Yelich Light Show

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson runs down the latest home run news including hot weeks, a top 10 list, fresh injuries, and a spotlight on buy-low candidates.

Yelich Light Show

Brad Johnson runs down the latest home run news including hot weeks, a top 10 list, fresh injuries, and a spotlight on buy-low candidates.

Another week, another dogpile of home runs. Leaguewide, 762 baseballs have been sent into the stratosphere, a pace of 6,320 over a full season. As a reminder, the record set in 2017 was 6,104 home runs. And home run production increases as the season progresses into the summer months. This is shaping up to be a comically homer happy season. It’s no wonder everybody is complaining about their pitching.

Shall we dive right in?

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Weekly Leaders

Christian Yelich, 6 HR

Marcell Ozuna, 5 HR

Eddie Rosario, 4 HR

9 others, 3 HR

Yelich is doing his best to put to rest any doubts about his MVP qualifications. After hitting three home runs against the Cardinals last Monday, he proceeded to homer in three of his next four games. The power binge has mostly come at the expense of other flavors of extra base hit. He’s always posted more doubles and triples than home runs. This season, he’s hit only four doubles compared to 11 home runs. Obviously, that’s not a bad thing, we should simply expect more non-home run extra base hits in the future.

A couple weeks ago, all the Ozuna-related fantasy chatter was about his possibly ailing shoulder. He also did this. Those who panicked missed a truly sizzling week – and were taught a valuable lesson about patience. With the hot start, Ozuna has a chance to best the career best 37 home runs he hit in 2017.

Rosario looked like an easy 30 home run hitter early last season before cooling off in the second half. He’s once again slugging it. A blend of frequent hard, pulled fly balls promises plenty of power production. He’s a better asset in batting average leagues where his low OBP doesn’t act as a negative category. He remains foolable on pitches out of the zone. It’s fortunate for him the AL Central is so weak.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics: 10 HR, 51 HR projected

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 7 HR, 49 HR projected

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 8 HR, 44 HR projected

J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 4 HR, 44 HR projected

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 6 HR, 44 HR projected

Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 7 HR, 43 HR projected

Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers: 8 HR, 42 HR projected

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves: 6 HR, 42 HR projected

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 11 HR, 39 HR projected

Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies: 4 HR, 39 HR projected

Using a home-brewed formula, I project the top 10 power sources by comparing present home run totals with contact, fly ball, and home run rates. At this very early stage of the season, projections are informed almost entirely by past season performances. We’ll discuss any new exceptions. If the numbers look a tad conservative, that’s by design. Most top players are projected for between 600 and 650 plate appearances to account for injuries. In reality, some will exceed 700 plate appearances, providing a substantial boost to their power output.

Welcome to Pederson and Yelich, our newest recruits to the Top 10 Projected list. They bumped off Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Judge. I expect to see them again before long.

Pederson has a couple things going for him. He’s playing nearly every game as the Dodgers leadoff hitter. His plate discipline shows signs of improvement which have manifested in a lofty home run rate through 81 plate appearances. While we should expect his rate of home runs to regress substantially, his high fly ball rate should help him to maintain a heady pace. The biggest risk to him (besides injury) is a slump leading to a reduced role.

Yelich makes for a difficult projection. For one, his current 42.4 percent fly ball rate is completely inconsistent with his 20.6 percent career rate. If he continues to hit fly balls at this pace, he won’t just shatter this 39 home run projection, he’ll be in contention for the top overall fantasy season. Yelich may have reached his peak at the right place and right time. Pitchers are attacking the upper quadrants of the zone in an attempt to counter the preponderance of low-ball sluggers throughout the league. Yelich, however, feasts on high pitches.

Heads up, Gallo might be a new hitter. He’s altered his launch angle through 68 plate appearances to be considerably less vertically oriented. His current 36.4 percent fly ball rate is a career low by a wide margin. The sheer efficacy of his current contact is stunning. He’s posted a 72.7 percent hard contact rate with 58.3 percent of fly balls clearing the fence. It’s not yet clear if this is all a small sample fluke or a symptom of a sustainable adjustment. Nor is it obvious how much his hard contact rate will regress.


***Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (right ulnar nerve subluxation, expected back by end of April)

***Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers (right knee sprain, late-April return)

***Christin Stewart, Detroit Tigers (right quad strain, early-May return)

***Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, early-June return)

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (left calf strain, expected back within next few days)

Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade 2 quad strain, mid-May return)

Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates (right shoulder strain, late-April return)

Daniel Murphy, Colorado Rockies (left index finger fracture, mid-May return)

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (Grade 1 biceps strain, early-May return)

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (small right labrum tear, May return)

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Tommy John surgery, mid-May return as hitter)

Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels (turf toe, estimated 10 weeks recovery)

Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (broken hamate, estimated 4-8 weeks recovery)

Steven Souza Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks (multiple knee ligament tears - out for season)

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (heel calcification, midseason return)

Todd Frazier, New York Mets (oblique strain, early-April return)

Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (knee surgery, late-May return)

Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder surgery, April return)

Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds (groin strain, estimated 8-12 weeks recovery)

Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins (flesh wound, May return)

Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees (Tommy John surgery, June return as hitter)

Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (back stiffness, late-April return)

*** denotes new injury

Four sluggers were added to the injured list and three returned. The Rockies activated David Dahl and Ryan McMahon a couple days ago – just in time for McMahon to pop two home runs. Dahl stole a base. Both appear to be fully healthy. Francisco Lindor was supposed to be activated yesterday, but a rainout pushed his return back to today. Gary Sanchez is expected back as soon as tomorrow.

Of the new injuries, only Bird’s latest foot issue is expected to require more than a brief stint on the shelf. There’s talk of Andujar shifting to first base. The Yankees also signed Logan Morrison to compete with Luke Voit for first base reps. This could spell the end of Bird in New York.

Power Spotlight

This week, I’m hunting for a very specific profile, one which is perfectly demonstrated by Jose Ramirez. To date, he’s hit just one home run as part of a .145/.200/.232 batting line. A glance below the surface reveals a 50 percent fly ball rate and 39 percent hard contact. It’s only a matter of time before the home runs arrive.

Of course, nobody is sleeping on Ramirez. If you can buy low, you should. Finding a panicked owner who will actually sell low is a whole other matter. There are however a few veteran hitters who exhibit these traits and may be considerably cheaper to acquire.

My favorite of these is Adam Eaton. The Nationals leadoff man missed most of the last two seasons. He’s widely panned as injury prone. His current owners may be keen to cash in. How quickly we forget his 1,395 plate appearances between 2015 and 2016. Eaton missed most of the new juiced ball era. This season, he’s improved his launch angle while maintaining a premium average and on base percentage. While I’m not counting on huge power output, I do think his combination of fly ball rate and decent quality contact can fuel close to 20 home runs. Projection systems peg him for only 10 home runs this season.

By comparison, Travis Shaw is a legitimate 30 home run candidate. He’s off to a rough start this season, batting .191/.295/.265. A minor injury also cost him some playing time. The main issue is a sudden and inexplicable surge in strikeout rate. It’s likely to be a small sample fluke. Shaw is working counts just as he’s done in past seasons, and his quality of contact is better than ever. In 12-team mixed formats, you might be able to pull off a tidy sell high, buy low swap using someone like Yandy Diaz, Jeff McNeil, Maikel Franco, or Hunter Dozier.

A few others to keep an eye on include Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, and Matt Kemp. Choo is crushing the baseball; it’s just not yet flying out of the park. Cano's projection is hurt by CitiField. It’s one of the most difficult venues at which to hit home runs. On the plus side, he gets to visit Citizen’s Bank Park. Kemp is used inconsistently, and I think it’s affected his performance. When he does make contact, his batted ball profile is that of an easy 30 home run hitter.

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