Home Runs


Stock Watch: Switch the Power On (While You Still Can)

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a normal Stock Watch column, so let’s skip the intro (I’m pretty sure you do anyway) and get right to the good stuff. 

Trade For 

Cliff Lee is about to start his rehab assignment, which means it’s about time to start preparing trade offers for him. Trading for injured pitchers is always a risky move, but getting quality pitchers at a discount is a worthy investment.

James Shields continues to underperform, but he’s been such a good, consistent pitcher for so long that it’s hard for me to think it will last forever. Plus, he hasn’t been truly bad in real baseball (unlike a fellow AL Central ace we’ll see below)…just not helpful for his fantasy teams.

Jeff Samardzija remains a trade away candidate for the Cubs, so he remains a trade for candidate for you—his fantasy value would go up at pretty much any plausible destination.

Robinson Cano seems to have found his power stroke in recent weeks. It’s probably nothing more than catching up to the percentages, so your last chance to pry him from disappointed owners might already be slipping by. But you can make the deal more assured that he’s the Cano you know….

Joey Votto has not shown that he’s returning to his old self yet, and yeah, I am getting worried. But fantasy baseball is a game of gambles, and betting that as consistently excellent a player as Votto eventually returns to form seems like a bet worth making.

Mark Trumbo looks like he’s about two weeks away from a return. While he might encounter setbacks, his foot injury shouldn’t hurt his power. (‘Cause, obviously, that’s never been a problem for Albert Pujols.) But really, the scarcity of homers and Trumbo’s ability to hit them makes him a valuable commodity.

Trade Away

A good start against the Astros might earn you more bites on Justin Verlander, but it’s hardly enough to renew my optimism for the fallen ace. I'd still be shopping him.

Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle have been amazing. Let’s give them that. They’re very good real-baseball pitchers; let’s give them that too. But their strikeout rates are going to hurt your team in the long run. Sell high, especially to a team with a lot of innings to fill up before reaching the cap.

With Alex Wood making a triumphant return to the Majors and the Braves’ starting rotation, it’s probably time to consider dealing him if you play in a head-to-head league. Why? Because I suspect this isn’t the last time Atlanta messes with his playing time to keep his innings down. Maybe it is, but it seems like the chances of him pitching from the ‘pen or being shut down altogether in September seem fairly high—especially if the Braves either lock up the division or fall from contention. Not what you need in the playoffs.

Vague rumors have cropped up that Alex Rios—and every Ranger not named Darvish or Beltre—might be on the trading block this month. If you’re only counting on the steals from Rios, fine, but I’d be very worried about the rest of his production if he does move out of Texas. 

Matt Adams is still sporting a bloated batting average, and I still don’t believe in it. 

Gregory Polanco is off to a nice little start to his Major League career. So you know what to do: trade him before he hits the mostly-inevitable “downs” of a rookie season’s ups and downs.

Pick Up

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Josh Harrison (43%) is still hitting the ball and has IF/OF eligibility. I’m not really a Harrison believer, as he wasn’t that special of a prospect—but I’ll happily use a waiver claim to get him. Plus, he if keeps it up a little longer, he might have some trade value.

Mookie Betts (41%) isn’t off to the best Major League start ever…but how often do potentially-viable shortstops show up on the waiver wire? Pretty much never. Roll the dice (or place your bet) if you’re still trotting out the likes of Everth Cabrera or Jonathan Villar

Who is Jesse Hahn (38%)? Well, he’s pitching lights-out and plays for the Padres. You had me at Padres, Jesse Hahn.

Chris Johnson (36%) has managed to get his average to creep up over .280. A high-BABIP guy, he could be a nice boost in the BA category, plus he can sub in at first and third.

Speaking of middle infielders, Scooter Gennett (35%) keeps, well, scooting along with a .311 average. Is your MI player really better than that?

If Jose Quintana (34%) hits the trading block, he should get a nice boost in value—especially if he goes to a team with a real bullpen. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Adam Dunn (30%) has seemed stuck at about 12 homers for a long time now, so there probably isn’t a huge rush to pick him up. But his average really doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. If you’ve got a couple bench slots (which you probably don’t, seeing as this is the medium leagues section, but hang on for a second), he’s the sort of guy I like to platoon with an empty average type, or an all-speed guy, and just play the matchups. 

Andrew Heaney (28%) is off to a pretty rough looking start—but I’ll take a 12:3 strikeout to walk ratio any day. The Marlins prospect ought to be able to lower his ERA in a hurry. 

Roenis Elias (25%) doesn’t have amazing season stats, but playing half his games in Seattle ought to help you get more bang for your buck. Or less bang, since the term seems to suggest homers and runs scored. Either way, he looks like a useful half-time starter at a minimum. 

Colby Rasmus (25%) is pretty much like Adam Dunn, but younger and with longer hair. And you can play him in the outfield. Anyway, he’s healthy again, so pick him up if you need homers.

Denard Span (22%) should be owned in pretty much every five-OF league. And maybe he is, I guess. Decent speed and just good enough hitting skills to keep him from hurting you in average, maybe even helping in runs. My fifth OF’s aren’t better than that.

Steve Pearce (22%) once was a prospect (I think—it’s been awhile), and I’ve been kind of skeptical of him, but he just keeps hitting, so he should get the playing time. Go for it. 

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned) 

Omar Infante (18%) has shown some signs of life lately. Over the years, he’s been a consistently just-good-enough MI with decent averages, that I think he’s a good candidate to raise his current average to the level where it helps your team.

Juan Francisco (18%) is yet another all power, no average type. This article needs a theme, so I’ll go ahead and recommend him. Plus, he has dual eligibility. Maybe platoon him and Johnson?

For those who don’t hate the batting average category, consider Lorenzo Cain and James Loney (both 18%).

Lucas Duda (17%) might actually be a good player, so take him over the other options here just in case.

I’m surprised as anyone to recommend Chris Young (13%--the pitcher), but this article makes me willing to use him for his home starts. But only in leagues where I can spare the strikeout hit.

Conor Gillaspie (9%) still won’t agree to bring his batting average down to where no-namers without any home runs should be keeping it. So I’ll just keep mentioning him until he does. If he’s on your waiver wire, don’t complain about your place in the batting average standings.

James Jones (8%) is kind of a poor-man’s Eric Young. So take that or leave it, I guess.

Odrisamer Despaigne’s (7%) ERA and WHIP are both under one. He also has just three strikeouts. I’m sure all those numbers will normalize to a certain extent, but since he pitches for San Diego, he could be a sort of Chris Young-lite. Maybe that’s stretching  the terms of fantasy viability, but we’re talking deep leagues at this point.

Josh Rutledge (3%) plays for Colorado, is hitting okay already, and was once a promising middle infielder. Why is he available in 97% of leagues?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Obligatory Writer's Block Half-Season Post

All right, I’ve sat at my computer for almost two hours now trying to think of a really good, really original post for today’s column. Nothing’s going on, and I’m finding myself going back to Facebook more often than Fangraphs as the morning drags on and my coffee runs out. This is the danger of an unthemed Unscripted column.

So here it is, my obligatory observation of the baseball season’s halfway mark, in which I shall remark upon some several things of note. Well, things of note to me. The one promise I’ll make is this: Andrew Gephardt, I won’t be stealing the ideas from your column yesterday. Click here for those too lazy to scroll down…either way check out his 10 strange but true facts and be enriched.

