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March 18, 2014

The Darkhorses

Home Runs

by BP Fantasy Staff

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One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’ll take a look at offense this week and pitching next. Yesterday’s look at batting average is here. And, without further ado, here are some players capable of teaching Chris Davis a thing or two about hitting dingers this year:

OUTSIDE THE TOP 10

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT
The low-batting-average and high-whiff-rate combination is going to make it difficult for Alvarez to get there, but even a slight uptick in the batting average could lead to a 40-45 home-run season. Alvarez’s raw power is ridiculous. It’s hard to win a home run title with a low batting average, but not unprecedented. Dave Kingman’s .204 batting average in 1982 with 37 home runs is the record for a titleholder; a home-run title with a .240 or .250 batting average isn’t impossible. —Mike Gianella

Prince Fielder, 1B, TEX
The skills are diminishing, but that does not mean that positive fluctuations do not exist along a downward trend. More importantly, if park factors mask his decline, the dingers still count. Would I bet on him hitting 40 home runs? Maybe not, but I do not think it is an impossibility. The fact that he has played in at least 157 games each of the last eight seasons improves the chances of this prediction. —Jeff Quinton

Curtis Granderson, OF, NYM
I think Curtis Granderson's big power totals are wrongly perceived to be a product of Yankee Stadium. He had back-to-back 40-homer seasons in 2011-2012 and while Yankee Stadium helped, it didn’t make him a power hitter. Over his four years as a Yankee, he hit 115 home runs with a 55/45 percent split in favor of Yankee Stadium. The first 40-homer season was a near-even 21/20 split, though the second was more home-dependent at 26/17. Last year, Citi Field was just below Yankee Stadium in home run park factor so Granderson might not have such a tough time sustaining his power during his first go-round in the National League. Paul Sporer

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
There is no question that Harper carries the potential to hit 40-plus homers in a season; however, whether he can do it in 2014 remains to be seen. In fact, a 21-year-old has only reached that milestone once in major-league history, and not in more than a half-century: Eddie Matthews hit 47 homers in 1957. For Harper to accomplish this, he's going to have to do two things: increase his fly ball rate (which is low for a slugger at 33.2 percent for his career) and stay healthy. While his all-out style of play may lead to some concerns about injury, he's still only been on the major league disabled list once in two seasons. Of course, he could just get lucky and have a 28 percent HR:FB rate, but that's more #analysis than analysis. —Bret Sayre

Evan Longoria, 3B, TAM
After his third consecutive .300-plus TAv season, Longoria doesn’t have much left to prove offensively. Still, he’s in the heart of his prime right now and it just feels like one of these years he’s going to run into a little luck and threaten the 40-homer threshold, doesn’t it? If he can stay healthy for another full season and bump his HR/FB rate up from last year’s slightly-below-career-average 15.7 percent rate and more into the range of his injury-abbreviated 19.5 percent mark from 2012, who’s to say that year can’t be upon us now? He boosted his fly-ball rate above 44 percent last season, and the increased HR:FB rate coupled with maintaining that batted-ball distribution should be just about enough to get him there. —Wilson Karaman

Brian McCann, C, NYY
While he's never topped 24 home runs in his career and is generally right around 20, McCann gets my vote as a dark horse contender to lead mlb in home runs thanks to a move from Turner Field to New Yankee Stadium, among other things. While home parks are only half the game, Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field is extremely inviting to a lefty like McCann, who should see some extra at-bats thanks to the availability of the designated hitter. While that's not a pure off day, it's hard to see how the Yankees could leave his bat pit of the lineup as much as they would a normal catcher. Add in the good hitting environments of three of the four other AL East stadiums, and there's even more reason for hope. McCann's strong fly ball rate should aid him in his quest for homers, as should his health, as he'll be another year removed from shoulder surgery, which can only be a good thing. Craig Goldstein

Will Middlebrooks, 3B, BOS
Middlebrooks proved last year that there's a lot he has to work on if he's to be relied upon as a major league starter. He also proved that his biggest asset is his power, as he managed to hit 17 homers in just 374 PA one season after mashing 15 in 286 PA. Middlebrooks has trouble recognizing breaking pitches from right-handers and has holes in his swing, but he's capable of driving fastballs and mistakes to all fields and he plays in a park that's conducive to accentuating righty power. Middlebrooks' 2014 homer total is contingent on his approach at the plate and consistency at the hot corner. If he's good enough to start every day and receive 550 PA, 30-plus homers are well within his reach despite his PECOTA projection of 26 bombs. —Ben Carsley

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC
After hitting eight home runs in April, Rizzo didn’t hit his next eight until August first, ending the year with 23 long balls. On the surface, it was a disappointing sophomore season for the Cubs first baseman, but one that saw his home run numbers go up for the second consecutive campaign. Rizzo’s righty/lefty splits are well documented, but his career home run-to-fly ball rates against righties and lefties are nearly identical. This is a 24-year-old who displayed prestigious power in the minors, including 23 home runs and a .354 ISO in 70 Triple-A games prior to his big league call-up in Chicago. Rizzo’s power numbers should continue to climb for the third year in a row, with 30-35 home runs a possibility—add in a couple of wind-aided fly balls in Wrigley, and maybe he approaches 40. Rizzo will need the field to come down to him, but the chance to lead the league is there, especially in the NL. —Alex Kantecki

