Players to Target for Home Runs (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
In my last article, I covered hitters to target for batting average and on-base percentage. Today, it’s time to discuss some power hitters who can help boost your home run totals for 2019. As home runs across Major League Baseball rose in recent years, we saw a drop of over 500 league-wide in 2018. There’s been some debate over the reason behind the drop after the launch-angle revolution boosted home runs in 2015.
In my opinion, it’s pretty clear that whatever was used to “juice” the balls was no longer used in 2018. Here’s why: Launch angles remained consistent, hard contact jumped up nearly four percent, barrel rates went up, but home runs declined. Something happened. I want to stress that home runs aren’t going to be as widely available late in the drafts as they have been the past three seasons. From my tweet last week, you can see that the number of 20, 30, and 40 home run hitters have dwindled in the last few seasons.
|Season||Players w/ 20+ HR||Players w/ 30+ HR||Players w/ 40+ HR|
The main concern here is the decrease in 30+ home run hitters last year compared to 2016 and 2017. Of the 27 players with 30 or more home runs in 2018, only Matt Carpenter, Jesus Aguilar, Max Muncy, and David Peralta were drafted outside of pick 150. In other words, if you wanted elite power, you needed to pay for it. I’ll help identify some hitters with power potential and upside that may help round out your roster in the second half of your draft.
We all know the draft’s early power plays. As you would expect, most of the top projected home run hitters are flying off the board prior to pick number 50 overall. Below is a list of expected home run leaders for 2019, using my projections, with their corresponding ADP by FantasyPros’ expert consensus.
Outside of Joey Gallo and Matt Olson, you are spending a pick inside the top-four rounds, and for many a first- or second-round pick, for these hitters. You may be a bit surprised at how home runs I project for Francisco Lindor, but he is coming off back-to-back 30 homer campaigns with a whopping 38 in 2018. Lindor’s barrel per plate appearance (BRL/PA) has gone up each in the last four seasons, and he totaled 54 barrels in 2018. Not only has he improved his value hit rates, with a league-average walk rate and elite strikeout rate, but he also puts an extremely high number of balls in play hitting atop the Indians lineup. Don’t be fooled, Lindor is a no doubt top-four option in any format.
*Note: Lindor suffered a calf strain and expected to miss seven to nine weeks. Given the importance of Lindor to the Indians, I’d expect him to miss at least the first two weeks of the season and eased back into action. I would reduce Lindor’s home run total by about four of five.
Matt Olson (1B – OAK)
Olson showcased his immense power when smashing 24 homers in 2017’s 59-game sample. It’s too bad he didn’t play the whole season with Oakland’s big club during the 2017 season’s power spike; he could have reached the 50-home run plateau. Olson ended 2018 with “just” 29 home runs, which disappointed owners who expected 35 to 40 across a full season. After digging into numbers, I saw that his hard-hit, contact, and chase rates all improved. Despite his boosted contact, I’m still concerned about Olson’s 77 percent zone contact (Z-Con) rate, which is nearly eight percent below the MLB average. The good news for Olson owners is that his Statcast measures are off the charts. Of batters with at least 250 batted balls in 2018, he tied for fifth in average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls. He barreled up 51 balls in 2018, which was more than Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, and Edwin Encarnacion. Olson is in for a career year at age 25. I fully expect 30 to 35 home runs with an improved batting average. His ADP is about 40 picks too late, as he’s going just outside 100 overall.
Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
Conforto is going around pick 102, which seems justified considering he hit just .243 with 28 home runs last year. However, an ugly shoulder injury at the close of 2017 led to offseason surgery and a long recovery. In my opinion, the shoulder caused Conforto’s slow start. The Mets likely brought him back too soon, so his season-long metrics are not a great barometer of his overall talent.
Based on the graph above, Conforto’s shoulder was clearly still on the mend until somewhere between games 60 and 70. From that point on, his hard contact continued an upward trend, as did his wOBA and home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate. I’ve included his zone swing and zone contact metrics as well to show how he also improved in terms of plate discipline. Conforto looks to be 100 percent coming into 2019. With an improved lineup in New York, he should hit 30 or more home runs with impressive counting stats.