Also read my stuff, but no guarantee about enrichment, seeing as I (just this morning) jettisoned my favorite second baseman of the season—Aaron Hill—and had to read about how Ian Kinsler has been one of the best of the year. It’s amazing that my various teams are more of a mixed bag than a disaster. (And perhaps a reminder that my fantasy advise should be judged in aggregate. Anyway, thanks for nothing, Aaron.)

Thing Number 1: Steals Are Alive Again

The Major Leagues have stolen 1417 bases so far this season, good for a pace of 2934 (based on it being roughly halfway, and all—it isn’t exact, I know)—or significantly more than last year. It’s still less than the 3200+ that we saw in 2012 and 2011, but I wonder if the pace will actually pick up with returns to health from speedy guys like the one-dimensional Eric Young, and superstar Bryce Harper, as well as the recent enough promotions of Gregory Polanco, Mookie Betts, and the like. Okay, so totals as big as a season’s stolen bases won’t be changed terribly much by my cherry-picked examples, but your fantasy team might. Steals still abound on many waiver wires, so don’t despair if you need more points in the category…and don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve built yourself a lead.

Thing Number 2: Power Is Down, Strikeouts Are Up

The leaguewide strikeout rate is now at 20.3%, or the highest it’s been in the last five years (or maybe ever for all I know that’s relevant to your fantasy team). I have vague memories of 20% being a bad number for how much you strike out, but since my little league whiff rate was about 70% (but hey, I had a 30% walk rate), who am I to criticize? Anyway, what’s relevant is this: Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon are trouble for your team in the strikeouts category—you’ve gotta miss bats to get things done on the fantasy mound. Unless you still play in a 4x4 league, I guess.

Meanwhile, fewer balls are traveling out of the park than in years past. It’s beyond the scope of this study to wonder whether that’s just because we get more homers in the hotter second half of the year (but if you know, let me know in the comments), but so far we’ve got a league ISO of just .139, which isn’t exactly bringing back the Dead Ball Era, but it certainly makes you appreciate Jose Abreu (.346 ISO) all the more. It probably even makes you wish you traded for Khris Davis (.231) in April.

Even if the pace picks up in the second half due to weather, pitcher fatigue, or whatever else might do it, the general point remains true: this scarcity of power is surely driving up the cost of homers on your trade market, so even if no-average guys like Adam Dunn are floating around on your waiver wire you kind of have to take a shot. I still might not reach all the way to Chris Carter in a batting average league though….

Thing Number 3: Never, Ever, Trust Relief Pitchers

I’m looking at RotoAuthority’s 2014 Closer Rankings next to our current Closer Depth Chart and a lot of these names are different. Some have changed over and over again. The half-season advice is pretty much the same as I would give before the season: don’t pay for saves at all…or pay a lot for them. Splitting the difference is what kills you. 

Our top four closers are still rocking, and only one of the top 12 (Jim Johnson) has lost his job (so far). After that, though, 11 of the last 18 closers have already been replaced, permanently or temporarily. Two of them even got traded for each other and out of both closer jobs. Perhaps it always feels this way, but it seems like teams are readier than they have been in years past to replace their closer. Johnson and Grant Balfour were, notably, acquired with high price tags and still deposed, which might be a bad sign for the struggling Joe Nathan

I’d happily advise simply ignoring closers on draft day based on this…but so many owners are already doing that that it’s getting harder to snatch up the decent closers on the waiver wire…and giving Ronald Belisario the opportunity to wreck your ERA and WHIP for a few weeks.

Thing Number 4: 7 Players on a Quarter of the Best Fantasy Teams*

Okay, so these guys are on 25% or more of the 500 best Yahoo! Public teams. If you’re in a Yahoo! Public league, you share my skepticism that your league leader is really one of the best fantasy managers, but there it is: these guys have been surprises, to varying degrees, and their owners are pretty happy with what they’ve got. I don’t own one of them, in any league. 

Masahiro Tanaka: this guy has somehow managed to exceed the sky-high expectations our entire country put on him. I guess we should have known better, since he’d been living up to Japanese expectations for some time now, which make the Yankees’ look pretty tame. I see no reason to think Tanaka isn’t for real; he’ll be a top-10 pitcher next year.

Francisco Rodriguez: Remember the pimply-faced 20-year-old who dominated the playoffs in 2002? No? Well that’s okay, because K-Rod has brought it back this year as one of baseball’s best closers. I have to think he’ll be a draftable closer again next year, but see Thing Number 3 to learn how confident I am in any closer. Still, he was a great first-week waiver wire snag. Well played, teams with the highest waiver priority. 

Dee Gordon: What? It’s not like you thought Gordon was going to get the second base job out of Spring Training either. I’m pretty sure Gordon himself didn’t. Steals players are fickle, but he’s kept it up long enough that he’ll be a league leader in the category even if he misses the rest of the season. I guess it’s too late to offer a lowball trade for the guy.

Jose Abreu: Tim Dierkes was talking up Abreu a lot before the season and got his man in the MLBTR Staff League. So, no wonder he’s winning. Abreu is the new Dunn—as in, the Dunn who used to be a must-own.

Johnny Cueto: I mentioned him a little bit a couple of weeks ago as a guy who tends to beat his peripherals. I’ll stick by that, and say that I expect he’ll continue to perform at a high level, and perhaps regress less than most stats-savvy owners might expect. 

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s pretty much the only catcher who’s lived up to expectations. And this year seemed to be so deep in catcher quality too…just another position full of players not to trust? Probably not. As for-real as Lucroy is (at least as a high-level catcher, if probably not as baseball’s best), buying low on his disappointing compatriots is worth doing.

Sean Doolittle: Johnson's replacement took a little while to take over, but he's run with the job. He's proof that a good fantasy season is much more than what happened on draft day.

 

 

 

 

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: More People Who Don’t Belong (Or Maybe Do)

And by people, you know I mean baseball players. Today, we’ll check out the hitting leaderboards in homers, steals, and batting average and look more closely at the names that follow my highly scientific test of causing me to feel mild surprise. You know the drill—we did it last week too. Maybe we’ll do it again for pitchers down the road, but I’m thinking we’ll return to our regularly unscheduled content next time around.

Editor's Note: This author is traveling and wrote this post last week. He acknowledges that the listed stats are out of date, but hopes nothing changes so drastically as to invalidate the conclusions. Good luck with that....

Home Runs 

21: Nelson Cruz
20: Edwin Encarnacion
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu
18: Troy Tulowitzki
17: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez
16: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols
15: Jose Bautista, Brian Dozier, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz

We covered Mr. Cruz last time around, and he’s known for his power, so it’s not that shocking that he’s up here. Jose Abreu continues to impress, since he’s got about 50 fewer PA than most of the guys on this leaderboard…but he also was already known for prodigious power. No, the three names that really raise my eyebrow (just the one) here are Victor Martinez, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier

We mentioned Dozier last week in terms of runs but his homers are a different matter. To start with, his HR/FB is running at 17.4%--compared to 9.9% last year. His 15 longballs are already beginning to rival his minor league total (from 2009-12) of 19 homers. So, what we have here looks like a case of luck…but one that’s so extreme that it can’t be luck. Right? His flyballs are going about 279 feet on average (putting him 133rd in baseball, right next to Asdrubal Cabrera—and only about a foot short of Albert Pujols, for that matter). So things don’t look super-optimistic for Dozier remaining a home run leader by the end of the year.

