2019 Review — Barrels Per True Fly Ball Surgers

Two years ago, I introduced my latest xHR/FB rate equation, which incorporates two Statcast metrics. One of these metrics is barrels per true fly ball rate (Brls/TFB), which is defined as such: # of barrels / (# fly balls – # of pop-ups). Barrels is a Statcast metric, while I am using the fly ball and infield fly ball (pop-ups) counts from FanGraphs. Since barrels accounts for both exit velocity and launch angle, it’s a favorite metric of mine. So let’s review all the hitters with at least 25 true fly balls who increased their Brls/TFB rates by at least 10 percentage points.

Brls/TFB Surgers
Player 2018 Brls/TFB 2019 Brls/TFB Diff
Miguel Sano 31.0% 55.3% 24.3%
Pedro Severino 7.1% 28.2% 21.0%
Victor Caratini 15.2% 36.2% 21.0%
Pablo Sandoval 19.6% 40.0% 20.4%
Mitch Garver 17.6% 36.1% 18.5%
David Freese 36.5% 54.5% 18.0%
Tyler Flowers 19.7% 37.3% 17.6%
Chris Iannetta 26.0% 43.3% 17.4%
Dansby Swanson 12.7% 29.6% 16.9%
Howie Kendrick 18.8% 35.5% 16.7%
Jordan Luplow 17.2% 33.9% 16.7%
Carlos Correa 21.4% 37.8% 16.4%
Ryan McMahon 18.2% 34.5% 16.3%
James McCann 15.2% 31.1% 15.9%
Josh Donaldson 33.3% 49.2% 15.9%
George Springer 28.1% 43.8% 15.7%
Roberto Perez 21.2% 36.6% 15.4%
Josh Bell 21.2% 36.6% 15.4%
Cameron Maybin 15.2% 30.4% 15.2%
Aaron Judge 48.9% 64.0% 15.1%
Albert Almora Jr. 5.4% 20.3% 14.9%
Chance Sisco 10.8% 25.6% 14.8%
Joey Gallo 51.6% 65.4% 13.8%
Austin Meadows 18.8% 32.5% 13.7%
Nelson Cruz 40.1% 53.7% 13.6%
Jose Abreu 30.5% 44.1% 13.5%
Addison Russell 7.7% 21.2% 13.5%
Adam Engel 8.2% 21.6% 13.5%
Dexter Fowler 8.5% 21.8% 13.3%
Logan Forsythe 3.4% 16.4% 13.0%
Jonathan Schoop 17.0% 29.8% 12.8%
Rougned Odor 21.6% 34.1% 12.5%
Christian Vazquez 5.6% 17.9% 12.3%
DJ LeMahieu 18.3% 30.5% 12.1%
Matt Adams 25.8% 37.7% 11.9%
Yoan Moncada 25.9% 37.6% 11.7%
Tommy La Stella 6.7% 17.9% 11.3%
Ronny Rodriguez 11.1% 22.1% 10.9%
Ronald Guzman 18.9% 29.6% 10.7%
JaCoby Jones 21.3% 31.9% 10.6%
Adeiny Hechavarria 7.0% 17.5% 10.6%
Eugenio Suarez 27.0% 37.4% 10.5%
Marcus Semien 13.5% 23.9% 10.4%
Wil Myers 27.1% 37.5% 10.4%
Bryce Harper 31.7% 41.8% 10.2%
Willie Calhoun 6.9% 17.0% 10.1%
Jorge Soler 34.8% 44.9% 10.1%
Willson Contreras 27.1% 37.0% 10.0%
League Average 21.7% 23.5% 1.8%

As you might have expected, this list includes many players that either broke out or increased their HR/FB rates significantly from 2018. That’s exactly how it should work given the definition of Brls/TFB rate.

After a majorly disappointing 2018 season marred by injury limiting him to just 299 plate appearances, Miguel Sano bounced back in a big way. He led the league in Brls/TFB rate increase, which resulted in the highest HR/FB rate in baseball among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. Of course, he once again failed to clear 500 plate appearances as good health continues to be difficult to achieve.

Gosh, what got into catcher last season?! Between Pedro Severino, Mitch Garver, and Roberto Perez, among others, a slew of catchers went bonkers, seemingly out of nowhere. All of their power surges were validated by their jumps in Brls/TFB rates. But will each sustain those jumps and continue to be surprise sources of power? While the answer is typically “no, expect regression back toward their career averages”, you just never know given the state of the baseball.

Dansby Swanson improved enough offensively to at least keep his starting job and at least became a consideration in shallower mixed leagues. But interestingly, the more than doubling of his Brls/TFB barely increased his HR/FB rate. Consulting his 2019 xHR/FB rate, we learn that he significantly underperformed, which suggests more upside to come. However, he also underperformed massively in 2016 (small sample), again in 2017 (to a lesser degree), and basically matched his expected mark in 2018. With seasons totaling around 270 true fly balls of underperformance versus a season of only around 100 true fly balls of meeting expected performance, one has to wonder whether he’s doing something not captured by my equation that will result in continued underperformance. I don’t have that answer now.

