Luck inevitably plays a large role in all fantasy sports. There is no good way to predict whether a player is going to tear their ACL or UCL in the first month of the season. Similarly, there is no way to tell if a player is going to suddenly outperform all of his expected stats. Sure, we can project that some players are going to run a higher BABIP than others, but luck stats are rarely very sticky. The same can be said for home runs. Home run rate (HR/FB) is a fairly sticky stat, but even that can be influenced by luck from season to season. This article looks at four players that could see a stark decline in their home run totals for 2024.
The Math Behind The Research
As usual, I will keep this math part brief. The basic premise is that there is a certain rate at which barrels are typically hit out of the ballpark. As Chris Clegg pointed out in his Statcast 101 article, a barrel is a batted ball that has extremely high hit percentages and slugging rates and is hit at least 98 mph. You can read more about what a barrel is here.
Barreling up the baseball is the best thing you can do as a hitter. This gives you the highest chance to not only get on base but to hit a home run. There has been plenty of research done each individual year looking at the percentage of barrels that lead to a home run. I decided to do some research on what those rates looked like in 2023.
Last season, there were 10,035 barrels hit by batters. Of those, 50.2% of them left the ballpark. Not all barrels were home runs, but nearly all home runs were barrels. Kind of like the: every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square. Can put your brain into a bit of a pickle sometimes. Of the 5,868 home runs hit last season, 85.8% of them came off of a barreled ball.
The numbers become even more important when looking at pulled barrels. That should be fairly obvious as pulling the ball significantly increases your chances of hitting a home run (unless you are Aaron Judge). In 2023, there were 4,567 pulled barrels. 3,144, or 68.9% of those barrels left the yard.
2024 Home Run Decliners
Isaac Paredes – Tampa Bay Rays
Isaac Paredes was one of the most underrated players in fantasy during the 2023 season. At just 24 years old in his second full Major League season, Paredes crushed 31 home runs. His 137 wRC+ was better than popular players Corbin Carroll, Luis Robert Jr., Julio Rodriguez, and Austin Riley. In fact, his wRC+ ranked him as the 12th-best offensive player in baseball. Obviously, wRC+ does not encapsulate fantasy value since Paredes added zero stolen bases. However, he was a points league monster and a huge help to those teams looking for a boost in the home run category.
Paredes will be 25 years old for the entirety of the 2024 season. He hit 20 home runs at 23, 31 home runs at 24, and many might be excited to project him for even more long balls at 25. This is where fantasy managers need to proceed with caution. Paredes looks like one of the league’s rising sluggers but comes with plenty of red flags. Several signs indicate he could be due for some serious power regression in 2024.
We went through the data earlier on the averages for home runs per barrel. In 2023, Paredes saw 82.61% of his barrels go for a home run. This is well above the league average. Not only did he see an outlandish number of his barrels go for home runs, but almost all of his pulled barrels left the ballpark. His percentage of pulled barrels that went for home runs sat at 90.5%. He barreled a ball up and pulled it 21 times. 19 of those went for home runs. In comparison, Matt Olson (the 2023 home run champ) pulled 29 barrels and only saw 21 of them leave the yard (72.41%).
The simple truth of the matter is that Paredes does not barrel up the ball with any consistency. His barrel rate from 2022 to 2023 actually decreased as did his average exit velocity and Max EV. Amongst players with at least 26 home runs in 2023, Paredes is the only one who reached that mark with a barrel rate of under six percent. Of his 31 home runs, 12 of those came from non-barrels. The only player to reach that mark is Ozzie Albies (more on him to come). Of the 194 batters with at least 13 home runs last season, only Tyler Stephenson and Randal Grichuk saw a higher percentage of their home runs come from non-barrels.
What do Randal Grichuk and Tyler Stephenson have in common? Both of them played in extremely favorable hitting conditions (Grichuk before he was traded). Cincinnati and Colorado ranked as the second and fourth-best ballparks for right-handed batters to hit home runs. Tampa however ranks 17th and is actually a below-average ballpark for right-handed power hitters. Paredes should not be getting any kind of boost from playing his games in Tampa.
