Yelich Chasing Maris

Brad Johnson

With second-half baseball in full swing and on-field temperatures in excess of 110 degrees, we should soon see a peak in the weekly home run rate. The 282 home runs hit in the previous week were typical of the 2019 campaign. We’ve witnessed similar totals in virtually every week since April. Here’s how the league has performed since early-June.

Week 10: 2,279 home runs, pace of 6,507 home runs

Week 11: 2,534 home runs, pace of 6,537 home runs

Week 12: 2,801 home runs, pace of 6,591 home runs

Week 13: 3,088 home runs, pace of 6,617 home runs

Week 14: 3,346 home runs, pace of 6,637 home runs

Week 15: 3,607 home runs, pace of 6,665 home runs

Week 16 (ASB): 3,741 home runs, pace of 6,679 home runs

Week 17: 4,023 home runs, pace of 6,695 home runs

In all likelihood, we’ll surpass a pace of 6,700 home runs next week. While every 100 home runs feels like a potential milestone, a truly unusual barrage will be required to reach the lofty 7,000 home run plateau.

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!

Weekly Leaders

Tyler O’Neill, 4 HR

Christian Yelich, 4 HR

George Springer, 4 HR

Cody Bellinger, 4 HR

Edwin Encarnacion, 4 HR

Eduardo Escobar, 4 HR

Teoscar Hernandez, 4 HR

You know things are getting out of hand when a four-homer week feels unexceptional. This is more of the same from Yelich, Springer, Bellinger, and Encarnacion – all of whom have appeared on this list multiple times through 17 weeks. It’s hardly remarkable to see them listed here. Yelich and Bellinger are in a shootout for the home run crown (and the NL MVP award).

O’Neill’s appearance is of great import because it means the Cardinals are finding him playing time. The powerful slugger doesn’t need a juiced baseball to fire off a 30-homer pace, but he comes with some serious flaws. His profile is Gallo-ian in every way. O’Neill is a hard contact machine… when he makes contact. Only Jorge Alfaro whiffs more often than O’Neill. The inability to make consistent contact all but ensures he’ll suffer through some miserable slumps. He’ll also have weeks like this where he’s among the league leaders in home runs and run production. Be wary of buying his .316/.343/.526 batting line. An absurd .472 BABIP will regress to around a .350 rate. In other words, he’s produced about 12 percentage points more hits on balls in play than expected.

Last season, Escobar set a career-high with 23 home runs. After last week, he’s sitting on 22 home runs. He’s quietly been one of the top fantasy values due to a late draft slot, copious power, run production, and a .291 batting average. His breakout has been years in the making. He shifted his batted ball profile in 2017 to include more fly balls. Then he added hard contact to his set of traits. This year, everything has coalesced to create a quiet star player.

Hernandez is the sort of athlete who will earn nearly unlimited chances with second division teams. The total package doesn’t quite add up to a major league starter, but he exhibits just enough to merit fresh opportunities. It’s weeks like these that keep the door propped open. Nobody questions his ability to occasionally lay into a baseball. The issue is his strikeout and whiff rates. These have contributed to a .209/.276/.406 batting line. Unlike O’Neill, Hernandez feature elite hard contact rates so he’s unable to fall back on a helium-filled BABIP.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 35 HR, 56 HR projected

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 34 HR, 53 HR projected

Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 32 HR, 50 HR projected

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 30 HR, 47 HR projected

Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: 27 HR, 47 HR projected

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 22 HR, 45 HR projected

Edwin Encarnacion, New York Yankees: 29 HR, 44 HR projected

Franmil Reyes, San Diego Padres: 27 HR, 44 HR projected

Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates: 27 HR, 42 HR projected

Mike Moustakas, Milwaukee Brewers: 25 HR, 41 HR projected

Jay Bruce’s stay on the list was short-lived for reasons discussed in the next section. Encarnacion’s big week was sufficient to return him to the Top 10. Meanwhile, the Roger Maris home run record is now within reach of Yelich. And don’t sleep on Alonso in this National League home run race. By comparison, the American League is a fairly tame battle between Trout and Encarnacion – in part because injuries have removed several of the best power hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Khris Davis, and others.