But stranger things have happened. Dozier’s 2013 was enough to give us a taste of his power (18 homers) potential, and it does seem as though he isn’t the same guy who rose through the minors in obscurity, with nothing going for him but a little speed. I like Dozier on the year, but I do suspect his HR/FB rate will regress in a pretty significant way. 

Going into last year, I was all about Frazier. That didn’t go so well, but he’s back with a vengeance now. (It helps getting back to a normal BABIP.) Like Dozier, his HR/FB rate has gone crazy (21.3%, compared to last year’s 11.3%). Unlike his almost-close-to-a-namesake, Frazier is among the league leaders in flyball distance, averaging nearly 303 feet in the air (13th in baseball, putting him in the company of Mark Reynolds and David Ortiz, among other luminaries of the longball). So that’s a seriously good sign. At 28 he’s not too old to make a serious improvement in his game, though it would be unusual.

One disconcerting factor is this, however: 12 of his 16 homers have come at home. (So he’s a bit of a homer?) Any time you see such a big park split, you worry, but for me, that’s helped a bit by the fact that he’s hitting the ball so far on average. He’s one to watch, but I think there’s a real chance he’s still among the top 15 home run hitters at the end of the year. Just don't root for him to get traded.

 I’ll be honest, I didn’t see Martinez coming. At all. He’s 35 years old and having the best season of his career. He’s already hit more homers than he’s managed to total in a year since 2010. In fact, he only needs seven more homers to match his career high, from his 2007 peak with the Indians. If you did see this coming…you’re a liar.

The thing about it is that his HR/FB rate hasn’t increased since last year! Just kidding. Of course it has. By a lot. (2014: 18.3%, 2013: 7.2%) His flyballs are going 294.56 feet, good for 41st in baseball, and close to players like Adam Dunn and Allen Craig. So kind of a mixed bag of company. Basically, though, Martinez is a tale of two impossible propositions:

First, he could have made the adjustments that allowed him, at 35, to hit for better power than at any previous time in his career. Or… 

Second, he could have more than doubled his HR/FB completely on luck.

Okay, so it could be a combination of the two, and it almost certainly is—but if there’s any truth at all to the first proposition, Martinez has to be considered for real. He may get passed up by a few guys who are hitting the ball farther, but he looks like a serious contributor in homers this year.

Stolen Bases

36: Dee Gordon
28: Billy Hamilton
24: Jose Altuve
20: Ben Revere, Rajai Davis
18: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury
17: Eric Young
16: Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus
15: Brian Dozier, Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin
14: Brett Gardner

I am not feeling deeply shocked by any of these guys, as all have shown good speed in the past. The component of speed that usually keeps some of these guys off the leaderboards, though, is hitting well enough to stay in the lineup. Or in the Majors. 

I was going to analyze this in terms of BABIP and caught stealing and do my best to advise you about who's getting so lucky that he can't possibly keep getting on base this much, or who's getting caught on the bases so often he's sure to get the red light soon. But that isn't true for anyone on this list.

I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, but decided they were kinda wasteful: no one here raised real red flags, at least, no more than speed-first guys always do.

Batting Average

Pretty much nobody ever belongs when it comes to average, I know. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Above .340: Troy Tulowitzki (.356), Jonathan Lucroy (.341)

.330-.340: Victor Martinez (.332)

.320-.330: Jose Altuve (.329), Robinson Cano (.327), Yasiel Puig (.325), Michael Brantley (.323), Andrew McCutchen (.321),

.310-.320: Alex Rios (.319), Miguel Cabrera (.318), Carlos Gomez (.313), Jose Bautista (.312), Mike Trout (.311), Casey McGehee (.310)

Full disclosure, I’m traveling as you read this and wrote this post a few days ago. The players involved shifted places on the list while I was writing it…so they’ve probably changed since then. They’ll change again. So consider these musings of mine in a very general sense. 

Seeing Martinez on this list isn’t too surprising. What is surprising is that he only has a .309 BABIP! Which is delivering him a .332 average? I call him a contender for the batting title right now. (Okay, that’s only so bold, given that he’s already leading the AL, but still.)

We don’t really get all that eyebrow-raising until we come to Brantley. His BABIP isn’t crazy (.329) but he has stayed pretty close to .300 in recent seasons. But maybe this is a part of taking his game to the next level. I’ll call him a “maybe.”

Rios and his .376 BABIP seem dangerous to me, however. He’s shown a lot of BABIP variance in his career, but he’s never been close to this high. It’d be nice to think this means he’s set for a great year, but you know that’s not how it works. It’s also a bit unsettling that his power (only three homers) has seriously dwindled. I feel like he’s a sell-high candidate, but maybe I’ve just had a hard time trusting him since 2010.

Gomez broke out last year, yes, but that doesn’t mean he proved himself as a high-average guy, batting .284 with a .344 BABIP in 2013. No wonder it’s taking a .379 BABIP to get him to this level. I’ll buy him as a high-BABIP, decent-average type, but most people don’t sustain BABIP’s near .380 for very long.

Bautista is enjoying a .330 BABIP right now…but he’s only once managed a figure over .300 (in 2011), and he’s been at .275 or under in every season since 2008. So no, I don’t think he’s going to sustain this and continue helping in average. 

McGehee is the ultimate “he doesn’t belong here” sort of guy. But does he? Looking further into the question tells us…good heavens no. Riding a powerless .366 BABIP, (just an .077 ISO with only a single homer), not only does he seem in line for some regular regression, you have to think he’s going to get challenged more since he can’t put it out of the park. I’m pretty sure this is just confirming what you already knew: McGehee isn’t likely to this year’s breakout fantasy contributor in a few months.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: What to Do with Albert Pujols?

Last week, I got into a comments debate about Albert Pujols with a reader known only as “Tom.” We went back and forth on Pujols’ value, his outlook for the rest of the season, and whether or not a particular trade involving a number of high profile players makes sense. At one point I--harried with the huge demands of being a big-time fantasy expert (or was it my day job?)--promised to put off finishing my analysis of Albert Pujols. 

Well, Tom, here’s your answer. Since this is RotoAuthority Unscripted, I promise to go into this article and my investigation without cherry-picking the evidence to fit my original recommendation—I’ll go where the facts lead me. As best as I can understand them. Also, I promise not to make this a particularly well-organized article. I take the “unscripted” label very seriously.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Albert Pujols was once among the greatest players to ever live, spending 10 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, with lows of 32 homers, .299 batting average, 99 RBI, 99 Runs Scored, and 143 Games Played. Seriously, those are the worst numbers he put up in the decade from 2001-2011. So…you could say that things have changed somewhat, as Pujols has only exceeded those career lows in one stat since moving to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (Is that even still their name? Can’t we just go back to California Angels?) He drove in 105 RBI in 2012. It’s been a story of ageing, huge paydays, dropping BABIP’s, bad defence, the inability to run, and plantar fasciitis. Maybe LA isn’t for everyone.

So, that’s the past, but it’s an important backdrop to what’s going on with Pujols now, because your fantasy team isn’t locked into a hundred ten-year contract with him, and his play this year hasn’t been unambiguously good or bad. So, is he someone to trade for or someone to trade away? And what can we really expect to see from him for the next four months?

