In the previous Homer Report, we discussed the implications of early-April home run paces. I left out two relevant details: the extra-inning runner-on-second rule and seven-inning doubleheaders. Both rules lead to fewer overall innings and thus will put downward pressure on the overall home run total. To approach 2019 levels (6,776 home runs) will require serious feats of strength.
Sluggers hammered 210 home runs in the last week. There was virtually no change in the leaguewide pace. It has increased from 5,571 to 5,573 home runs. I still anticipate over 6,000 home runs once the smoke clears. Meanwhile, more research into the nature of the 2021 baseball has confirmed earlier analyses. Line drive exit velocity is up. Fly ball distances – especially those at higher launch angles – are down due to increased drag. The overall effect is contradictory and might roughly cancel out. One thing is certain – strikeouts are up thanks to increased pitch movement (drag).
Top Performances of the Week
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 4 HR
Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox, 4 HR
9 Others, 3 HR
In two weeks, Acuna has already produced half as many home runs as last season. Startlingly, his swinging strike and strikeout rates have nearly halved. Those who selected him with one of the first three picks could cash in on the best hitter season in recent memory. Previously, a hefty strikeout rate was the price we paid for his otherwise elite output.
We’re perhaps witnessing the fourth variation of Devers in as many years. He’s seemingly lost the contact skills he found during his aberrant 2019 campaign. However, an increase to both his hard-hit rate and launch angle might yet yield a career-best season. Expect a batting average and OBP on par with his modest 2020 output. If he were to maintain his present fly ball and HR/FB rates, he could challenge for 60 home runs. A more sober expectation is for 35 home runs including the five he already has in the bag.
The three-home run crowd has a mix of expected names and fun surprises. Tooled up shortstop Jazz Chisholm is making more contact than expected and working counts. His week included this comical upper deck blast off Jacob deGrom. His other two homers were on meatballs over the heart of the plate. Slugging teammate Adam Duvall also popped a trio.
Welcome back to Trent Grisham. He’s hitting practically everything in the air. It turned out well this week, but we’ll need to keep an eye on his infield fly rate. Those are basically batted strikeouts. Grisham is reminiscent of peak Brett Gardner but with more raw power. He should be a steady source of OBP, but his batting averages might wander between above and below average. Similarly his power output could conceivably range from 20 to 35 home runs per season.
Trey Mancini was the only one to hit three or more home runs and post a below average week. His .120/.214/.480 batting line was hindered by a .000 BABIP. Home runs are great, but balls in play need to fall too.
The remaining five were veterans we expect to sometimes join this sort of list, namely Mitch Haniger, Eduardo Escober, J.D. Martinez, Wilson Ramos, and Joey Votto. In a sense, it’s a welcome back party for all five. Escobar and Martinez were practically ghosts at the plate last season. We all know Haniger’s struggles with various injuries. Ramos and Votto were showing their age. They seemingly still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
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My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 7 HR, 49 projected
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 4 HR, 46 proj
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 4 HR, 46 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 4 HR, 43 proj
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, 1 HR, 43 proj
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 1 HR, 42 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 4 HR, 41 proj
Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds, 2 HR, 41 proj
Adam Duvall, Miami Marlins, 4 HR, 40 proj
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 3 HR, 39 proj
This new projection for Acuna is honestly quite conservative. Presently, about three-quarters of his plate appearances are ending with a batted ball. Since the start of 2020, a third of his fly balls have flown over a wall. My home run calculator is using values of 63 percent batted balls and 27 percent HR/FB. If I used his present rates, he’d project for a whopping 68 home runs. Of course, this conservatism is a feature of regression-based analysis.
The Mets haven’t played much, hence why Alonso hasn’t relinquished much ground. Comparatively, Gallo was initially projected for 48 home runs. His launch angle has declined this season which is probably a good thing for his overall performance even if it hurts his top-end power potential.
Along with Acuna, Duvall is the other slugger to join this list. I only have him down for around 575 plate appearances. Since he’s a low OBP hitter playing for an also-ran club with a pile of outfield prospects, there’s risk of a slump reducing his playing time. And a slump is almost inevitable for an all-or-nothing batter like Duvall.
