2018 MLB Props: Will Anyone Hit Over 50 Home Runs?
2017 was the most prolific year in terms of home runs in the history of baseball. While we typically associate a power surge with performance-enhancing drugs, baseball’s recent uptick in dingers doesn’t appear to be related to any wrongdoing by players. Sure, some guys still get popped for PEDs, but steroids aren’t nearly as rampant in baseball as they were 20 years ago.
While commissioner Rob Manfred has said repeatedly that nothing has changed with the composition of the actual baseballs, the insane home run totals we’ve seen over the last 2 years clearly indicate something’s afoot. Sure, we now know there are some players that are trying deliberately to hit as many fly balls as possible, but that alone wouldn’t explain the increase in homer totals.
Anyway, home runs are fun, so I’m not complaining. I’m sure pitchers aren’t too pleased with the way balls have obviously been tinkered with, but everyone’s playing on an even playing field. We saw 6,105 home runs in Major League Baseball last season, which shattered the previous record of 5,693, set in 2000.
We had 2 players – Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge – eclipse the 50-homer plateau. 3 more – J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis, Joey Gallo – hit over 40. Back in 2016, the first year homers started trending back upward, Mark Trumbo led the way with 47. Back in 2014, Nelson Cruz was the only player in the majors to hit 40.
Will we have another player hit 50? Let’s dive into that and a slew of other general props as we get ready for the new season.
Most Home Runs
- Over 49 ½ (-130)
- Under 49 ½ (+100)
As mentioned in the open, we had a couple of players surpass the 50-homer barrier last season. It just so happens that Stanton and Judge are now teammates with the Yankees. Something tells me the Yankees are going to hit a lot of dongs this year.
Prior to 2017, we hadn’t seen 2 players hit 50 or more homers in the same season since 2007, when Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder did so. In fact, just 2 players (Jose Bautista in 2010, Chris Davis in 2013) hit at least 50 home runs from 2008 through 2016. That was quite the drought.
Stanton looks like the best bet to get there again. He smacked a career-high 59 last season despite playing his home games in cavernous Marlins Park. Now that those 81 home games will be played in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stanton get to 50 again. If he stays healthy, it’s almost hard to see how he doesn’t get there.
After Stanton, though, the candidates get murky. Khris Davis, Joey Gallo, J.D. Martinez, and Judge have tons of raw power. A healthy Bryce Harper is another name with the potential to get there. Barring a breakout season from someone else, the list of candidates capable of getting to 50 is a small one.
Injury issues have plagued him in the past, but here’s hoping he can put together another healthy season. If Stanton fails to get there, though, I don’t think anyone will. If you want to play it safe, there’s merit to hitting the under here.
Most Runs Batted In
- Over 129 ½ (-115)
- Under 129 ½ (-115)
Runs batted in is a stat that carried more weight pre-analytics, but people still pay attention to it. It’s never has closely-followed as the home run race, but Stanton led the way with a whopping 132 runs driven in last season. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (130) came in second, with Marcell Ozuna, Paul Goldschmidt and Nelson Cruz rounding out the top-5.
We saw 24 players in all drive in 100 or more runs in ‘17. In 2014, when home runs were down, we only had 12 players get there, and nobody had more than Adrian Gonzalez’s 116. Runs are up, which means RBIs are up.
129 ½ is a big number, and Stanton and Arenado were the only 2 to top it last year. Arenado was the only person to do it in 2015 and 2016, too. Playing 81 games a year in Colorado sure does help your offensive numbers.
Considering he’s accomplished the feat 3 years running, a healthy Arenado looks like a solid bet to get there again this season. Colorado’s offense wasn’t even all that potent last year, and he still managed to do it. If we see an upswing in the Rockies’ general production, Arenado figures to be primed for yet another year of driving in a boatload of runs.
Ditto for Stanton with the way the Yankee lineup is loaded. Stanton figures to see no shortage of run-producing opportunities, while J.D. Martinez looks like an interesting dark horse with guys like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts possibly hitting in front of him in the Boston order.
Considering the ball still figures to be flying out of the ballpark with regularity in 2018, it seems probable that someone will get to at least 130 RBIs.
