Slightly over 27 percent of regular season games have been played. Thus far, hitters have cranked 1,723 home runs – a pace of 6,344. As I’ve warned week after week, the rate of home runs is likely to accelerate. We have evidence it’s already happening. Last week, the league was on a pace for 6,256 home runs. As a reminder, the single-season record set in 2017 is 6,105 big flies. While we can’t yet guarantee the league will shatter the record this year, it’s becoming increasingly likely.
Shall we dive right in?
Editor’s Note: Stay ahead of the competition from wire to wire with rankings, customizable projections, trade evaluator, exclusive columns and more in our Season Pass. And start using optimized with our DFS Toolkit!
George Springer, 4 HR
Alex Bregman, 4 HR
Kris Bryant, 4 HR
J.D. Martinez, 4 HR
Charlie Blackmon, 4 HR
Franmil Reyes, 4 HR
13 others, 3 HR
For a second straight week, Springer, Bregman, and Bryant hit four home runs apiece. While I noted that these sluggers were likely to be among the weekly leaders a few times this season, I didn’t expect an immediate repeat from all three of them. Springer in particular seems to have traded some swinging strikes for more power. Bregman skipped the deep slump he experienced early in 2017 and 2018. If he continues to hit as he has, a 40-home run season is possible. Last year, Bryant teased an increased contact rate. A shoulder injury ruined his season before we could fully understand how the additional contact would interact with his power. If the last two weeks are any indication, new-Bryant is one of the top 15 hitters in the league.
Our friends from last week are joined by three more of the top sluggers in the league. We’ve seemingly been waiting and waiting and waiting for the hammer to drop for Martinez. In fact, when he fell out of the top 10 projected home run leaders last week, I said this:
For the first time, J.D. Martinez has fallen out of the top 10. While I fully expect him to rebound, it’s hard to maintain a top 10 projection with only five home runs through a quarter of the season. He needs one of his patented hot streaks.
Sure enough, he went full man on fire, hitting .421/.542/1.105 over the last week. He’s back in the top 10.
A couple years ago, it seemed like Blackmon would never stop improving. The 32-year-old hit his high-water mark in 2017. Even so, he remains a fantasy asset capable of 30 home runs, explosive run production, and a quality batting average. He’ll even chip in a few stolen bases. I featured Reyes in the Power Spotlight earlier in the season. Since then, he’s become a fixture in the next section.
My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 13 HR, 48 HR projected
Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics: 12 HR, 48 HR projected
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 18 HR, 46 HR projected
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 16 HR, 45 HR projected
Franmil Reyes, San Diego Padres: 14 HR, 45 HR projected
Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 14 HR, 45 HR projected
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 9 HR, 42 HR projected
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers: 12 HR, 41 HR projected
George Springer, Houston Astros: 17 HR, 42 HR projected
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros: 14 HR, 41 HR projected
The above projections are formed via a home-brewed formula which uses expected plate appearances, current home run totals, and batted ball data to project future home runs. Presently, 13 players are expected to hit more than 40 home runs. Over the last week, hot streaks added three new players to the top 10. Mike Trout, Gary Sanchez, and Nolan Arenado dropped from the list. Eugenio Suarez ranks 11th for a second straight week.
Martinez has returned after a one-week hiatus. He’s joined by new power recruits Springer and Bregman. As we discussed above, the pair of Astros have both hit eight home runs over the last two weeks. I expect them to cool off and thus drop back into the mid-30s for projected home runs. Another big gainer is Reyes whose continued performance caused me to increase his projection from 545 to 575 plate appearances. An extra 30 plate appearances equate to about two-and-one-third home runs for Reyes. The six remaining sluggers saw little week-to-week change in their power projections.
***Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (hamstring strain, late-May return)
***Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers (right wrist sprain, late-May return)
***Michael Conforto, New York Mets (concussion, return unknown)
***Jung Ho Kang, Pittsburgh Pirates (side strain, return unknown)
***Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins (left wrist strain, early-June return)
***Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (labrum team, out for season)
A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers (staph infection, late-June return)
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (hamstring strain, late-May return)
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (left oblique strain, mid-June return)
Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, mid-June return)
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade 2 quad strain, late-May return)
Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates (fully recovered)
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (shoulder injury, late-May return)
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels (turf toe, June return)
Steven Souza Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks (multiple knee ligament tears - out for season)
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (heel calcification, midseason return)
Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (knee surgery, late-May return)
Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds (groin strain, estimated 8-12 weeks recovery)
Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees (Tommy John surgery, June return as hitter)
*** denotes new injury
Let’s start with the good news. Eloy Jimenez is due back with the White Sox either today or tomorrow. He was just starting to show signs of adjusting to major league pitching when he suffered an ankle sprain. Miguel Sano returned from a serious flesh wound sustained while celebrating a winter league victory. Given the brevity of his rehab stint, I have serious doubts about his ability to make much contact in the near-term. The hot-hitting Twins might be better off with Sano on the bench. Hicks is also showing serious rust – he’s 0-for-8 with four strikeouts since returning. Unlike Sano, Hicks has sufficient tools to provide some value to the Yankees while re-adjusting to major league pitching. Matt Kemp also left the injured list. Then the Reds designated him for assignment.
Six sluggers joined the injured list over the last week. Andujar is out for the season after attempting to play through his labrum injury. Cruz’s absence coincides with the return of Sano. Cruz isn’t expected to miss much time which could create a bit of a roster crunch. Conforto suffered a concussion, an injury which tends to come with an unknown recovery time. Altuve and Shaw are expected to return in short order from minor injuries. Given Shaw’s issues, it’s fair to wonder if something might have been wrong with his wrist before the symptoms became overt. The Brewers have some incentive to send him on a lengthy rehab assignment to rediscover his mojo.
Hard, pulled, fly ball contact is the cheat code for home runs. A leaderboard of players featuring these traits is heavily populated by all the names we discussed above and a smattering of other well-known sluggers. Only one relatively unknown player has displayed all three traits – Tigers utilityman Ronny Rodriguez.
Through 96 plate appearances, Rodriguez is batting .281/.323/.640 with six home runs. He’s even chipped in a couple stolen bases. His hard (47.8 percent), pulled (59.7 percent), and fly ball (47 percent) contact rates would all rank among the top 20 in the league if he qualified. The combination of these traits is reminiscent of Rhys Hoskins.
Before we get too excited, there are a LOT of red flags to note. While the 27-year-old has flashed these traits in the minors, never did he perform anywhere near these extremes. What we’ve likely witnessed is a hot streak making the power look more sustainable than it is. There’s a reason fantasy baseball analysts constantly issue small sample warnings. This is a classic case of small sample disease. Regression is all but guaranteed.
Fluky outcomes aren’t the only issue for Rodriguez. He’s an aggressive hitter with no history of working counts. He’s currently swinging at nearly half of pitches outside of the strike zone – an issue he also had in brief stint last season. A typical hitter chases between one-quarter and one-third of pitches out of the zone. Interestingly, his swing rate on pitches within the zone is league average. This suggests his ability to identify strikes is especially poor. Swinging at so many balls has yielded a high rate of strikeouts with few walks. At some point soon, opposing pitchers will figure out exactly how to exploit him.
Even with the negatives, there’s some cause to treat Rodriguez like a poor man’s Jonathan Schoop. His usefulness is increased by a wide range of positional eligibilities. In very deep formats, he can temporarily patch a hole while offering a little power upside. In shallow formats, he can be streamed against friendly matchups. Going forward, expect a 20-home run pace with upside for more. The downside is the Tigers bury him on the bench if and when he falls into a deep slump.