2018 Average Fly Ball Distance Decliners

On Thursday, I identified and discussed the hitters(with at least 30 fly balls in each year) who increased their average fly ball distance (AFBD) marks the most from 2017 to 2018. Now let’s take a look at the biggest decliners. If a hitter on this list suffered a dramatic drop in HR/FB rate, this is likely why.

Below are the hitters who hit at least 30 fly balls in both 2017 and 2018 and suffered a decline in AFBD of at least 20 feet.

2018 Avg Fly Ball Dist Decliners
Player 2017 2018 Diff
Willson Contreras 352 309 -43
Logan Forsythe 329 290 -39
Pat Valaika 340 307 -33
Hunter Pence 329 301 -28
Dixon Machado 319 293 -26
Howie Kendrick 340 314 -26
Chase Utley 318 293 -25
Chris Davis 343 318 -25
Lonnie Chisenhall 315 290 -25
Rajai Davis 314 289 -25
Cesar Hernandez 319 295 -24
Jake Marisnick 343 319 -24
Aaron Judge 354 331 -23
Dexter Fowler 327 304 -23
Brandon Crawford 330 308 -22
Caleb Joseph 314 292 -22
Jose Pirela 324 302 -22
Adam Engel 320 299 -21
Jeff Mathis 328 307 -21
Jesus Sucre 316 295 -21
Brian McCann 330 310 -20
Matt Olson 344 324 -20
League Average 321 319 -2

Willson Contreras also appeared on the Barrels per True Fly Ball decliners list, validating his down power year. I’ll say it again — because catcher remains a super weak position, it wouldn’t take such a dramatic rebound to return to top five status.

WOW, this was quite the offensive collapse for Chris Davis. We all knew his strikeout issues and batting average risk as he faces a shifted defense in nearly every single of his plate appearances. What we didn’t worry about was his power. Every season since 2012, he had posted a HR/FB rate between 22.6% and 29.6% and an ISO between .208 and .348. Both these marks took a nosedive this year, driven by hsi worst AFBD since I started tracking it in 2015. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation like an injury, and although 32 is getting up there, it is by no means an age where you might expect a sudden steep decline. I’m seriously curious to see how he performs this year. I’d bet on a full rebound or the end, no in between.

It’s interesting to see that Cesar Hernandez raised his HR/FB rate for a third straight season, and yet his AFBD mark actually fell to a career low. That’s the value of using this metric, when there’s a disconnect between the underlying skills (like AFBD) and the results (like HR/FB). Notice that even with the rise in HR/FB rate, along with a surge in FB%, his ISO actually fell from 2017, thanks to a significant decline in both doubles and triples rate. Seems like a classic example of an errant gust of wind carrying previous doubles and triples over the fence that isn’t sustainable. His HR/FB is headed back to single digits in 2019.

It might appear ominous to find Aaron Judge on this list, but remember that 331 feet is still well above the league average, and the 354 feet he posted in 2017 is simply not a level you can expect any hitter to maintain year after year. I’m buying if discounted.

Is there a rebound in Dexter Fowler’s future? A complete power outage validates the down year, though can’t answer the question of whether he could bounce back. I would feel better on taking a flyer if the Cardinals traded Jose Martinez.

I really believed in Jose Pirela’s power breakout in 2017. Oops. That he couldn’t sustain that power cost him a starting job.

Matt Olson enjoyed a gangbusters debut in 2017, so it’s no surprise to learn he wasn’t able to sustain any of the underlying metrics driving that power. I’m no longer worried about platoon risk, as he posted a respectable .311 wOBA against southpaws last season. I expect his power to rebound some, but offset by a decline in BABIP.

We hoped you liked reading 2018 Average Fly Ball Distance Decliners by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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Brad Lipton
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Brad Lipton

Mike…maybe you spoke about this in another post, but how variable is this metric (average fly ball distance) from year to year for a player? The reason why I ask is, perhaps, early in the career a jump can indicate a skills improvement, while later in the career a decline can help indicate the (near) end. In the vast middle of a career, however, perhaps much of the variation is noise.