MLB Barometer: Digging the Long Ball

MLB Barometer: Digging the Long Ball

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

Fantasy baseball players love the long ball. After all, it's the one event on the field we're most enamored by, the one we look forward to for our DFS lineups and it's subconsciously (and even consciously) the first category most of us gravitate towards.

Projecting second-half home runs can be a fool's errand, and of course, it's not as easy as just duplicating first-half totals. We've seen power bats sputter after the Home Run Derby and often cool off considerably after a hot three-month run. Additionally, little dings and injuries here and there, as well as the grind of an almost-everyday schedule takes its toll. Often September is an all-out crapshoot after rosters expand and players whose teams have clinched playoff berths are out of the lineup more frequently.

Similar to my exercise from two seasons ago, here are my projected home run totals among the current leaders for the second half, as well as their projected year-end totals. Keep in mind that balls are flying out of ballparks at a record rate -- over the last two seasons we've seen 15 40-home run seasons -- compared to just three total in 2013 and 2014. Only two players (Nelson Cruz, Nolan Arenado) have hit at least 40 in each of the last two seasons.

Fantasy baseball players love the long ball. After all, it's the one event on the field we're most enamored by, the one we look forward to for our DFS lineups and it's subconsciously (and even consciously) the first category most of us gravitate towards.

Projecting second-half home runs can be a fool's errand, and of course, it's not as easy as just duplicating first-half totals. We've seen power bats sputter after the Home Run Derby and often cool off considerably after a hot three-month run. Additionally, little dings and injuries here and there, as well as the grind of an almost-everyday schedule takes its toll. Often September is an all-out crapshoot after rosters expand and players whose teams have clinched playoff berths are out of the lineup more frequently.

Similar to my exercise from two seasons ago, here are my projected home run totals among the current leaders for the second half, as well as their projected year-end totals. Keep in mind that balls are flying out of ballparks at a record rate -- over the last two seasons we've seen 15 40-home run seasons -- compared to just three total in 2013 and 2014. Only two players (Nelson Cruz, Nolan Arenado) have hit at least 40 in each of the last two seasons.


PlayerHR YTDxHR (2nd half)xTotal
Aaron Judge, NYY272249
George Springer, HOU242044
Logan Morrison, TB241438
Cody Bellinger, LAD241741
Joey Votto, CIN231740
Khris Davis, OAK232447
Marcell Ozuna, MIA222244
Justin Smoak, TOR221537
Mike Moustakas, KC221638
Eric Thames, MIL211637
Joey Gallo, TEX212344
Giancarlo Stanton, MIA212546
Bryce Harper, WAS202343
Miguel Sano, MIN202646
Jay Bruce, NYM201636
Scott Schebler, CIN201333
Paul Goldschmidt, ARI191837
Anthony Rizzo, CHC192140
Adam Duvall, CIN191837
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS191332
Mark Reynolds, COL191433
Ryon Healy, OAK191534

As you can see, I'm expecting second-half regression for many of this year's surprise bashers as I expect Morrison, Smoak and Moustakas to fall short of the 40-HR plateau. Regardless, we should likely see at least 10 guys hit 40 this year. I do expect an uptick for the Marlins duo (Stanton, Ozuna) and a similar case for the youngsters with massive power -- Gallo and Sano. Healy's 19 HR at the break is certainly surprising -- his owners should hope that his hip injury isn't a big deal and that he can heal before teams return from the All-Star Break. His teammate Khris Davis hit four more homers in the second half of last season compared to the first half (23 to 19) and I expect we'll see a repeat performance in 2017 as he battles the likes of Judge and Stanton for the MLB home run crown.

There will always be exceptions, but second-half regressions for the older fellas like Zimmerman, Bruce and Reynolds is more likely than improvement. Of the guys who enter Week 14 with 18 homers or less, I expect the following to have better second halves and to approach the 35-HR mark: Jake Lamb (18), Carlos Correa (17), Edwin Encarnacion (17), Manny Machado (16), Nolan Arenado (15), Kendrys Morales (15) and Domingo Santana (14).

