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2024 Fantasy Baseball: 5 Players with Home Run Upside

The early emphasis of this off-season for me has been evaluating luck metrics. The first articles released focused on wRC+ and used xwRC+ to evaluate whether we should expect similar results to the 2023 season. The latest article looked at players primed to experience regression to their home run totals in 2024. These five hitters (Cody Bellinger, Ozzie Albies, TJ Friedl, Isaac Paredes, and JP Crawford) had lady luck on their side. Now, we shift our focus to the hitters who should see some improvement in their luck in 2024. The five hitters below should expect their home run totals to increase in 2024.

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The Math Behind The Research

I will not go into too much detail about the math since that was already discussed in the previous article. The highlighting points are that barrel percentage is one of the most important stats when evaluating home run totals. Pulling the ball is another area where hitters can generate more power and higher home run totals. The previous five players saw extreme luck on their barrels last season. Their percentage of barrels and the percentage of pulled barrels that left the yard were well above the league average. Now, the five players below experienced the flip side of that coin. All of which we should expect to even out in 2024.

2024 Home Run Improvers

Bryce Harper- Philadelphia Phillies

Bryce Harper made waves when he returned from Tommy John Surgery in record time. Many fantasy players who were expecting Harper back sometime in July were thrilled to welcome him back to their teams on May 2. By the end of the season, Harper’s stat line looked like more of the same. He hit 21 home runs, stole 11 bases, and slashed .293/.401/.499. He posted a 142 wRC+ right in line with his career average.

The strange part about Harper’s season happened shortly after he returned. Through his first 41 plate appearances, he slugged two home runs. After that came a power outage. From May 14 through July 14, Harper hit just one home run. He went without a home run from May 26 to July 14. Many speculated that the lingering effects of his surgery were the primary culprit behind his sudden lack of homers. Another explanation is just simple bad luck.

During the period in which he did not hit a home run, Harper was still crushing baseballs. He posted an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph, a max EV of 113 mph, and a barrel rate of 11.3%. Although those numbers are all a tick below his career average, they are well above the Major League average. His arm injury was impacting him as Harper was hitting far more ground balls than usual, but with his quality of contact, he should have still seen a few balls leave the ballpark.

In stark comparison to the hitters mentioned in the previous article, Harper’s barrel luck was terrible all season. Harper hit 52 barrels in his abbreviated season but only saw 21 of those leave the park. On top of that poor luck, Harper pulled 23 barrels. Only 52% of those pulled barrels left the yard for a home run. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Nolan Arenado. He pulled 26 barrels last season. He wound up seeing 22% of them leave the yard which is more than Harper’s entire season’s home run total.

There is no debate that Harper was very unlucky in the power department last season. What makes his bad luck even more astounding is the fact he plays his home games in Citizens Bank Park. CBP ranks as the fourth most favorable place for left-handed batters to hit home runs in all of baseball. On top of his elite skillset, Harper has a distinct advantage over other hitters. This should be more obvious in 2024.

Harper’s luck started to turn around during the second half of 2023. After the All-Star Break, Harper hit 18 home runs and slugged .588. If you prorate his second-half performance across 600 plate appearances, he would be on pace for 36 home runs. Yes, the move to first base and the likelihood of him not attaining outfield eligibility will hurt his fantasy value. However, this is still an elite hitter. He should see his home run luck increase in 2024. His 600 PA pace last season was 23 home runs, fantasy managers should expect 30+ from him in 2024.

MJ Melendez- Kansas City Royals

Kansas City is one of the worst ballparks to hit home runs in. Knowing this, it came as no surprise that MJ Melendez saw his home run rate decrease upon his promotion to the Major Leagues. Even with a drop in his home run rate, Melendez still managed to hit 18 home runs. He posted a 10.4%-barrel rate and an average exit velocity of 90.7 mph. The arrow was pointing up for Melendez entering his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, Melendez fell into a sophomore slump. The first half of the season was especially rough for Melendez who hit .206/.289/.333. Entering the season, fantasy managers would have been thrilled to know Melendez would appear in 19 more games in 2023 than he did in 2022. Those extra games did not lead to more home runs as many would expect as Melendez hit only 16 home runs this past season.

