Power Options in the Back Half

After moving from the happy-fun ball era to the great deadening of 2021, it’s hard to know how bouncy the ball will be in 2022. Particularly after MLB admitted to using two different kinds of balls in 2021 due to production delays. But I’d bet the old, fun times aren’t coming back and consequentially don’t want to depend on finding power just laying around in the back part of drafts.

With that in mind, and using a 200 ADP in recent NFBC drafts as our cutoff, let’s look at a few players who could be valuable wells of power in 2022. Here are a few common terms:

Barrel% (from BaseballSavant): “to be Barrelled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.”

Air% (average EV): The average exit velocity balls hit in the air (fly balls + line drives)

Air% (100+ mph): Percentage of balls hit in the air with a minimum exit velocity of 100 mph.

Barrel% (100+ mph): Percentage of barrels with a minimum exit velocity of 100 mph. Not all barrels are created equal and while there are many great ways to chop them up, I’m not as bright as Alex so I also check in on this simple distinction.

Because juiced balls come and go but barrels over 100 mph bring juicier results than barrels below:

League Barrel% 2015-2021
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
wOBA Barrel% > 100 mph 1.512 1.499 1.524 1.437 1.462 1.436 1.400
xwOBA Barrel% > 100 mph 1.487 1.478 1.502 1.419 1.455 1.424 1.393
wOBA Barrel% < 100 mph .912 .883 .903 .784 .932 1.020 .970
xwOBA Barrel% < 100 mph .889 .893 .928 .804 .908 .970 .788

 

Bobby Dalbec, 1B, 224 ADP (170 min – 285 max)

After hitting eight home runs in his 92 PA in 2020, Dalbec got right back to it in 2021, hitting 25 HR in his first full season. He only averaged 0.39 HR/PA in the first half – a far cry from 0.87 HR/PA in 2020 – but that jumped to 0.77 HR/PA in the second half.

The exit velocities are elite and were even more so in the second half; Dalbec’s Air% EV and Air% (100+ mph) were both in the 95th percentile, while his Barrel% and Barrel% (100+ mph) were in the 100th percentile.

And it wasn’t just the EVs that went up, Dalbec also got up into the air more. His 61.4% Air% was up from 53.4% in the first half and 51.2% in 2020. And there weren’t just more fly balls, they were better ones. At least, ones less likely to end in easy outs. Because besides where the hits are coming from, I also like to check in on where players with big exit velocities are making their outs. IE Are they at angles most conducive for power or at ones where flyouts live?

While Dalbec still had plenty of uppercut in his game in the second half he also made significantly more of his outs in the 20-30 degree range:


The biggest question is whether the big-whiffing Dalbec can make enough contact to be an everyday starter and hold off Triston Casas from the minors. But call me cautiously optimistic? A 65.1% Contact% in the second half is still in the bottom-10% of hitters, that’s still a big improvement from  60.7% in the first half and 51.3% in 2020.

World-beating? No, but at least he’s moving in the right direction:

 

Brandon Belt, 1B, 240 ADP (194 min – 317 max)

Out of curiosity, will we be waiting Votto-esque amount to acknowledge Belt’s upticks in key power metrics over the past two seasons, or even longer because Votto plays in a bandbox while Belt has a home park seemingly designed to thwart him?

Career Home Run Rates
Season PA HR HR per PA
2011 209 9 .043
2012 472 7 .015
2013 571 17 .030
2014 235 12 .051
2015 556 18 .032
2016 655 17 .026
2017 451 18 .040
2018 456 14 .031
2019 616 17 .028
2020 179 9 .050
2021 381 29 .076
1st Half 201 11 .055
2nd Half 180 18 .100

The above doesn’t tell you much about skill changes but it does let us see just much Belt’s rate has increased over the past two seasons compared to his previous levels.

The more compelling evidence is that he also ran a 17.0% Brl% (95th percentile) in 2021 and a 16.8% Brl% (97th) in 2020 after staying between 10-11% between 2015-2019. And he didn’t just add more of the lesser barrels, with his 16.1% Brl% (100+ mph) and 14.2% in 2020 up significantly from 9.2% in 2018 and 6.9% in 2019.

Like the rest of the Giants, a platoon is always on the table but worse-case Belt probably has the strong-side and best-case San Francisco gives him more opportunities to prove that last year’s improvements vs LHP (.246/.373/.459, with a .361 wOBA and 129 wRC+) wasn’t just a one-off from a small-sample (75 PA).

