2020 Forecast — HR/FB Rate Decliners

Yesterday, I used my xHR/FB rate equation to identify and discuss 7 hitters who could enjoy a HR/FB rate spike in 2020, assuming they maintain the component skills they displayed in 2019. Now let’s turn to the other side, those hitters who dramatically outperformed their xHR/FB rates and could be in for regression this year, unless they improve their underlying skills, or paid off Lady Luck once again to ensure fortune is on their side. As you might expect given the home run explosion, there were more overperformers than underperformers, so I had to cut it off at 6% over xHR/FB rate.

HR/FB Rate Surgers
Player HR/FB xHR/FB HR/FB – xHR/FB Brls/True FB FB Pull% FB Oppo% Avg FB Dist
Jesse Winker 23.2% 12.0% 11.2% 21.2% 8.7% 50.7% 320
Will Smith 23.1% 14.3% 8.8% 23.2% 27.7% 29.2% 326
Brett Gardner 19.3% 11.9% 7.4% 12.6% 35.2% 26.9% 315
Ian Happ 26.2% 18.9% 7.3% 35.9% 11.9% 47.6% 332
Alex Bregman 18.6% 11.7% 6.9% 13.4% 32.7% 29.5% 323
Joc Pederson 25.9% 19.4% 6.5% 29.9% 35.3% 29.5% 336
Tommy La Stella 18.4% 11.9% 6.5% 17.9% 23.0% 40.2% 323
Mike Tauchman 20.6% 14.2% 6.4% 19.7% 19.0% 54.0% 318
Eugenio Suarez 29.5% 23.1% 6.4% 37.4% 33.1% 31.3% 335
Roberto Perez 28.2% 21.9% 6.3% 36.6% 16.5% 47.1% 343
Mitch Garver 29.0% 22.9% 6.1% 36.1% 31.8% 33.6% 336
Ryan McMahon 27.0% 21.0% 6.0% 34.5% 15.7% 46.1% 344
League Average 15.4% 14.9% 0.6% 23.5% 24.1% 39.2% 324

Just like in his minor league career, Jesse Winker’s HR/FB rate has been up and down throughout his short MLB career. I love his overall skill set though and want to believe in the power. But xHR/FB rate tells us it’s just not quite there. The biggest issue is a complete lack of pulled fly balls, but even his barrel rate and distance are a bit below the league average. Combine the expected HR/FB rate regression with a seriously cloudy playing time outlook given all the Reds outfielders fighting for playing time, and he’s a clear bust candidate.

Will Smith, the catcher, not the pitcher, or the actor enjoyed a sizzling debut, hitting fly ball after fly ball, and knocking more than 20% of those flies out of the park. But it wasn’t real. His barrel rate and distance were right around the league average, with just his pulled fly rate a bit above. Since catcher is so thin, it would be easy to get excited about a new top tier catcher. And he certainly might become one, but his 2019 results make him look like he’s a near lock as the next entrant and that’s not the case. Don’t forget that while all those flies are good for his homer total, it’s going to kill his BABIP, and resulting batting average. The downside is Mike Zunino.

A career high HR/FB rate — by far — at age 35 for Brett Gardner. If that doesn’t sum up the season in homers, I don’t know what does. Looking historically, Gardner did push his xHR/FB rate to the highest mark since 2015, but barely. He’ll be back into the low teens, at best, this season.

Is Ian Happ a sleeper again?! He performed well in his quarter of a season sample, but his xHR/FB rate basically matches his 2018 mark, which was solid, but far from elite. He just needs to pull more of his flies, though, and he could legit post another 20%+ HR/FB rate.

It would be easy to say that Alex Bregman is simply taking advantage of his home park, except in 2019, and for his career, he actually owns a higher HR/FB rate in away parks than at home. That’s strange to begin with, but really silences those who believe it’s his park. Combine the mediocre, at best, Statcast metrics with the unknown of the lack of sign stealing and banging, and he’s someone that might have a difficult time earning his cost.

It was nice to see Joc Pederson provide some mixed league value, but that career best HR/FB rate was mostly a mirage. He still owns solid skills, though, but the breakout appears to be more the result of a bunch of doubles going an extra couple of feet over the fence than any real increase in home run power.

Tommy La Stella’s hot start was one of the most shocking stories of the season. Too bad he got hurt as I was excited to see how he would fare the rest of the way. Sadly, it was mostly a fluke, though a double digit HR/FB rate is still good for him. Then again, he did post a 13.5% mark in a small sample in 2017, so this isn’t totally out of the ordinary, but done over a larger sample this time. Aside from the performance questions, his playing time outlook is murky with David Fletcher battling him for at-bats.

With my sincerest condolences to Alex Chamberlain, Mike Tauchman makes an appearance here as an overperformer. With below average marks across the board, he could be in for a severe fall.

Eugenio Suarez’s ascent has been incredible — his HR/FB rate has increased literally every season so far. This last year he benefited from some good fortune, but he still sits comfortably above the league average on all the components. While regression is coming, he remains a top third base option.

Sure, Roberto Perez overperformed, but he still posted an xHR/FB rate over 20%! Still, I don’t think anyone is leaving a draft or auction happy with him as their catcher, and for good reason.

Mitch Garver is the second catcher in a row on here and he might have more secure playing time this time around.

Ryan McMahon is another name that although regression is coming, a 20%+ xHR/FB rate is better than we expected to begin with. He’ll have to continue hitting well or he’ll lose playing time to Garrett Hampson.

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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