Home Runs


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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