The strangest part of this was that Melendez’s quality of contact got better. From 2022 to 2023 His barrel rate increased by one percent. His average exit velocity increased by 2.5 mph and on top of that, his max exit velocity increased by 2.4 mph. Melendez hit more fly balls, pulled more balls, and pulled more fly balls. All of these are encouraging signs from a player in his second season.

His decrease in home run rate is difficult to understand. As with every other hitter on this list, Melendez’s luck on barrels was horrible. Only 38.1% of Melendez’s barrels left the ballpark. While his rate is likely to be below the league average based on where he plays, this is far below what should be expected. Only six hitters with at least 15 home runs saw a lower rate of their barrels leave the yard. On top of that, Melendez only hit a home run on barrels. He hit zero home runs on non-barreled balls. While hitting a home run on a ball not barreled up should never be the expectation, Melendez was one of only 19 batters with 15+ home runs to not get a home run off of a non-barrel.

Melendez has the raw power to hit 30 home runs in a hitters’ park. However, being stuck in Kansas City limits his home run potential. Even with this issue, Melendez should still be a sure bet to hit at least 20 home runs with the upside to hit 25 next season. He will not experience the same kind of barrel luck that he did again in 2024 and is a safe bet to bounce back next season. If you need even more convincing, Melendez hit .273/.352/.485 during the second half of last season.

Eugenio Suarez- Arizona Diamondbacks

The Mariners entered 2023 with high expectations. A big part of those expectations hinged on the performance of Eugenio Suarez. In 2022, Suarez posted his highest wRC+ since 2019. 2019 was the magical season during which Suarez crushed 49 home runs with a .271 average in Cincinnati. Fantasy managers did not expect much in the average department, but the one thing that they knew could count on was home runs.

Or, should I say, they thought that they could count on home runs. Suarez struggled to hit the long ball in 2023. His total of 22 home runs was his lowest in any non-COVID season since 2016. The one thing that fantasy managers thought they had in the bag wound up being a façade. This offseason Seattle sent him packing to Arizona.

Unlike early on, Suarez no longer plays his home games in Great American Ballpark. However, this has been the case for some time now and it has not caused any issues for him. Digging deeper into his profile, it is difficult to understand exactly what changed in 2023. Looking first at his barrel rate, Suarez still managed to post a 12.7% rate. This well-above-average rate came with an increased average exit velocity. This is the first time he has eclipsed an average of 90 mph since 2018.

Looking further for anomalies, we turn to his batted ball profile. Was Suarez hitting fewer fly balls in 2023? Slightly, but not enough to make a significant difference. Suarez’s fly ball rate dropped by 2.4% from 2022 to 2023, but that should not result in a home run discrepancy as large as Suarez experienced. Did he pull the ball less? Actually, the opposite. He pulled more balls in 2023 than he did in 2022. His pull rate on fly balls was in line with his pull rate in 2022 as well.

The simple answer boils down to poor luck. Despite barreling the ball up at an impressive rate, Suarez only saw 40.4% of his barrels leave the park. This is under half the rate of players such as Joey Votto and Adam Frazier, along with the players mentioned in the previous article. For a player with as much raw power as Suarez, there is no way we should expect to see this happen again. His luck was equally poor on pulled barrels. Only 50% of Suarez’s pulled barrels left the park. This is well below the Major League average.

Suarez’s poor luck extends beyond his barrels. Not every home run is a result of a barrel. Suarez only hit one home run that was not a barrel. Not only should his home run off of barrels increase, but his home run off of non-barrels should increase as well. Suarez is one of the most obvious candidates for positive home run regression. Steamer projects Suarez to hit 26 home runs. I would go as far as to say hitting 30 is back in the cards although the move to Arizona makes that a little bit more difficult. Suarez should see a massive bump in his HR/FB% next season. Suarez’s underlying metrics show no signs of decline. Fantasy managers should expect a major bounce-back season from Suarez in 2023, especially in the home run department

Ezequiel Tovar- Colorado Rockies

Some of the names on this list have been predictable. Big-name sluggers like Bryce Harper and Teoscar Hernandez are easier candidates to spot than some of the lesser-known names. Ezequiel Tovar was a top prospect entering the 2023 season, but there was not a lot of expectation in the power department. Tovar is primarily known for his glove and strong hit tool. The hit tool did not play as well as many hoped in 2023 as Tovar struck out 27% of the time and hit .253. His 70 wRC+ was the third lowest amongst all qualified shortstops ahead of only Tim Anderson and Javier Baez. Credit to the Rockies though, they stuck with him throughout the season and appear to be giving him the reigns again in 2024.

