2019 HR/FB Rate Surgers — A Review

In mid-February, I compared the xHR/FB rate my equation spit out to the batter’s actual mark in 2018 to share a list of nine batters the formula would suggest possessed significant HR/FB rate upside in 2019. The record home run rate this year is going to probably make the picks look good, but let’s take a gander at the names and the results anyway to find out if that was indeed the case.

2019 HR/FB Surgers
Player 2018 HR/FB 2019 HR/FB Diff
Domingo Santana 13.2% 23.6% 10.4%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 10.6% 18.4% 7.8%
Ramon Laureano 14.7% 19.2% 4.5%
Ryan Zimmerman 16.5% 13.6% -2.9%
Hunter Dozier 11.8% 15.6% 3.8%
Robinson Cano 12.8% 13.0% 0.2%
Nicholas Castellanos 13.6% 14.4% 0.8%
Teoscar Hernandez 15.9% 22.8% 6.9%
Mitch Moreland 13.2% 24.1% 10.9%
Unweighted Group Average 13.6% 18.3% 4.7%
League Average 12.7% 15.3% 2.6%

Overall, this group performed pretty darn well. The unweighted (taking the simple average, as opposed to weighting by fly balls) group average shows an increased in HR/FB rate of 4.7%, versus 2.6% for the league average. Two of the nine hitters saw double digit jumps, while just one suffered a decline in rate. That’s pretty impressive.

After three straight years (though 2015 and 2016 were rather small sample sizes) of HR/FB rates of at least 27.5%, Domingo Santana disappointed with a measly 13.2% mark in 2018. It led to lost playing time and even a trip to the minors, and then he was shipped off to the Mariners during the off-season. While his HR/FB rate didn’t fully rebound to his pre-2018 levels, he got it back above 20%. He’s an interesting case in batted ball approach, as his distribution is a high BABIP strategy, but with the side effect of reducing his power output. I’m curious what a high fly ball version would look like.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit zero homers through the end of April, then picked it up from there and was his normal self since. Amazingly, he ended up posting a career high HR/FB rate, though his strikeout rate jumped to its highest since 2014.

Ramon Laureano made good on his tantalizing combination of power and speed and his 2018 xHR/FB rate suggested further home run upside versus his debut output. It was right. If it wasn’t for an injury, he may have socked 30 dingers. I do worry about the decline in walk rate, as well as the dramatic dropoff in his defense according to UZR/150. That defense was supposed to act as a safety net keeping him in the lineup, even if he slumped at the plate.

Ryan Zimmerman is back to his never healthy ways, as he only recorded 288 at-bats in 2018 and 171 this year. So comparing his HR/FB rates is kinda silly. He was also the only one to suffer a decline from 2018 to 2019, so removing him would make the list look even better.

Hunter Dozier enjoyed a surprising breakout season, instead of losing his starting job which many expected. Of course, xHR/FB rate saw that coming. While just eyeing his batted ball type distribution, it would be silly to expect another .339 BABIP, the HR/FB rate jump is likely for real (I can’t confirm until I run my 2019 xHR/FB rate marks). Still, even with this little breakout, he wasn’t actually hugely valuable for fantasy owners.

At age 36, returning from a fractured right hand, and having been suspended 80 games for PEDs, it was a challenging to peg a 2019 HR/FB rate for Robinson Cano. The rate ended up rebounding ever so slightly, but his strikeout rate and SwStk% reached career highs, while his walk rate dropped to its lowest mark since 2011. These are signs that the end may be near.

As usual, Nicholas Castellanos was off to a slower than expected start in the home run department in Detroit. But then a trade for the North side of Chicago reignited his power, and it was enough to push his HR/FB rate up to a new career high. For his career, he owns a 10.6% HR/FB rate at home and a 13.7% mark in away parks. Clearly, something in Detroit didn’t fit with his power profile. So he’s a guy whose project could really surprise if he lands in a better park for his tendencies.

I was a big fan of Teoscar Hernandez heading into the season, and although the playing time was inconsistent, and he was again a drain on batting averages across the land, the home run output did increase. That said, he’s clearly a negative defensively and definitely slots in better as a DH. But with a career OBP of just .304 and .328 wOBA, I’m not sure you could pencil him in for every day at-bats.

Wowzers, I had no idea that Mitch Moreland just posted a 24.1% HR/FB rate! That’s a new career high for him. Now granted, that came over just 298 at-bats, but he’s a good example of the effects of the Happy Fun Ball.

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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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