2020 Review: Average Fly Ball Distance Surgers

A week ago, I reviewed the average fly ball distance leaders and discussed the surprising names. Today, let’s look at the surgers, those hitters who increased their average fly ball distance (AFBD) the most versus 2019. There will likely be some overlap with the leaders 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 Surgers
Player 2019 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB 2019 Avg Dist FB 2020 Avg Dist FB Diff
Tim Lopes 3.7% 7.4% 280 323 43
Austin Hedges 11.8% 15.0% 308 349 41
Chris Taylor 13.6% 22.9% 307 345 39
Jon Jay 0.0% 6.7% 285 322 37
Jared Walsh 6.7% 28.1% 298 335 36
Kevin Kiermaier 14.0% 15.8% 315 347 31
Trent Grisham 12.5% 20.0% 294 318 24
Eric Hosmer 20.8% 22.5% 318 341 23
Niko Goodrum 13.3% 11.9% 306 329 23
Matt Kemp 6.3% 24.0% 310 328 19
Erik Gonzalez 4.0% 7.7% 292 309 18
Elvis Andrus 8.5% 9.7% 315 332 16
Ryan O’Hearn 16.9% 8.0% 322 338 16
Byron Buxton 10.1% 26.5% 313 328 16
Marcell Ozuna 22.1% 26.5% 327 342 15
Willy Adames 17.5% 22.9% 319 333 15
Jose Ramirez 12.0% 18.9% 314 328 15

Jared Walsh posted a 33.3% HR/FB rate at Triple-A in 2019, so it shouldn’t have been that surprising that his power surged off his lowly 2019 debut marks. Perhaps what was a nice surprise was the impressive 13.9% strikeout rate, which was significantly better than the majority of his minor league stints, and his inflated mark during his 2019 MLB debut. I don’t think his power is a question at this point. The question is that of where he’s going to play. Albert Pujols is old and will continue to get days off, so there’s one path, but Pujols isn’t going to become a bench player, so full-time at-bats at first is out of the question for as long as Pujols isn’t on the IL. Shohei Ohtani should continue getting plate appearances against right-handers at DH. Walsh played a bit of right field this season, but that’s Jo Adell’s spot, and he ain’t going anywhere, unless he fails to rebound off a disappointing debut, which is possible.

There’s clearly a path to meaningful playing time for Walsh, but he might not have an official starting job on opening day. It means his price could stay low, but he seems like a worthy cheap buy in deep league on the hopes he falls into more significant playing time.

This was a nice rebound for Eric Hosmer and his AFBD leaped to a new career best in the Statcast era. It resulted in a HR/FB that jumped to match a career best. Just as encouraging was a rebound in strikeout rate to push that mark back below 20%. Perhaps even more encouraging was that his fly ball rate finally surged back above 30% for the first time since 2014, and only the third time in his career. Of course, this came in just 143 at-bats, so he’ll need to do this over a full season to prove he has truly changed his batted ball mix. After swiping zero bases in 2019, he suddenly stole four this year. It’s still anyone’s guess if the handful of steals are back, which is important because it added a couple of bucks to his fantasy value. Hosmer remains a boring fantasy choice, but if he could sustain a lot of the improvements he made over a tiny sample this season, then he’ll likely turn his 2021 owners a nice profit, and profit is all you should really care about if you want to win.

Niko Goodrum’s AFBD jumped, and yet his HR/FB rate actually declined to its lowest mark since his first full season in 2018. Goodrum seemingly sold out for power, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% both spiked, while his fly ball rate skyrocketed above 40% for the first time. All those fly balls caused his BABIP and wOBA to both crash below .300. So this change in approach didn’t actually improve his offense. However, the sample size is way too small to conclude this new approach is worse. While it probably is, we need more than 179 plate appearances to make that conclusion confidently. Goodrum simply doesn’t have enough power to be striking out nearly 40% of the time or hitting fly balls nearly 46% of the time. It’ll be interesting to see which version shows up next season.

This was a small sample rebound for Elvis Andrus, who battled injury and then lost his starting job. While his HR/FB rate remained in single digits, it did rise to the second highest mark of Andrus’ career. Unfortunately, a sad .200 BABIP did him in and cost him his job, along with the Rangers’ desire to see more of their youngsters. His value next year will depend primarily on his playing time outlook. Since we’re just betting on a BABIP rebound, I think that he has a chance to yield a nice profit, but he won’t be able to do that if he becomes a bench player.

Another season, another year Byron Buxton doesn’t actually complete the full season. It was nice to see Buxton’s power surge, but it came in just 130 at-bats. Forgetting the power surge for a moment, what was concerning is his microscopic 1.5% walk rate, which combined with a 26.7% strikeout rate, resulted in an ugly 2/36 BB/K ratio. Also shocking is that he stole just two bases in three attempts. This comes after he stole 14 in 17 attempts in slightly more than double the plate appearances in 2019. How often he decides to run in 2021 now becomes the biggest question mark for 2021.

Given his single digit HR/FB rates in the minors, Willy Adames continues to surprise me with his power display. How often do hitters who never posted a double digit HR/FB rate in the minors come up to the Majors and immediately post marks in the high teens and above each season?! Adames’ power took another leap forward in what was possibly a concerted effort to increase his power. Like Goodrum discussed earlier, Adames’ strikeout and SwStk% rates both surged. Unlike Goodrum, Adames actually did raise his wOBA, but part of that was due to a .388 which I doubt is repeated. I’m still not a fan at his likely price as it’s hard to believe there’s any additional upside here.

After a down 2019, Jose Ramirez enjoyed his best offensive performance yet, as his power spiked to career best levels. He also joined the C-Level Suite in the Fly Ball Revolution, as his FB% continues its ascent, now rising six straight seasons to an extreme 51.1%. You have to think that mark has peaked, but even if it regresses back into the 40% range, he still has the HR/FB rate and strikeout rate to deliver30 homers and lotso steals.

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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Joe Wilkeymember
3 years ago

A lot of Adames’s value came from his ground balls. He hit 50 GB (as opposed to 17 FB and 32 LD) and had a .327 wOBA on them. League-wide wOBA was .230 on GB for RHBs in 2020. He had seven ground ball doubles, which represents 14% of his ground balls. League-wide, only 2.4% of ground balls go for doubles for RHBs. He’s not exceptionally fast (28.2 ft/s sprint speed, league average is ~27 ft/s), so I would expect that rate is unsustainable.