Most Runs Scored
- Over 126 ½ (-115)
- Under 126 ½ (-115)
We typically think of runs scored being a category dominated by speedsters and those hitting at the very top of the lineup. Before seeing the numbers, I expected someone like Dee Gordon to have led the league in runs scored last season. While Gordon was still high on the list (5th), it was Charlie Blackmon that actually led the way. Blackmon scored 137 times last season, and he was undoubtedly most common benefactor of Arenado’s knack for driving ‘em in.
Judge and Stanton ranked second and third, while Goldschmidt checked in 4th. A couple of speedsters in Gordon and Jose Altuve ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. After that, it was a decent mix of power guys and speed guys. Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Brian Dozier and Francisco Lindor were all in the top-20.
Blackmon and Judge were the only 2 to score more than 126 ½ times. Prior to that, the last guy to score at least 127 runs was Mike Trout in 2012 (129).
Again, though, we have to consider how the game has changed over the last few years. Runs are back up in general. A player crossed the plate a total of 22,582 times last year. In 2016, that number was down at 21,744. In 2014, just 19,761 runs were scored.
- Over 212 ½ (-115)
- Under 212 ½ (-115)
Jose Altuve may be no taller than 5’6”, but he has become baseball’s undisputed hits king. Altuve collected 204 base knocks last season, which topped the American League. It marked the fourth time in a row that Altuve has racked up at least 200 hits. Blackmon actually led all of baseball with 213 last year.
Altuve has topped 212 ½ in half of his 4 200-hit campaigns. Betts was the only other player to reach the mark in 2016, while nobody did it 3 years ago.
I’m going to side with the under on this one. Someone like Altuve is always capable of proving me wrong, but more and more players are sacrificing hits in order to try and hit home runs these days. With the way home runs and strikeouts are both trending upward, we may see more power and less slap-hitting in ‘18.
Most Stolen Bases
- Over 62 ½ (-115)
- Under 62 ½ (-115)
The stolen base in baseball is a bit like the mid-range jumper in basketball. It was once one of the tenets of the sport, but it’s fallen by the wayside a bit in recent years. With the way more and more teams are depending on homers to score runs, moving guys into scoring position is becoming less important.
That said, there are still plenty of guys that weaponize their speed. Dee Gordon led the majors with 60 steals last year, while Billy Hamilton had 59. These guys aren’t going to hit home runs, so they have to find other ways to contribute offensively. Trea Turner stole 46 bases despite playing just 98 games.
Those are the 3 most likely players to lead the league in steals again this season. Turner has by far the most power of the bunch, but he may also be the fastest. I also expect Byron Buxton to make a charge for the top of the leaderboard after he broke out halfway through last year.
The stolen base upside with Turner is just immense, so I think he easily eclipses 62 ½ thefts if he’s able to put together a healthy season. Buxton managed to steal 29 bases while getting caught just once. He’s a name to keep an eye on.
- Over 52 ½ (-115)
- Under 52 ½ (-115)
Jose Ramirez was last season’s doubles king, finishing with a league-high 56 2-sackers. He blew away the competition, as no other player finished with more than Jed Lowrie’s 49 doubles. 12 players hit 40 or more doubles, including Betts, Arenado, Daniel Murphy and Francisco Lindor.
A player reaching 50 doubles these days has been fairly rare. Prior to Ramirez last year, the most recent players to do so were Jonathan Lucroy and Miguel Cabrera back in ‘14. With so many guys focused on hitting the ball over the fence, the number of doubles in general has dwindled a bit.
- Over 13 ½ (-115)
- Under 13 ½ (-115)
Charlie Blackmon hit 14 triples last season. Hamilton and Nick Castellanos were the only other 2 to reach double-digits. Blackmon clearly benefited from the combination of thin air and the huge outfield at Coors Field. In fact, 13 of his 14 3-baggers came at Coors.
He’s far from the fastest player in the league, but he’s the Rockies player with the skill-set most geared toward being able to hit triples at home. Colorado is a team you’d expect to hit plenty of them, and they do. The Rockies have finished in the top-3 in triples in every single season since 2008.