The level of power that Paredes put on display last season should not be expected to continue. There are always outliers to metrics and expected statistics, but Paredes’ level of success is too far to be sustainable. Considering he does not steal any bases, his fantasy value is reliant on his home run totals. Fantasy managers should keep this in mind heading into 2024. I would think 24-27 home runs is much more realistic.
TJ Friedl – Cincinnati Reds
A few people in the fantasy baseball community were in on TJ Friedl entering the season. There was a playing time opportunity in Cincinnati and Friedl provided enough speed to be worth a late-round dart throw. Friedl wound up taking the opportunity and running with it, literally, as he stole 27 bases last year. The part that those who drafted him were not expecting was the 18 home runs. Friedl graduated from prospect lists after 2022, but FanGraphs graded his FV game power as a 30. In 2023, he wound up finishing second on the Reds in home runs trailing only Spencer Steer.
To preface the conversation, the one thing that Friedl has going for him that Paredes does not is his home ballpark. Great American Ballpark is known to be one of the premier parks for home run hitters. Not even the Short Porch in Yankee Stadium compares to the home run park factor in Cincinnati. In comparison to Paredes, Friedl’s home park is 40% more favorable for home run hitting than Paredes. This certainly helps, but there is still plenty to be skeptical of when evaluating Friedl’s outlook.
To start, Friedl hits the ball even softer than Parades does. His barrel rate ranked in the seventh percentile while his hard-hit rate ranked in the fifth percentile. Friedl’s 18 home runs lead the way by a significant margin amongst all hitters with a hard-hit rate of less than 25%. Second place goes to Adam Frazier who managed to hit 13.
A barrel does not guarantee a home run. As previously discussed, even a pulled barrel only leaves the yard around 61% of the time. However, for Friedl, his pulled barrels left the park 100% of the time. He pulled 11 barrels and all 11 left the yard. Looking ahead to 2024, fantasy managers should not expect this fortune to repeat.
Following in Paredes’ footsteps, Friedl managed to hit more home runs than total barrels last season. He only barreled the ball up 13 times but managed to hit 18 home runs. A third of his home runs came off of non-barrels. Not quite up to the standard that Paredes set, but still impressive nonetheless.
Friedl is not a power hitter. He never has been and even with the help of Great American Ballpark, he should not be expected to get this close to 20 home runs again. If you want to target Friedl for speed, I cannot fault you for that. However, if you are chasing Friedl for a misconception of 20 home run potential, you need to reevaluate your prediction. My expectation for Friedl in 2024 is somewhere between 12 and 15.
Ozzie Albies- Atlanta Braves
Ozzie Albies’ power output has been a point of controversy throughout the fantasy community for years. His peak seemed to come back in 2021 when he hit 30 home runs with a HR/FB% of 12.2%. Albies hit just eight in 64 games in 2022, as injuries hampered him throughout. A bounce-back was easy to predict, but I am not sure anybody thought 30 home runs was ever going to happen again. Sure enough, Albies topped his previous career high and crushed 33 home runs last year. Albies posted career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, ISO, and hit for his highest average since 2019.
Albies is the first player on this list to post a respectable barrel rate. He increased his barrel rate by 2.8% and beat the Major League average by 1.3%. Still, 8.2% is not anything to get those in the analytics community too excited. He joins Isaac Paredes as the only two players to hit at least 30 home runs with a barrel rate of less than 10 percent.
What makes Albies different from the first two players on this list is that his home run luck did not come on his barrels. Sure, 73.9% of his pulled barrels left the ballpark which is above the league average, but that is an insignificant difference. When you compare him to Friedl and Paredes, Albies’ number is much more in line with what we should expect. A similar story is told with his overall home run percentage off barrels. This number is actually very in line with the league average at 51.22%.
Albies’ fortune came off of the non-barrels he hit. 36.36% of his home runs came off of pitches that were not barrels. His 12 home runs off non-barrels as mentioned previously ties Paredes for the most in baseball. This should not be expected to continue in 2024.
Albies did not get lucky on the barrels he hit last season. He did however get fortunate with his large number of non-barrel home runs. Atlanta’s ballpark is a hitter-friendly environment so this has something to do with it, but Albies should not be considered one of the premier power hitters in the sport. His average exit velocity ranks in the 37th percentile in all of baseball and his barrel rate ranks in the 48th percentile. Do not get me wrong, Albies is an extremely talented player. He is one of the premier second basemen in all of baseball. Fantasy managers should just be wary about projecting him for another 30+ home run season.
