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Technically, home runs were down in 2018. Way down. There were 5,585 hit, which was a drop-off of more than 500 long balls from 2017. It was even lower than the 5,610 hit in 2016. Of course, it was also a 30 percent increase from just five years ago, so it's not like they disappeared.
But those big numbers can hide a different story. Everyone is hitting the long ball. There were 27 hitters who hit at least 30 home runs in 2018. There were exactly 100 who hit at least 20, including a lot of guys you wouldn't exactly consider power sources.
So what does this mean for Rotisserie leagues? Well, you can't exactly ignore the category because it's one of the biggest parts of baseball. But it's also one of the easiest things to acquire in baseball, which does devalue it.
I don't go into drafts thinking about power like I do steals and average. It's more something I monitor, to make sure I'm not falling too far behind. The truth is, most of the elite hitters are going to provide power or they wouldn't be elite hitters. And if you do fall behind there will be multiple players available in the double-digit rounds who have a chance to be on the 2019 leaderboard.
- Khris Davis - 48
- J.D. Martinez - 43
- Joey Gallo - 40
- Mike Trout - 39
- Jose Ramirez - 39
- Francisco Lindor - 38
- Nolan Arenado - 38
- Giancarlo Stanton - 38
- Manny Machado, Trevor Story, Nelson Cruz - 37
What you need to win
Below you'll find the average home runs by place for the category in 2018. These numbers are for a standard mixed, 12-team league. In an eight- or 10-team league, these numbers would be higher. In a 15-team league you could aim lower.
Tyler O'Neill has had trouble putting the bat on the ball. But when he does, it goes a long way. In 2018 he struck out 57 times in 61 games in the majors, but nine of his 33 hits left the yard. He's played 194 games in Triple-A and launched 57 home runs. There is very little doubt if O'Neill gets regular playing time he's going to hit home runs.
With the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals do have a bit of a log jam for playing time. But there's opportunity as well. Dexter Fowler was terrible in 2018. Jose Martinez is a DH in a league without one. Harrison Bader doesn't have O'Neill's upside and Marcell Ozuna is rehabbing his shoulder injury in the Dominican Republic.
With all of those question marks and O'Neill's power profile, he's worth a late-round pick just in case.
David Dahl has been in a similar situation as O'Neill for the past few years, but the door seems to be wide open now. He has battled through injuries and playing time concerns to post an .859 OPS with 23 home runs in his first 140 games. Now that he's fully healthy and should play every day, it's easy to see him obliterating that number.
In 2018 he had a 37 percent hard contact rate and hit over 60 percent of his batted balls in the air. That type of profile in Coors Field could lead to an impressive breakout. Nolan Arenado consistently has a similar batter ball profile and has averaged almost 40 home runs per year over the past four years. Dahl strikes out far more often than Arenado, but 30 long balls should be the expectation. And there's upside from there.
Speaking of batted ball data, Dahl's teammate is on the other end of the spectrum. Ian Desmond hit the ball on the ground over 60 percent of the time for the second consecutive year. He still hit 22 home runs because of a 24.7 percent HR/FB rate, but nothing at all looks sustainable about that. His career mark is 14.7 percent and his hard contact rate was 10 percent worse than Dahl's. Desmond profiles as someone who will hit 10-15 home runs if he stays healthy for 160 games again. There's also real reason to be concerned about his stolen bases as he enters his age 33 season.
I'll be avoiding Desmond unless he's available at the very end of the draft.
Jay Bruce was awful last year. He only played 94 games and had an OPS below .700. He hit nine home runs. There's no way to sugarcoat it. But we've seen a similar season and Bruce bounced back nicely. In 2014 he hit .217 with 18 home runs and a .654 OPS. Over the next three seasons he launched 95 home runs and made an All Star team. Yes, Bruce is older now, but he's still (somehow) just 31 years old. I wouldn't use a mixed-league roster spot on him, but he'll be cheap enough in AL-Only leagues to speculate on him as a bounceback candidate.
Peter O'Brien has long been a deep sleeper for power, but he's never been able to find consistent major league at-bats. He may have finally found them in Miami. The Marlins lack of talent (and power) should mean they give O'Brien a long look in spring training. In 110 games across three levels he hit 30 homes runs in 2018 and that wasn't even the best power output of his professional career. Yes, O'Brien is going to strike out too often and give you a terrible batting average. But if you're desperate for power late in an NL-only draft, he's worth a speculative pick.