Fantasy Baseball: Which Players Are Worth Targeting for Their Home Run Value?
In 2017, baseballs were flying out of stadiums at a rate we've never seen before. Whether the baseball was physically different, pitchers were worse, or hitters altered their swings and launch angles to hit more dingers, the result was 6,105 home runs, the most ever in a season.
Suddenly, everyone was hitting home runs. Giancarlo Stanton almost hit 60 (he finished with 59) and rookie Aaron Judge set a record for first-year players with 52, breaking Mark McGwire's record of 48 set back in 1987. Cody Bellinger set an NL rookie record with 39.
There were five players who went deep 40 or more times (Stanton, Judge, J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis and Joey Gallo) and a whopping 41 players who hit more than 30. A total of 74 big league players hit more than 25 bombs, and 117 hit more than 20.
All of a sudden, power was everywhere, and in fantasy drafts it was a smart strategy to punt on power until the middle rounds because other areas (stolen bases and batting average specifically) were seen as scarcer commodities. And while average and steals are still rare this season, the rate of dingers has slowed, which means having big-time power guys on your roster has become an important advantage once again.
In looking at MLB-wide numbers to this same point in recent seasons, we can see that, while homers are down compared to last year, they are still higher than what has been the norm.
|Season||Home Runs (Through July 5)|
This year, MLB hitters have slugged 2,978 bombs through games played on July 5, compared to 3,194 last year. That's a pretty large drop (6.8%), although it's still a bit more than in 2016 and definitely more than in 2015 and earlier years.
Right now, the Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez leads baseball with 26 home runs, which puts him on pace for 48 round-trippers this season. No one will be challenging Roger Maris' 60 in 2018, barring a ridiculous second half hot streak. There are more players (7) -- Martinez, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Judge, Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado and Nelson Cruz -- on pace to hit 40 than a year ago, all of whom have 22 or more just past the midway point of the season.
However, the number of players on pace to hit 30 jacks is down. Last year it was 41. This year, 29 players have hit at least 17 dingers, which would put them on pace for at least 30, although an additional 10 players have 16 homers, which puts them ever-so-slightly under a 30-homer pace. And while 74 players hit at least 25 last season, this year only 55 players are on that pace this season.
Adding Power To Your Roster
So while home runs have not exactly been scarce this season, there have been fewer to go around, which means it's possible you own a team that is need of a power boost. Who should you be targeting for the stretch drive of your fantasy season?
The chart below counts the number of plate appearances in which a hitter has hit what Fangraphs classifies as a "hard-hit" fly ball so far this season, a good indicator of players who are doing what it takes to go deep.
|J.D. Martinez||Red Sox||49|
Obviously, home runs are generally hard-hit fly balls, and the players above have hit those hard-hit fly balls more than any other players so far in 2018. A fuller list can be found here.
But we can also look at our rest of season projections to see if there are any undervalued hitters who we expect to go deep a bunch in the second half, too.
|J.D. Martinez||Red Sox||21|
This list has a lot of the usual suspects on it, many of whom are players (Martinez, Judge and Trout chief among them) other owners probably won't want to part with and certainly not on the cheap. However, players like Matt Olson, Khris Davis, and Joey Gallo have other flaws in their game (strikeouts and low batting averages, for example) that may make them movable for their owners, and Matt Carpenter is not a player one typically thinks of as a home run guy, though he has bombed 20 or more in each of the last three seasons.
Both Carpenter and Olson can be found on the first list of bats but also on the league's hard-hit rate leaderboard, where the two rank third (50.5%) and first (53.1%), respectively.
Other add candidates who we project to go deep at least 15 or more times the rest of the way include the Philadelphia Phillies' Rhys Hoskins, the Los Angeles Angels' Justin Upton, and the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, all of whom have had very productive power seasons and are solid in most other categories as well. Players like Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak and Carlos Santana are projected to go deep another 14 times this season, and a slew of others that include the underrated Justin Bour, Adam Duvall, Teoscar Hernandez and C.J. Cron are all projected to hit at least another 13 dingers in 2018.
Among these 10 names, Smoak probably stands out the most as he's posted just 10 dingers to date. His 45.8% is higher than a year ago, however, his home-run-to-fly-ball rate (12.5%) is more than 5% below each of his past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. He could come at a nice discount if a disgruntled owner is willing to part ways.
If you're short on power and have a surplus in other areas on your team, there is still a good amount of power to be found. There are probably fantasy owners in your league that have more power than they need, so target the non-superstars -- Bour, Carpenter, Duvall, Olson, Santana, Seager or Smoak -- if you're looking for some cheap and easy power to carry you through the race for your fantasy league championship.