 Here’s the Pujolsian line thus far in 2014.

Runs

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

35

15

35

2

.245

.304

.486

 And here are some of his slightly-farther-under-the-hood numbers.

BB%

SO%

ISO

BABIP

7.0%

12.6%

.241

.226

So his production has been pretty ambiguous: the power is there (15 homers ties him for 8th in MLB) but he’s killing you in average and probably worse in OBP. His ISO is pretty good for the “New Albert” (starting 2011), and actually fits into the lower range of the earlier, better part of his career. His BABIP, however is by far the worst of his career and marks the third year in a row of decline.

Nice! We can chalk Albert’s struggles up to some bad luck, assume that his average will bounce back and be happy that it hasn’t hurt his power in the meantime. Right?

With a mid-career player, or one who hasn’t been hobbled by injuries that line of thinking would work just fine. But that’s not what we have. There are two other serious possible explanations for Pujols’ BABIP troubles, neither of which recommend him very well at all: one or more important skills has permanently regressed due to age; he remains injured, perhaps chronically so, impacting one of those “important skills.” In the bad-luck scenario, Pujols is an easy trade for candidate. In the other scenarios, he may well be someone you should be shipping off your team…or maybe still trading for, if the price and your expectations are low enough.

Let’s take a look at some of Pujols’ batted ball data, and see how this is happening.

 

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

2014

1.14

15.9

44.9

39.3

20.2

17.9

Career

1.02

18.9

41.0

40.1

13.1

18.7

 Once again, we’ve got a seriously mixed bag here. I’ve bolded the three most interesting numbers. The first is his line drive percentage—it’s way down from his career numbers—so that’s actually pretty easy to see as the cause of his BABIP troubles…but it leaves the answer unknown: is it down due to skill diminution or bad luck? Where have those line drives been going?

Straight up in the air it turns out: his popups (IFFB’s) are far above his career norms, and even far above his more recent, less illustrious years. So that’ll kill your BABIP right there, hitting a bunch of popups instead of liners. I’ve always heard that popups are just a hair off of flyballs, so maybe the increased infield flies are the result of Pujols trying for more power on every swing…just a guess, so don’t bank on that one. It is worth noting, though, that his previous highest IFFB rates came much earlier in his career, in higher-power years.

The last number to stand out significantly is that HR/FB rate that’s actually pretty close to his career norm. That’s a big deal because this rate is by far the highest that he’s posted as an Angel. If he has changed his approach to get more power, it’s working. 

In our comment debate, Tom mentioned that Pujols’ flyball distance is about ten feet less than his career norm. I assume that rate is counting infield flies among the flyballs—so I think we’ve found our culprit for the statistical oddity of shorter flies and more homers at the same time. All those popups. We may be back to the drawing board if the flyball distance doesn’t count IFFB’s though. I honestly couldn’t find that information, so if you know, I’ll be happy to be shown the light, either way. 

Pujols has been hot and cold this season: he was a fantasy monster to start the season, putting up huge numbers in March/April, and he’s cooled a fair bit since then. In particular, Pujols’ strikeout rate shot up and his homers went way down. It’s too early to say if the strikeouts are a one-month aberration or a trend. Nine homers in a month, however, is probably just something to be happy about and not expect every time out. Most of his other indicators were pretty similar, however, including his BABIP: .237 in March/April and .241 in May. (Things aren’t off to such a good start in June, either, but we’ll let that go for now).

The elephant in the room is still that BABIP, with it’s thinly veiled suggestion of debilitating injury. Pujols certainly doesn’t look so great running, and his defence isn’t exactly what it used to be, but he’s played in 61 of the Angels’ 62 games, 47 of them at first base. It’s entirely possible that his foot is still bothering him…but less possible to prove. As far as placing odds on his health for the rest of the season…well, I wish I could, because I’d be a lot better at fantasy baseball if I had that kind of clairvoyance.

Pujols has had one killer month and one less-than-awesome month, and—by the looks of it—he’s done a bit of self-reinvention. If he doesn’t still have the skills to be baseball’s best all-around hitter, he’s concentrating on power, even at the cost of more whiffs, more popups, and a lower batting average. The results are there in the home runs, and with a good lineup around him, you can expect them to be there in RBI and Runs Scored as well. 

After taking another look at Pujols, I feel less confident that he’ll be doing much to drag his average up into levels that help you out. I do suspect that he’s lost something when it comes to his hit tool. That said, I also suspect that he’s run into some good, old-fashioned small sample luck: a .226 BABIP is really low, and I think it will go up a bit, brining his .245 average in to a more palatable level. 

I also think his power is pretty real: the homers are serious, and they’re not just the most important part left in his game, they’re also the most important fantasy category. Now, before you have me down as predicting that he'll keep up with his early homer pace and have 45 homers under his belt by the season's end, I'll admit that his HR/FB rate has probably also gotten some small sample luck--just the good kind. 

But even if Pujols only manages five homers per month for the rest of the season (his low end this year), he'll still end up with about 35 bombs--that's pretty good. I honestly wouldn't be shocked if it were even a little better than that. Given the leaguewide diminishing levels of power, getting a serious homer source should be a high priority for just about everybody. Pujols may have just one thing left, but he’s got the one thing we all need the most. That, combined with getting a good deal based on his recent slumping, seems to make him a strong trade for candidate. I’d pull the trigger on a Pujols deal. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t deal him away for the right price either….

 

 

 



How to Win 2014: Home Runs

Home runs are why we play fantasy baseball. You see whenever baseball has been on the brink of death, homers have been there to resurrect it. After the Black Sox scandal in 1919, there was Babe Ruth. After a decade of Yankee pennants, there was Bill Mazeroski in 1960. Amid two decades of pitcher-dominance, Reggie Jackson became Mr. October in 1977. After the strike, Cal Ripken, Jr. homered in his 2131st consecutive game in 1995 (played...not homered in...but that would have been awesome), and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and shattered the home run record in 1998.*

*Hey, not every story has a happy epilogue.

Homers keep things interesting; they change the game in an instant; their very threat keeps pitchers on their toes and out of the upper half of the strike zone; they keep four-run leads within reach. And they completely dominate fantasy baseball.

See, homers are three categories in one, score this one and you get two more for free. Homers are the most important category in standard fantasy leagues, and in plenty of non-standards as well. Homers are why Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo are studs (and they are, we'll soon see) and Chris Carter is relevant at all in our fake game, instead of the lead-footed strikeout artists they are on a real baseball field.

And home runs are a breath of fresh air. After weeks of heavily luck-dependent categories (there's a reason some states consider this gambling), homers are a highly repeatable, predictable skill. The biggest luck factor, home park, is easy to see and account for. Homers are not too hard to evaluate.

But they are very, very hard to win.* Because, you see, this ain't the '90's anymore, and it sure ain't the 2001 of Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez. Only two players hit over 40 homers last year, and only two (the same guys) slugged over .600 and qualified for the batting title. Consider that the league slugging was over .600 in 1996** and you'll see my point: homers are a lot scarcer now than they used to be.

*Okay, in a 12-team league, you've got a one-in-12 shot just like every other category. Technically.

