2020 Review: Average Fly Ball Distance Decliners

A week ago, I reviewed the average fly ball distance laggards and discussed the surprising names. Today, let’s look at the decliners, those hitters who lost the most average fly ball distance (AFBD) versus 2019. There will likely be some overlap with the laggards list, so I won’t discuss the same names again. Once again, I’ll require a minimum of 10 Statcast fly balls to qualify for the list.

Avg FB Dist Decliners
Player 2019 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB 2019 Avg Dist FB 2020 Avg Dist FB Diff
Adeiny Hechavarria 15.3% 0.0% 335 280 -55
Josh Donaldson 25.7% 30.0% 341 286 -54
Jordan Luplow 23.4% 6.5% 336 288 -48
David Peralta 14.6% 10.9% 331 283 -48
Garrett Cooper 23.8% 24.0% 340 293 -47
Eduardo Escobar 15.2% 6.1% 328 282 -46
Josh Bell 23.9% 22.2% 341 295 -46
Ryan Braun 20.4% 20.0% 333 289 -45
Austin Slater 20.0% 25.0% 352 308 -44
Corey Dickerson 15.0% 13.0% 333 289 -44
David Dahl 17.2% 0.0% 348 305 -43
Chad Pinder 17.3% 12.5% 329 287 -43
Danny Jansen 11.8% 17.1% 330 289 -41
Austin Riley 22.0% 16.7% 342 301 -41
Willson Contreras 27.3% 15.9% 338 297 -41
Jon Berti 15.8% 9.1% 327 286 -41
Ketel Marte 19.0% 3.8% 326 285 -40
Cameron Maybin 16.9% 5.6% 334 294 -40
Pedro Severino 15.1% 12.2% 320 280 -40
Carlos Correa 25.6% 11.1% 341 302 -40

Josh Donaldson was the last name listed on the laggards list and ranks second on the decliners list. The sample size here was pretty tiny though, as he hit just 11 fly balls. He also missed about half the season with a strained calf, so you wonder if that affected his power at all. Between the injury and small sample size, he deserves a mulligan. However, he is entering his age 35 season next year, so there’s serious risk of major age-related decline. That said, besides the power loss, and a sudden penchant for grounders at the expense of line drives, his other skills are holding up well.

After a breakout 2019 driven by a major power surge, we were eager to see how Josh Bell would follow up. Unfortunately, everything went in the wrong direction. His walk rate fell into single digits for the first time, his strikeout rate and SwStk% spiked to career highs, and his FB% fell below 30% for the first time since his cup of coffee in 2016. Interestingly, his 2019 HR/FB rate surge was mostly sustained, even though his AFBD plummeted. It’ll be tempting for fantasy owners to now chalk up his 2019 as a fluke, which means he could end up cheap enough to bet on a rebound. It’s possible he ends up so ignored that even just a return to 2017 levels would yield profit.

Like Bell, Ryan Braun’s HR/FB rate was barely affected by his massive drop in AFBD. Although he still managed to post an acceptable .322 wOBA, he’s a free agent now who will be entering his age 37 season and offers no real defensive value. His time as an every day player is probably over, even if he remained healthy. I’m also wondering if he ends up like many hitters in previous seasons who were bat-only guys and never ended up getting signed. I think there’s a non-zero chance this is the last we see from Braun and he’s forced into retirement.

One of these years, David Dahl is going to stay healthy all year and earn his owners a nice profit! When that year will be, nobody knows, but he’ll likely come cheap enough to be worth speculating on.

So much for that step forward for former prospect Danny Jansen. Welllll, I guess jumping from a .275 wOBA to a .300 wOBA does qualify as progress, right? But the overall fantasy line was still worthless, so it’s not like fantasy owners were celebrating. The bizarre thing is that his HR/FB rate actually surged, despite a significant drop in AFBD. What was encouraging about his season was his walk rate spike and the fact he has maintained a single digit SwStk%. He also posted a strong batted ball distribution, but somehow ended up with a sub-.200 BABIP. I might be buying again in 2021.

Though the shape of his performance was different (more power in 2019, more on-base ability in 2020), Austin Riley ended up posting an identical wOBA each season. Yes, his power declined, but a great sign was that his strikeout rate and SwStk% massively improved. His walk and strikeout rates are now at levels that could lead to sustained success, so this is a much better base to progress from.

I think it may be a surprise to find Willson Contreras’ name here because he wasn’t someone that stood out as a bust this year. But he was also coming off a big 2019 power season, which magnified the decline. Everything else in his profile looked pretty normal. The upside here is with the DH, he was able to record more PAs since he was able to slot in there when needing a break from catching. Assuming the DH is still in play in 2021, keep than in mind when projecting his PAs, as it’s a big advantage compared with most other catchers.

I’m certain that many will say “I told you so” about Carlos Correa after the cheating scandal came to light, as his ISO, HR/FB, and wOBA all fell to career lows this season. Was it a coincidence that this happened after the scandal? I don’t have an answer. Of course, it’s certainly possible that he has benefited greatly from the team’s actions in the past and this is closer to his true talent level. But there’s also the explanation that this is a small sample size and like any other hitter, just didn’t have enough time to get it going after a relatively slow start. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, as even if one admits part of this is a scandal-related decline, you then have to figure out how much of the decline could be explained by it. That’s not easy to do. I’m guessing Correa will come cheaper than he ever has in the past, and when that happens, especially for a 26-year-old, I say that’s a buying opportunity.

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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