Home runs are happening this year, and they have been on the rise for quite some time. Heading into Saturday, the home run total for this season stands at 2510. At the current rate, with the 2017 campaign about 42.5% complete, the final home run total would be roughly 5906. This would represent a 5% increase from last year (5610), a 20% raise from 2015 (4909) and a hefty 41% spike from 2014 (4186). Astute fantasy owners are probably well aware of this trend simply by examining their league standings. In Mixed Auction Tout Wars, for example, the current median home run total is 122, which would project to 287 over the full season. Last year, the median was 272. In 2015, it was 242. And in 2014, 206 homers was good enough to finish in the middle of the pack.
Juiced ball? Stronger hitters? Weaker pitching? Whatever the reason for this season's longball frenzy, several unlikely home run sources have played a major role. Let's take a look at a handful of these guys.
Ryan Zimmerman (19 HR): Healthy again after three straight injury-marred seasons, Zimmerman is leading the power display of a Nationals club that ranks among the top four teams in the Majors in both runs scored and homers. The last time the 32-year-old slugged more than 26 home runs in a season was in 2009, and his HR/FB ratio this year is a career-best 19.6%, this compared to his 10.5% career average. Plus, 11 of his 19 homers came in April. While 30 home runs is reasonable (health permitting), it might be a good idea to see if someone in your league believes he will reach 40. If so, go ahead and work out a trade...sooner than later.
Logan Morrison (19 HR): Speaking of injury-prone players, Morrison is hoping to rebound from a 2016 season in which he played in only 107 games, though he did tally 14 home runs. Less than halfway through the season, the Rays first baseman is just four homers shy of the career-high 23 long balls he posted while with the Marlins back in 2011. Like Zimmerman, Morrison has benefited from an unusually high HR/FB ratio (20.2%) that is double his career average. As a waiver wire addition in the vast majority of league formats, even if he doesn't hit any more home runs this year, he has already rewarded his owners with an excellent return on investment. If he can avoid a prolonged DL stint, 30 homers is within reach.
Eric Thames (19 HR): Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised, as Thames was a prodigious home run hitter while playing in Korea. However, in his only two major league seasons (2011-2012), the 30-year-old managed to collect just 18 homers across 135 games. Thames' bat has cooled off since April, with only eight of his 19 home runs coming since the season's opening month, and his batting average has plummeted from .345 to .269 during that span. Still, we cannot simply pretend that the years in Korea and the first month of his return to the big leagues didn't happen, so I'll set the over/under for his end-of-season home run total at 32.5. In other words, solid production from here on out, though the window to sell high is likely closed.
Yonder Alonso (17 HR): Seriously, who saw this coming? We're not even at the midway point and Alonso has already nearly doubled his previous single-season high of nine home runs. A former top prospect, Alonso has yet to live up to expectations, but the strange thing is that those expectations never really included power, as he wasn't much of a home run producer in the Minors. He is hitting significantly more fly balls these days, which is a good thing. But now, at age 30, Alonso is all of a sudden a slugger? Call me skeptical.
Brett Gardner (13 HR): After launching a respectable 33 home runs from 2014-2015, Gardner never found his power stroke last season, finishing with only seven longballs. Well, that power stroke has returned, and then some. With 13 homers entering play on Saturday, Gardner is on pace to shatter his previous single-season high of 17. But before you get all excited, keep in mind that nine of his 13 home runs came in May, and he's always been a streaky hitter, especially in the power department. What happens if another hot home run stretch doesn't come? Well, there would be a lot of disappointed Gardner owners, and even some relieved ex-Gardner owners. So, if you're currently a member of the first group, check in on the trade market and see if you can join the second group right now before it's too late.
Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB