The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.
–Players Approaching Career Highs–
Bryce Harper hit his 22nd home run of the season on Tuesday, which tied his career high from 2012. But that actually isn’t what inspired this article. Instead, I noticed that Luis Valbuena’s two-homer day from earlier that afternoon increased his 2015 total to 16, which matched his career high from last season. The Astros are the biggest success story in baseball this season, but that total still shocked me. Meanwhile, I discovered that Harper and Valbuena are two of a bunch of players who are already threatening career highs in home runs or stolen bases this season.
Luis Valbuena, 3B, Astros
2015 HR Total: 16
Previous Career High: 16 in 2014
Let’s start with Valbuena. Playing time has been the biggest contributor to his power spike this season. He had reached double digits in home runs in three of the last six seasons, but 2014 was the first time he reached 400 plate appearances in a season. Prior to 2014, Valbuena was used primarily against right-handed pitchers, when he has the platoon advantage. In his career, Valbuena has a 78 wRC+ versus lefties compared to a 91 wRC+ against righties, and those splits are much more extreme (35 and 120) this season.
The power is still there; Valbuena has hit four of his home runs in his 76 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. However, one reason the Astros have played Valbuena every day is their lack of clear alternatives at third base. That could change when Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list since Carlos Correa is here to stay at shortstop. Lowrie has been better versus lefties than righties in his career, so a platoon may be possible, but he is also a switch-hitter. It’s unclear how this all will shake out, and because of that, I’d look to deal Valbuena in shallower formats in early July before Lowrie returns. In deeper formats, a loss of plate appearances versus lefties may not be a bad thing for Valbuena’s overall value with the boost it will likely provide to his batting average.
Starling Marte, LF, Pirates
2015 HR Total: 12
Previous Career High: 13 in 2014
At 26 years old, Starling Marte may be entering his power prime, which would make him one of the few candidates for 20-20 seasons left in baseball. But of every name on this list, I doubt Marte’s improvements the most. Marte has a 35.3 percent home run to flyball ratio, which apart from being unsustainably high in general—only four hitters are above 30 percent and only nine are above 25 percent this season—is also unsupported by his low 28.6 percent hard contact rate.
|2015 HR/FB Leaders|
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
2015 HR Total: 16
Previous Career High: 18 in 2014
In contrast to Marte, Nolan Arenado is enjoying a power breakout season at 24 that I trust. The biggest red flag for every Rockies player is the Coors effect, but Arenado has actually hit 11 of his 16 home runs this season on the road. Arenado has dramatically increased his flyball ratio from 33.7 percent as a rookie in 2013 to 45.9 percent this season. I expect 30 home runs or more per season for years to come.
Logan Forsythe, 2B, Rays
2015 HR Total: 7
Previous Career High: 6 in 2012, 2013, and 2014
Logan Forsythe maintained extremely high line drive rates of 28.7 and 28.5 percent in 2012 and 2013 with the Padres, but he’s changed his approach to become more of a flyball hitter over the last two seasons with the Rays. In addition to a new career high in home runs, Forsythe has improved his walk rate and strikeout rate from previous seasons. As Scott Strandberg noted, Forsythe looks entrenched as the team’s everyday second baseman despite Nick Franklin’s health, which makes him a solid middle infield option in standard formats.
Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants
2015 HR Total: 9
Previous Career High: 10 in 2014
Brandon Crawford has improved his home run output every season since his debut 2011, and he’s on pace to more than double his total of 10 home runs from 2014 this season. Playing in San Francisco, Crawford has the opposite concern of Arenado in Coors. AT&T Park allowed 16 percent fewer home runs to left-handed hitters than an average park in 2014, the lowest factor in baseball. But Crawford has hit five of his nine home runs at home, and the Giants have played four more games at home than on the road so far this season, both of which bode well for Crawford’s power increase to continue.
Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles
2015 HR Total: 13 | 2015 SB Total: 9
Previous Career High: 14 in 2013 | 6 in 2013
The first of two players on the brink of setting new career highs in both home runs and stolen bases, Manny Machado looks to be blossoming into a perennial MVP candidate at just 22 years old. His entire profile has improved. His walk rate is up from last season. His strikeout rate is down. After swinging at a third or more of pitches thrown out of the zone in each of his first three seasons, he’s down to a 23 percent O-Swing rate this season. Machado had each of his previous two seasons cut short because of knee injuries (to opposite knees). Now that he is finally healthy, Machado can both drive the ball and run.
A.J. Pollock, CF, Diamondbacks
2015 HR Total: 8 | 2015 SB Total: 14
Previous Career High: 8 in 2014 | 14 in 2014
A.J. Pollock was on his way to enjoying this breakout in 2014 when a broken hand cost him three months. So far this season, that injury has not seemed to cost him any power. He is slightly ahead of his pace for both home runs and stolen bases last year and should threaten 20-30 if he can stay healthy for all of 2015.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
2015 SB Total: 10
Previous Career High: 6 in 2013
Trying his best to challenge Paul Goldschmidt in fantasy value, Anthony Rizzo has started to steal bases this season. Nothing has changed with Rizzo’s skill set, and, in fact, most of his stolen bases have come based on intelligent reads rather than straight speed. The big change here is actually at the team level, where new manager Joe Maddon has made the Cubs a much more aggressive team on the basepaths. The Cubs are tied for seventh in baseball with 46 stolen bases after having stolen just 65 bases in all of 2014. Meanwhile, Rizzo has only been caught five times, so 20 steals seems like a strong possibility for him this year, which makes him a clear top 10 player in roto formats.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt