2015 Batted Ball Distance Surgers

Finally, it’s time for me to start looking toward the 2016 season with list after list after list. You love lists, right? Of course you do! We’ll start preview season with a look at one of my favorite metrics – hitter average fly ball and home run distance, or simply hitter batted ball distance. A long three years ago, Chad Young and I embarked on a quest to predict HR/FB rate and found that a hitter’s batted ball distance available at Baseball Heat Maps is highly correlated with HR/FB rate. No duh. The further a batter hits the ball on average, the more home runs, shocking!

Today we’ll identify the hitters who experienced the largest increases in batted ball distance from 2014 to 2015. In the last phase of our quest, Chad discovered that batters who gained at least 15 feet of distance from year one to year two, gave back half those gains in years three, settling right into the middle of years one and two in that third year. Makes sense, as regression is a powerful force. But it goes to show that these hitters did at least hold onto half those gains, rather than falling all the way back to their pre-breakout levels.

I will only be including fantasy relevant hitters who gained at least 15 feet of distance.

2015 Batted Ball Distance Surgers
Name 2015 HR/FB 2014 HR/FB 2015 Dist 2014 Dist Diff
Howie Kendrick 14.1% 6.5% 302.0 271.8 30.1
Brandon Crawford 16.2% 6.5% 303.1 275.8 27.3
Zack Cozart 12.9% 2.5% 281.8 255.9 26.0
Cameron Maybin 12.3% 2.0% 279.6 256.2 23.4
Nick Hundley 10.1% 9.5% 289.1 267.3 21.8
Jackie Bradley Jr. 17.9% 1.1% 292.1 270.5 21.6
Aaron Hicks 11.1% 3.0% 278.0 256.9 21.0
Chris Davis 29.4% 22.6% 313.8 294.6 19.2
Lorenzo Cain 11.2% 5.3% 279.4 260.4 19.1
Chris Coghlan 13.7% 9.4% 287.4 268.9 18.5
Dustin Ackley 12.7% 9.3% 294.1 275.9 18.2
Giancarlo Stanton 32.1% 25.5% 323.2 305.2 17.9
DJ LeMahieu 6.7% 5.4% 287.7 270.2 17.5
Randal Grichuk 19.1% 8.3% 296.9 279.5 17.4
Andre Ethier 12.3% 5.6% 288.6 271.2 17.3
Matt Carpenter 15.8% 4.7% 284.7 267.4 17.3
Salvador Perez 12.4% 8.7% 286.0 270.0 16.0
Adrian Gonzalez 16.4% 14.6% 302.3 286.4 15.9
Yoenis Cespedes 18.6% 9.6% 290.9 275.4 15.5
Manny Machado 17.6% 15.0% 293.7 278.2 15.5
Curtis Granderson 14.3% 10.1% 289.9 274.7 15.2
Adam Eaton 10.9% 1.3% 275.0 259.9 15.1
Marcus Semien 9.1% 9.7% 279.3 264.3 15.0

Out of the 23 hitters above, 22 of them increased their HR/FB rates in 2015! This brings me to the most important point — this analysis is not necessarily to be used to forecast 2016 breakouts, but rather to validate 2015 breakouts. Of course, a couple of the players only enjoyed marginal jumps in HR/FB rate, in spite of a significant spike in batted ball distance, so those guys may see more of their flys hop over the fence this year…if they sustain their batted ball distance. Let’s talk specifics now.

Want to know what a yo-yo in HR/FB rate trend form looks like? Just check out Howie Kendrick’s career! Since 2008, he has alternated single digit marks and double digit marks, switching back and forth every single year. That’s four straight seasonal pairs! I think part of the explanation is his low fly ball rate, which makes his HR/FB rate more volatile than the average bear’s.

Welp, Brandon Crawford’s power surge was certainly supported by a jump in batted ball distance. He even did it without an uptick in strikeout rate, though his SwStk% did rise to a new career high. Given his meager history, I’m not sure how sustainable this is.

Zack Cozart was having a breakout year before he wrecked his knee, though his HR/FB rate jump looks more impressive thanks to his horrible 2014. Now returning from major knee surgery, who knows what he’ll do for an encore. If he opens the year atop the Reds lineup though, he should still earn some shallow mixed league value.

Like Cozart above, Cameron Maybin’s gains are inflated due to a poor 2014. His distance is actually lower than it was from 2010 through 2012. At least we know he’s back to being a respectable power/speed threat.

Clearly Nick Hundley’s gains were due to Coors Field, where he posted a 12.1% HR/FB rate, versus a 7.3% mark in away parks. Of course, his aggregate HR/FB rate barely budged and sat only just above his career average. Maybe he hits for a bit more power this season, though his fantasy value isn’t going to increase, as his BABIP is set to tumble.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is all set to open the season as the Red Sox starting center fielder. But will he keep the job? His batted ball distance suggests he might finally be ready to hit at the Major League level, though he’ll need to curb that strikeout rate.

Man, if the Yankees do eventually trade an outfielder, Aaron Hicks becomes a major sleeper.

Because it came in just 350 plate appearances, many will forget about Randal Grichuk. Don’t be one of them. A high FB% + Pull% + distance = lots ‘o homers. BUT! That SwStk% is scary, as is that resulting strikeout rate. He’ll need to cut down on his swings and misses, as another .365 BABIP is unlikely to be there to save him. But whether he could sustain big power while also making better contact remains to be seen.

Matt Carpenter version 2.0 is an interesting cat. This version hits more fly balls than grounders, pulls the ball more often and swings and misses a heck of a lot more, leading to a higher strikeout rate. Who will show up in 2016? It’s anyone’s guess.

Manny Machado appears to have been a bit fortunate in 2014 with his HR/FB rate given just an average batted ball distance. But his distance surged this year, while his HR/FB rate didn’t rise nearly as much, allowing for the two marks to actually match. One of these years he’s going to either cure his pop-up issues or just enjoy a fortunate BABIP and his batting average is going to jump over .300.

Poor Marcus Semien is the only player listed whose HR/FB rate actually went down. With a similar Pull% and increased Hard%, one must wonder. I sure am. There could be a bit more upside in that bat this year.

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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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Love your stuff Mike. I fell in love a bit with batted ball distance last year to look for power development/projection, and it sorta backfired and bit me. I worry about it’s value and sticky-ness. This year I’ve been looking at a lot more on looking at the combination of Average batted ball velocity (or maybe specifically avg FB/LD velocity) mixed with FB% to look for the same thing I thought batted ball distance would give me a inkling of.

I don’t really know how to test it, but I’d figure I’d throw it out there to see if there may be something to it, and maybe it’s worth researching. Seems to make sense intuitively.


I had a similar experience last season :

I ended up targeting Dozier, Grandal, and Brantley in trades based on their 2015 batted ball distance either jumping or continuing trends from 2014 #’s and well…they all got hurt.

However I will credit batted ball distance data for convincing me to spend a waiver claim on Khris Davis before he went off in Aug/Sept.