optimistic the rest of the way. Okay, it’s a lot optimistic. But there’s real improvement and he’s been trending in the right direction. He’s a hot buy so you may have to wait for a week-long slump, but I’m ready to buy his stock.

AJ Pollock

From former Diamondback to current one, AJ Pollock isn’t exactly the most anemic hitter to have a hot start, but his torrid pace has him in a prime position to easily beat some career marks. Pollock has a career best 20 homers hit back in 2015, and he is already halfway there in a little over one months time. His .391 ISO is also just stupidly high, as his first month has been one of the best in the league for the plus defensive outfielder.

30-year-old breakouts aren’t easy to come by, although some juicy balls might help. Still, Pollock is tearing the cover off the ball thanks to some changes as well. His fly ball rate jumps from 32.1% last year to 41.7% so far in 2018. Pollock is also simply swinging more often, upping both his chase rate and inside zone swing rate, for an overall jump from 42.3% to 46.9%. And even though Pollock only had 14 homers last year, his ISO was at a respectable .205, showing he has the ability to hit like a power hitter.

Again, Pollock is doing the right things here to make his power last. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with 30 or more, although it’s almost a certainty his best month is already behind him.

Mitch Haniger

Mariners power hitters are always a risky pick, thanks to some heavy Pacific air, and what must be a cursed franchise with their star players and prospects. Haniger seemed to have his prospect days to be behind him, getting his first promotion at 25 and hitting for just a 81 wRC+. But at 27 he’s having a career year, and certainly beating the average game power projections most scouts had for him. 10 bombs already and a .369 ISO, and he’s looking good.

Haniger follows the same pattern with a 51.9% fly ball rate, after just a 36.7% rate last year. Putting everything in the air is good for homers, although can hurt contact, but Haniger is strong enough that he might mash enough to make it work. His strikeout rate is also only 23.3%, showing a good eye at the dish necessary to maintain power heading forward. Combine this with a 42.9% hard contact rate, and his contact looks to be in good shape. A current .301 batting average with the plus power means Haniger might just be a legit all around bat in the Mariners outfield. I’m still cautious of a guy who took so long to get here, but I’m optimistic he’s the real deal.

 

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James Krueger

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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.

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