Seven Power Bats to Buy Cheap — A Review

Over a shortened 2020 season, I suggested it might be a good idea to discount ratios, such as batting average, and buy more stable counting stats, like home runs. As such, I identified and discussed seven cheap power buys worthy of buying. The thinking was that you would get your homers, while the projected low batting averages reducing their costs would be volatile and might not necessarily finish at a negative value. Let’s see how the players ended up doing.

Cheap Power
Player ADP Avg HR
Randal Grichuk 272 0.273 12
Hunter Renfroe 277 0.156 8
Renato Nunez 293 0.256 12
Teoscar Hernandez 364 0.289 16
Justin Smoak 381 0.176 5
Tyler O’Neill 595 0.173 7
Jay Bruce 648 0.198 6

So much for batted ball luck! Four of the seven actually finished with an average below .200. However, three of the seven did reach double digits in home runs.

Randal Grichuk seemed like the ultimate short season play. He’s seemingly become a boring one-dimensional slugger who hits homers, but doesn’t contribute much anywhere else (depending on your league, he might earn slight positive value in RBI and maybe runs, but barely). At an ADP of 272, he definitely delivered and this time, his batting average was likely a positive contributor for a change. His HR/FB rate finished at a career high, but his home run total would have been even higher if his FB% didn’t slip below 40% for the first time. The dramatic improvement in strikeout rate was a big factor in his output and that was driven by a career low SwStk%. Is the contact improvement for real or just a figment of the small sample? There’s really no way to know, but there’s a huge difference between a 30-homer, .270 Grichuk and a 30-homer .240 Grichuk.

I was burned by Hunter Renfroe, but I should have known better. The Rays have so much depth that any short slump will result in playing time loss. I figured Renfroe was very Grichuk-like in that we know we’ll see the power, and the hope is the small sample will result in good fortune for his batting average. That didn’t happen. He ended up being BABIP’d to death, posting a brutal .141 mark, thanks partially to a ridiculously low 10.5% LD%. The power was still there though, but this is a batted ball profile that is never going to have a strong BABIP. With a sub-.300 career OBP, there’s lots Renfroe needs to improve on and given this short season’s showing, I doubt he’ll open next season with a starting job.

Renato Núñez did exactly what was expected, and even missed some time to injury. It’s hard to believe he’s a true .300+ BABIP guy given his lack of speed, and high fly ball and pop-up rates, but a drop in BABIP could be offset by a rebound in strikeout rate next year. That strikeout rate spike is concerning, but since his SwStk% matched his 2018 mark when he posted a significantly better strikeout rate, it’s probably just a sample size thing. The only worry I would have is that of playing time, since he has no defensive value. So he needs to keep hitting for lots of power to remain in the lineup.

Huge power and a BABIP surge led to Teoscar Hernández’s short season breakout. We knew there was massive power in that bat, so that’s not that surprising, and over any 60 game period, it was liable to show up. However, he also paired that with a career high LD% and a sub-10% IFFB%, leading to a career high BABIP. Though I wouldn’t bet on another 30%+ HR/FB rate next year, I think the power is far more real than the .289 batting average. So remember that when considering him for next year, as he’s really not that much different than Grichuk and Renfroe.

Aaaaaand that’s the end of Justin Smoak’s career. Unfortunately, a low BABIP really limited his offensive production, as the rest of his skill set was quite good. Amazingly, he never posted a BABIP above .297 and stands at .264 for his entire career. It’s undoubtedly the effects of the infield shift, combined with his lack of speed.

There was opportunity for Tyler O’Neill to carve out a full-time role all season, and while his power did increase from last year, it still fell short of what his minor league record suggested he was capable of. More importantly, his BABIP came in at a measly .189, as lots of fly balls and too few line drives make it difficult to record hits on balls in play (though it shouldn’t have been that difficult!). There were other positives like a jump in walk rate and decline in strikeout and SwStk% marks, though, so the Cardinals definitely shouldn’t give up here.

Besides injury, Jay Bruce’s season was wrecked by a low BABIP as well. If you thought last year’s .200 BABIP was low, Bruce ended up posting an even lower .197 mark! He, too, was likely crushed by defensive shifts eating up his grounders, along with so many fly balls, and too few liners. It’s a familiar profile among these power hitters.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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