Everyone Gets a Homer!

(Except for Eric Hosmer)

There were 41 homers hit across 15 games in Major League Baseball on Tuesday night, led by two from Yoan Moncada for the White Sox, who hit four as a team. It wasn’t the highest total for a given night, but it’s a very high total. I mused on Twitter that if your fantasy team didn’t have three homers, it probably was losing ground to the field in your league. Through 512 games this season, there have been 673 total homers, or 1.31 per game. As a point of reference, last year the league averaged 1.15 homers per game. But that’s not the most eye-opening stat. In 2017, when the juiced ball was at its juiciest, the league averaged 1.26 homers per game. In other words, we’re already on a record pace for homers, ahead of a season which was an extreme outlier in its own right.

There could be some reason to think that we haven’t yet reached the eventual level of home run production. The Rockies have only played five games in Coors Field. We’re still in April and it’s not yet warm everywhere in the country. And while there have been some huge injuries (the Yankees say hello), general attrition has yet to occur in most places, so hitters aren’t yet going up against the 17th, 18th, and 19th pitchers in an organization’s 40-man roster.

If you’re playing in the NFBC or TGFBI, this news has drastic implications. We like to be able to set rough draft targets in order to average somewhere between the 70th and 80th percentile per category, but our targets, especially if we’re relying on 2018 data, could be wildly inaccurate. Chris Liss hypothesized that 2017 data was so flawed by the juiced ball that projection systems should just throw out that season. But what if it’s 2018 that we need to throw out instead? Or what if we really should have taken MLB at their word, and it wasn’t the ball all along (Narrator: “It was the ball all along.”)?

Here’s what we needed in homers the last two years to hit the 80th and 70th percentiles in 15-team leagues respectively:

2018: 293, 286
2017: 328, 321

If you were setting your category targets based on 2018 numbers, you’re already behind. But there’s good news – chances are many of the players that you drafted are ahead of pace! But if you drafted a little lightly for power to begin with under the premise that you can catch up later, there’s no time like the present. I think that’s why we saw so many high bids for Dan Vogelbach last week. When you see a player with that high power upside, you have to jump before it’s too late.

Here are a few other observations from Tuesday night’s slate:

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Terrifying Aces

In the latest installment of “Who Wants to Be Ace?” we present Stephen Strasburg! Strasburg allowed three homers last night to the Giants, who are … the Giants! His average fastball in 2017 was 95.4 mph, and last year it clocked in at 94.6 mph. So far this year, his four-seamer is averaging 93.3 mph, and his sinker is at 93.2 mph. It’s a super-tiny sample, but his sinker is getting pounded this season to the tune of an opponents’ .842 slugging percentage. Might we start to see him go the path of many others before him, where he starts throwing his off speed pitches more often?

It’s a really scary run environment right now. I hold on for dear life when I see my starters going. Chris Liss on the show frequently advocated using the high-leverage relievers more often in lieu of marginal starters, but what happens when your aces are marginal? We have to have *someone* start for us, right? Right?

With the early start yesterday, Chris Sale’s start was widely watched and documented, so I won’t spend too much time breaking him down. The increased velocity early was great, but the last three innings were more of the same, with his fastball getting pounded by the Yankees. At least he broke the swinging-strike-on-his-fastball barrier. At least he wasn’t Steven Matz, who seems to have an outing like this every season. I was there in person for it last season, when he got crushed by the Nats.

Islands in the Stream

Streaming is going to become increasingly important this season, as there are a handful of truly terrible lineups out there. It won’t always work (see also, the Indians’ weekend in Kansas City), but you have to play the percentages and maximize your outings against the really bad teams. If you went with Reynaldo Lopez this week, you got a win and avoided a pounding from Dakota Hudson facing the Brewers this week, hopefully. Mike Minor had a gem last night against the Angels. This isn’t always going to work, but it’s a worthwhile chance to take.

Let’s look at our streaming targets (via Fangraphs) in two different ways – worst wOBA’s, and best teams to rack up the strikeouts against:

One of these is not like the others! But this is a good illustration that not all of the Red Sox woes can be attributed to their horrific starting pitching. The funny thing is we thought it would be their bullpen that would be their weak link, but that hasn’t been the case so far. The Rockies remain a great target to attack away from Coors Field, especially now that Daniel Murphy, David Dahl and Ryan McMahon are on the IL. They return home this weekend, though, and Dahl should be back soon.

How about strikeouts? Who can we attack there to sneak in a few precious K’s?

I still think that this is a little bit fluid – 10 days ago the Indians were over 31%. But it’s pretty comforting to see the Jays, Tigers, Indians, Rockies, Marlins and Giants on both lists. That’s the sweet spot of teams that you want to attack.

Running Wild

The Rockies swiped five bases against Francisco Mejia and the Padres last night, with Trevor Story netting three of those bags. It was almost as if they were paying tribute to the night when Dexter Fowler stole five bags against Chris Young all by himself, and the team netted eight steals. It might be a case of great scouting, which bodes ill for Mejia. Opposing runners are 9-for-9 stealing against him so far this year and 12-of-13 so far in his major league career.

Pirates Watch

Felipe Vazquez was unavailable to pitch Tuesday night against the Tigers after pitching two innings on Sunday, throwing 45 stressful pitches in the process. It might be nothing at all, but I’m paranoid enough to worry about him. I know that they are hyper vigilant about protecting him, though. If you’re looking for insurance, you might not go with Keone Kela, who blew the save Tuesday night (as a Joe Musgrove owner, I was thrilled to see that!). Keep an eye out for Nick Burdi, who has a 13:1 K:BB over 6.2 innings and is averaging nearly 97 mph on his fastball. He also got the Rob Friedman treatment on Twitter this weekend.