Will Christian Yelich Lead MLB in Home Runs in 2019?
We are a little over a month into the 2019 Major League Baseball season, but one thing we know is that home runs are up. Way up. Back in 2017, a record 6,105 home runs were hit across the major leagues. Last season, however, saw a pretty substantial dip. Just 5,585 homers were hit in 2018. What gives?
Some speculated that the baseballs themselves were “juiced” in 2017, which is why we saw the sharp rise in dingers. The balls were back to normal last year, but home runs are back up again in 2019. As of this writing, there have been 1,439 home runs hit across the majors in just over a month of action. There are already 19 players that have hit 10 or more dingers, and we aren’t even halfway through May.
Christian Yelich, who slugged 36 homers last year as the National League MVP, leads the way with 16 big flies so far in 2019. Cody Bellinger of the LA Dodgers is second with 14 homers, followed by Eddie Rosario (Twins), and George Springer (Astros) with 13 apiece.
The preseason favorite to lead the majors in home runs this year was Oakland’s Khris Davis, who hit a league-high 48 homers a season ago. Davis got off to a hot start again this season, but he’s currently 18th with 10 dingers on the year. Should Davis still be considered the betting favorite to lead the majors in homers this season? Or has Yelich surpassed him?
Updated Betting Odds
The odds to finish the 2019 season as the league leader in homers are as follows:
- Christian Yelich +500
- Khris Davis +550
- Cody Bellinger +550
- Joey Gallo +600
- Rhys Hoskins +800
- Nolan Arenado +800
- Edwin Encarnacion +1000
- Pete Alonso +1000
- Bryce Harper +1200
- Alex Bregman +1200
- Franmil Reyes +1400
- Eugenio Suarez +1400
- Anthony Rizzo +1400
- Kris Bryant +1500
- Marcell Ozuna +1500
- Aaron Judge +1500
- Javier Baez +2000
- Eddie Rosario +2000
- George Springer +2000
- Trevor Story +2000
Prior to last season, Yelich wasn’t known as a power hitter. He had played his entire career at Marlins Park, which is right there with Oracle Park in San Francisco as the least-friendly home run park in the league. It’s tough to hit for much power in that stadium unless you happen to be a freak like Giancarlo Stanton.
Instead, Yelich had gained a reputation as a gap-to-gap speedster. That all changed, however, when he was dealt to the Brewers prior to last season. Miller Park happens to be the best park in the league when it comes to lefty power. Miller Park, Yankee Stadium, and Camden Yards are 1-2-3 when it comes to home runs allowed to left-handed hitters just about every season.
Suddenly, Yelich became a power hitter. It didn’t happen instantly, though. Yelich’s MVP-winning campaign was aided by a torrid run in the second half of last season. At this time last year, Yelich had just three longballs. He had a total of seven entering June. He hit 21 in August and September combined, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Yelich has 16 homers already this year, 15 of which have been hit at Miller Park. Last year, 22 of his 36 bombs were hit at home. Obviously, Yelich is making the most of his time in his friendly new digs. He has developed into one of the five best overall hitters in the game, so betting on Yelich to lead the league in dingers at +500 is viable. It’s not my favorite bet on the board, though.
Betting on futures is inherently risky considering we have no idea how things will change over the season’s next few months. Will someone get traded? If so, that could obviously affect things quite a bit. If one of the contenders happens to get traded to a team like the Giants with a home park that saps home run totals, that player is no longer as appealing from a sports betting perspective. Injuries, as is the case every year, will also go a long way toward deciding things.
However, we can’t account for those things, so we have to do the best we can with what information we do have. Among those with long odds to lead the league in homers this season, I am finding myself gravitating toward Colorado’s Trevor Story. Story is listed at +2000 as of this writing.
In case you didn’t know, Story’s home park (Coors Field) is the best home run environment in the league. More homers are hit at Coors than anywhere else just about every season, and Story and teammate Nolan Arenado have happily taken advantage over the last couple of years. The 26-year-old shortstop has hit 27, 24, and 37 homers in each of his first three big league seasons.
Last year was a breakout campaign for Story, and he’s continued to hit in 2019. He has hit eight homers through the first 37 games of this season. It’s a bit discouraging that Yelich has already doubled that, but I expect Story to heat up from a power perspective as the season progresses. It’s worth noting that this has been an unseasonably cool spring in Colorado, and cold weather has a way of negatively affecting power.
As it warms up, I expect Story’s home run totals to rise quickly. 26 of his 37 dingers came at Coors a season ago, and the Rockies have played more road games than home games to this point in the season. More warm weather with more home games should equal many, many more home runs for Story over the next few months. The profit potential on Story at +2000 speaks for itself.
I’m also intrigued by Houston’s George Springer at the same +2000 odds. Springer has quietly clubbed 13 longballs already this year, which happens to be the final season of his contract. Springer is looking to get paid next winter, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him put together a monstrous campaign.
Springer has plenty of raw power, but he’s not a traditional slugger like some of the others currently populating the home run leaderboard. He put on a crazy power display on his way to MVP honors during the 2017 World Series, but he’s eclipsed 30 homers in a season just once before. He’s well on his way to doing so again this season if he stays healthy, but he’s never been a guy challenging for 50 homers or anything like that.
While Minute Maid Park isn’t exactly Coors, it’s still a park that caters pretty well to right-handed power. The Crawford Boxes in left field suit his style perfectly, and he’s been happy to take advantage of the short porch in the past. I prefer Story to Springer with both listed at +2000, but I wouldn’t talk you out of either as a flier bet.
Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo are pretty difficult to ignore. Both lefty sluggers are among those with the most raw power in the game, and both have gotten off to blazing starts this season. Bellinger has been arguably the best hitter in baseball, as he’s hitting nearly .400 over a month into the year. Gallo’s slugging percentage (.655) ranks fourth in the league behind Yelich, Bellinger, and Hunter Dozier.
When it comes to park factors, Gallo has the edge on Bellinger. Globe Life Park has always played well to lefty power, and the summers deep in the heart of Texas get quite a bit warmer than those in Southern California. The ball will start flying in Texas once temperatures are consistently sitting in the mid-to-high 90s. Dodger Stadium is a decent home run park in its own right, but Gallo’s home yard is on another level.
Gallo still strikes out a ton, but when he makes contact, the ball tends to go a long way. The lefty has hit at least 40 homers in back-to-back seasons, yet he continues to fly under the radar from a national perspective. How many baseball fans knew he’d accomplished that feat?
He’s going to fly past 40 homers again this season, and it’s not a stretch in the least to suggest he could climb north of 50 with the way the balls are flying this season.
Bellinger has bounced back nicely following a fairly disappointing 2018, but it’s also fair to say he’s been playing a bit over his head to this point. I still expect Bellinger to be among the league leaders in dingers once it’s all said and done. But in my opinion, Gallo’s superior individual power plus the home ballpark advantage gives him the edge.
Who will lead the league in homers this season is anybody’s guess. The leaderboard is crowded at the top, and all it takes is a few hot weeks for new challengers to emerge. We can make educated guesses, though, and if I had to put money on it right now, I would bet on Gallo to lead the bigs in big flies in 2019.
Gallo at +600 is the best bet on the board. Bellinger (+550) and Yelich (+500) are both viable, though I am still a little skeptical that Yelich’s crazy power display is here to stay. I’d bet on Bellinger before I’d bet on Yelich, and the slightly more favorable odds don’t hurt.
If you want some long shots, Story and Springer (+2000) are perfectly fine. Those are not bets I’d be going all-in on, but a cheap wager has big potential.