**No, no it wasn't. Not even close.

We aren't quite back to the days when you could get called "Home Run Baker" just by hitting  three or four inside the park homers in a season, but we're pretty much back in the '80's, back to the days before Prince Fielder's dad (Cecil) smacked 50 homers and inaugurated the Golden Age of Power Hitting...

Get to the point!

...screamed the readers. Fair enough.

Point of the introduction:

1) Homers are an extremely scarce commodity, somewhat like steals were in the '90's and '00's.

2) But they are more important than steals ever were, because they directly impact two more categories.

There, hopefully that’s more direct. Those on a time crunch or with extremely short attention spans are invited to distill the rest of my analysis into the following concise statement:

Invest in homers. Pay extra in auction dollars and draft rounds for the very best home run hitters.

Also, if you're on a time crunch or have an extremely short attention span, I'd love for you to join one of my money leagues....

2013 Home Run Leaders

 

Name

PA

HR

R

RBI

SLG

                                     

1

Chris Davis

673

53

103

138

0.634

                                     

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

44

103

137

0.636

                                     

3

Paul Goldschmidt

710

36

103

125

0.551

                                     

4

Edwin Encarnacion

621

36

90

104

0.534

                                     

5

Pedro Alvarez

614

36

70

100

0.473

                                     

6

Alfonso Soriano

626

34

84

101

0.489

                                     

7

Mark Trumbo

678

34

85

100

0.453

                                     

8

Adam Dunn

607

34

60

86

0.442

                                     

9

Adam Jones

689

33

100

108

0.493

                                     

10

Evan Longoria

693

32

91

88

0.498

                                     

11

David Ortiz

600

30

84

103

0.564

                                     

12

Brandon Moss

505

30

73

87

0.522

                                     

13

Adrian Beltre

690

30

88

92

0.509

                                     

14

Jay Bruce

697

30

89

109

0.478

                                     

You definitely want a couple of these guys on your team next year. The best will help in batting average too, but they'll be gone in the first round or two...except for David Ortiz, who gets the DH discount (but he's 1B eligible in Yahoo! leagues). At the other end of the spectrum, we've got some guys who won't just hurt your average, they'll kill it. I'm looking at you, Adam Dunn.

Aside from Dunn and his Black Hole of Batting Average, it's a bit surprising to see how many of these leaders can be had at relatively low price. Alvarez will certainly hurt your average, but his prodigious power is at a position without a lot of production at all. Soriano is a very consistent home run hitter, but his age, average, and reputation seem to be keeping him low on draft boards. Moss won't play against lefties...and yet made this list with 100 fewer plate appearances than most of the others, and 200 fewer than first-rounder Goldschmidt. I think you can afford to platoon him.

Shortened Season Home Run Hitters

Raw homer totals are far from the whole story, though. There were plenty of players who contributed in the category, but had their season shortened for one reason or another. I put them into a spreadsheet with cutoffs of at least 17 homers and no more than 540 PA. It’s too big to post, but you can Download Partial Season Home Run Leaders. (Note that catchers are not included—most are expected to get fewer than 540 PA.)

Some of these players ran into injuries: Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Bautista are obvious enough, but don’t forget that Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, David Wright, Jayson Werth, Colby Rasmus, Chase Utley, and others all gave us their production before, after, and around injuries.

Other players platooned: Nate Schierholz, Raul Ibanez, Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Will Venable, and Mark Reynolds all played less than full time for their teams. They may well do so again, but can provide cheap value in homers for this season’s fantasy owners.

Of course, some are young players who came to the Majors or into a starting role later in the season—or struggled and were sent down: Yasiel Puig, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Adams, and Jedd Gyorko fit that role.

Home Runs by Position

To get an idea of how good a player is relative to his competition at the same position, let’s check out last year’s average homer totals for the top 12 home run contributors at each position.

Catchers

Leader: Matt Wieters, 22

Top-12 Average: 18.66667

Top 12 Range: 15-22

Notable: A lot of guys hover just under 20—though a couple are still undraftable.

First Base

Leader: Chris Davis, 53

Top-12 Average: 30.83333

Top 12 Range: 23-53

Notable: Seven players with 29 homers or more; 17 players with 17-25.

Second Base

Leader: Robinson Cano, 27

Top-12 Average: 17.5

Top 12 Range: 12-27

Notable: Only three players with more than 20 homers—and one was Dan Uggla.

Third Base

Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 44

Top-12 Average: 25.91667

Top 12 Range: 18-44

Notable: A very top-heavy and power-heavy position, with multiple home run hitters who hurt in average.

Shortstop

Leader: Troy Tulowitzki and J.J. Hardy, 25

Top-12 Average: 16.16667

Top 12 Range: 10-25

Notable: The leaders are below average for the 3B top 12! This makes Hardy look like a great value.

Outfield (Top 36)

Leader: Alfonso Soriano, 34

Top-12 Average: 23.63889

Top 12 Range: 17-34

Notable: A lot of potential homer leaders in the OF missed significant time last year—expect OF to be a better homer source in 2014.

Rate Power Stats

There were only 16 players who qualified for the batting title and slugged over .500. Power is rare. High SLG is normal for home run hitters—so those who don’t have a high number are probably losing it by not providing extra-base power (and so losing out on RBI), or by putting up low batting averages.

Last year, 31 players (who qualified) managed an ISO of .200 or better. And just one (guess who) managed to top .300. I wouldn’t say there is time or need to dive deeply in to ISO here, but it’s a great cross-check when you see intriguing home run production, especially in players with less than a full season. Also, it excludes batting average, so it’s subject to less luck than SLG.

Worth noting: Josh Donaldson just missed both arbitrary round-number cutoffs—he slugged .499 and had an ISO of .199. Go figure.

More to Know

By the time I finish this conclusion, I’ll be up around 1500 words (which doesn’t always stop me, I know), but there’s a lot more worth examining in your pursuit of home runs. Park effects (spoiler: Colorado, Arizona, and Texas are good for homers), flyball rates, HR/FB rates, average flyball distance, “Just Over the Wall” and “No Doubt” homer data, and plenty of other stats feed meaningfully into home runs. It’s a testament to their importance in real and fantasy baseball, I suppose, that they deserve something more like a five-part series than a single episode.

Don’t forget the original, simplified version though: invest in home runs. There aren’t as many as there used to be.

Join us again next week as we tackle a bonus category: OPS. Just in time for me to have already drafted a league that counts it....



Stock Watch: Buy What You Need...Even If It's Not Very Good

By the time you read this, Matt Garza will already be a Ranger.

Or he'll be something else, I guess, maybe even a Cub. If Garza does get traded, his value will go up, because he'll be playing for a better team and likely to get wins at a higher rate. (Unless Houston pulls a fast one.) No! His value is sure to go down, since Texas is in the AL and in a hitter's park, as is Boston. Arizona may be in the NL, but it's not a good place to pitch either, so the Dodgers are the only team mentioned in talks that won't kill his ERA and WHIP--deal him while you can! Whether or not you want Garza depends on what you need, and the format of your league. So will it be for any other category.

Instead of the usual breakdown of Buy, Sell, and Pick Up, this week we'll examine some players you should think carefully about and either buy or sell depending upon your needs.

