2018 Surprise Average Fly Ball Distance Leaders

About a week ago, I shared the surprising hitters who finished amid the top tier in barrels per true fly ball rate, a metric I created that acts as one of the primary components of my xHR/FB rate equation. Another major component of the equation is average fly ball distance (Avg FB Dist), which isn’t typically discussed, as it’s not on the default Statcast leaderboard. So let’s find out which surprising hitters, who hit at least 30 fly balls, finished near the top in the metric. I also decided not to include any hitters that also appeared on the Brls/TFB surprise leaders list.

Surprise Avg FB Dist Leaders
Avg FB Dist Rank (out of 410) Player HR/FB Avg FB Distance
5 Max Stassi 17.8% 348
9 Steve Pearce 17.5% 344
15 Alex Avila 22.6% 341
16 David Bote 19.4% 341
20 Pablo Sandoval 17.0% 341
Population Average 12.9% 319

Max Stassi ranking fifth in Avg FB Dist?! It’s pretty amazing that this was Stassi’s sixth stint in the Majors, but 2018 represented just the first time he recorded more than 31 plate appearances! He finally got an opportunity for an extended look and showed excellent power, to go along with some proneness to the strikeout. This year, he’s behind Robinson Chirinos, and Steamer projects very similar wOBA marks for each. However, according to StatCorner’s Catcher Report, Chirinos was one of the worst framers in baseball last year, while Stassi was one of the best. Smells like Stassi makes a fantastic second catcher choice in deeper mixed and AL-Only leagues.

The traveling Steve Pearce joined his fourth time in the last three seasons and remains in a nice hitting environment in Boston. Even at his advanced age, he continues to post strong skills and isn’t just a lefty-masher. At the very least, he’ll spell the weak side of a platoon with Mitch Moreland, and he has the skills to steal more playing time.

The Diamondbacks catcher situation is murky at the moment, as they acquired prospect Carson Kelly from the Cardinals to battle Alex Avila for starts. But Avila is clearly the far superior hitter, even though he posted a wOBA well below .300 in 2018. However, he managed to sustain the home run power spike he first enjoyed in 2016 and he’s been above a 20% HR/FB rate ever since. He should come quite cheaply and makes for a solid second catcher in NL-Only leagues.

David Bote debuted with the Cubs last year and showed excellent power, but struck out a lot, and rarely hit a fly ball. The power, though, is new, as he didn’t post a double digit HR/FB rate until 2017, and that mark surged to nearly 20% while at Triple-A in 2018. Whatever adjustments he made or growth he enjoyed to take him to the next level appears now like a true step forward. The good news is that Bote found himself all over the diamond last year, appearing all around the infield and left field. The bad news is that the Cubs are loaded, so even his versatility isn’t likely enough to garner him any sort of meaningful playing time. If he gets an opportunity for every day at-bats, he’s worth a look.

It’s official, Pablo Sandoval is still alive! He’s surely the most surprising name on this list. Though his strikeout rate has spiked since his earlier days, the additional strikeouts have at least come with more power. He’ll need injuries to push his way into the starting lineup, but if you could get yourself to stop laughing, he might be able to contribute some value in deeper leagues.

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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Thanks for the post Mike!

What do you make of average fly ball distance as a stat overall? It seems to me that this stat would favor groundball centric hitters that hit fewer fly balls and are less inclined to pop-ups. Guys like Stanton and Sanchez probably don’t look great by this metric for the opposite reasons.

Also interesting stuff on Bote. Given his elite exit velos and ability to the hit the ball far in the air there’s probably some more upside.