Baseball is back and so is the Fantasy Lookout! Rosters have been set and Spring battles have been decided. The return of the long ball has been well documented and power was on full display on Opening Day. For the first time ever, a pitcher hit two home runs on the season’s first day. Then on Thursday, another pitcher launched a pinch-hit bomb. After a power lull over the past few seasons, baseball’s home run hitters are back with a vengeance.
Last year, a grand total of 5,610 home runs were hit, marking the largest total since 2000. As home runs become a larger part of the game, we need to understand how it impacts our Fantasy teams.
In a vacuum, a 20-home run hitter now has less value than it has over the past decade. With everyone hitting home runs, scarcity value is now gone and the bar has been raised. You now need a higher home run total to maintain the same rank within your roto league.
Last year, 111 hitters reached the 20-home run plateau and this compares to just 64 and 57 over the two previous seasons. In fact, 2016 was the first year since 2000 where there were over 100 hitters that hit at least 20 long balls.
Everyone knows who the top home run hitters are, but today we will dig into the three main characteristics that they all share. We will then analyze three hitters who possess those power traits and show how they are ready to have a power breakout in the very near future.
The Fantasy Lookout: Analyzing Home Run Hitters
Power Hitter Traits
Let’s take a look at a few components of the batted ball profile of the Top 10 home run hitters of 2016. We will also include the league averages to provide further context.
|Top 10 Average||44%||45%||37%||22%|
As you can see, in general, home run hitters consistently put the ball in the air, pull the ball, and make solid contact. Only two of the Top 10 home run hitters last year had a fly ball rate less than 40-percent, but all were above the league average mark.
There is a little more variation in the pull rates as two of the Top 10 had values north of 50-percent and three actually had a number less than the league average. Consistency was key again for the hard hit rates of the Top 10 home run hitters as only one failed to achieve a mark greater than the league average.
After understanding a hitter’s batted ball profile, we are then better able to analyze the sustainability of their home run to fly ball rate. If a hitter’s underlying metrics show consistency with those of other power hitters, but for some reason had an outlier with respect to their home run to fly ball rate, then our confidence in a power rebound increases.
However, consistent with any stats that you are analyzing, you need to compare a player’s production and underlying numbers relative to both the league averages and also to that player’s career norms.
More Power Coming?
The following hitters all seem destined to achieve their first career 30-home run season as early as this year.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Polanco has a 30-home run campaign in his bat in the very near future. Last year, he made a concerted effort to pull the ball as his pull rate jumped from 39-percent up to 49-percent. The young Buc also traded in ground balls for both line drives and fly balls all while seeing a near 6-percent rise in his hard hit rate.
Polanco’s batted ball profile looks quite similar to that of the average of the 2016 Top 10 home run hitters, yet his home run to fly ball rate was essentially only league average. While he did post a new career high mark of 22 home runs in 2016, it is all but certain a better total lies ahead.
Matt Carpenter, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Carpenter has proven that he can do it all. Whether it is playing anywhere on the infield, hitting for average, setting the table, or even being a run producer, Carpenter is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife. In 2016, Carpenter decided it was time to look like a power hitter and he succeeded by posting new career highs, quite materially as well, in his fly ball rate, pull rate, and hard hit rate.
The reason he only hit 21 home runs has to do with the fact that he missed over 30 games and he only mustered a home run to fly ball rate in line with the league average of 13-percent. With a batted ball profile that mirrors, or even slightly betters, that of the Top 10 home run hitters, it is not hard to envision Carpenter achieving a home to fly ball rate in the upper teens. That should result in a home run total greater than his current career high of 28.
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
Playing time is the only thing standing between Michael Conforto and a 30-home run season. Currently, blocked by the combination of Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda, Conforto looks like he will struggle to see everyday at-bats in 2017. Over two partial seasons, Conforto’s counting stats don’t jump out at you; however, after you see his batted ball profile you will start to salivate.
During his brief career, which spans 542 plate appearances, Conforto is a member of the exclusive 40/40/40 club. Last year, only six qualified hitters recorded at least a 40-percent mark in fly ball rate, pull rate, and hard hit rate. The list includes David Ortiz, Matt Carpenter, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Chris Davis, and Kris Bryant. Not bad company if you are an aspiring power hitter. As soon as the playing time roadblock clears, I fully expect Conforto to start hitting home runs at 30-home run pace.
As we get deeper into the 2017 campaign and the sample size increases, we will be better able to analyze power production. The fly ball rate, pull rate, and hard hit rate are the important statistics for home run hitters. This trifecta of ingredients will allow us to make educated predictions regarding a hitter’s power prowess. Until the next Fantasy Lookout, enjoy the games!
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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