Being the Home Run King is a prestigious honor. Prolific power is a big part of today’s game, although the adjustments to the baseballs last season did drop the number of home runs from 6,105 to 5,585. That was fewer than we saw in 2016. Still, the total number of dingers in 2018 was the third-most home runs since 2000.
We should see another mild drop in home runs this season, but that likely means that lesser hitters are going to fall off, not the prodigious light tower power guys that made this coveted list.
There are several things I look at when it comes to leading the league in home runs. Park factor matters a ton. The hitter has to be in a good environment for hitting home runs because he will have to play 81 of his 162 games at home. Launch angle is also important. Fly balls go for more home runs than line drives and hitting a ground ball home run is impossible. Of the 5,585 home runs last season, 4,881 were fly balls and 704 were line drives as defined by Baseball-Reference.
I need a guy that pulls the ball. Of the 5,585 home runs that were hit last season, 2,742 of them were pulled. That’s just about half of them. Righties did hit a lot of home runs to the middle of the field, so I’m okay with those types of guys. Righties pulled 1,573 home runs and hit 1,441 to the middle of the field. Lefties pulled 1,169 home runs and hit 927 to the middle of the field. Collectively, batters only hit 475 home runs to the opposite field.
Finally, I will have to do a better job of this in 2019, but I need to find guys that are putting a lot of balls in play. Of the top 15 in home runs last season, only Mike Trout and Joey Gallo had a K% + BB% greater than 40 percent. Guys that strike out a lot and walk a lot are going to cut into their opportunities quite a bit and those guys will be hard-pressed to hit enough home runs in a smaller number of chances.
Keep that in mind as you look at this list. We are looking for guys that hit a lot of fly balls, pull the ball a lot, and put the ball in play in at least 60 percent of their plate appearances.
Here are the odds for the Most Home Runs per BetOnline Sportsbook as of March 5:
|Ronald Acuna Jr||+6600|
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr||+8000|
There sure are a lot of names on this list, but only a handful of guys that can legitimately win this honor. So many of these long shot prices either play in a bad ballpark or won’t stay healthy enough to win. A lot of them also don’t hit enough fly balls or don’t pull the ball enough.
If we’re being honest, one of the lower-priced guys will likely hit the most home runs, but what’s the fun in that?
Let’s look at my three favorite bets on the board for the Home Run King:
Rhys Hoskins (+1600) – Rhys Hoskins is my favorite bet on the board to win this award. Hoskins pulled the ball on 50 percent of his batted balls and went to the center of the field on 31.1 percent of his batted balls. That means that over 80 percent of his batted balls were to places where right-handed hitters had the most home run success.
Hoskins also hit a fly ball 51.7 percent of the time and hit a line drive 19.2 percent of the time. That means that over 70 percent of his balls in play were capable of being a home run, in the sense that they were not ground balls.
Hoskins had a BB% + K% of 35.9 percent, which is a little bit higher than I would like, but with Bryce Harper and a better top of the order, pitchers are going to be forced to challenge him more often this season. I don’t believe in protection in the sense that it is a lock to improve numbers, but Hoskins should have more pitches to hit. Whether or not he takes advantage of them is the key.
Hoskins hit 34 home runs last season, which was his first full year in the big leagues. Between Triple-A and the Majors in 2017, he hit 47 dingers in 687 plate appearances. The power potential is there. He hit 20 of his home runs after the All-Star Break. Also, I would not expect Hoskins to only hit three home runs off of left-handed pitching this season.
The only caveat for Hoskins is that Citizens Bank Park didn’t play that well for righties last season and Citi Field, SunTrust Park, and Marlins Park are all subpar offensive venues for hitters. Nationals Park is pretty average. Hoskins does lack in the park factor department, but he’s also +1600 to win the award. I would expect him to get to 40 this year and that is enough to put him in contention.
It’s a bummer that this was over +3000 not that long ago (and can still be had over +3000 at Bookmaker), so we did lose some line value here, but he is a big power threat.
Trevor Story (+6600) – Trevor Story hit 37 home runs last season and gave himself a lot more opportunities to do damage because he cut his strikeout rate from 34.4 percent to 25.6 percent. If those strikeout gains are sustainable, then Trevor Story has a legitimate shot at 40 and a chance to put himself in this discussion. Story’s fly ball percentage actually fell from 47.9 percent in 2017 to 43.1 percent in 2018. I’d like to see that come back up, but he made up the difference with more line drives.
Story’s line drive percentage bumped from 18.4 percent to 22.7 percent. His ground ball percentage went from 33.7 percent to 34.3 percent. Story also got out in front of the ball more and pulled the ball five percent more often in 2018 at 43.3 percent. For the season, his Pull% + Cent% was 77.6 percent.
As long as Story is putting more balls in play with the incredible offensive park factor of Coors Field, he can not only sustain last season’s power gains, but improve on them. At 66/1, this is totally worth a shot.
Randal Grichuk (+10000) – Let’s take a real long shot gamble, shall we? Randal Grichuk plays at Rogers Centre. That ballpark ranked second in home runs by right-handed batters. Only Yankee Stadium saw more home runs from righties. Third on that list was Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Grichuk will play 81 games at Rogers Centre, 10 at Camden Yards, and nine at Yankee Stadium. For what it’s worth, Fenway Park allowed the seventh-most home runs to righties. He will play there nine times as well.
For Grichuk, that means 109 games out of 162 that are played in very favorable ballparks for right-handed power. Grichuk hits a lot of fly balls. He posted a FB% of 46.6 percent, an increase of almost four percent from 2017. He also pulled the ball with 49.8 percent of his batted balls and went to center 26.9 percent of the time. He fits the bill with over 75 percent of his batted balls either pulled or hit to the middle of the field.
Grichuk cut his K% down from 30.1 percent to 26.4 percent and he does not walk very much, so he’ll put balls in play. He was 33rd in average fly ball/line drive exit velocity and eighth in Barrels/PA%. Of the 5,585 home runs hit last season, 4,544 of them were “barreled” balls, which means an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and a launch angle relative to the exit velocity that typically ranges around 25 to 35 degrees. Those batted balls are said to have an expected batting average of .500 or higher and an expected slugging percentage of 1.500 or higher.
In other words, Grichuk had a lot of high-velocity contact that traditionally yields a high slugging percentage. He got healthy in the second half and posted a .569 SLG after posting a .427 SLG in the first half. He increased his FB% in the second half from 45.1 percent to 47.8 percent and he increased his LD% from 13.9 percent to 22.4 percent.
Grichuk trended in the right direction in the second half and checks most of the boxes that we’re looking for. Health is the primary question, but at 100/1, he is a fun long shot gamble.