Nelson Cruz (14 HR) has slowed down considerably of late -- he last hit a home run 22 games ago, has been bothered by a wrist and now knee injury and it's hard to imagine him hitting 40 for a fourth consecutive season, let alone 35, as a 37-year-old.

Performing such an exercise yourself can prove fruitful, especially if you dig into each player's metrics profiles (HR/FB, ISO, etc.) and split history. It can help you identify trade targets and it's also a fun test of accuracy to review when the season is over. Let's compare our results this October.

RISERS

Manuel Margot, OF, SD

The speedy 22-year-old rookie has come back with a bang, hitting .435 in 23 at-bats last week after missing nearly a month with a calf injury. Only Trea Turner (pour one out for his owners) netted more stolen bases than Margot in Week 13. Because of the long delay, Margot found himself on the waiver wire in many NFBC 12-team leagues and did not receive as much bidding attention as I assumed he might. In fact, it's funny how much perspective changes in just a couple of weeks. I was able to snag Margot for $26 and $9 in two of my leagues, with no backup bids, and in one of those leagues, I opted for Margot over Mallex Smith — a guy who averaged nearly $200 per bid in NFBC 12-teamers just one month ago. Of course, Smith has struggled mightily at the plate. Even worse, Smith has attempted to steal a base just twice in his last nine games. The allure of Margot, and the reason why I preferred him to Smith is because he is a better all-around hitter. Smith may steal more bases from here on out, but Margot has a bit more pop in his bat, is locked into his role as the team's number-two hitter and the difference in steals between the two may not be that great come end of year, if at all.

A major theme with my success this season is staying nimble and active on the waiver wire. I'm not expecting Margot to hit over .400 again this week (in fact, he'll likely struggle on the road, facing some good pitchers), but I'm hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with someone who offers incredible upside in a specific category (SB) and likely won't hurt me across the board as other rabbits like Smith or Billy Hamilton might. Margot stole 30 in Triple-A last year, has nine steals in 52 games this year and is someone I believe will be fantasy-useful over the second half of the season, possibly netting us 20 more bags. The threat for demotion is slim to none as the Padres will allow him to go through the ups and downs of his rookie year with the big club.

Orlando Arcia, SS, MIL

No hitter in the game was more locked in at the plate than the Brewers' sophomore shortstop. Arcia raised his average up to .285, going 11-for-21 (.524) and smashing three homers. Unfortunately, I missed out on all of the fun since I dropped Arcia so long ago, both in ToutWars and in League of Leagues with Rob Silver. Arcia is back on the ToutWars squad in place of a underwhelming Dansby Swanson and on a NFBC 12-teamer that's been playing musical chairs at the position.

Arcia was a fairly exciting prospect known particularly for his defense who rose up the Brewers' minor league system quickly and made his major league debut as a 21-year-old last August. Arcia struggled right out of the gate, failing to clear the Mendoza Line in his first 100 at-bats, then began to feel a bit more comfortable swinging the lumber down the stretch. The end line (.219 – 4 HR – 17 R – 21 RBI – 5 SB in 216 PA) kept his draft day price fairly reasonable (after the top 250 overall) with little expectation for him to make a huge impact offensively so early in his career outside of the potential to swipe 30 bags. Arcia isn't hitting 20 bombs this year or possibly even the next, but he does appear to be hitting his stride at the right time, even if that production comes from the bottom-third of a stacked lineup.

Those who weren't blessed with the genius mid-to-late round selections of guys like Elvis Andrus or Chris Owings have an option with upside in a guy like Arcia. Such is likely the case for those who lost Trea Turner and are looking for a replacement. In deeper leagues, someone looking for speed could opt for the recently promoted Ketel Marte, who won't be playing every day but offers some batting average and stolen base upside with Nick Ahmed out for the next six weeks. Arcia needs to do better at taking free passes (5.6% walk rate), but he could certainly blast off over the second half into a 15/15 season. Arcia has already done enough underwhelming, and I believe this last week of action is going to thwart his viability as a fantasy asset into the spotlight for us as we head toward the stretch run.