Homers

Chris Carter stands out big time here. He may have the highest K% in the Majors, but he's also got a .240 ISO and 18 HRs. Even better, he's only owned in 45% of CBS leagues and 26% of Yahoo! leagues. Pick him up or trade for him if you're on the cusp of grabbing another point to three in the HR standings. Stay far, far away if you're in the thick of the BA competition, as he could easily give away more from that category than he takes in longballs. He's best if you're at the top or bottom of your league in average, or if you've accumulated a ton of ABs.

Similar players include Matt Reynolds, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and J.P. Arencibia.

Pedro Alvarez profiles similarly, but with higher highs and more complete playing time. He's got the most value of this group, and will probably be the most expensive. Keep that in mind if you need to help your BA category, as Alvarez could be a point of addition by subtraction.

Adam Dunn is probably the most extreme of this type of hitter, but also the most consistent. His homers and his terrible average are both pretty much assured. His name brand and history will probably raise his price, so consider some of the above hitters if you aren't getting a good deal for him.

Batting Average

When you aren't making deals for superstars, you're usually sacrificing power for average, or average for power. That's just how it goes. If you're in need in both categories...hopefully you have some spare pitching or an elite base stealer. Better yet, both. We're plenty far enough in the season to start looking at semi-high BABIPs as short-term trends instead of confusion. Feel free to trade for someone with a BABIP between .320 and .340 if you're hoping for some help in this category.

Austin Jackson has a .347 BABIP and a .280 average; normally that wouldn't be too exciting, but Jackson has a history of better BABIPs than that and could actually add to that number. Of course he (like teammate Torii Hunter) doesn't help you at all in homers. Thankfully, the strength of their lineup allows these Tigers to contribute at least some in Runs or RBIs.

If you like position flexibility, try Marco Scutaro. His .334 BABIP isn't unbelievable, but his .316 BA is great from your MI slot. Also up the middle, Jed Lowrie was supposed to be a power hitter, but he got just seven longballs. Luckily for you, if you need average, as his .330 BABIP has led him to a .295 BA.

Gerardo Parra and Daniel Nava are still getting things done in average, with .329 and .327 BABIPs, respectively, leading to BAs of .285 and .288.

James Loney is a Known Bum, but that will keep his value low as you try to sneak his .315 average onto your team. Even if his .338 BABIP comes down a tad, he's still useful for any team in need of points in this category.

Wins

Matt Garza and his soon-to-change value brought about this column idea, so I'll just quickly reaffirm that you should try to swing a deal for him if you need wins. If his current owner likes him for his ERA, he or she should be pleased to deal him now. There's no reason both teams can't win trades in this part of the season. (It's more valuable to rob your opponents early in April and May anyway.) Let's examine some other pitchers who might be able to help in wins. Unfortunately, there's nothing close to a sure thing in this category, and all the moreso over just a couple months. 

The best ways I've got to predict wins are to combine three things: high IP totals, high-scoring offenses, and being at least a decent pitcher. Since we aren't trying to find the best pitchers in fantasy baseball, let's try to keep that last one to not much more than "decent."

With the Red Sox scoring the most runs in baseball, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster are good candidates for wins, though neither is among the IP leaders. Tigers pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello profile similarly, as does anyone called up by the Rays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Angels and Indians are among the leading teams in wRC+, so pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and C.J. Wilson might be expect to get some wins. Justin Masterson might be a bit high-end for this exercise, but he could be pried from owners hoping to improve their team ERA.

Bud Norris is expected to be traded, with the Red Sox the destination most often mentioned. If you need wins, trade for him or pick him up before that happens. Even if he's traded elsewhere, it will help his value in this category.

ERA

The formula for getting a better than expected ERA from you pitchers is similar to the one used to acquire a few extra wins, though it's rather more dependent on the pitcher actually being good. Team fielding and park factors take the place of pitching deep into games or getting run support. 

This year's All-Star venue, Citi Field in New York has been the strongest pitcher's park. Though this is probably accentuated by the fact that they have some good pitchers and a terrible offense, their staff is still a good place to start looking for ERA help. The Indians, Cardinals, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's, and--shockingly--the Diamondbacks all play in parks with factors of 0.899 or less. (Maybe trading for Garza is an even better idea than we thought, especially when we note that Wrigley Field has been the worst place to pitch in 2013.)

With four of the five NL West teams showing pitcher-friendly park factors this season, pitchers from that division are even more attractive thanks to the unbalanced schedule.

Of the teams above, the D-Backs, Giants, Pirates, and A's have notably above-average UZRs.

We can see that there's some method to the madness of luck-leader Jeff Locke's success, but I still wouldn't count on someone whose ERA-FIP difference is that extreme. Patrick Corbin looks more reasonable though. Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett should be able to help as well. Strugglers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have good environments for improvement, though I'm not prepared to guess what might happen with those guys. 

Worth noting is that the Royals have baseball's best defense by that measure (by a lot), so pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana might be more able to post good ERAs than you'd normally expect, not to mention ace James Shields.

With under three months left in the season, you don't have to have the best players on your team to win your league--you just have to have the ones in the best position to capitalize on this year's particularities. If a hitter is putting up a great BABIP in April, it's luck. In July, there might be a reason, and that reason could very well carry through September. If a pitcher is overperforming his peripherals, there's probably a reason for that--and it could continue too. Use the trends you see and offer trades accordingly.

 



How to Win: Home Runs

Homers are everybody's favorite category. Or almost everybody's. Well, they're mine. My favorite hitting category, at least. Yes, that's it: home runs are my favorite hitting category.

Why the affinity for the longball? Just because they're awesome? Because I grew up watching Ken Griffey, Jr. and the rest of our 90's heroes launching them all around town? Or because I've watched so many games at Safeco Field that I don't really remember what they look like in person and I have to resort to rooting them on in fantasy? Maybe.

But mostly it's because homers are simple. Hit the ball hard enough and high enough and nobody cares what the defense is, or what the rest of your lineup looks like. Good pitchers usually keep homers down, good hitters usually hit some out. Some parks add to homer totals, others kill them--but it isn't too hard to find out which ones are which.

Not only that, but I'm a sucker for a freebie. (If that's even possible--I mean, it's free...) Every homer is a free Run Scored and a free RBI and the best way to do well in those categories is to have a bunch of guys who do well in this one.

This is a theme I've been on all year long, but consider this article my crescendo: power is down, and the game is different. In real baseball, strikeouts are up, steals are up and homers and slugging percentage are down. For fantasy, that means that you have to pounce on power earlier than ever, because mediocre players that still hit 30 bombs are nearly a thing of the past. In 2009, there were 86 players with 20 homers or more. Last year, there were just 78. Last year the majors slugged just .405--down from .418 in 2009 and .432 ain 2006. When you're asking yourself why you should pay first round prices for a player who only helps in three categories (cough, cough, Jose Bautista), there's your answer.

Since we're lucky enough to be reviewing a category that actually tends to correlate from year to year, here are last year's top 24 home run hitters.

