Brad Johnson

Homer Report

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Race to the Finish

Saturday, September 15, 2018


It’s a race to the finish. With just over two weeks left in the season, Khris Davis has a narrow lead over J.D. Martinez for the home run crown. Can Davis (42 HR) spoil Martinez’s (41 HR) Triple Crown hopes (never mind his flimsy hopes to beat Mookie Betts in batting average)? Will a last minute charge by Jose Ramirez make this a three horse race?

 

Let’s get down to business.

 

 

Weekly Leaders

 

Michael Conforto, 4 HR

Juan Soto, 4 HR

Charlie Blackmon, 3 HR

Rhys Hoskins, 3 HR

Nolan Arenado, 3 HR

Joey Votto, 3 HR

 

From a fantasy perspective, a hot finish to the year can ruin plans. For example, I planned to acquire a dozen shares of Conforto next season for pennies on the dollar. It’s easy for fans to forget that he was supposed to return from a major shoulder injury sometime around late May or June. He actually returned on April 5. Unsurprisingly, he struggled for months. It’s often not a good thing when a player bounces back from an injury quicker than expected. More recently, Conforto has quietly hit .271/.344/.533 with 14 home runs since the All Star Break. That’s an over-30 homer pace. Six of those have come over the last two weeks.

 

The National League Rookie of the Year conversation has tipped in the direction of Ronald Acuna. Soto doesn’t have any plans to be forgotten. Not only has the 19-year-old posted an implausible combination of plate discipline, contact, and power, he’s done so over 435 plate appearances. Usually, a precocious rookie like Soto might burst onto the scene until scouting reports reveal a flaw. Soto has issues – particularly a 53.2 percent ground ball rate – but opposing pitchers have struggled to exploit his weaknesses. The future is unimaginably bright for Soto.

 

The quartet of players with three home runs shouldn’t surprise anybody. The most shocking bit is that Votto has only 12 home runs counting the trio he popped in the last week. His scorching week followed a mechanical adjustment. Look for a fiery finish to the year. Blackmon also seems to be entering one of his hot streaks – just in time to help the Rockies win the NL West.

 

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

 

Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics: 42 HR, 46 HR projected

J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 41 HR, 45 HR projected

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: 38 HR, 41 HR projected

Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners: 36 HR, 40 HR projected

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 36 HR, 40 HR projected

Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals: 35 HR, 39 HR projected

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, 33 HR, 38 HR projected

Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians: 34 HR, 37 HR projected

Manny Machado, Los Angeles Dodgers: 34 HR, 37 HR projected

Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: 34 HR, 37 HR projected

 

With just 16 days left in the season, this section of the column is becoming irrelevant. Top sluggers generally project to hit another three to four home runs over the remainder of the campaign. Stanton is the only player with a five home run projection. Even that seems dubious. He’s hit just one home run since August 18. He has however bashed a number of big foul balls. Arenado’s hot week allowed him to leapfrog Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Disabled

 

***Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves (mild groin strain)

***Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs (back)

***Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies (bruised shoulder/neck)

***Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (left shoulder surgery – out for season)

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (knee surgery – out for season)

Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (right knee inflammation – out for season)

Christian Villanueva, San Diego Padres (fractured right middle finger –out for season)

Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks (frayed rotator cuff – out for season)

Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds (shoulder subluxation – out for season)

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (calcified heels – out for season)

Clint Frazier, New York Yankees (post-concussion syndrome)

Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (chip fracture in right wrist)

Zack Cozart, Los Angeles Angels (torn labrum – out for season)

Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians (calf strain)

Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals (fractured foot – out for season)

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (ruptured biceps tendon – out for season)

Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres (forearm strain)

Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (TJS – out for season)

***denotes new injury

 

Four players came off the disabled list over the last week although only three of them are actually healthy. Aaron Judge is not yet ready to hit, but the club apparently saw no benefit to leaving him on the shelf. He did make a brief appearance in the outfield on Friday night. The Indians are getting their first look at Josh Donaldson as they prepare for their playoff run. Jose Abreu and Yangervis Solarte also returned. Solarte was at the heart of this goofy play.

 

Gregory Polanco’s shoulder issue isn’t exactly a new injury. He had surgery which will keep him out into the early months of the 2019 campaign. It’s possible we’ll see a repeat of the Conforto saga with Polanco rushing back only to underperform. Camargo, Schwarber, and Franco are all day-to-day. They might have taken minimum 10 day stints on the disabled list earlier in the season. Since it is September, we’ll only be told that they’ll return soon.

 

Power Spotlight

 

Aside from Coors Field, Citizen’s Bank Park is the friendliest venue for home run hitting. And if you’re looking for a quick shot in the arm, the Mets are set to begin a three game series in Philadelphia on Monday. In his latest stint as a major leaguer, first base prospect Dominic Smith is batting .269/.321/.577 with two home runs. The sample size is tiny – just 28 plate appearances. However, there are some things to like about his plate approach as it relates to power potential.

 

First, let’s address the elephant in the room. CitiField is a dreadful ballpark for all types of offense – home runs included. It’s not enough to have a few positive indicators to enjoy sustained success in Flushing, NY. That’s why I’ve highlighted Smith’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia. Grab him for the series then jump on the next horse.

 

Now, on to the good stuff. When searching for potential breakout talents, the first thing I check is fly ball, pulled, and hard contact rates. Smith rates well by these measures. He also hits a ton of line drives and avoids soft contact. While I’d like to see a higher than 35 percent hard contact rate, plenty of sluggers succeed with similar numbers. By the batted ball profile alone, Smith appears to have 25 to 30 home run potential in a neutral hitting environment.

 

Where he’s failed is with plate discipline – a not uncommon problem for new major leaguers who are used to beating up lesser-quality pitchers in the minor leagues. Smith has posted a 2.8 percent walk rate and 30.6 percent strikeout rate. The latter value is supported by a terrible 14.5 percent swinging strike rate. Smith’s swing rate on pitches in the strike zone is only slightly higher than the league average. Unfortunately, he’s frequently fooled into swinging at pitches outside of the zone. As he adjusts to the majors and tightens up his plate discipline, we should see Smith’s results improve considerable. His minor league walk rates suggest improvement is inevitable.

 

The long term outlook is marred by the impending arrival of Peter Alonso sometime during the 2019 campaign. As a Met, Smith probably won’t get a chance to make those much need adjustments. That may be good news for us. Smith is more likely to be fantasy relevant with a different club. As for the short term, he’s scheduled to face homer prone righties Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin. You may want an alternative on Tuesday when Aaron Nola is expected to start.



You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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