Playing about a half a season thanks to injury, Carlos Correa fully rebounded off his disappointing 2018 season. An ever increasing fly ball rate is also boosting his home run output. I’m curious to see whether the Astros sign-stealing scandal causes Astros hitters to lose a bit of luster, which reduces their draft day prices. I’ve always found Correa to be overvalued, so perhaps I’ll finally get a chance to buy him at or below value.

Once again, we won’t know how the Rockies second base playing time is going to shake out until at least spring training, so it’s hard to value Ryan McMahon at this point. For what it’s worth, he was poor defensively at second, which isn’t a surprise. That said, he mashed, which once again goes to show how much of a boost hitters get from hitting at Coors Field.

Just when you though injuries and aging had taken a toll on Josh Donaldson’s production, he fully rebounds and even posts a career high HR/FB rate. At age 34 now, there’s probably going to be too much risk to take on at the price he will likely command.

Josh Bell enjoyed a monstrous first two months of the season, but couldn’t maintain that pace over the rest of the year. Still, he was perfectly solid over those final four months, mixing in two 20%+ HR/FB rates. Don’t forget that he posted a 19.1% HR/FB rate back in 2017, so his near 24% 2019 mark wasn’t that out of the ordinary. The big difference for him was a newly minted membership into the Fly Ball Revolution club, as his FB% surged from 31.2% to 37.3%. I think future fantasy owners have more to worry about him maintaining that FB% spike than a HR/FB rate around 20%.

So much for minor league power meaning anything. Austin Meadows hit a total of just 46 homers over 1,973 minor league plate appearances, and then mashed 33 dingers in just 591 MLB plate appearances. Over that same number of MLB PAs, his minor league homer rate would have resulted in just 14 long balls. As a fly ball hitter, he didn’t even need a HR/FB rate above 20% to clear 30 homers.

Seriously, does age mean nothing for Nelson Cruz? I keep avoiding him and he keeps making me look silly. Will this finally be the season where age takes a dramatic toll on his production?

Yes, DJ LeMahieu benefited greatly from his new home park, as his home/road HR/FB rate splits were absurd. BUT, he was legit bashing the ball, as home park can’t affect how hard you hit the ball or at what launch angle. It’s true a park could influence a hitter’s approach, but that’s the hitter’s decision.

Tommy La Stella was one of the early season’s biggest surprises, so it was too bad when he got hurt. I was really curious to see how his season would have unfolded. You can see in the table that even though his Brls/TFB spiked, it still fell well below the league average. That doesn’t really match up with a high teen HR/FB rate. I’m guessing no one believed this power spike was repeatable, but this metric suggests he was super lucky to achieve that HR/FB rate.

Willie Calhoun finally got an extended look and enjoyed the breakout many were expecting. But although he was certainly improved from 2018, that Brls/TFB rate is still well below the league average. He also carried his pop-up problems over. So don’t think his 2019 half season is a sign of things to come, double his output and call it a day.

We hoped you liked reading 2019 Review — Barrels Per True Fly Ball Surgers 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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elkabong
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elkabong

I would venture the issue with Swanson is two-fold. First, batted ball type classification. Last year, he hit 14 FB barrels and 1 LD barrel, so 93.3% of his barrels were fly balls. This year, he hit 25 FB barrels and 12 LD barrels, so 67.6% of his barrels were fly balls.

If you look at his FB barrels/FB (with FB classified by Statcast), in 2018 it was 17.9%, in 2019 it was 24.3%, which is a much smaller increase than the increase in the table above.

League-wide in 2019, 72.2% of FB barrels were HR, while only 26.7% of LD barrels were HR. So I suspect a disproportionate increase in LD barrels is probably the culprit to Swanson’s “underperformance” in his xHR/FB for 2019.

The other thing that compounds the issue is horizontal distribution of barrels. Swanson’s distribution of barrels in 2019 was 13/15/9 (pull/straight/oppo). In 2018, it was 9/6/0. League-wide in 2019, barrels went for home runs at rates of 74.5%/45.5%/52.8% (pull/straight/oppo). Swanson only added 4 pulled barrels, while adding 9 each straightaway and opposite. Again, a disproportionate increase in barrels that go for home runs less often.

J.D. Martin
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J.D. Martin

To add onto this, Swanson pulled just 15 of his 103 FB via Statcast. I don’t have a league-average pulled FB% to look at but if he’s going to centerfield/oppo with a disproportionate amount of his FB that could also contribute to the underperformance

elkabong
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elkabong

League-wide fly ball distribution in 2019 was 25.5%/37.7%/36.8% (pull/straight/oppo). Swanson’s distribution was 14.6%/46.6%/38.8% (15/48/40). If he hits league average distribution, he’s more like 26/39/38.