Deeper Home Run Options (ADP 150+)
Hunter Renfroe (OF – SD) – Consensus ADP: 224
The Padres have so many outfielders, I’m not sure how they are all going to get playing time. If Harper ends up signing with San Diego, then all bets are off for Renfroe unless he’s moved. Renfroe is likely to start in right field as it stands now, but Franmil Reyes will be right on his heels after an impressive 87-game sample last year. However, Reyes and Renfroe are cut from similar clothes in that both have immense power but lack plate discipline. While Reyes showed solid plate discipline in the small sample, he struggled defensively in the outfield. Renfroe, a top prospect a few years ago, has a profile that is slow to develop, similar to Reyes. Renfroe, now 27 years old, has taken his lumps and has adjusted. He closed 2018 with 18 second-half home runs, tied for fourth in baseball. I’ve compared his 2018 season to Khris Davis’ pre-breakout in 2015. Could 2019 be Renfroe’s breakout? You don’t have to pay much to find out.
Justin Smoak (1B – TOR) – Consensus ADP: 240
Smoak finally broke out in a huge way in 2017, smashing 38 home runs in 158 games. His Statcast metrics backed up the elite power performance, as he finished seventh in terms of barrels per plate appearance (BRL/PA). His 59 barrels in 2017 was one fewer than J.D. Martinez. So what happened in 2018? Smoak dealt with a couple injuries that limited him to just 25 home runs in 142 games. A wrist injury suffered during spring training impeded his start to 2018 and a knee injury, caused by a foul ball, limited Smoak to just 11 home runs through the first three months. The good news is that Smoak’s exit velocities and contact rates remained similar to where they were in 2017. I’m willing to chalk up much of Smoak’s 2018 struggles to nagging injuries, so he should be a virtual lock to hit 30 home runs in 2019 if given 150 games. I don’t believe he’ll reach 2018 heights, but Smoak is likely the best bet outside of pick 150 to hit 30+ homers.
Peter Alonso (1B – NYM) – Consensus ADP: 238
Alonso is a beast of a human being with a massive power ceiling, but there’s no way of knowing when the Mets will bring him up. If he’s up in April or early May, I’d grabbed him everywhere just inside of pick 200. Alonso, who just turned 24, has 40-home run power right now. He hit 36 home runs across Double and Triple-A last year in just 132 games. There’s no doubt that when the first baseman arrives, he’ll likely bat fifth and hit for power right away. Take a look at his projected average fly-ball distances, courtesy of ProspectsLive MinorGraphs.
The knocks against Alonso are, of course, the strikeouts and popups. He regularly had high infield fly rates in the minors. There’s risk that Alonso could hit .225-.230 with 20 homers in 90 games, or he could hit .255 with 35 home runs next year. Given the power landscape after around pick 115 this year, I’m willing to take that gamble if my roster is light on power through the first half of the draft.
Teoscar Hernandez (OF – TOR) – Consensus ADP: 326 & Randal Grichuk (OF – TOR) – Consensus ADP: 292
I’m pairing teammates Hernandez and Grichuk together because both can be found inside the top 10 for hitters with at least 250 batted balls in barrels per batted ball event (BRL/BBE) in 2018. Both hit over 20 home runs last season, 22 for Hernandez and 25 for Grichuk. Yet neither player saw more than 525 plate appearances, with Grichuk getting only 462. As of now, RosterResource.com lists Grichuk as the starting right fielder and batting fifth. Hernandez is listed as the strong-side platoon with Billy McKinney in left field. With Pillar in center field, I see a relatively equal rotation between the four outfielders. While both Hernandez and Grichuk have had their contact issues, Hernandez took his to Gallo-type levels in the second half of 2018. Grichuk’s contact skills are a little bit more palatable. In addition, I think he has more power upside than Hernandez. Since both are going around pick 300, you could very easily grab both and steal a 30-homer bat at the end of the draft.
Christin Stewart (OF – DET) – Consensus ADP: 359
Stewart has been graded out with a 65-raw power per Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs out of a possible 80. He’s shown mid-to-high-20s power in the minors and finally got the call late in 2018. Stewart will be given every opportunity to play every day for the rebuilding Tigers, who need to see what they have in the 25-year-old outfielder. Not much of a defender, Stewart should split time between DH and a corner-outfield spot. His profile in the minors was that of a prototypical slugger with high strikeout, walk, and fly-ball rates. However, in 2018, Stewart curbed his strikeout rate down near 20% in Triple-A and sub-20% in 17 games with the Tigers. If Stewart hits somewhere in the top half of the lineup, we could see a poor man’s Hoskins-type production. Given 600 plate appearances, Stewart could hit .240-.250 with 25 homers, and he’s dirt cheap even in deeper formats. Of course, he gets a bit of a boost in OBP formats, so take a late round flier on Stewart for some much-needed pop.