2020 Forecast — HR/FB Rate Surgers, A Review

With hot stove transactions summarized and still no updates on when the season will begin, I’m going to continue to review my 2020 preseason articles. Obviously, it’s pretty silly to review my calls based on a 60 game season, but it’s still fun to look back on and hey, maybe we can learn something. Today’s review is my HR/FB rate surgers. The list was compiled using my xHR/FB rate, and then I identified the fantasy relevant hitters with the most significant underperformance. Let’s see how they ended up doing over the shortened season.

2020 HR/FB Rate Surgers
Player 2019 HR/FB 2019 xHR/FB Diff 2020 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB – 2019 HR/FB
Josh Rojas 6.3% 14.7% -8.4% 0.0% -6.3%
Lewis Brinson 0.0% 7.1% -7.1% 13.0% 13.0%
C.J. Cron 19.5% 25.9% -6.4% 33.3% 13.8%
Adalberto Mondesi 9.3% 15.6% -6.3% 11.3% 2.0%
D.J. Stewart 10.8% 16.2% -5.4% 33.3% 22.5%
Mike Zunino 11.7% 17.1% -5.4% 17.4% 5.7%
David Dahl 17.2% 22.0% -4.8% 0.0% -17.2%

Wow, of seven hitters listed, five actually did increase their HR/FB rates, three by significant, double digit amounts! Let’s look more closely at each.

Josh Rojas was a savvy sleeper for many, especially in deeper mixed or NL-Only leagues, and for good reason. A breakout 2019 minor league season, in which he showcased both power and speed, and excellent plate discipline rates, made us hope he would be given a large role during the short season. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, as he recorded just 70 plate appearances, and posted just a .209 wOBA with zero homers. I am hoping the Diamondbacks don’t give up on him already, but at age 26, it’s possible he never really gets an extended shot and just becomes a super utility guy at best with spurts of every day time when injuries strike.

Well duh, I didn’t exactly need an equation to project Lewis Brinson’s HR/FB rate would surge from 0% in 2019! Even his xHR/FB rate that year was a measly 7.1%, so it was clear it wasn’t just bad luck, but a legit lack of power. Brinson’s power did rebound back to his 2018 level over his 106 at-bats, but that’s simply not good enough given the rest of his flawed skill set. Time is running out for him to finally make good on his former prospect promise.

C.J. Cron made it just 52 plate appearances before being knocked out for the year due to injury. So his HR/FB rate surge doesn’t really count. Now a free agent, his outlook will become clearer once he signs.

Adalberto Mondesi was an interesting case heading into the season. On the one hand, xHR/FB rate suggested he deserved better in 2019, making me pretty bullish in 2020, especially given his draft day price. On the other hand, he was recovering from shoulder surgery, which could have sapped his power and offset the boost he may have received from positive regression toward his 2019 xHR/FB rate. Turns out, he raised his HR/FB rate, but just by two percentage points, representing a not-so-surprising compromise between the bullish xHR/FB rate and bearish shoulder surgery.

Obviously, his value is heavily tied to how long he’s going to continue stealing bases at this current pace, rather than precisely how many home runs he hits. But also, how long the Royals keep batting a sub-.300 OBP near the top of the order. Mondesi was dropped to the bottom early in the season when he got off to a painfully slow start, but then he got hot and he was immediately thrusted back into the two-hole. Clearly, someone with his lack of on-base ability has no business hitting second, but the Royals never seem to care about arranging their order in such a way that it maximizes runs scored. Still, the risk that he gets dropped to the bottom and stays there will continue to remain for as long as he maintains a sub-.300 OBP.

After a slow start that got him demoted to the team’s alternate training site, DJ Stewart eventually returned and went bonkers with the power, ultimately finishing with a 33.3% HR/FB rate. The sample size is tiny and his strikeout and walk rates both skyrocketed, so this looks like a completely new version of himself. It’s difficult to make sense of it, but at least it should give him a starting job again to open the season.

Mike Zunino missed a month due to injury, so his HR/FB rate surge came in just 75 at-bats. His underlying skill metrics were pretty hilarious over the small sample, as he sported a 44% strikeout rate and 60.5% fly ball rate. If only he walked, he would have represented the new Three True Outcomes — walk, strikeout, or fly ball!

David Dahl also battled injury and recorded just 93 at-bats. Amazingly, he failed to hit a single homer in that time, finishing the short season in miserable fashion with just a .208 wOBA. After signing with the Rangers, we’ll get another look at a guy who was significantly better at Coors Field than in away parks. Does he still have fantasy potential with the thinking that Coors hampers away park production, or is he going to be worthless without the Coors Field boost? He might be worth a speculative cheap bid in a shallow mixed league, and I’d guess he would come cheap. If he doesn’t come cheap, I’m not interested.

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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