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Drafting sluggers is absolutely imperative in fantasy baseball. With homers on the rise, fantasy owners must be sure to prioritize the long ball this season. It seemed like every other fantasy-viable batter hit over 25 HR last year, didn’t it? At the same time, however, sluggers like Mark Trumbo (23 HR), Miguel Cabrera (16 HR), Todd Frazier (27 HR), Chris Carter (eight HR) and Chris Davis (26 HR) disappointed all season long.

If you want to avoid drafting a player due for extreme power regression, you need to be able to identify which players are able to sustain slugging surges and who’s likely to bounce back from a down year.

As always, there were some surprising home run risers and fallers in 2017, so why not showcase some of their profiles so you can gain an edge on draft day?

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Home Run Risers

Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) - 37 HR

Blackmon is about the most complete fantasy asset there is. Literally everything you need is present in his game. He did hit 29 bombs in 2016, so, to be fair, it’s not like he was lacking pop, but 37 dingers was a bit more than expected in his age-30 season.

His 19.6% HR/FB rate is well above his career average, so expect that to come down, obviously. Don’t expect him to hit less than 25 HRs this year, though. Blackmon has been laying into pitches for the past two seasons, evidenced by a 39% hard contact rate last year, higher than Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Edwin Encarnacion, and Freddie Freeman. When you're making that kind of contact all season, there's no reason to bang the regression drum. Blackmon has been finishing as a top fantasy asset for two seasons, so it would be wrong to let him fall on draft day. He finished #2 in ESPN's fantasy player rater last year, behind Jose Altuve

Feel free to take Blackmon anywhere in the second half of the first round this year. I had the ninth pick in the Rotoballer mock draft a week ago and I gladly scooped Blackmon with my first pick. Expect 27-35 HRs from Blackmon in 2018 and don’t fall for the “major regression incoming” trap. Blackmon is a world-class slugger.

J.D. Martinez (OF, FA) - 45 HR

I made a grave mistake in one of my leagues last season. I traded Martinez right before he really took off. My return? DJ LeMahieu and Roberto Osuna. Awful, I know, but I still won the league. Martinez melted our faces off in 2017, to put it mildly. We’re talking home run every-other-at-bat type production. Ok, not quite that much power, but it really seemed like he was cranking one into the bleachers every day. He was setting records. He carries the Diamondbacks to the playoffs. He was everything you could have asked for in a trade rental.

Martinez wasn’t making as much contact as he usually had, though. He was swinging less and hitting more fly balls and fewer line drives. One would assume that his batting average plummeted in exchange for more bombs, but that really wasn’t the case. He maintained a steady .303 BA, and in the meantime, raised his hard contact rate to 49%, a whole nine percent higher than his career average. A hard contact rate surge like that is directly tied to more home run production.

A 33.8 HR/FB rate looks way too unsustainable, but be warned: Martinez’s 2017 power surge was as much a result of his prime age and new fly ball approach as it was sheer luck. He’s an auto-pick in drafts this year. He’ll sleepwalk to 35 HRs.

Paul Goldschmidt (1B, ARI) - 36 HR

You better believe Goldy is right there with Mike Trout and Jose Altuve as one of the premier fantasy producers in the league. 100 runs and 100 RBI is the bare minimum expectation for Goldschmidt, and anything less would be surprising. His 36 HRs in 2017 matched a career high.

Goldy hitting 36 bombs was the furthest thing from surprising, but considering he hit only 24 HRs in 2016, his profile is worth exploring. Many batters favored hitting fly balls last year more than they had in past seasons. Goldschmidt was one of them.

He traded line drives for fly balls, he swung more, made less contact, but his .297 BA mirrored his 2016 .297 BA. Unless there was a major conscious adjustment in his approach - hit the ball higher and swing more - you shouldn’t be surprised when he hits a few less homers in exchange for more walks and line drives. This could be the new Goldschmidt, though, in which case 35 HRs and a .295 BA is more likely than a return to a 30 HR/.305 BA line. He’s still going to produce no matter what, so try not to nitpick expectations too much. When Trout and Altuve are off the board, there’s little reason not to pick Goldschmidt.


Home Run Fallers

Mark Trumbo (1B, BAL) - 23 HR

Trumbo wasn’t hitting enough home runs in 2017 because he wasn’t hitting the ball hard enough. A near career-low hard contact rate will do that to a player. His fly-ball rate was right in line with his career average, but his HR/FB rate was 13.8%, five percent lower than his career average.

His 2017 plate discipline numbers show no red flags, either. He was actually swinging less frequently and making normal contact inside and outside the zone, so what was his problem? He saw fewer fastballs and more curveballs. That's Trumbo's kryptonite. 

Trumbo was mashing fastballs in 2016, so when pitchers started throwing more curves in 2017, he made weak contact and couldn’t put the ball in play. Trumbo’s most prolific seasons came when he was able to at least manage breaking stuff. When he’s getting destroyed by the curveball, though, his whole game crumbles. Assuming he bounces back and works on connecting on curves this offseason, expect Trumbo to hit at least 30 HRs. However, that might be a bit optimistic.

Matt Kemp (OF, LAD) - 19 HR

When you’re a 32-year-old power hitter and you suddenly stop hitting sliders and changeups and start making weak contact at a high rate, you’re going to be demolished by major league arms. That’s precisely what happened to Kemp in 2017. This resulted in Kemp - who was maintaining contact rates in line with his career averages - hitting grounders at a career-high rate and fly-balls at a career-low rate. That’s the perfect recipe for major home run regression.

Kemp is back in a Dodgers uniform and will turn 34 in September. There’s always positive regression hope for every player coming off a down season, but don’t pay out of your nose in hope that he returns to his days of 25-30 HRs and 100 RBI. He’s worth keeping an eye on because he has a strong track record, but his preseason maybe-buy-low status is buoyed by an uber-talented supporting cast in LA. Anticipate the Dodgers working with Kemp on seeing sliders and changeups in spring training.

Todd Frazier (3B, FA) - 27 HR

Frazier’s really not that old. Let’s get that straight before diving into the numbers. Fantasy gamers were perfectly reasonable in expecting Frazier to hit 35-40 HRs last year. 80-90 runs and RBI had been Frazier’s floor for, like, three years. Were the White Sox fielding one of the better lineups in the league last year? Certainly not, but players have produced with weak supporting casts. 

Fantasy owners will see Frazier’s 27 HRs and logically assume that his quality of contact rates and fly-ball rate were down in 2017. That was actually not the case, interestingly enough. Frazier traded home runs for walks last year. He took fewer swings, evidenced by a 40.2% swing rate, seven percent less than his career Swing%, and his walk rate blossomed into a healthy 14.4%, nearly six percent higher than his career average walk rate of 8.9%. Frazier’s .213 BA was well below his career batting average of .245, but his .344 OBP was a career-high.

Frazier will bounce back in 2018. Anticipate around 30 HRs, 70-80 RBI, and a .230-.240 BA. Now is the time to buy low.


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