Wilson Ramos, C, TB

The Buffalo is back, and Rays' fans should be excited. After all, this is a guy who was one of the best hitters on a stacked Nats' team, carrying a .340-plus batting average throughout most of the season, ending the year at .307 with 22 dingers and 80 RBI — a top three catcher. Ramos came over to the Rays in the offseason, and slowly recovered from his ACL surgery, making it back into the mix just a couple of weeks before the All-Star break, ahead of schedule.

Ramos had a huge weekend, blasting two-run and three-run shots at Camden Yards in just his fourth and fifth games back. Ramos has been settling in comfortably in the sixth slot of the Rays' lineup and may easily post a top-five offensive second half at his position. Ramos is a disciplined hitter (17% strikeout rate) who doesn't walk often (six percent), but has the capability to swat 15 to 20 dingers from this point on and offer some help with batting average as well. Ramos underwent LASIK surgery prior to his 2016 campaign and it had an instant and positive effect.

I trust Ramos so much Matt Modica and I cut our #2 catch, Mike Zunino so that we didn't have to carry three catchers (Yasmani Grandal is our third). Zunino somehow managed to lead all major league hitters in RBI last month (31), so we've cut bait with him right before the slump that is brewing gets underway. We got in, got stats out, and we're moving on. As for Ramos, there are only a handful of catchers I'd rather own and would certainly prefer Ramos over guys like Matt Wieters, Russell Martin, and at this point, even Jonathan Lucroy. So long as he's healthy, the dude is going to mash.

Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL

The only word than can encompass the fifth-year pitcher's season is "disaster". He's looked sharper of late, but eight of his 17 starts this season could be classified as bad ones. In five of those games, Gausman allowed opposing hitters to feast on his offerings a little too often -- at least five earned runs allowed in those outings. He has a 6.07 ERA to show for it, but looking at his xFIP of 5.20 (still not good, obviously) and his .369 BABIP makes me think that his recent success is a little more along the lines of what we should expect going forward. Gausman threw a solid five-inning gem with four punchouts in Rogers Centre last week, and in his two starts prior, Gausman struck out 16 batters in just 11.1 innings. The main issue is that I always look to avoid middling AL East arms like the plague. There's nothing worse than having to make a weekly pitching decision and seeing @BOS and @NYY on the schedule. I actually bid on rookies like Nick Pivetta and the enigmatic Luis Castillo ahead of Gausman simply because if I'm going to rock my proverbial fantasy boat, I'd rather do it with NL pitchers who have similar or even better firepower. Gausman will more than likely improve on those nasty ratios, but I'd rather let it be someone else's struggle.

Andrew Moore, SP, SEA

Moore is a second round draft pick from two years ago with solid control and a nice four-pitch mix. His 91-mph fastball is his primary offering, but he mixes in a slider, cutter and changeup as well. In nine starts in Triple-A, Moore maintained an effective 3.9% walk rate along with a respectable 3.06 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 53 innings. His first start last week against the Tigers wasn't spectacular (3 ER, 4 K) though he didn't last long in too many counts and managed to squeeze out seven full innings. Moore does not profile as ace or even a No. 2, but he could serve well as a safe end-of-the-rotation starter that could excel with proper execution of his pitch mix and making opposing batters miss regularly once he has proper command of his breaking stuff. Moore lines up for a very nice two-start week, facing the Royals and Athletics in his home park. With Drew Smyly out of the picture now, this rotation spot can be Moore's.