Mike Zunino, C, 256 ADP (185 min – 328 max)

The big exit velocities aren’t new, as Zunino Brl%, Air% EV, Air% (100+mph), and Brl% (100+ mph) had all been found in the top-5% before last season. But 2021 was full of new echelons, with all of the aforementioned stats jumping up to the top-1% of all hitters. And even saying top-1% doesn’t completely do him justice because Zunino was actually first in Brl%, first in Air% (100+ mph), first in Brl% (100+ mph), and a lowly second in Air% EV.

Zunino is a batting-average sink (.193 AVG since posting a .251 AVG in 2018) but was at least a little better in the second half, with a .240 AVG (.225 xBA) after a .198 AVG (.210 xBA) in the first half. But those improvements aside, we kind of know what we’re getting in that department, right? And what is known can be planned for.

I’m also not as worried about his playing time, as I refuse to be scared of the Francisco Mejia-shaped shadow lurking in the background. While a decent hitter, Mejia is not much more and is now on his third team in five years. He may not strike out but he also doesn’t walk, has only average to above-average numbers against each pitching hand, and is inferior on defense.

Zunino obviously won’t play every day but 110 games and ~375 PA again feels pretty reasonable. That might not be as much as some catchers but most of them also can’t generate offense in spurts like he can.

And I may have real trust issues with the Rays and playing time but I feel like they’re going to want to get their money’s worth out of the third-highest AAV on the team, especially considering that they picked up his 2022 team option (which escalated after Zunino reached 100 games in 2021) for $7 million. Because Tampa.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, 229 ADP (169 min – 290 max)

It just wouldn’t feel right if I left off my guy Candelario, who despite playing in a home park where home runs go to die, took his home run rate from .015 HR/PA in the first half to .039 HR/PA in the second half. That latter mark still isn’t nearly on the level of the aforementioned options but rising from the bottom-10% to the top-40% is a move worth noting. And while his rate ceiling isn’t as high as the other player,  part of Candelario’s appeal is the volume of plate appearances he’ll compile so any uptick in rate should play up more overall.

Also, can we please at least chalk some of his first-half struggles up to being human, with Candelario having to travel back to the Dominican Republic in June after losing his grandmother? He had his worst stretch of the year upon his return but then got back to proving that his 2020 campaign was no fluke. In the second half, Candelario had an 11.1% Brl% (up from 7.2% in the first half and 10.3% in 2020), running a .396 xwOBA (96th percentile) and .456 xwOBA on contact (90th percentile) that was up from a .321 xwOBA (50th) and .375 xwOBAcon (51st percentile) in the first half.

His home runs going to die in Detroit is no joke, as looking at xHR from baseball savant (which shows how many home runs would’ve been hit in other stadiums by accounting for overall dimensions and wall height), Candelario’s 14 xHR at home is tied for last with Kansas City. He may have hit just 16 HR in 2021 but he also finished with the fourth-most doubles (42) in baseball.

Just because it’s fun to dream, here are the balls that Candelario hit in the air at home (min 350 ft) in 2021, with overlays at the Chicago from across the division (Guaranteed Rate Field: 21 xHR) as well as the one he started his career with (Wrigley Field: 24 xHR):

Bunches of doubles is nice and all but it would also be lazy to assume that more of them will just magically turn into home runs. Particularly in this case, as Candelario is really hurt by a home park that just devours fly balls hit to centerfield and the so-called power alleys.

OMM-nom-nom-nom-nom. Me Comerica, me eat fly balls for breakfast:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I don’t think it’s greedy to wish balls like that didn’t wind up functionally being a can of corn. But unfortunately, for fantasy purposes, you can only play where you play (and Candelario still plays in Detroit) so a firmer cap on his power ceiling remains. But again, some of the appeal is the 600+ PA he should again rack up batting in the middle of what should be a much-improved Tigers lineup. Running out Candelario’s (very reasonable) home-run rate from the second half over 625 PA would give him 25 HR – nothing that impressive but that still would’ve put him in company with Justin Turner, Kris Bryant, and Matt Chapman.

But even staying under 25 HR, I like his floor way more than similarly priced options at third base, as I am now legally mandated by tout law to mention the positional stink burning on the hot corner. Though, it sure would be nice if that solid floor added some fancy, new, vaulted ceilings. It’s a shame that the switch-hitting Candelario doesn’t pull the ball more to better take advantage of the dimensions at Comerica, which are only 340 ft down the lines.

Wait, what’s that you say? He had a career-high 43.4% Pull% in the second half that was up from 38.6% in the first half? And his AirPull% rose from 32.8% to 38.1%? Cool, cool, cool.





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Hilliard and Wisdom as honorable mentions?