Triples are also a fairly random stat on an individual basis. It’s not inherently predictive. Take Evan Gattis for an example. Gattis is a burly catcher, but he smacked 11 triples during the 2015 season. In the 2 seasons since, Gattis has a grand total of zero triples. It’s just one of those random things.
Trusting your gut on this one is the best advice I can offer.
Most Wins (Pitcher)
- Over 20 ½ (-115)
- Under 20 ½ (-115)
Managers are relying more and more on bullpens nowadays. Organizations are also much more cautious with pitchers than they were back in the day. Last season, the Dodgers had a starting pitcher reach 100 pitches in a game just 23 out of 162 times.
You only need to log a minimum of 5 innings in order to qualify for a win, but we’re seeing more managers show a quick hook these days. The day of starting pitchers winning 25-30 games in a season are in the rearview mirror. Last season, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Jason Vargas and Carlos Carrasco each tied for the lead with 18 victories.
We had a trio of 20-game winners in 2016. 2017 was something of an anomaly in that we had a minimum of 1 pitcher win at least 20 games from 2011 until 2016.
Most Losses (Pitcher)
- Over 17 (-120)
- Under 17 (-110)
Interestingly enough, Rick Porcello led baseball with 17 losses last season after leading the league with 22 wins during his Cy Young-winning 2016 campaign. It just goes to show how fickle things can be from one year to the next. Porcello didn’t pitch nearly as well last season as he did the year prior, but you’ll rarely see a swing that wild in the span of a season.
We haven’t had a player lose at least 20 games since Mike Maroth accomplished the dubious feat for the 2003 Tigers, who were one of the worst teams in the history of baseball. Based on their mass exodus this offseason, the Miami Marlins may well challenge for the title of “worst team of all-time” in 2018.
Will any of their pitchers lose 18 or more games? It’s possible. This team lost Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich. The 2018 projected lineup features the likes of Starlin Castro, Justin Bour, JT Realmuto, Cameron Maybin and Lewis Brinson. And these are supposed to be their good hitters.
This team is going to struggle to put runs on the board, which will obviously make it tough for their pitchers to win games. Jose Urena is their Opening Day starter, which…yeesh.
- Over 48 ½ (-115)
- Under 48 ½ (-115)
More and more managers are starting to care less about saves and the closer role in general. Most teams will still have a designated closer, but it’s one of the more volatile positions in baseball. We see a number of teams jumble their closer throughout the course of a given season, and 2018 won’t be any different.
Still, you’ve got some juggernauts at the position. Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland were tied for the most saves in the NL last year with 41. Alex Colome of the Rays led the entire league with 47. Considering the Rays have torn down their roster, it’s safe to say Colome won’t reach that mark again this season unless he’s traded.
The Dodgers won 104 games last season, and Jansen notched the save in just under 40% of them. The Dodger offense was so prolific that there were many games in which Jansen wasn’t even needed in order to seal the victory. Blowouts galore. I think he’s the best closer in baseball, but it’s hard to see him racking up 49 or more saves.
Naturally, you’ll look to Jansen or the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman as potential candidates. We’ve had some players top 50 saves in recent years, but 48 saves or so tends to be on the high end.
Someone from the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Indians, Cubs or Nationals will get there.
Most Strikeouts (Pitcher)
- Over 277 ½ (-115)
- Under 277 ½ (-115)
Chris Sale racked up 308 whiffs in his first season in Boston, which led baseball by a wide margin. Mad Max Scherzer was second with 268 punchouts.
I mentioned previously that home runs are up, and strikeouts are, too. With more hitters taking an all-or-nothing approach, many of them aren’t concerned about swinging and missing. Guys like Khris Davis and Joey Gallo will strike out upwards of 200 times this season. Considering they’ll also hit 40+ homers, teams will take it.
We also have plenty of fireballers capable of topping 277 ½. Sale is the most obvious candidate to repeat, ditto for Scherzer if he stays healthy. Noah Syndergaard was sidelined for most of last season with injury, but he would’ve gotten there had he stayed healthy. Clayton Kershaw has also topped 300 whiffs in a season in the past.