FALLERS

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC

Last year's NL MVP did not make the All-Star team this year, much to the dismay of Cubs fans and baseball folk from around the country. Bryant is on the ballot for the 'Final Vote' and will likely win it in a landslide. One argument I read was that it's blasphemous to keep him off the team since he was an MVP winner last year. But alas, that was a different season and it should have no bearing upon this season's selections. Bryant isn't having an awful season by any means, but as we head into July there are a few NL third basemen who have put up better numbers: Jake Lamb, Travis Shaw, Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon. Sure, 50 runs scored and 13 homers at the half isn't bad, but when you consider the fact that he's hitting .264 with just 32 RBI, that simply doesn't cut it for a guy drafted in the middle (as high as second overall) of the first round in fantasy leagues this spring. Luckily, we have an entire second half of a season to go, and I'd be shocked if Bryant didn't raise his average up to around .290 by the end of the campaign. His home run pace is way off last year's 39, but I believe we'll start to see top-level production from Bryant. With six games at home before the break, I wouldn't be surprised if Bryant, feeling snubbed, had his best week of the season starting with the series opener against the Rays on Tuesday.

Matt Moore, SP, SF

I feel bad for fantasy owners who have endured ratio damage on his behalf, but unlike Giants fans, those who had him on their roster have had the opportunity to cut him. It's been a wild ride for a guy taken among the top 50 SP with an ADP of 178 and an expectation of a sneaky, solid season. Especially after Moore's productive stretch last summer-- 11 starts last June and July where he maintained a 2.78 ERA, holding opposing batters to a BA under .200. Moore has had a couple of quality starts mixed in this season, but for the most part, he has been wild and unpredictable. He has allowed 13 homers on the season, has a career high 10% walk rate and is allowing a .469 wOBA to left-handed batters this season. Moore finally saw his ERA dip below 6.00 in his latest start against the Pirates, but he walked six batters in the game.

Moore is likely available in many 12-team leagues without much interest, but I believe there will come a time this season where he can be helpful to fantasy squads. I'm not willing to commit to Moore in my lineups until I see a couple of solid starts in a row and a good matchup on the schedule. By that point, it might be too late as someone may have already scooped him up, but something tells me I'll still be able to sleep well at night. Moore has some of the worst ratios among qualified starting pitchers in the NL, but watching him pitch, it does not seem that he is truly one of the worst. Look for his 66% strand rate to begin to normalize towards the league average and for the strikeout rate (currently 18.5%) to start to trend towards his career 21% rate. Moore will never be an ace, but as long as he is healthy, there will come a time when there's value to squeeze out of his starts.

Michael Pineda, SP, NYY

I'd like to think I've matured as a fantasy player over the years. Embracing risk is a part of my roto DNA, but the one place I prefer to have the least amount of such exposure is with my starting pitchers. That's not to say I want a team filled with guys like Mike Leake and Ervin Santana. It's just that the skilled power pitchers with a wide range of outcomes from start to start really scares me. Enter Michael Pineda — a wild card I simply couldn't wrap my head around prior to the start of the season, so I didn't end up with any shares. I preferred Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker in Pineda's range, fully knowing the risk they carried, but acknowledging I could work with predominantly NL West starts much easier than the AL East.

Pineda has had some truly incredible starts this season. His 5.1% walk rate is impeccable and we may imagine a better ERA than 4.09 come the end of the season when reviewing a 3.49 xFIP. But just as I always second-guess myself when considering rostering a guy like Pineda in DFS, such is the case during draft season. There are just so many ways to attack your pitching categories that it didn't feel necessary to take the risk with someone who can get into his own head so easily on the mound. Pineda's 23.2% strikeout rate is above league average, but is his lowest rate since 2014. Moreover, his 1.63 HR/9 is the highest long-ball ratio of his career. His consistency with the walk rate is his biggest attraction, but is balanced out by the lapses in judgement on the mound which always puts his end-of-season numbers in a place where it feels like he's failing to reach his true potential. Pineda isn't horrible for his draft day cost and could see a stretch of domination at any time, but he just doesn't fit the profile of someone I actively seek for my fantasy teams.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vlad Sedler
Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.
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