JP Crawford – Seattle Mariners
JP Crawford may have been my favorite in-season pick-up in both my points league and OBP league. In my opinion, he was one of the most underrated fantasy assets in all of baseball last season. He entered the year undrafted with very little hype. In his career, he had never posted a wRC+ above 103 and even the two seasons during which he posted that number came with only nine and six home runs. He does not steal many bases, so the fantasy value really was not there. Almost nobody paid attention to him spending time at Driveline during the off-season to improve his bat speed, but it is safe to say the hard work paid off.
In 2023, Crawford more than tripled his home run total from 2022. His walk rate jumped another three percent, and he moved to the leadoff spot in Seattle’s lineup. Crawford was a fantasy gold mine, especially in leagues where his lack of stolen bases did not hurt you. He added 31 points to his wRC+ and experienced a true breakout season.
Crawford was featured in one of my articles from earlier this off-season highlighting players who saw massive improvements to their wRC+. I talked a lot in that article about how xwRC+ does not believe his level of success is sustainable. For that reason, I will not go into too much detail here but you should expect his home run total to decrease next season.
In 2023, Crawford saw 100% of his pulled barrels go for a home run. He is one of only four batters to pull at least 10 barrels and see them all leave the yard. The other three were Taylor Ward, Alec Bohm, and the previously mentioned TJ Friedl. Not only is that rate unsustainable, but his overall home run percentage off of barrels is unsustainable. 80% of Crawford’s barrels left the park. This number is bound to come down. His home ballpark having a negative home run factor for left-handed batters makes this case even more convincing.
I enjoy rooting for Crawford. He is a player that I watched come through the Phillies’ system and I am happy that things have worked out for him in Seattle. However, a player with a 4.8%-barrel rate should not be expected to hit 19 home runs again next year. In OBP leagues, Crawford is still a valuable and underrated fantasy asset. As a fantasy manager, you just need to draft him with the expectation that he is going to hit 12-15 home runs as opposed to 19.
Cody Bellinger – Free Agent
The final player on this list is another player featured in the wRC+ improvers article featured earlier this off-season. Bellinger was excellent in 2023. He looked like his old self smashing 26 home runs with a 134 wRC+. According to FanGraphs Auction Calculator, Bellinger was the 14th most valuable player in fantasy baseball last season. More valuable than Trea Turner, Adolis Garcia, and Austin Riley just to name a few. Now a free agent, Bellinger is sure to get paid although it is fair to wonder if he will get overpaid by somebody.
Bellinger’s home run totals have fluctuated throughout his Major League career. He burst onto the scene with 39 homers in 2017, proceeded to regress to 25 home runs in 2018, and bounced back to hit 47 in his 2019 MVP season. This past season, Bellinger hit 26 home runs, his most since that magical 2019 season.
The interesting part about Bellinger suddenly hitting more home runs is that his barrel percentage actually decreased from 2022 to 2023. His barrel rate has been much lower than it was early in his career since the pandemic, but the drop to 6.1% marks a career low. The home park switch does not hep provide any explanation either as Wrigley is a much tougher ballpark for lefties to hit home runs in than Dodger Stadium. That leaves us with luck. Was luck the main reason Bellinger saw his home run total increase in 2023?
Although the answer is not simply black and white, luck certainly played a role. Bellinger only barreled up 26 balls last season. 73.1% of those wound up going for home runs. Not only that, but 86.7% of his pulled barrels left the park. Both numbers are well above the league average. Adding to his luck, Bellinger also saw a high percentage of his home runs come from non-barreled balls. Seven of his 26 homers came from pitches that Bellinger was not able to get the barrel on.
A big payday is coming for Bellinger. There is even a chance he lands in a dream ballpark such as New York or Philadelphia. However, fantasy managers need to be wary of expecting him to hit 25+ home runs again next season. For projection purposes, I would expect somewhere around 20-23. He still projects to be a very useful fantasy asset, but he might not be a top-20 player moving forward.