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Home run distance is often bandied about as a stat meant inspire awe for today's most prolific sluggers. Upper deck moonshots and splashes in McCovey's Cove are quite possibly the most entertaining moments to watch for casual fans, but fantasy baseball owners reap no benefit for additional distance reached. Simply put, a homer is a homer. But what if this could be a potential key to find sustainable sources of power?

Many fantasy baseball owners are starting to see the value of MLB's Statcast advanced stats in order to help identify potential risers and sleepers. Just as we've done for pitchers, this weekly series will examine a handful of hitters who are performing surprisingly well or poorly according to sabermetrics.

Each week, we'll take a look at some key Statcast offensive metrics in order to assess risers and fallers. This time, we'll look at the potential usefulness of home run distance in identifying power risers or fallers.

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Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of May 19, 2018

Franchy Cordero (OF, SD) - 438 ft. average HR distance

If you've watched Cordero play, it's hard not to like what you see. He's a tall, lanky left-handed batter with a powerful stroke and a great burst of speed on the basepaths as well. Plus, when it comes to highlight-reel longballs, he's leading the world right now. Cordero owns the longest HR of the season, according to Statcast - a 489-foot blast off Matt Koch, with an exit velocity of 116.3 mph. While that may just be one moment in time, it's all the more impressive to know that he owns three of the top 20 longest homers this season (#1, #14, #17). Cordero also ranks 15th in average exit velocity. He's only up to six HR on the young season, but remember he was called up two weeks after the season began. He is yet to go deep in May, so the enthusiasm has dampened on his potential, but don't give up yet. Cordero's power is real, as evidenced by a 70-grade RawPower tool on Fangraphs. While his propensity to strikeout makes him hard to play in points leagues, he is worth holding onto in any 5x5 roto league of 12 teams or more.

Nomar Mazara (OF, TEX) - 427 ft. average HR distance

Mazara has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the power category this season. Not thought of as a slugger, Mazara went on a tear as soon as the calendar flipped to May, going deep four days in a row. He is up to 10 HR, which is exactly half of his year-end total over the first two seasons of his early career. His 35.7% HR/FB is the highest in the majors among qualified batters, which makes sense since he has a below-average 21.4% FB%. Is he just getting lucky and now due for a huge decline in homers? The stats actually say no. He's simply making the most of his deep flies by hitting them an average of 427 feet. Interestingly, his overall average distance on batted balls falls all the way down to 350th among all hitters, at 139 feet. That's a result of the low fly ball rate he owns, so it's a case of all-or-nothing with Mazara. Simply put, he's not someone who will push outfielders to the wall too often, but when he gets a hold of a pitch, it's a no-doubter. In his third Major League season at the age of 23, Mazara could be experiencing a breakout that we need to appreciate.

Josh Bell (1B, PIT) - 425 ft. average HR distance

It's surprising to see Bell on any HR leader list because you may not realize he's even gone deep this year. It's been a disappointing start for the sophomore, but we've seen this before. In his first 45 games as a rookie in 2016, Bell slashed .273/.368/.406 with three HR. 19 RBI. This season, in 42 games so far, he is slashing .269/.346/.413 with three HR, 27 RBI. Most of his other batted ball numbers are also comparable to 2016. The only difference is his plate discipline, which has declined. He showed a great eye in his first taste of the majors, drawing more walks (21) than strikeouts (19). This season, he's struck out 35 times compared to 20 walks. Last year's power surge, when he set the Pirates' franchise record for home runs by a rookie, was seen as the natural progression for a top prospect. Now, it must be questioned whether the real Bell is the one we're seeing now. His home park does him no favors, as PNC is third-lowest in HR Park Factor this year. If you're looking for an encouraging sign, it's that Bell is 10th in average home run distance at 425 per pop. The small sample size of three HR could account for that, but we know there is a lot more pop than he's shown so far. In keeper leagues, you should definitely be patient with Bell, but it's not a guarantee that he'll match last year's home run totals either.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

Jose Altuve (2B, HOU) - 359 ft. average HR distance

Two big flies in 203 plate appearances at an average of 359 feet. Only four players who have left the yard this season have a lower average. A 5'6" second baseman isn't supposed to be a home run hitter anyway, so this is nothing to be concerned about, right? The problem is if you own Altuve, you owned a top-three pick or paid upwards of $50 on draft day and are expecting those 24 homers again. Will he turn things around, or was his sudden power boom too good to last? Altuve seems primed to turn things around in a big way when it comes to the HR category. First, his 4.0% HR/FB rate is not only extremely low, it's 10 points lower than last year despite the fact his fly ball rate hasn't changed. Next, his hard hit rate is at a career-high 34.6%, so if he starts to pull the ball more, the ball may start leaving the yard more often. Finally, in this case, the HR distance is of no concern. In 2017, he ranked 335th at an average of 395 feet. In 2016, he was 249th at an average of 397 feet. Not surprisingly, he isn't the most powerful hitter in the league, but he can still get a hold of enough balls to reach the 20-HR mark again. There is no buy-low window here, but Altuve owners should be comforted in knowing there is positive regression coming in his power. The stolen base thing is a whole other issue...

Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET) - 365 ft. average HR distance

The big issue here, as it was last season, is that Miggy is not 100%. Last year it was his back, this time it's a hamstring. At 35, these things happen. Saying out loud that he's "done playing hurt" is not encouraging for fantasy owners to hear, because it could be far longer than 10 days before he returns. Even though his batting average is a robust .323, recurring back stiffness could be sapping him of his power. He's been hitting the ball on the ground way too much (55.8% GB%) and isn't getting as much on his fly balls as he used to. The first year of Statcast, Cabrera averaged 411 feet on his home runs, followed by 405 the next year. A drop of nearly 50 feet would be a red flag if it continued once he is on the field again. Cabrera could still be productive on a high level, but it's likely going to come in short spurts, as his days of playing 160 games in a season are over.

Josh Reddick (OF, HOU) - 371 ft. average HR distance

Remember when Reddick hit 32 homers in a season for the A's? It's been six years, although it seems much longer. Reddick is one of the lowest-profile members of the world champion Astros, but he got some notice by hitting two grand slams within the same month. He finished April strong with six HR and 15 RBI, but it's been all quiet on the power front since. There are a couple of good reasons to think that it will stay that way. His 14.3% HR/FB is the highest of his career and five points above his career average. His 371-foot average HR distance is also dangerously low, although Houston's 1.4 HR Park Factor may help prop up his numbers a bit. All told, Reddick is a dicey candidate for fantasy owners because prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker can easily replace him for large chunks of time, even if he's completely healthy, which he's not at the moment. If you're going to count on Reddick for anything these days, it would be average, not power.

 

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