Injured

Tommy La Stella, Los Angeles Angels (right tibia fracture, September return)

Stephen Piscotty, Oakland Athletics (right knee sprain, late-July return)

David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks (shoulder inflammation, late-July return)

Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays (shin contusion, late-July return)

Marcell Ozuna, St. Louis Cardinals (finger fracture, late-July return)

Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder inflammation, early-August return)

Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox (high ankle sprain, early-August return)

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (PCL knee strain, mid-August return)

Jedd Gyorko, St. Louis Cardinals (wrist injury while rehabbing, mid-August return)

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners (ruptured testicle, mid-August return)

Kendrys Morales, New York Yankees (calf strain, return unknown)

Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies (torn ACL, out for season)

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (fractured rib, late-July return)

Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners (lower back inflammation, late-July)

Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox (quad strain, late-July return)

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (labrum team, out for season)

Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, mid-July return)

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

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (broken ankles, out for season)

Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (knee surgery with June setback, early-August return)

*** denotes new injury

***C.J. Cron, Minnesota Twins (shoulder inflammation, late-July return)

Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Rays (left ankle sprain, mid-July return)

Hunter Pence, Texas Rangers (right groin strain, mid-July return)

Eddie Rosario, Minnesota Twins (ankle sprain, mid-July return)

Three sluggers landed on the injured list in the last week. Carpenter just can’t seem to avoid minor nagging issues. A bruised foot shouldn’t cost him more than the minimum. Even though X-Rays were negative, sometimes breaks or soft tissue damage only become apparent after the swelling goes down. Jimenez could miss anywhere from 10 days to a couple months. Nerve injuries are uncommon and don’t always present straightforward recovery timelines. Similarly, Bruce’s injury presents a vast range of possible return dates.

Returning from injury this week were C.J. Cron, Ji-Man Choi, Hunter Pence, and Eddie Rosario. Choi’s spot on the Rays roster could be in jeopardy when Brandon Lowe returns to the lineup. Nate Lowe has proven to be a better option at first base than Choi. The Twins lineup certainly needed an injection of power from Cron and Rosario. Their lead in the AL Central has dwindled. The Rangers have all but fallen out of the playoff race. Pence returned just in time to audition for contenders.

Power Spotlight

Cavan Biggio hasn’t homered since June 29. Over his last 50 plate appearances, he’s batting just .125/.300/.125 with nary an extra base hit. So why is he in the spotlight when there’s no shortage of breakout power bats around the league? In short, he possesses the traits of a home run machine. More importantly, early-career slumps are often the best time to acquire a player.

The home-brewed projection system used to compile my Top 10 home run projections relies uses plate appearances, balls in play, fly ball rate, and home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB). Biggio has sufficient skills to excel in all four categories. His present slump has all the trademarks of an adjustment to his plate approach. The ball is now in Biggio’s court to counter-adjust.

Although his 17 percent walk rate and 28 percent strikeout rate have cut into his ball in play rate through his first 182 plate appearances, his 7.6 percent swinging strike rate is above average. His strikeout rate should dramatically improve as he settles into the majors. He’s one of the most selective hitters in the league so it’s mostly a matter of taking a more aggressive approach to pitches in the zone.

Already, he’s hitting nearly 50 percent of his contact in the air. This is consistent with his minor league performances. His 12.2 percent HR/FB ratio is unimpressive, but it’s backed by a 45.5 percent hard contact rate and an above average exit velocity. He almost never makes soft contact. The combination of hard fly balls and low home run rate cannot coexist for long. He’ll either start making less hard contact or pop more homers. I’m betting on the latter.

If there’s an overriding issue for Biggio, it’s the negative defensive marks he’s accrued to date. If he’s unable to stick at second base, he’ll have to find a role in the outfield or as a designated hitter. Ultimately, it’s up to his bat to carry him to a long-term everyday role. He risks falling into a utility role if he doesn’t awaken by the end of 2020 – if not sooner.