OUTSIDE THE TOP 25

Jose Abreu, 1B, CHW
Let's go over the things we know definitively about Abreu. First, he's from Cuba. Second, he was more prodigious at the plate in Cuba than any of the recent defectors we've seen hit the major leagues. Third, he's got man strength. Fourth, he's on the White Sox and that means he'll get to play half his games in U.S. Cellular Field—a venue that really brings out said man strength. That's about it. I'm personally buying in on the Abreu hype and think he has a legitimate chance at 30 homers. Though, as we know, if you can hit 30 homers, you always have an outside chance at 40. —Bret Sayre

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT
After launching a career-best 36 home runs, PECOTA projects Alvarez to suffer a significant power outage in 2014. I would bet the over on 29 long balls in 2013, but PECOTA conservatively projects 25 for the left-hander. The Pirates third baseman might only be a two-category producer, but his power is among the best in the today’s game; last season’s batted ball distance of 311.36 feet ranked third highest, behind only Carlos Gonzalez (313.76) and Paul Goldschmidt (313.67). Alvarez tied Goldy for the most home runs in the NL a year ago, and a career high in games played could make 40-plus dingers a reality. —Alex Kantecki

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, OAK
Yoenis Cespedes has yet to reach 30 homers as a major leaguer, but it’s not because of any dearth of actual power. It’s been his health. He’s played just 129 and 135 games in his first two seasons and yet he has still managed 23 and 26 homers, respectively. The power is there for a league-leading effort without question, so this is simply a bet on health. —Paul Sporer

Nelson Cruz, OF, BAL
Second verse, same as the first. While Cruz isn't in the same situation as McCann in terms of potentially hidden power thanks to his previous home ballpark, he will benefit from being in the friendly confines of four of the AL East's home parks. He also doesn't need an introduction as a power source, as he's already topped 30 homers in his career and is a steady source of 20-plus. There's obviously a stretch from those numbers to leading the league, but no one should be doubting Cruz's power. The real question is how much it will function given all the swing and miss in his game. To that end, it's possible that Cruz either makes an adjustment or just experiences a season of above average contact, meaning more fly balls and more home runs. We've seen the adjustments Chris Davis has made while in Baltimore, and perhaps the coaches there can get through to Cruz as well.

I mean, Brady Anderson hit 50 once and you're telling me this is impossible? —Craig Goldstein

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
Rarely a dark horse, Trout is turning 23 in August and his neck is getting closer and closer to Takeo Spikes level thickness each day. Trout may also try to drive the ball for more power in 2013 given his set spot in the two-hole. When he tries to do things on a baseball field, he tends to be more successful at it than other people who try to do those same things. With that kind of infallible logic, give me Trout with 44 homers this year. —Jeff Quinton

Justin Upton, OF, ATL
Another guy who just feels like he should lead the league eventually, right? It looked like last year might be that year, as Upton’s torrid 12-homer April had owners dreaming of a fully realized breakout…until he hit just four more homers over the next three months. He just doesn’t hit enough fly balls right now to fully capitalize on his power, but if there’s some optimism to be gleaned from last season’s inconsistency it’s that despite the roller-coaster his final numbers did feature some nice gains in both his fly ball and HR/FB rates. Atlanta’s boom-or-bust organizational philosophy certainly isn’t going to hold him back, and at 26 years old it is prime time for the younger Upton. You heard it here first: a league-leading 44-home-run campaign awaits in 2014. —Wilson Karaman

Josh Willingham, OF, MIN This one seems silly… until you realize that Willingham was eighth in the majors in home runs in 2012. Target Field wasn’t an impediment either, as Willingham swatted 21 of his 35 home runs in 2012 at home. He needs to stay healthy and on the field but if he can do that, a big power year isn’t out of the question. —Mike Gianella

Josh Willingham, OF MIN Willingham is an older player in decline on a bad team coming off of a bad year. In other words, he's one of the easiest players in fantasy to overlook and/or write off, and there are legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about his future. That being said, Willingham averaged 32 homers per season in 2011-2012 and managed to hit 14 bombs in 471 PA last season. While he'll be 35 for all of 2014, Willingham isn't far removed from hitting for significant power and Target Field isn't as brutal for right-handed power hitters as it is for lefties. This is a long shot to be sure and PECOTA projects him for just 24 homers, but if Willingham hits 30-plus homers and it’s a down year for power, we could see him finish at or near the top of the leaderboard. —Ben Carsley

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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4 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Menthol

"You heard it here first: a league-leading 44-home-run campaign awaits in 2014."

From your lips (fingers) to my fantasy lineup's ears.

Mar 18, 2014 08:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jeff Quinton
BP staff

hahah. I would not be betting or banking on that.

Mar 19, 2014 05:51 AM
 
bhalpern

If Pedro Alvarez hits 80 HR I will run away with my points based dynasty league. Very psyched.

Mar 18, 2014 08:29 AM
rating: 1
 
hessshaun

No Trumbo love?

Mar 27, 2014 12:03 PM
rating: 0
 
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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Five to Watch: Nationa... (03/18)
<< Previous Column
The Darkhorses: Battin... (03/17)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article The Darkhorses: Runs B... (03/19)
Next Article >>
Baseball Prospectus Ne... (03/18)

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