2012's Top 24

1. Miguel Cabrera, 44 (3B) 
2. Josh Hamilton, 43 (OF)
2. Curtis Granderson, 43 (OF)
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 42 (1B)
5. Ryan Braun, 41 (OF)
5. Adam Dunn, 41 (1B)
7. Giancarlo Stanton, 37 (OF)
8. Adrian Beltre, 36 (3B)
9. Josh Willingham, 35 (OF)
10. Jay Bruce, 34 (OF)
11. Robinson Cano, 33 (2B)
11. Adam LaRoche, 33 (1B)
11. Chris Davis, 33 (1B/OF)
14. Josh Reddick, 32 (OF)
14. Adam Jones, 32 (OF)
14. Alfonso Soriano, 32 (OF)
14. Carlos Beltran, 32 (OF)
14. Mark Trumbo, 32 (OF)
14. Ike Davis, 32 (1B)
20. Chase Headley, 31 (3B)
20. Andrew McCutchen, 31 (OF)
22. Mike Trout, 30 (OF)
22. Prince Fielder, 30 (1B)
22. Albert Pujols, 30 (1B)
22. Corey Hart, 30 (OF/1B)
22. Pedro Alvarez, 30 (3B)
22. Jason Kubel, 30 (OF)

Don't you love it when there's a tie at the end? It's even better when we're left with a big, round benchmark. I can pretty much guarantee that this won't be the exact list of league leaders from next year, but I'd be willing to bet that most of these guys will comprise most of next year's leaders. 

I listed each player's position to highlight the fact that only one of last year's 30-HR hitters played outside of the traditional power positions: Robinson Cano.

Just because they didn't top 30 doesn't mean you can't find some power at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop. Consider these guys:

Catchers:

1. Wilin Rosario, 28
2. A.J. Pierzynski, 27
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 25
4. Buster Posey, 24 
4. Mike Napoli, 24
6. Matt Wieters, 23
7. Yadier Molina, 22
8. Russell Martin, 21
9. Brian McCann, 20 

Not to mention guys who could easily better their 2012 totals: Carlos Santana, Ryan Doumit, Victor Martinez, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia

Catcher: not a bad place to sneak some power into your lineup--they look especially good when you consider how few plate appearances the typical catcher gets.

Second Base

1. Robinson Cano, 33
2. Aaron Hill, 26
3. Rickie Weeks, 21
4. Ben Zobrist, 20

Here are some under-20's who could bounce back or take a step forward next year: Dan Uggla, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Danny Espinosa 

Yeah, second base is a desert when it comes to power. That's why the top guys are going off the board so quickly, and why everyone else just sticks around looking awkwardly like the last kid picked for the kickball team. (Or they steal bases, I guess.)

Shortstop

1. Ian Desmond, 25
2. Hanley Ramirez, 24
3. Jimmy Rollins, 23
4. J.J. Hardy, 22
5. Ben Zobrist, 20

Some guys who might help with better health or more playing time: Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew (I guess), Josh Rutledge

Shorstop might actually be better off than second base, but you know things are bad when Lowrie can tie for sixth-most shortstop homers while playing just 97 games. The bar is low enough that even the 15-homer-range performances of guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Starlin Castro count as pretty good. 

Late Draft Power Hitters

If you don't like the idea of spending high picks on "power" hitters at premium positions or stacking your OF while filling your 1B, 3B, and CI positions as fast as possible, then make sure you scrape around the middle and late rounds for power hitters like the ones below. Actually, you should do that regardless, because you can't really have too much power.

Since I like big, round numbers, check out these hitters that you should be able to get after pick 150:

Pedro Alvarez, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Ludwick, Adam Dunn, Andre Ethier, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Frazier, Brandon Moss, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds, Jedd Gyorko, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Lance Berkman, Chris Young, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Olt, Cody Ross, Tyler Colvin, Jed Lowrie, Justin Smoak, Adam Lind, Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Johnny Gomes

Obviously, some of these guys are better than others, and there are varying degrees of safety and potential to be had.

Some More Power-Related Statistics

We can find more power hitters (especially the ones that didn't finish the season) by looking up some stats a little further under the hood than home runs.

Isolated Power

1. Giancarlo Stanton, .318
2. David Ortiz, .293
3. Josh Hamilton, .292
4. Jose Bautista, .286
5. Edwin Encarnacion, .277
6. Miguel Cabrera, .277
7. Ryan Braun, .276
8. Josh Willingham, .267
9. Adam Dunn, .263
10. Jay Bruce, .263
11. Wilin Rosario, .260
12. Curtis Granderson, .260
13. Ryan Ludwick, .256
14. Jason Kubel, .253
15. Garrett Jones, .242
16. Mike Napoli, .241
17. Scott Hairston, .241
18. Tyler Colvin, .240
19. Aramis Ramirez, .240
20. Adrian Beltre, .240
21. Adam LaRoche, .238
22. Mike Trout, .238
23. Robinson Cano, .238
24. Alfonso Soriano, .237 

HR/FB%

1. Adam Dunn, 29.3
2. Giancarlo Stanton, 28.9
3. Josh Hamilton, 25.6
4. Mike Napoli, 25.5
5. Wilin Rosario, 25.5
6. Chris Davis, 25.2
7. Pedro Alvarez, 25.0
8. Curtis Granderson, 24.2 
9. Robinson Cano, 24.1
10. Michael Morse, 23.4
11. Miguel Cabrera, 23.0
12. Justin Maxwell, 22.8
13. Ryan Bruan, 22.8
14. Matt Kemp, 21.7
15. Mike Trout, 21.6
16. Chase Headley, 21.4
17. Josh Willingham, 21.2
18. Ike Davis, 21.1
19. Kendrys Morales, 21.0
20. Mark Trumbo, 20.6
21. Bryan LaHair, 20.5
22. Dayan Viciedo, 20.5
23. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 20.0
24. David Ortiz, 20.0

A Brief Note on Park Factors

Park factors are typically listed for total runs scored, but that won't necessarily help you in homers. The HR factors are slightly different, and there are further differences for hitters of different handednesses. Below are 2012's top homer producing parks:

1. Milwaukee, 1.631
2. Cincinatti, 1.592
3. Colorado, 1.493
4. Chicago (White Sox), 1.349
5. Baltimore, 1.314
6. Arizona, 1.192
7. Texas, 1.168
8. New York (Yankees), 1.143
9. Los Angeles (Dodgers), 1.125

All nine of these parks add at least 10% more homers than league average. Notably, Yankee and Dodger Stadiums actually suppress runs on the whole, despite adding homers. 

And Now a Wet Blanket: "Just Enough" Homers

ESPN's HitTrackerOnline lists various types of home runs--all useful for planning your fantasy team--but here we're looking at those homers that only barely cleared the wall. Maybe in a different park, or with different weather conditions or with springier center fielders these balls would have stayed in the yard. Unsurprisingly, lots of "Just Enoughs" indicate lots of total homers--and a decent chance that a player's homers may decline without such good fortune.

16: Miguel Cabrera
15: Adrian Beltre
14: Ryan Braun
12: David Wright, Josh Hamilton
11: Josh Willingham, Hanley Ramirez, Ike Davis, Corey Hart, Chase Headley
10: Matt Holliday, Jed Lowrie, Brian McCann, Hunter Pence, Garrett Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Wilin Rosario, Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher
9: Justin Smoak, Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, David Ortiz, Billy Butler, Matt Weiters, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse

Having lots of "Just Enoughs" isn't a kiss of death, but it isn't a good sign. Consider players like Wright, Lowrie, and Smoak, for whom more than half of their homers were close, to be risky plays next year. Players like Headley and Butler, who took big steps forward, appear to have had some help in the luck department. 

