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Olson Goes Ham

Sports

As predicted in past episodes, the season-long home run rate is slowly climbing. The current pace is for 5,638 home runs – well above historical average but also not on par with recent record-shattering seasons. Temperatures were quite chilly last week so we should be ready for an outburst as the calendar flips to May and June.

Top Performances of the Week

Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 4 HR

Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers, 4 HR

10 others, 3 HR

Is Olson merely hot or has he adjusted? That’s a potentially important question to answer. Through 70 plate appearances, he’s halved his strikeout rate compared to last season accompanied by a 3.6-point decline in his swinging strike rate. If Olson can continue making contact at rates associated with the likes of Jed Lowrie and Alex Verdugo, he’s a terrifying hitter and MVP candidate. His average launch angle has also halved from 19 degrees to 9.6 degrees. An increase in ground balls at the expense of fly balls doesn’t sound like a good thing at first glance. However, he’s making ludicrously hard contact, similar to 2019 Christian Yelich. Using career norms, Olson now projects to hit around 45 home runs. If we extrapolate on his performance this season, he’d project for 47 home runs with a high batting average and OBP. In other words, he’d produce the same power while dramatically increasing other types of production. It should be noted, the Athletics have not faced many quality pitchers.

While I failed to call out Garcia in this column last week, I did include a glowing review of him in The Fringes on 4/16. You can find that column as part of our Season Pass. He’s an all-or-nothing power hitter in the mold of Adam Duvall. He doesn’t quite make enough pulled or fly ball contact to be counted on to easily exceed 30 home runs. Currently, half of his fly balls have gone over a wall. Expect that rate to regress towards 20 percent. Looking beyond what he’s already accomplished – five home runs and a .268/.302/.707 line in 43 plate appearances – he projects to hit about 36 home runs per 650 plate appearances with a .230/.270/.460 batting line. Unfortunately, that’s not a starting caliber Major League player. However, it is somebody with utility in mid-sized and deeper fantasy leagues when he’s playing with some regularity – like right now!

Billy McKinney is the most unexpected player to pop a trio of home runs last week. He’s currently filling in for Yelich. He’s a passable fourth outfielder but shouldn’t be viewed as a fantasy target in 20-team or shallower formats. You already missed his outburst. He’ll be returning to the bench soon. Keep an eye on Avisail Garcia. He’s supposed to return to the lineup in short order. If he’s out longer, then McKinney gets a fresh opportunity.

A trio of catchers joined the triple-dinger club – Yadier Molina, Carson Kelly, and Willson Contreras. The Cubs were busy – Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo also contributed a trio of home runs. Rounding out the list are shortstops Xander Bogaerts and Paul DeJong along with pure mashers Pete Alonso and Giancarlo Stanton. Molina is currently day-to-day with foot soreness. He deserves some attention for a rebound in exit velocity, increased launch angle, and an unusually robust rate of barreled balls. I expect this is a small sample quirk, but it could also mark a high value season for the 38-year-old.

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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 7 HR, 47 projected

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 6 HR, 46 proj

Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 6 HR, 46 proj

J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 7 HR, 45 proj

Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 6 HR, 45 proj

Pete Alonso, New York Mets, 4 HR, 44 proj

Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, 6 HR, 44 proj

Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 4 HR, 42 proj

Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds, 7 HR, 41 proj

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 1 HR, 40 proj

Four players dropped out of the Top 10 – Aaron Judge, Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. They all lurk just below the 40 projected home run plateau. Gallo is fast-falling but could pop five in as many days at any time. Rejoining the list are Martinez, Olson, Buxton, and Castellanos. We already discussed Olson at length.

Buxton has emerged as a surprising preeminent power threat, but can he stay on the field? Unlike other so-called injury prone players who could conceivably get past their issues, Buxton’s repeated experiences with post-concussion syndrome and/or migraines indicates an extreme likelihood for future injuries. He recently returned from a mild hamstring strain.

Castellanos is off to a hot start, but his peripherals don’t show any signs of skill growth. Personally, even though my home run calculator says otherwise, I believe he’ll finish with around 35 home runs if he can avoid injury. I think teammates Suarez and Mike Moustakas will outperform him.

Injured Sluggers

New

Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates, wrist strain, return uncertain

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, back strain, soon

Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds, non-COVID illness, soon

Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, hamstring strain, May

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins, COVID-19 list, soon

Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, July as DH-only

Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, season-ending

Juan Soto, Washington Nationals, shoulder, early-May

It was a rough week on the injury front. Hayes had a setback on the cusp of rejoining the team. They’re saying it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Another player with an existing injury, Huff, opted for surgery after failing to make progress. Yelich was day-to-day last Saturday and ultimately required a minimum breather to heal. He should return early next week. Moustakas and Kepler are also expected back any day now. Soto has turned his shoulder injury into a public relations opportunity, saying he’ll come back better and stronger. Is that even possible?

Existing

Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique, early-May

Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds, fractured hamate, early-June

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list, soon

Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, groin, soon

Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals, groin, late-April

Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, late-April return

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture, uncertain

Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September return

Luke Voit, New York Yankees, knee, May return

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees, wrist, return date unknown

Khris Davis, Texas Rangers, quad strain, early-May return

George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, soon

Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays, COVID-19 list, late-April

Springer might debut as soon as tomorrow. His teammate, Hernandez, needs more time to ramp up after clearing COVID protocols. He might suffer increased fatigue and other ill-effects as we witnessed in some players last season. Altuve was thought to be returning today so look for him in tomorrow’s lineup. Rendon is also said to be recovered.

Returned to Action

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list

Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list

Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners, knee

J.D. Davis, New York Mets, bruised hand

Alvarez and Bregman required only short stints on the COVID-19 list. Lewis is back in the Mariners lineup, batting second or cleanup. Davis is doing his usual mix of above average hitting and painful fielding.

For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.

Power Spotlight

Mid-April is a special time for the Power Spotlight – a time when it’s possible to point at a player with zero home runs and predict an impending outburst. I recall we had success selecting Jorge Polanco’s 2019 under similar circumstances. This time, I’m eyeing Tigers second baseman Willi Castro. Through 74 plate appearances, he’s hitting .211/.243/.282. That seems like someone on his way out of the lineup, right?

First, we need to understand Castro has certain shortcomings which won’t go away any time soon. He’s an aggressive hitter with a high strikeout and whiff rate. His success is entirely dependent on hitting for power and BABIP. His current .288 BABIP, while roughly league average, ain’t cutting it. His minor league track record suggests he’s capable of BABIPs in the mid-.300s.

Two traits recommend him as a potential power hitter at a lightweight position – a 115.4 maximum exit velocity and an 18-degree average launch angle. In short, he makes extreme line drive contact with the raw pop to exceed over 20 percent HR/FB. The profile is not entirely unlike Adolis Garcia (discussed above) except he could hit for between a .240 and .270 average. My calculator projects him for 37 home runs per 650 plate appearances or about 33 dingers over the remainder of the season. That assumes he continues starting. The Tigers could option him to Triple-A until he’s on a hot streak to give him back confidence. I wouldn’t say he necessarily needs such a move (as opposed to say Keston Hiura who desperately needs a jolt).

Given his current struggles, Castro should be cheap to acquire in deeper formats and on waivers in 12-team and shallower. I expect him to be fantasy relevant in all formats for swathes of the season. He’ll also struggle for weeks at a time – as he has to start this campaign.