Between the Great Home Run Surge of ’16 and the reams of Statcast data at our disposal, it’s easier than ever to find home runs for our fantasy teams. However, sometimes we don’t even need the fancy stats to uncover 40 home run threats. As the title implies, we’ll discuss three guys such players.
When looking for these sorts of sluggers, it helps to key on three batted ball indicators. Do they have an elevated fly ball rate – preferably at the expense of grounders rather than liners? Do they pull the ball? Do they make hard contact? As a bonus question, is their home park power friendly?
Aside from sharing a batted ball profile, they all have one noteworthy trait in common – fewer than 350 plate appearances at the major league level. Small samples create many kinds of volatility. One of the guys missed all of 2016. Will he be the same hitter in 2017? Scouting reports can take longer than half a season to catch up, especially for players who are underestimated by their opponents. In other words, what we’ve seen might not be what we get.
Indicators (178 PA, 2015)
51.4% FB%, 21.9% LD%
Yankee Stadium: 130 PF for LH HR
Bird impressed in his 2015 debut before losing all of 2016 to a shoulder injury. He did return in time for Arizona Fall League where he played…fine. His .215/.346/.354 line with one home run 15.4 percent walk rate, and 21.8 percent strikeout rate wasn’t exactly an affirmation of health. One might expect better from a soon-to-be 24-year-old against a bunch of A-ballers.
Even ignoring the transforming potential of the injury, Bird did his mashing in a tiny 178 plate appearance sample. It’s reasonable to fear regression. The good news is that his batted ball profiles and home stadium perfectly aligned with the ideals for a home run hitter. Supposing his HR/FB ratio declines to between 10 and 15 percent, Bird’s still in a good position to mash taters.
Over a full 650 plate appearance season, we can expect about 440 balls in play. Assuming his 2015 batted ball profile holds up (which may or may not be accurate), that implies about 220 fly balls. A 10 percent HR/FB ratio on those balls would result in 22 homers. That looks like a fair approximation of his power floor. He’ll also pop about 90 line drives which will certainly help his batting average. A few may sneak over the so-shallow wall. Suddenly, Bird’s not looking much different than Chris Davis despite costing a MUCH later pick.
Remember, this projection was built on a series of shaky assumptions. If it works out, we’ll all say “duh, it was so obvious.” Bird’s probably a safe bet for about 30 home runs. For what it’s worth, Steamer projects 17 homers in 350 plate appearances, a 31.5 home run pace.
Indicators (347 PA, 2016)
45.1% FB%, 17.9% LD%
Citizen’s Bank Park: 116 PF for RH HR
While Bird posted ideal numbers in a tiny sample, Joseph accumulated twice as many plate appearances. He also doesn’t have a major injury looming over his head. Although, speaking of heads, he is concussion prone.
Joseph’s profile isn’t pure gold like Bird’s. He hit too few line drives and an aggressive approach ruined his OBP. In other words, he’s all or nothing. His 2016 line pro-rated to 39 home runs. He was on the same pace in Triple-A at a very pitcher friendly park.
Repeating what we did for Bird, we can expect about 475 balls in play per 650 plate appearances. That’s roughly 215 fly balls. Using 10 percent HR/FB as an estimate, we’re looking at a floor of 21 home runs with upside for more. He posted a 18.9 percent HR/FB last season.
One area in which Joseph differs from the others – he barely played from mid-2012 through 2015. Last season was the first he got out from behind the plate and away from concussion bug. Joseph may have more to gain from consistent conditioning than most hitters his age.
Steamer is less excited about Joseph, projecting 29 home runs in 560 plate appearances – a 34 homer pace.
Indicators (330 PA, 2016)
64.9% FB%, 15.5% LD%
Petco Park: 106 PF for LH HR
Schimpf is to hitting fly balls as Zach Britton is to inducing grounders. Here’s the 2016 leaderboard for proof. Here’s the same leaderboard for every player season since 2002 (Rod Barajas says hi!). Schimpf’s also a three true outcomes king with his 20 home runs, 42 walks, and 105 strikeouts in 330 plate appearances (50.6% TTO). That’s a 39 homer pace over 650 plate appearances.
The man lives up to his nickname – Jumbo Schimpf. At 5′ 9” and 190 pounds, he sure doesn’t look like a power hitter. However, he made consistent hard contact, parlaying his combination of fly balls, pulled contact, and hard hits to a 17.7 percent HR/FB ratio. Schimpf is probably the most likely of these three to see big regression in his HR/FB. I still think he can live between a 10 and 15 percent rate.
Let’s repeat the exercise one more time. It’s not a rigorous means of analysis, but it is a lot of fun. Schimpf will probably put about 390 balls in play per 650 plate appearances. Of those, about 240 will fall into the fly ball bucket. Schimpf might only hit about 60 line drives which, when coupled with a high strikeout rate, explains his .217 batting average.
Assuming consistency in his batted ball rates, we’re projecting about 24 to 36 home runs for Schimpf. However, there may be room for substantial improvement to his strikeout rate. In 2015 and 2016, Jumbo recorded 619 plate appearances split between Double- and Triple-A. His strikeout rate hovered between 17 and 19 percent. More balls in play means more opportunities for home runs.
Since Schimpf is such an outlier of a hitter, it’s no surprise Steamer has all kinds of regression baked into the projection. He’s currently pegged for 25 homers in 574 plate appearances or 28 per 650. I’m taking the over.
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