There are many ways to win a baseball game. Hitting home runs should be a benefit to a team. However, home run hitting teams also have other, less ideal tendencies such as a higher strikeout rate and a lower batting average.
The top two teams in baseball, in terms of winning percentage, rank 25th and 27th in terms of home runs. The next two teams in the overall standings rank 2nd and 3rd in home runs.
Home runs garner a lot of attention from the fans and media. However, the most complete teams usually are not the teams that hit the most home runs. Of the past five World Series, only one out of the 10 participants finished the regular season in the top five in terms of team home runs.
We start of this week’s Fantasy Lookout examining the mess that is the Cubs’ bullpen. We then will look at some under the radar hitters who have performed quite admirably so far in 2015.
A lefty on the West Coast has been pitching way above his head, we will see if it can last. Finally, in this week’s deep dive, we look at the top home run hitters this year.
The Fantasy Lookout: Storm Brewing on the Windy City’s North Side
The current situation in the Chicago bullpen appears to be the much loved closer committee. Manager Joe Maddon said the roles for the last three innings are undefined for the moment. Let’s look at the numbers for the relevant participants.
Hector Rondon has been the Cubs closer since early last year. He has struggled a little bit in 2015 where he has saved 10 of his 13 save opportunities. Last year, Rondon went 29 for 33 in save chances. Pedro Strop has been the primary setup man this year, while also recording two saves. Jason Motte picked up the save this past Sunday, as Rondon pitched the eighth inning and Strop was unavailable due to recent usage. Maddon wants to let Rondon work out his troubles in less intensive situations.
The situation is even more clouded by the Tuesday signing of Rafael Soriano to a minor-league contract The veteran closer will tune his game up in the minors, and if all goes well, he will join the Cubs bullpen in the near future. Soriano faded down the stretch last year with the Nationals, but he does have history closing for Maddon during their days in St. Pete.
I think this really is a two horse race between Rondon and Strop. Rondon is the incumbent so I think he has a slight lead; however Strop has the better numbers. Strop has a superior strikeout vs walk rate, swinging strike rate (5th best in the league), contact rate (7th best in the league), and he keeps more balls on the ground. Gun to my head, I would take Pedro Strop as the next closer, but I do think this is a close race.
Every year, players come out of nowhere and make a Fantasy impact. This year is no different. The following chart contains a few hitters that would have been worthy of a starting roster spot in a typical 12-team 5×5 roto league based on their year to date stats. Their positional ADP is based on data from www.fantasypros.com and the positional ranks and Fantasy ownership levels are based on Yahoo Fantasy data.
Francisco Cervelli’s worth is driven by his batting average and he is showing his value now that he has finally landed a starting gig. His BABIP is quite high, so a fall in batting average can be expected, possibly closer to his still strong career average of .287.
Logan Forsythe has carved out a starting position on the Rays and his role seems secure even with the return of Nick Franklin. His improved batting eye has resulted in a BB/K of 0.60, up from his career mark of 0.42.
David Freese has had a decent start to the year, despite being part of one of the league’s worst lineups. His 2015 BABIP is also nearly 70 points off of his career level, so a batting average recovery could be in the works.
Wilmer Flores has shown some decent pop, a welcome addition to the Fantasy wasteland known as shortstop. Flores had a HR/FB ratio of nearly 10% over high minor league career, so his current 2015 mark of just over 13% does not scream regression for this developing hitter.
Kevin Pillar has taken advantage of injuries and poor starts from his fellow Blue Jays. I’m looking at you Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey. Pillar has cut down on his swinging strikes and improved his BB/K ratio so an increase in batting average could be on the way.
Hector Santiago, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Hector Santiago has been pitching like an ace so far this year. He has the best ERA on the Angels by nearly a run and a half, and he ranks 16th in all of baseball. The problem with Santiago’s start is it seems to owe a lot of his success to Lady Luck. He has the second lowest LOB% and the ninth lowest BABIP allowed out of all qualified starters.
When you look at his underlying numbers, he does not seem very different than the pitcher he has been the two previous years. He does not throw extremely hard and he has become quite the fly ball pitcher, yielding a major league high 50.8% fly ball rate. This makes him very prone to home runs. Pitching the majority of his games on the West Coast definitely helps Santiago with suppressing his home run total. I expect a rest of season ERA in the high 3’s and a WHIP closer to 1.40, very similar to his 2013/2014 figures. Hector Santiago is a great sell high candidate. If you have been a Santiago owner, thank him for what he has done, then drop everything and make the trade.
Deep Dive: The Long Ball
This week let’s take a look at the league’s top home run hitters so far in 2015. I have compiled some data in addition to the home run total to see if we can determine the sustainability of these powerful starts. At the core, a home run total will be driven by a player’s fly ball rate and their home run to fly ball ratio. Also, home run hitters tend to hit the ball hard and have a tendency to pull the ball. I have included data from 2015 and the player’s career averages.
I then looked at the differences between the two data sets to see if the player is hitting the ball materially different in 2015. Lets look at the data and see if anything jumps out.
We have to lead off with Mr. Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper is not even 23 yet; the best has yet to come. His explosion in the early going is coming on the heels of hitting more fly balls and more of those fly balls are leaving the yard. He has also increased his hard hit rate and he is pulling the ball more. We are in the midst of a breakout campaign and it looks like it is sustainable.
Coming into this season there have been only nine instances where a qualified hitter has achieved a HR/FB ratio of greater than 30%, so there may be a slight decline. However, the league leaders are usually at least in the mid to high 20% range, so a material fall from his 31% rate might not occur.
Similar to Harper, but not on the same scale, Giancarlo Stanton, Todd Frazier, and Mike Trout have all seen an across the board increase in the relevant statistics too. This all helps us to believe in the continuation of their home run pace.
Nelson Cruz’s start seems like it does not have staying power, as it seems mostly led by an increase in his HR/FB rate. All other indicators suggest a decrease in power numbers.
Joc Pederson is an interesting case. He is hitting fewer fly balls compared to his minor league career, but his rookie season’s HR/FB rate is nearly double that of his minor league stint. He is a home run hitter and he is still young and improving, but for the rest of 2015 I suspect his home run pace will slow.
Paul Goldschmidt and Josh Donaldson seem to becoming more complete hitters, as they are not trying to pull everything. Donaldson has the added help of hitting more often in the AL East parks and playing fewer games in the AL West parks.
I would be fading the current pace of home runs for both Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols given the increase in their HR/FB rates are not being completely confirmed by the other statistics.
Home runs are an extremely relevant component of Fantasy baseball, maybe more so than the real game. A single home run helps with four out of the five major roto categories with just one swing. So I guess Chicks are not the only ones who dig the long ball. Until next week’s Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games.
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