kemp_hr_plot_2010

Newfound Power Pt. 1

April stats are always blown way out of proportion, especially home runs.  Only a few players who had big power numbers last April were able to maintain their pace throughout the season.  Let’s take a look at some of this year’s surprising power performances and see who’s for real and who you should sell high.
 

Paul Konerko (8 HR)

From 2004 to 2007, Paul Konerko was a consistent source of 30-40 home runs.  However, over the past two seasons he has failed to crack the 30 home run mark, partly due to injuries.  So far this April Konerko has been a home run monster hitting a home run once every 7.8 at-bats.  His career best AB/HR rate came in 2004 when he hit 41 homers in 563 at-bats.  For the past two seasons his AB/HR rate has been between 19 and 20.  Over 30 percent of Konerko’s fly balls have turned into home runs this season meaning eight of his 25 fly balls have gone over the fence.  That is an insanely high and unsustainable rate. 

 
Konerko is 34-years-old and hasn’t reached over 560 at-bats in three years.  If he can stay healthy chances are good that he can hit around 30 home runs this season, which means you’ll get about 22 or so more the rest of the way, or about 4.5 per month.  If you can flip him for a younger established power hitter now may be the time.
 
Matt Kemp (7)
Over the past two seasons, Kemp has done nothing but improve at the plate. In 606 at-bats in both 2008 and 2009, Kemp jumped from 18 home runs to 26 home runs, from a .459 SLG to a .490 SLG and from a .168 ISO to a .193 ISO.  His AB/HR rate went from 33.7 to 23.3. 
As good as Kemp already is, he’s still only 25-years-old. 
 
All of those improvements from 2008 to 2009 show that he should still have room to improve even further this season given his age and raw talent.  However, his current AB/HR rate is 10.9, which is a 55 home run pace.  That is sure to regress some, but a 30-plus home run season looks like a lock at this point.
 
You know a player has legit power when they can routinely hit the ball out to center and right (for a right-handed batter).  The chart below shows that Kemp has that type of power (via hittrackeronline.com).
 
 
This pace will slow, but there is no reason why Kemp can’t continue a pace for the rest of the season that would put him at 30-35 home runs. 
 
Vernon Wells (7)
For the last three seasons, Vernon Wells has been a disappointment to say the least.  Not only for the Blue Jays, the team with which he signed his mega contract, but to fantasy owners who expected something close his 2006 production (.303 AVG, 32 HR, 106 RBI, 17 SB).  Last season Wells had his worst power output since becoming a Major League regular.  He hit only 15 home runs with a career low .140 ISO and a career low .400 SLG.  Part of his power problems could have stemmed from wrist, shoulder and hamstring injuries that plagued him since 2006.
 
This season, however, Wells is healthy again and bringing an aggressive approach to the plate.  Wells has swung at 52.6 percent of pitches seen, up from his swing percentage last season of 46.8 percent.  Of his seven home runs this season, three have come on the first pitch, two on the second pitch and one on the third pitch. 
 
Wells aggressive approach has also caused him to chase plenty of bad pitches, which should cause his AVG to fall a bit once his home run pace slows.  Currently Wells has hit one home run every 10.3 at-bats.  His career average is 24.9 AB/HR and his career best was 19.1 AB/HR in 2006 when he hit 32 home runs. 
 
Based on his track record, a healthy Vernon Wells should be able to maintain an AB/HR rate between 20 and 23.  If Wells can stay healthy and get 500 more at-bats, that would translate to between 20 and 22 more home runs this season giving him 27 to 29 by season’s end. 
 
Of course there is always an injury risk based on his recent track record, so sell high if you can get top dollar.  If not, just enjoy the valuable production that you obtained at a bargain price.
 
Jose Guillen (7) – Since 2004, Jose Guillen has hit at least 20 home runs in any season in which he had accrued over 550 at-bats.  Last season was one of the injury plagued years in which Guillen saw limited playing time. 
To this point in the 2010 season, Guillen has seven home runs in 74 at-bats, which is 10.6 at-bats per home run, a similar rate to those of Matt Kemp and Vernon Wells.  However, of the three, Guillen has the highest AB/HR career average of 26.9 compared to 25.5 from Matt Kemp and 24.9 from Vernon Wells. 
 
Guillen is crushing mistake fastballs right now.  In fact, all but one of his home runs have come off of a fastball.  He should start to see more and more offspeed pitches as teams adjust. 
 
Guillen is also a very streaky hitter.  In the span of four days, April 11th through the 14th, Guillen hit five of his seven homers. 
 
If Guillen remains healthy, there is little reason to think he can’t hit 20-25 home runs this season, but his AVG is sure to regress from a .345 BABIP and his current home run pace is almost certainly unsustainable.  I’d be looking very hard for a trade partner right now.
 
Kelly Johnson (7)
Probably the most surprising name on this list is Kelly Johnson.  Johnson already has two multi home run games on the season and an incredible 8.4 AB/HR rate.  That rate is sure to fade, but just how many bombs can Johnson hit in 2010?
 
How about a comp?  Aaron Hill?  Well, not exactly, but work with me a little.  Both players are the same age (28) and had flashed power at the Major League level before the 2009 season.  Hill hit 17 home runs in 2008 before a concussion cost him most of 2009.  Johnson hit 16 home runs in 2007 and 12 in 2008 before hitting an early season slump in 2009 that compiled with a back injury to cost him playing time.  Hill makes better contact and strikes out less, but Johnson takes more walks. 
 
Toward the end of last April I wrote an article similar to this one predicting 20-25 home runs by season’s end from Hill.  He had hit five home runs in the season’s first month.  Well, as you know, Hill never really slowed down on his way to 36 bombs.  As a matter of fact, Hill never hit fewer than five home runs in any month and the three months he didn’t hit five he hit seven.
 
Because of Hill’s consistent power production last season and because Johnson has had similar power potential to Hill over the past few years, part of me wants to think Johnson can hit 30 home runs this year, especially playing home games in Chase Field.  Still, my reasonable side tells me that 20-25 is much more likely.  Either way, this is shaping up to be the season I had hoped Johnson would have the past two years.  Unless you can get a big time bat in return, I’d stick with KJ and enjoy the ride.
 
Stay tuned for part two as we look at the rest of this list.