The last major component of my xHR/FB rate equation is fly ball pull percentage (FB Pull%). Since hitters generally can generate more power to their pull side and distance along the lines are always shorter than toward center, a higher pulled fly ball rate is almost always better for HR/FB rate. Pulled fly ball rate is a skill, as I calculated soon after revealing my xHR/FB equation, so a change is worth noting. That said, as usual, regression toward individual averages are always inevitable, so typically the batter enjoying a spike or enduring a decline reverses courses and moves back toward their average the following year. Remember that when reading this list and commentary.
And now, for the batters who increased their FB Pull% by at least ten percentage points.
Raise your hand if you guessed Odubel Herrera would land atop the FB Pull% gainers. Of course, this is a sample size thing since he only hit 33 fly balls this year over 126 at-bats, so we’ll move along.
Miguel Sano is the real first name here as he rebounded and then some from his disappointing 2018 performance. His HR/FB rate surged above 27.5% for the first time and upping his FB Pull% certainly had a lot to do with it. Now if only he would improve that strikeout rate. Of course, better contact could result in fewer homers, so perhaps there’s no need to fix what ain’t broken.
Max Kepler is another 2019 power breakout and now you know one of the reasons why. This makes his surge more sustainable in my mind as it doesn’t rely as much as hitter the ball harder and further, but rather repeating his new pull approach.
Hey, we have another major 2019 breakout in Ketel Marte! At one time, he was a guy with a touch of power and stolen base upside, but the steals never materialized, making him an unappealing fantasy option. Now he’s suddenly a monster power guy with a handful of steals?! 2019 surely was a bonkers year. Clearly, he’ll need to keep pulling his flies this often to come anywhere close to repeating that power. But like I said for Kepler, I’d rather bet on a repeat of pulled flies than an increased barrel rate or distance.
Christian Vazquez makes yet another 2019 breakout, which seems to be enough for you to convince you to really pay attention to FB Pull%! Vazquez went from an absolute zero offensively and worthless in fantasy leagues to one of the top catcher performances in the league. With nothing in his history suggesting this was coming, who knows if he’ll come close to repeating.
I so want to like Chance Sisco given his Triple-A breakout and getting his FB Pull% up to league average territory is the first step. He’s certainly in a good park to take advantage of his power and on a team that should be more than willing to give their young talent every opportunity to hold a job.
Jeff McNeil’s minor league power returned and some of that was thanks to a spike in FB Pull%. That power was really the only question here and converted him from fantasy afterthought to Daniel Murphy clone.
You would be nuts (see what I did there?) to forget about Mitch Haniger after his injury-shortened half season, as he was well on his way to a career high in homers, thanks to a greater willingness to pull his flies. Hopefully there are no long-term effects from his injury (ouch).
It’s hard to believe that Juan Soto managed a mid-20% HR/FB rate as a rookie in 2018 with just an 11.2% FB Pull%. But the guy has so much power, an over 50% opposite way rate didn’t hinder him, as he hit homers all over. It’s funny to see him nearly doubling his FB Pull% and seeing his HR/FB rate actually decline marginally.
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.