2019 HR/FB Rate Surgers

While my xHR/FB rate equation wasn’t developed to serve as a next season projection, you could certainly use it as a historical guide, just the way you would normally review actual HR/FB rate. That’s precisely what I do to formulate my Pod Projections. One of the various ways to utilize xHR/FB rate is to compare the hitter’s mark to his actual mark to determine how “real” the result was. Today, I’ll identify and discuss 9 hitters who posted xHR/FB rates significantly higher than their actual marks, suggesting upside this season if they are able to maintain those underlying skills.

2019 HR/FB Surgers
Player HR/FB xHR/FB HR/FB – xHR/FB
Domingo Santana 13.2% 21.4% -8.2%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 10.6% 18.1% -7.5%
Ramon Laureano 14.7% 21.9% -7.2%
Ryan Zimmerman 16.5% 23.6% -7.1%
Hunter Dozier 11.8% 18.8% -7.0%
Robinson Cano 12.8% 19.3% -6.5%
Nicholas Castellanos 13.6% 20.0% -6.4%
Teoscar Hernandez 15.9% 22.1% -6.2%
Mitch Moreland 13.2% 19.2% -6.1%

Domingo Santana was squeezed for playing time in the Brewers crowded outfield last season and even found himself demoted to Triple-A for over 200 plate appearances. His HR/FB rate plummeted, being more than cut in half from his 2017 mark. But he didn’t deserve such a decline in performance! In reality, xHR/FB suggests he was super lucky in 2017 and then super unlucky in 2018. Those xHR/FB marks were actually almost identical both seasons, which is pretty shocking. Santana’s move to Seattle makes him a great profit target as he’ll open the year for a full-time job and should push his HR/FB rate back over 20%.

No one likes owning a ninth-place batter at risk of being platooned, but Jackie Bradley Jr.’s actual home run power didn’t actually dry up like his HR/FB rate decline would suggest. In fact, he posted the highest xHR/FB rate since 2015, the first year I have data for! His barrels per true fly ball reached a career best, while his average fly ball distance sat just below his career high. Though it will depend heavily on his playing time, don’t rule out a return to 20+ homers.

Is the secret out on Ramon Laureano? I promise to post nothing more about him. Laureano certainly displayed excellent power, posting an above average HR/FB rate, along with a .186 ISO as a rookie. But xHR/FB rate suggests it should have been better! A 20% Triple-A HR/FB rate before his call-up confirms that such power potential is in that bat. Oh, and he stole 43 bases in 2016, 24 in 2017, and 18 combined in 2018. I’m drooling.

We all figured Ryan Zimmerman was going to experience some serious regression off that sudden and surprising HR/FB rate spike at the tender age of 32. It sure happened and we patted ourselves on the back for calling another regression candidate correctly. But would you have guessed that his 2018 xHR/FB rate was nearly identical to his 2017 mark? He actually barreled a slightly higher rate of his true fly balls last season, but traded in some pull percentage, overall resulting in a wash. I still don’t really care to own the 34-year-old, always injured vet, but at his likely cost, could be a profitable buy in NL-Only leagues.

Only in Kansas City does a sub-.300 wOBA and negative UZR earn you a full-time job the following season. Hunter Dozier is thanking his lucky stars. But hey, maybe the Royals are looking at the same metrics I am and are thinking a power surge is coming! Of course, nothing in his history suggests he’s got the power to deliver a high teen HR/FB rate, but he definitely showed such power in 362 at-bats. He’ll have to realize that apparent power and turn it into results, otherwise he’s not going to end the season with a starting job.

So after Robinson Cano’s xHR/FB rate has trickled down each season since 2015, it suddenly surges in 2018 to a four-year high. Both his barrels and fly ball pull rate reached highs during the period. Unlike most of the others on this list, I’m not nearly as optimistic his 2019 HR/FB rate will rise toward his 2018 xHR/FB rate as age has to catch up sooner or later.

Welcome Nicholas Castellanos to a familiar spot — a list of underachievers! Castellanos has underperformed his xHR/FB rate in all four years of my data, but never by this much. His 2018 performance represented both his highest xHR/FB rate and the biggest gap between it and his actual mark. The big difference this time was a spike in fly ball pull percentage. It had no affect on his results, but boosted his xHR/FB rate. With relatively stable skills and an elite batted ball profile that lends itself to an inflated BABIP, I still think there is an explosion coming one of these years that includes 30 homers.

Teoscar Hernandez or Billy McKinney? Billy McKinney or Teoscar Hernandez? At the moment, all the depth charts put McKinney ahead of Hernandez in left field, likely as part of a traditional platoon. So Hernandez’s playing time outlook is murky now, but if he hits, I can’t imagine McKinney is going to block his path. Hernandez turned heads with a tiny sample 30.8% HR/FB rate in 2017, but couldn’t keep it up in almost 500 at-bats last season. With top 7% marks in both barrel rate and average fly ball distance, that power didn’t go anywhere. If he gets back to pulling those flies like he did in 2017, watch out.

Does it get anymore boring than Mitch Moreland? Between 2013 and 2017, he hit either 22 or 23 homers in each of his four full seasons. But now his HR/FB rate has been tumbling, declining for a third straight season. Guess what has remained stable…that’s right, his xHR/FB rate. In fact, that mark has remained just above 19% in three of his past four seasons. He has now underperformed his xHR/FB rate by a significant degree the last two years, which just so happens to coincide with his Red Sox tenure. So perhaps his home run swing isn’t optimal for Fenway? Sure enough, he has posted a 15.7% HR/FB rate in away parks these past two seasons, but just a 13.1% mark at home. The away mark is still well below his xHR/FB rate though, so I would bet on some sort of rebound…if you could manage rostering him without falling asleep.

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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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Great stuff. Off-season reports have Teoscar working on his defense–do you think his defense can be passable enough to ensure him big playing time? He’s certainly fast enough to be good in the outfield. His BP fielding metrics (FRAA) are also a lot more optimistic than hiz UZRs.