When you are mentally discounting players for close homers, don't cut them all away--having several of these is a perfectly normal, even necessary, part of hitting home runs.  

A Few Final Words

Power hitting is still the name of the game in fantasy baseball. When one category practically controls two of the others, that's just how it has to be. In the past three years, home run hitting--and offense in general--has been dropping. Expect to pay more to get less when it comes to homers. You aren't getting hosed; that's just the new market price. Just as one-category base stealers were once prized commodities, now even power hitters with serious flaws will command early draft picks and hefty auction prices.

It also seems to me that homers are particularly concentrated in the outfield and on the corners. I strongly suggest making sure your lineup is fortified with several such players, even if it means waiting a little to fill scarce positions. What I really don't recommend is spending early picks on outfielders and corner hitters who aren't big helps in power. 

If I could turn sixteen hundred words into three, this is what it would look like: pay for power. Win homers and you (almost) can't avoid finishing with the leaders in Runs and RBI's. The cost has risen, but so has the value of each home run.



Go Bold or Go Home: Go Old in the Outfield

"Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your souls." --Regina Spektor, Apres Moi

Fear drives so many human decisions, fantasy baseball and otherwise, and drafting outfielders is no exception. Every player carries a certain amount of risk, few moreso than the youngest and oldest players. A rookie might not pan out; a veteran might finally slip past the even horizon of age and see his production crumble into dust. Not every player can be in his prime, and those players get distributed pretty close to evenly. Leagues are won and lost on risky choices.

Fantasy managers aren't exactly out to simply mitigate risk, though--the timid win few championships, after all. That's probably why we see players like Bryce Harper and Justin Upton going in the second round: age is on their side and the real risks they represent can be glossed over in the sensible hope that they'll follow predictable growth curves and improve or rebound, as the case may be. There's another phenomenon at work though, and that's the desire in all of us to show off what we know, to be the first one to call out that prospect's name, to stake our league-wide reputation on the Brett Lawries and the Eric Hosmers of the world and say forevermore, "I had him when...."

Personally, I still remember calling out Tim Lincecum's name in 2007, to a chorus of "Who? How do you spell that?" It's a good memory, but it's not one I'm looking to repeat. I got pretty lucky, and I spent a couple months playing a man down.

If fantasy managers were totally rational actors, maybe this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Maybe the risks of exciting new prospects and (proverbially) fair-haired twenty-somethings would be weighted properly against the hoary, graying veterans we've known for years. In short--there's value missing, and several older (not even that old!) outfielders have ADP's well below where they probably should.

Matt Holliday ADP: 56.96 (4th round), 19th OF

Holliday started out cold, but turned around quickly with a blistering May-July. He faded again down the stretch, and had what amounts to half a great season, and half a fairly disappointing one. The results still gave us 27 HRs, a .295 average, 95 Runs, and 102 RBI's--good for 5.1 WAR, if that's how you roll. He's only 33, so he's not exactly Jamie Moyer, and the wheels don't exactly seem to be falling off. He was a second or third rounder last year, and I don't see why he should be relegated to the end of the 4th round. He had a better season than plenty of outfielders ahead of him on the draft boards--grab him over Yoenis Cespedes, Melky Cabrera, Jay Bruce, B.J. Upton, Harper, Upton (yeah, him too), Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Hamilton. Or, at least think about it, because his performance puts him right with the best of those guys.

Carlos Beltran ADP 110.17 (9th round), 31st OF

There's a big jump between Holliday and Beltran, and it's one I understand to a certain extent. Beltran's never been the healthiest of guys, even at his best. He isn't the speed demon he once was, either, but he can still hit. Last year was his healthiest in a long time and anyone who drafted him loved his 32 HRs. His overall numbers are buoyed by his torrid May, and he faded pretty hard in July and August, batting near the Mendoza Line, so I'm not recommending you draft the 36-year-old as your first OF. But he's going after most teams have their third OF, and his upside is still worth more than that. Consider drafting him over PED-implicated Nelson Cruz, BABIP superstar Torii Hunter, mercurial Alex Rios, and probably Austin Jackson and Mark Trumbo too. That puts him somewhere more like the 6th or 7th round, which seems a little more fair.

 Nick Swisher ADP 130.27 (10th round), 40th OF

Swisher is getting almost-old, though he won't turn 33 until after the season, and it seems like he's been around forever. Except for a terrible batting average in 2008, he's been a seriously consistent producer of around 25 HRs with a decent-ish average and the runs and RBI's that go with that sort of player. He's the opposite of a risky pick, though the move to Cleveland won't do wonders to those team-dependent stats. For me, Swisher represents the ideal third OF on my team--he doesn't hurt me anywhere and he hits a few homers. Consider drafting him a little higher, ahead of Ben Revere, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Martin Prado, Alejandro De Aza, Norichika Aoki, and Mike Morse. So, basically where Beltran is getting drafted now--a round early but ahead of several outfielders.

 Alfonso Soriano ADP 186.46 (15th round), 48th OF

Poor Soriano has had the misfortune of signing a huge contract that has weighed his Cubbies down like a nine-figure anchor for as long as anyone can remember. Not only that, his days of challenging the 40/40 club are long past and basically, everyone hates him now. At least money buys happiness. By the way, your draft pick can buy a player who hasn't exactly been consistent for the past few years, but he has had his uses. His 32 HRs of 2012 probably won't return (but we didn't think they'd show up in the first place), but something near 25 seems likely. He won't be helping your average, and his teammates probably won't be scoring constantly, but he's a respect-worthy power hitter being drafted really low. In fact, as the 48th OF, he's the last 4th OF to go--a bench player in some leagues. If your OF goes to five, though, than you can appreciate Sori's value. Grab him if you need some extra power over Aoki, Morse, De Aza, and Revere.

Ichiro Suzuki  ADP 201.26 (16th round), 57th OF

Ichiro isn't one of the game's top outfielders, that much is certain. In fact, he looked all but dead in the water until an apparently-revitalizing trade to the Yankees last summer. I'm not going to bore you with splits you can look up on your own, but he was a lot better. Enough to give us good reason to think he's got something left in that tank. With a low pick, he's a lot more reward than risk, since outfielders who steal bases and don't hurt your average don't grow on trees. You can't count on him to carry you in those categories anymore, but then, you don't have to make him your top OF anymore either. Take him over fellow speedsters Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez,  Revere, and the unproven Starling Marte.

Cody Ross ADP 261.60 (21st round), 77th OF

The D-backs traded away an early second-r0under to make room for Cody Ross, and while that might make them sound crazy, it also makes Ross sound pretty good. He missed some time with injury, but ultimately put together a pretty useful season for Boston. Now, he'll be moving to the weaker league, to another hitters' park, and to a team that went way out of their way to acquire him. To me, this sounds like a great situation. I'd draft him where Ichiro and Soriano are getting drafted, and I'd expect to get the value side of the deal. Take him over Lucas Duda, Delmon Young, Chris Young, Denard Span, Logan Morrison, Tyler Colvin, Michael Brantley, Michael Saunders and plenty of other guys.

With the exception of Ichiro, these aging outfielders are all power hitters, most from the mistily remembered days of the early 2000's. Power was the game then, so it's no wonder that these guys still bring the homers, even though their best seasons are behind them. Go grab some young players if you want, but these six make a pretty good and very affordable outfield all by themselves.





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