2020 Forecast — HR/FB Rate Decliners, A Review

Yesterday I continued my review of 2020 preseason articles by recapping my HR/FB rate surgers list. Today, I’ll review the flip side, the hitters that appeared on my HR/FB rate decliners list. The list was compiled using my xHR/FB rate, and then I identified the fantasy relevant hitters with the most significant overperformance. Let’s see how they ended up doing over the shortened season.

HR/FB Decliners
Player 2019 HR/FB 2019 xHR/FB Diff 2020 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB – 2019 HR/FB
Jesse Winker 23.2% 12.0% 11.2% 40.0% 16.8%
Will Smith 23.1% 14.3% 8.8% 17.4% -5.7%
Brett Gardner 19.3% 11.9% 7.4% 13.2% -6.1%
Ian Happ 26.2% 18.9% 7.3% 27.3% 1.1%
Alex Bregman 18.6% 11.7% 6.9% 11.3% -7.3%
Joc Pederson 25.9% 19.4% 6.5% 22.6% -3.3%
Tommy La Stella 18.4% 11.9% 6.5% 6.7% -11.7%
Mike Tauchman 20.6% 14.2% 6.4% 0.0% -20.6%
Eugenio Suarez 29.5% 23.1% 6.4% 24.2% -5.3%
Roberto Perez 28.2% 21.9% 6.3% 10.0% -18.2%
Mitch Garver 29.0% 22.9% 6.1% 14.3% -14.7%
Ryan McMahon 27.0% 21.0% 6.0% 24.3% -2.7%

Well gosh, this list did pretty well! 10 of the 12 hitters listed suffered a decline in HR/FB rate, including four with double digit declines.

Jesse Winker was one of just two that actually increased their HR/FB rates from 2019, and he pushed is up to a ridiculous 40%. It’s too bad he posted a sub-30% FB%, which limited his home run count, but he still managed to reach double digits. It appears he may have consciously sold out for power, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% both rocketed upward to go along with the power surge. When I see those two rise in tandem, I think this was a decision, rather than the hitter just naturally hitting for better power. It obviously worked over this small sample, but it’s also obvious that no one owns a true talent 40% HR/FB rate. It’ll be interesting to see which version settles in this season.

With big power during his debut, Will Smith looked like a potential top tier catcher option. Though his HR/FB rate did decline, he made significant improvements in both walk and strikeout rates, along with his batted ball distribution. The sample was pretty tiny, but still encouraging. He’s looking like a clear elite catcher option for years to come.

It was a forgettable season for Alex Bregman, at least to fantasy owners, though he still posted a respectable .345 wOBA. His underlying power skills were always questionable, and his home run totals was mostly driven by a low strikeout rate and high fly ball rate. Still, I love the overall skill set and would be happy to buy at a discount.

Tommy La Stella came out of absolutely nowhere to go on a power binge in 2019. With a strong overall skill set, it was easy to think that maybe, just maybe, something finally clicked. But xHR/FB rate suggested much of the surge was due to good fortune, but still thought he deserved a low double digit mark, which was well above his career mark. Alas, his power completely cratered this season, as if 2019 literally never happened. Isn’t it bizarre when random hitters go on surprise runs over a couple of months and then revert right back to the player they always had been prior? This happens often and I’m always baffled when it does.

Mitch Garver enjoyed a surprise breakout in 2019, hitting a whopping 31 homers in just 359 plate appearances. While xHR/FB suggested some of that was fluky, a 22.9% mark was still well above what anyone expected. It’s too bad Garver battled injury this year and only recorded 72 at-bats. Since he’ll be 30 years old this season, it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll give us.

With little else to offer, you needed Ryan McMahon to continue his home run pace to be worth anything in shallow mixed leagues. He did end up exceeding his 2019 xHR/FB rate this year, though because his strikeout rate spiked back above 30% and combined with a decline in BABIP, he ended up being worthless anyway. Since he stinks at second base, he’s at risk of losing playing time. Unless, of course, the Rockies just make him their full-time first baseman, except that he barely has the bat to add much value there for the team.

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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