Why You Shouldn't Forgo Power in Season-Long Fantasy Baseball Drafts
Bang. Pop. Sproing. Boom.
That's the summation of what happened in Major League Baseball in 2016. Baseballs were flying out of the yard like it was the second coming of the steroid era. All told, there were 5,610 home runs hit, an increase of 700 home runs from the previous year and the highest total since 2000. These puppies was cookin'.
That's obviously going to have a huge effect on fantasy baseball. If the supply of home runs is higher, basic economics would tell you that the demand for them would go down. Why waste a second-round pick on a guy with stupid pop when you can snag one in the 12th?
We've already seen this line of thinking play out in the free-agent market. Big sluggers like Chris Carter and Mike Napoli -- who combined to hit 75 home runs in 2016 -- had to settle for one-year deals that will pay them just over $10 million combined in 2017. Those two are extreme examples due to the limited utility they provide beyond their power, but it does show a serious deviation from previous homer-hungry spending.
There's a major problem with this mindset when it comes to fantasy, though, and it could lead drafters down the wrong path. While power may suddenly be abundant, we still can't afford to ignore it.
Let's go through a few reasons why this is true, focusing specifically on traditional, five-category leagues. You should always be chasing dingers in points leagues, so that should be implicit throughout. But they're also important for category leagues. Here's why.
Homers Allow You To Double Dip
In daily fantasy baseball, much of our focus is around the concept of stacking. This is when you use multiple players on the same team, a strategy you would implement for a bunch of reasons each night. One of the biggest reasons is so that you can double dip in scoring.
When J.D. Martinez launches a dong into the third deck, you get the individual points he scores for his home run. If Miguel Cabrera is on first base and also on your roster, you double dip in getting credit for his run scored. This concept is present in season-long, too, even if you don't have players on the same team.
When a player on your season-long roster hits a home run, you get credit for that in the category for home runs. That's an obvious positive and the reason you roster those players. But with every home run, you will also get a bump of at least one run scored, one run batted in, and one hit to feed the batting average. It's an event that leads to increases in four different categories at once, and no other event can claim that level of importance.
This means that a player who hits home runs will never be a true one-category player. Each time they go deep, they'll help you out in four of the five hitting categories, and that's something we shouldn't ignore.
Let's compare two players with similar average draft positions (ADPs) in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), Billy Hamilton and Ian Desmond. Hamilton is coming off the board as the 51st overall pick, and Desmond is 55th.
Here are their head-to-head Steamer projections for the 2017 season. Neither guy jumps off the page as being an across-the-board stud, but Desmond's power appears to boost his production in multiple categories.
|Steamer Projections||Plate Appearances||Average||Home Runs||Runs||RBI||Stolen Bases|
By taking Desmond, you'd be projected for 15 more home runs, a much better batting average, 12 more runs, and 39 more RBI. Is that enough to compensate for 41 fewer steals? Given how much Hamilton hurts you in other categories, the answer would likely be yes.
This is just one example, but it's reflective of the importance that power provides. To better illustrate this, let's go back to 2016 to see the role power played then. As a reminder, this was the most homer-friendly season since 2000, but that didn't diminish the value of round trippers.
Power Is Necessary
We started this discussion by looking at Carter and Napoli, players thought to be one-category contributors who won't do much for you in fantasy. While they may qualify there, that's not how it works for most power hitters.
In 2016, there were 111 players who hit at least 20 home runs. Of those, 92 recorded at least 500 plate appearances. Let's see how those 92 players fared in categories besides home runs.
- 59.78% of these players scored at least 80 runs.
- 72.83% of these players had at least 80 RBI.
- 65.23% of these players had an average of .260 or higher.
Those are setting the thresholds a bit low, so let's raise the stakes a bit to see how often they hit higher benchmarks.
- 20.65% of these players scored at least 100 runs.
- 23.91% of these players had at least 100 RBI.
- 38.04% had an average of .280 or higher.
Based on the top numbers, it would seem far-fetched to say that many power hitters are "one-category" players. The second set of numbers goes to show us a lot of these guys are providing elite totals elsewhere.
This doesn't necessarily tell us, though, that power is completely necessary. To do that, let's change up the strategy for a second. Instead, let's look at the top performers in each of those other three categories to see how often they hit the 20-homer plateau. Here's how that shakes down.
- 17 of 19 players who scored 100 runs hit 20 home runs.
- 30 of 37 players who scored 90 runs hit 20 home runs.
- 55 of 68 players who scored 80 runs hit 20 home runs.
That's for a statistic you could assume is dominated by speedy players who may not hit for much power, and you still largely needed pop to post a quality mark. RBIs skew even a bit more toward power.
- All 21 players who had at least 100 RBI hit 20 home runs.
- Only one player out of 44 with at least 90 RBI failed to hit 20 home runs, and that was Adrian Gonzalez, who had exactly 90 RBIs and 18 home runs.
- 67 of 73 players who had 80 RBI hit 20 home runs.
When we're focusing specifically on guys like Napoli and Carter, the big concern is they'll kill you in the average category. And while it's true for those guys, it's not really a systemic problem with guys who go deep often.
- DJ LeMahieu was the only player with an average above .320 over at least 500 plate appearances who didn't hit 20 home runs.
- 9 of 13 players with an average of .310 or higher over 500 plate appearances hit 20 home runs.
- 15 of 25 players with an average of .300 or higher hit 20 home runs.
- 27 of 41 players with an average of .290 or higher hit 20 home runs.
Even in categories such as runs scored and batting average, which could favor speedier guys, power was bordering on a necessity to post an elite total. There will be players who boast pop who hurt you in some of these categories, but they are more the exception than the rule.
These takeaways come just from looking at players who hit 20 home runs. Mark Trumbo -- who is going 17 picks after Hamilton in NFBC -- hit 47 dingers in 2016. That's 27 more homers, 27 more runs scored, 27 more runs batted in, and 27 more hits than our baseline. When you put that head-to-head with a true one-category boon like Hamilton, it seems easy to see why we'd want to favor those who can blast it out of the park.
When you lump all of this together, it becomes clear that power was still a driving force for fantasy last year. There's always a possibility that whatever fueled that surge last year could normalize this year, which would make power a bit harder to find. If that happens, you could wind up hurting in multiple categories, not just home runs. But even if we assume all else remains equal, this is something we need to emphasize.
It's easy to be turned off to power based on what happened last year, especially when undrafted guys like Adam Duvall went out and popped 33 home runs for free. That doesn't diminish the value of a home run for fantasy, and we can't ignore some of the numbers above.
The takeaway is that we should be trying to identify players whose value may be pushed down due to a perception of a saturated power market. Giancarlo Stanton is 39th in NFBC ADP a year after he was a first-round pick. Trumbo led the league in dingers, and he's going deep into the 60's. And of course there's Duvall, who sits as the 155th pick despite his breakout last year.
Additionally, we should be trying to spot players who may not have the requisite power to contribute outside of just one category. Hamilton was one example, but you could easily toss guys like Dee Gordon in that same grouping. Steals are nice, but when they come at the expense of every other category, the opportunity cost is significant.
Yes, power is more widely available now than it was in 2014. But that just increases the numbers you need to post in power-driven categories to compete. And based on what we saw in looking at last year's numbers, power drives everything, and it should still be a central focus of our draft-day strategy.