A couple of weeks ago, I listed and discussed the average fly ball distance (AFBD) surgers and decliners. As a reminder, AFBD is one of the main components of my xHR/FB rate equation. Today, let’s review some of the surprising AFBD leaders. We’ll define surprise as hitters we didn’t predict to appear anywhere near the top tier in the rankings. I’ll only call out fantasy relevant names.
Peter Alonso, Jorge Soler, Eloy Jimenez, Jason Castro, Yordan Alvarez, and Jorge Alfaro were all included in the surprising Brls/TFB leaders article, so I won’t repeat my discussion of these names. That their Brls/TFB and AFBD marks surged to higher levels than we ever predicted truly validates their performances. It doesn’t mean they will repeat, of course, but at least we know there was little, if any, luck involved in their results.
David Dahl continues to intrigue fantasy owners with his power, touch of speed, and of course, his home park. But the dude can’t stay healthy! Both his Brls/TFB and AFBD surged in 2019, but his HR/FB rate significantly lagged his xHR/FB rate for the first time, so you wouldn’t realize his power metrics spiked. The results will be there when he’s on the field, but how long he’ll be healthy enough to take the field remains the lingering question.
The first true sleeper on this list is Josh Rojas. Having began the year in the Astros farm system, Rojas was traded to the Diamondbacks as part of a group of players for Zack Greinke. He was enjoying a true breakout season while at Double-A and then Triple-A, which earned him a call-up to Arizona. Sadly, he flopped over 157 plate appearances, which is actually good news for his draft day cost. While his HR/FB rate was just 6.3%, his xHR/FB rate was a more respectable 14.7%, thanks mainly to that robust AFBD mark. That expected mark better matches what he did in the minors for the year. There’s no clear path to playing time right now, but with his ability to play multiple positions, he’s a guy to monitor if injury or poor performance push him into regular at-bats.
Man, I did not see a 20%+ HR/FB rate coming from Bo Bichette during his MLB debut. This was significantly better than he had posted at any minor league stop previously. The AFBD and his other metrics validate the performance, which adds more checks in the minds of those salivating over his potential 2020 performance.
Heading into the season, we didn’t know whether Ryan McMahon or Garrett Hampson would win the Rockies starting second base job. This was an important position battle for fantasy owners to follow, not only because of their home park, but because each of them had the potential to contribute solidly with either their power or speed. McMahon ended up winning the battle and posted the highest HR/FB rate of his professional career. That was far more like what we could have expected for a guy who has posted marks above 20% at several minor league stops.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is veteran catcher Roberto Pérez. Before this season, his AFBD had actually declined every single season since 2015, the first year on my spreadsheet. Talk about turning things around! He ended up hitting more homers in 2019 than he had hit his entire career up until that year. It’ll be fun to see if he falls back into being a fantasy zero again or remains a cheap power source at catcher.
While his HR/FB rate only increased marginally from his previous career high set in 2017, Josh Bell’s xHR/FB rate components actually all surged to career highs. He was actually very fortunate in 2017 to post the HR/FB rate that he did, but this year his components validate the results. It’s also exciting to see his fly ball rate spike higher, continuing a trend of ever-increasing FB% marks. I’m not sure what he’ll do for an encore, but I’m guessing most fantasy owners are thinking about his significantly worse second half, which will reduce his draft day price.
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.