As I mentioned, Tovar was not known for his power. The 15 home runs he hit las season would up being right around the expectation. He does not have the biggest or most projectable frame, so many might be willing to just accept Tovar for who he is. However, he is still only 22 years old and there is reason to believe he could see his home run total increase in 2023.

Many thought that Tovar’s strong barrel rate in 2022 was a product of a small sample size. Although this number regressed in 2023, his barrel rate still remained above the Major League average. Not only did Tovar manage to barrel up 34 balls, but he also lowered his ground ball rate. Improving his launch angle and hitting more fly balls should help his power play up. However, despite hitting 34 barrels last season, only 14 of those went for home runs. This is the same number of barrels as Nolan Arenado who finished with 26 home runs (I promise this is not a piece about Arenado).

Tovar’s poor luck extended into his pulled barrels as well. Tovar pulled 15 barrels which is a fairly respectable number considering that his pull rate is only around 34%. He only hit a home run on eight of those 15 balls. Not only is there an opportunity for Tovar to pull more balls next season, but he should also see his home run percentage on pulled barrels increase. This creates two potential avenues for Tovar to see his home run totals increase in 2024.

Tovar is unlikely to win any Silver Slugger awards in his career. However, his elite defense will keep his bat in the lineup and a favorable home ballpark should help him to post solid offensive numbers. His aggression at the plate and inability to hit breaking balls stood out in his first Major League season. If he can make the necessary adjustments, there is a lot of potential in his profile. Regardless of improvements, fantasy managers should expect 17-20 home runs next season with the potential for more if he develops into the kind of player many believe he can.

Michael Harris II- Atlanta Braves

Full disclosure, I thought the draft price for Michael Harris II last season was ridiculous. His 2022 rookie season was incredible, but I did not see any way that he could replicate a 137 wRC+. He hit 19 home runs and stole 20 bases in just 114 games that rookie season making him seem like a sure bet to go at least 25/25 in a full season in 2023.

The season could not have gotten off to much worse of a start for Harris. By the end of May, Harris was batting under .200 with just two home runs. He picked things up from there batting .325 during the second half, but the overall results were still a bit disappointing. He finished the season as the 28th-ranked outfielder according to FanGraphs auction calculator.

The strangest part of his stat line is that despite playing in 24 more games, Harris hit less home runs and stole the same number of bases. His sprint speed did decline from 2022 to 2023, but his lack of aggression on the base paths likely can be attributed to hitting in a lineup loaded with home run hitters. The majority of his starts came while batting ninth which puts him right in front of Ronald Acuna Jr. You do not want to get thrown out with the best hitter in baseball at the plate. As for his home run decline, let’s dig a little bit deeper.

For Harris, hitting the ball hard is not an issue. He has proven capable of barreling up the ball with consistency and posting strong average and max exit velocities. The issue he has had is a high ground ball rate. In 2022, Harris hit a ground ball over 56% of the time with an average launch angle below five degrees. Looking at his 2023 stat line, he showed major improvements in this area. His ground ball rate dropped by nine percent, his launch angle increased by over three degrees, and his sweet spot percentage increased by 1.8%. These improvements should have led to more home runs, not less. So, what happened?

Bad luck is what happened. Harris was incredibly unlucky with his strong barrel rate previously mentioned. Despite hitting 41 barrels last season, only 17 of those left the yard. His pulled barrel rate was equally as poor as only nine of his 17 pulled barrels left the park. Similarly to Suarez, Harris only hit one home run that was not a barrel.

Harris should see notable improvements to all three of the areas mentioned above. His home run per fly ball rate which dropped 8.4% should see a sizable increase next season. The best part is that you can get Harris at a bit of a discount now. Instead of being forced to take him in round 2, you can get him in the third or fourth round as his early ADP sits at 39. Harris will certainly hit more home runs in 2024 than he did in 2023. Fantasy managers drafting him should expect somewhere around 25 home runs next year.

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