The league has continued to change baseball’s design, making it difficult to predict how frequently we can expect home runs. Despite this, the characteristics of when a home run is hit remain relatively unchanged. You need to hit the ball in the air, hit the ball hard, and pulling the ball increases your chances for a home run. Focusing on specifically the last two, hitting the ball hard and pulling the ball are statistics that should increase a player’s HR/FB%. As we focus on the 2023 draft season, finding players with upside is a key part to your strategy. Below I focus on three players who have the upside to hit home runs at a higher rate in 2023.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Players to Target for Home Run Upside
Adolis Garcia, OF Texas Rangers; 2022 Home Runs: 27
Can there really be home run upside from somebody who hit 27 of them in 2022? Yes, Adolis Garcia has the potential to hit even more in 2023. Garcia is one of the most polarizing players in fantasy baseball due to his ultra-aggressive, high-strikeout tendencies. Many in the industry point to this as a sign of unsustainable success, while others point to his 58 home runs and 41 stolen bases over the past two seasons and find reason to rank him as a top-20 fantasy asset. The home run total should be even higher for Garcia and he should be recognized as a 30+ home run threat.
Garcia followed up the 31 home runs he hit during his rookie season with 27 in his sophomore year. His HR/FB% dropped in 2022 from 19.6% to 15.9% which helps to explain the drop off in home runs. We should not expect Garcia’s home run rate to stay down however due to his tendency to hit the ball hard and pull the ball in the air. Both are exactly what we want from a home run hitter.
On the surface, Garcia pulled the ball less in 2022. However, pulling the ball more on the ground has no impact on a home run. Shockingly enough 0% of ground balls hit result in home runs. If we want to analyze his home run total, we need to focus on Garcia’s fly balls. In 2021, Garcia pulled his fly balls 23.42% of the time. This put him in between Andrew Benintendi and Ty France; neither of whom is known for hitting many home runs. However, in 2022 Garcia was able to improve this number by 7.76%. Increasing this number over 31% should have helped Garcia to hit home runs at a higher rate as opposed to a lower rate.
Pulling the ball more is useless if it is with weak contact. This is not the case for Garcia who has continued to post excellent quality of contact metrics. Garcia’s average exit velocity sits above 92 mph ranking in the 92nd percentile in all of baseball and his max exit velocity sits in the 89th percentile. Garcia’s ability to barrel up the baseball is a key reason why these exit velocity numbers are so high. His barrel rate increased from 11.5% in 2021 to 12.9% in 2022. In total, Garcia barreled up the baseball 55 times in 2022, but only saw a home run hit on 23 of those. In previous seasons, over 60% of barrels resulted in a home run. Last year Garcia’s number sat at just below 42%. Surely, he should see his luck improve in 2023.
The average HR/FB% for the six hitters in 2022 with 100 fly balls pulled at least 30% of the time and hit hard at least 40% of the time was 17.8%. This is almost two percent higher than Garcia’s rate. His home run rate should improve in 2023. According to Statcast Park Factors, the Rangers play in a home run friendly environment which should only increase Garcia’s home run rate. I am predicting a bounce-back and although some of the fantasy world is resistant to buy into Garcia, you definitely should be.
Trey Mancini, 1B Free Agent; 2022 Home Runs: 18
That darn wall at Camden Yards. The Orioles’ need to push the wall back has made it extremely difficult for right-handed hitters to hit the ball out of the park and Trey Mancini was one of its many victims. Without even diving into the statistics for Mancini, we can simply just look at his HR vs. xHR. He hit 18 combined between the Orioles and Astros, but his xHR was actually 25. Does this mean we should just assume Mancini will hit more home runs in 2023? Let’s dive in and see what the analytics tell us.
Although Trey Mancini’s time in Houston was not as successful as many expected, he did see his HR/FB% bounce back. During the first 92 games of the season, Mancini’s HR/FB% was 9.6%, but after arriving in Houston this number jumped up above 16%. Looking at the table below, you can clearly see the anomaly in HR/FB%. Every season of Mancini’s career, he has posted a number close to 20% except for the beginning of 2022.
In 2022, Mancini improved his contact metrics for hitting balls out of the park. Overall, his pull percentage increased from 36.7% to 45% in 2022 and more specifically increased from 10.77% on fly balls to 26.97% on fly balls. This was the largest jump amongst qualified hitters in the majors. This indicates a clear intent to pull the ball in the air to try and increase his home run rate.
In addition to pulling the ball more, Mancini also hit his fly balls harder. His overall hard-hit percentage decreased as his barrel rate dropped below 10% but emphasizing a previous point, we only care about fly balls. Although small, his hard-hit rate on fly balls increased by 0.8% in 2022 and while that is not significant, it shows that we can ignore his decline in hard-hit rate when analyzing his home run totals. Also, Mancini saw terrible luck on the balls he barreled up. Only 20.5% of his barrels went for a home run which is way below the Major League average.
At this point in the off-season, Trey Mancini is still looking for a new team, but this should not stop you from drafting him. Mancini has tremendous home run upside, and the only concern is him signing somewhere as a role player. Mancini is currently going as 1B27 in fantasy drafts which is way too late for the upside he offers.
Christian Vazquez, C Minnesota Twins; 2022 Home Runs: 9
Funny that all three players went down on this by multiples of nine. Also, random that two of the three players mentioned were traded to the Astros at the 2022 deadline. Vazquez signed a 3-year $30 million deal with the Twins this off-season to be their starting catcher. Going as C17 in drafts, Vazquez has sneaky upside in a solid lineup and could be a great draft-day value.
Vazquez might never hit more than 20 home runs in a season again, but 15 is a realistic number. During the 2019 season, Vazquez posted a barrel rate of 5.2%. This is the highest mark of his career and he nearly matched it by posting a 5.1% rate in 2022. 65% of his barrels left the yard that season compared to 41% last season.
Even though moving away from Fenway Park makes it harder to hit home runs, we should still expect his rate to increase above 8.2%. In terms of fly ball pull percentage, Vazquez was the third-highest gainer behind only Trey Mancini (previously mentioned) and Aaron Judge (set the record for home runs or whatever). He improved his pull percentage by over 10% and also managed to hit the ball harder on these fly balls. His hard-hit percentage jumped from 26.1% to 29% which should only increase Vazquez’s home run rate.
Finding a catcher late in drafts can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Things get dire at this position, but Vazquez offers a ray of light. He should receive the majority of playing time in Minnesota and can help your fantasy team by providing double-digit home runs. He is a name to target in two catcher and deep leagues!