Dropping from the list are Nick Castellanos and Byron Buxton. Castellanos is now 12th on the list – Martinez also leapfrogged him by a narrow margin. A nagging hamstring injury has sidelined Buxton, leading to a matching drop in expect plate appearances. He’s now 16th on the list.
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique, early-May
Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds, fractured hamate, early-June
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list, soon
Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list, soon
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, COVID-19 list, soon
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, groin, late-April
Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals, groin, late-April
None of the injuries suffered in the last week should be too serious. The Astros hope their trio of stars can return soon – their lineup is greatly weakened without them. Rendon and O’Neill have straightforward recoveries. Walker has a more difficult injury to overcome, and there’s risk the Diamondbacks will fall in love with his replacement(s). Aquino was barely playing, but he was mashing in limited opportunities.
Christian Yelich and Byron Buxton are battling day-to-day injuries and could flit briefly onto the Injured List to ensure a full recovery. Matt Olson is also banged up with a sore thumb.
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, late-April return
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture, uncertain
J.D. Davis, New York Mets, bruised hand, late-April return
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates, wrist strain, early-May return
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September return
Luke Voit, New York Yankees, knee, May return
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees, wrist, return date unknown
Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners, knee, mid-April
Khris Davis, Texas Rangers, quad strain, early-May return
Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, hamstring strain, minor league assignment likely
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, mid-April return
Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays, COVID-19 list, soon
A scan discovered a stress fracture in Bellinger’s left fibula. The prognosis is unknown at this time. Stress fractures can be difficult to heal, either requiring a long layoff and/or surgery in some cases. In better news Lewis, Hernandez, and Springer could return this week. Meanwhile, Hayes and Marte are running behind on their rehab.
Returned to Action
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, separated shoulder
DJ Stewart, Baltimore Orioles, hamstring
Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins, hamstring strain
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox, hamstring
Tatis will attempt to play through his shoulder injury. The official word is it’s healed, although such injuries have a nasty habit of recurring. It’s worrisome that something as simple as a swing set it off. That’s my non-medical outside perspective. Take it with a grain of salt.
The other three recovered from hamstring strains, an injury which can also recur but generally has a very good prognosis. Especially when working with professional-grade training staff.
For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.
A patron of mine had a question for me last week – “What do you think of Colin Moran’s power growth? Can he hit 30 HR with an acceptable batting average?” My visceral reaction was “of course not.” Since I took the time to make a fancy pants home run calculator to inform this column, I decided to run some scenarios through it. The results… shocked me.
First, let’s look at what Moran has done recently. Since the start of 2020, he’s hit 13 home runs in 256 plate appearances – a pace of 33 per 650 plate appearances. Undoubtedly, it’s this pace that spurred the “can he hit 30 HR” question. Here’s where the analysis gets complicated. The job of projecting is easier when a player’s peripherals stand still. Since the start of 2020, Moran is ending more and more plate appearances with a walk or strikeout. In 2020, he set a career-high max exit velocity. His HR/FB ratio more than doubled from a career-norm of 11.5 percent to 27.8 percent. This season, he’s increased his launch angle to a career-high 14.1 degrees (usually around 11 degrees). One-third of his fly balls have left the yard.
The difficult part of using HR/FB ratio is that it has a nasty habit of misleading us. It’s possible he’s made actual adjustments to account for the increased power, but it’s also possible he benefited from a weak Central Silo last season and is off to a lucky start this year. That leaves us to consider a few scenarios.
In the most optimistic, Moran will marry his 2020 hard contact gains with an improved launch angle. He’ll project for 34 home runs per 650 plate appearances along with a .260 batting average and the run production associated with batting cleanup for a bad offense. Pessimists might note his pitcher friendly home park and long history of hefty ground ball rates. Even giving him some credit in the HR/FB department (18% HR/FB), this version of Moran can only be expected to hit 19 home runs per 650 plate appearances. The rational middle ground – giving him partial credit for growth while baking in regression – anticipates around 26 home runs.
Such an outcome would be a boon to fantasy managers. He was around the 400th player selected during draft season. The middle ground projection looks an awful lot like what one might hope for from Kyle Seager. He was taken around pick 250. Even trading for Moran right now should come at a considerable discount.