Today we wrap the first categorical overview with a deeper dive into some players who posted unexpected home run totals in 2016. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you read George Bissell’s summation of a season that saw more balls leave the yard than any save Y2K, as well as Wilson Karaman’s breakdown of some high profile over- and under-achievers.
As Wilson alluded to in his piece, Galvis is the ultimate example of “I can’t believe [INSERT BANJO-HITTING MIDDLE INFIELDER] hit [INSERT HOME RUN TOTAL…DOUBLE CHECK…YEAH, SOMEHOW THAT’S RIGHT] home runs in 2016!” One of the 111 players to hit 20 or more bombs last season, Galvis added 14 dingers to his 2015 tally in roughly the same number of plate appearances. His average home run distance of 383 feet was among the lowest in that 111-man group. Galvis might be a double-digit home run hitter on true talent and at peak physical maturity, but expecting him to approach 2016’s total is unwise for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Phillies’ shortstop of the future ready to displace him by early summer.
Gyorko had at least 100 fewer plate appearances than all 37 of the other players who mashed 30-plus taters in 2016 except Evan Gattis, who strode to the dish 61 more times than Gyorko. How about this way: the average number of plate appearances for the players who eclipsed 30 home runs was 642. Gyorko had 438. What I’m trying to say is that his season was even more impressive than just the raw home run total would have you believe, and the raw total is plenty impressive in its own right. That said, Gyorko looks grossly out of place on 2016’s HR/FB leaderboard; his 24.4 percent rate was eighth-highest among players with at least as many at-bats. Even after factoring in substantial correction there, 25 is a reasonable projection for 2017. Gyorko was still a part-timer well into June, a role he figures to have earned his way out of come Opening Day.
Lamb exploded in the first half of the 2016, riding a pull-heavy approach to a power outburst that lasted through the summer. In its most extreme moments, Lamb’s spray chart looked like it belonged to Brian Dozier or Joey Bats. Lamb yanked 55.6 percent of his batted balls in May and a tidy half in June, launching 14 home runs in the process. That tendency toward dead pull deteriorated dramatically as the year wore on, and so did his power numbers. By September Lamb was only getting around on 31.3 percent of batted balls. Pitchers did begin to pitch him inside more often later in the season, but not in such a dramatic way that explains the wild fluctuation in Lamb’s batted ball distribution. Whatever the combination of reasons, Lamb’s 68 wRC+ from August on won’t keep him in the lineup long if he can’t adjust. Couple that with Brandon Drury as a natural platoon partner to hide Lamb against southpaws, and my money’s on 2016’s 29 home runs looking like an outlier when Lamb hangs ‘em up.
The Interesting Cases
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
You might remember Grichuk as one of the first darlings of the Statcast era. His elite 2015 exit velocity had many projecting a massive breakout in 2016 and those who bought in were rewarded with a .206/.276/.392 triple-slash through his first 225 plate appearances. After a quick spell in Triple-A to get right, Grichuk came back looking like the player many thought he’d be, including 16 home runs in 253 plate appearances after his return. He posted a .285 ISO and .554 slugging percentage during that stretch, which would have ranked second and seventh in the league, respectively, if they were full-season numbers. That’s a flawed way to evaluate a player, though instructive about just how powerful Grichuk was from July forward. His willingness to swing at everything will continue to be exploited, but Grichuk is a bona fide slugger without as much competition for at-bats now that Matt Holiday and Brandon Moss are gone.
Tommy Joseph, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
Joseph completed a long and difficult journey to the majors, finally getting over long-lingering concussion symptoms and appearing in more than 45 games for the first time since 2012. Power has been Joseph’s calling card dating back to his days as a second-round high school catcher, but injuries have kept it off the stat line since the Cal League-fueled 22 he smacked as a teenager a half-decade ago. Joseph’s 21 dingers in the majors this season hardly moves the needle at first base, though you should keep in mind that he didn’t reach Philly until mid-May and the Phillies continued to throw away at-bats on Ryan Howard all the way to the end. Citizens Bank is a delightful place for right-handed power and Joseph’s batted ball distance and exit velocity both speak to the legitimacy of his thump. The Phillies' lineup is horrid and there’s little reason to believe Joseph won’t be given the opportunity to pile up many more than the 347 plate appearances he did in 2016. With it should come a run at 30 bombs.
Allow me to take this opportunity to marinate on the relative value of the home run in today’s fantasy game. Despite popping 27 home runs in 2016, good for fourth-most among shortstops, Semien barely cracked the top 20 at the position according to ESPN’s player rater. The prevailing narrative is that the talent at the six spot hasn’t been this rich in quite some time, and I’m certainly not going to argue that point. Nevertheless, when a shortstop hits this many dingers without killing you in any other category and is barely mixed league relevant, it’s time to recalibrate. This is not particularly revelatory in light of the league-wide context that George discussed earlier this week, but it’s worth hammering home.
A gaudy home run total from a middle infielder has been one of the surest paths to fantasy value for so long that it’s going to take some time to adjust the subconscious reaction to the number on the page. Because of the volume available across the league, there’s just not much marginal benefit in targeting home runs in the middle infield at present. Take that extra dollar you would’ve formerly spent on someone’s marginal power boost and spend it on Machado’s counting stats, or Turner’s speed, or Xander’s batting average. There’s more comparative advantage to be had there.
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