2020 Review: Fly Ball Pull Percentage Decliners

Yesterday, I listed and discussed the fly ball pull percentage (FBP%) surgers versus 2019. Though the shortened 2020 season means we have far smaller samples sizes to evaluate and significantly less meaningful data, changes to batted ball type data like fly ball rates, pull rates, and fly ball pull rates, are worth noting. They could signify a real change in plate approach that could carry over to 2021. Today, let’s review the hitters whose FBP% dropped the most versus 2019.

FB Pull% Decliners
Name 2019 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB 2019 FB Pull% 2020 FB Pull% Diff
Nico Hoerner 20.0% 0.0% 33.3% 5.0% -28.3%
Matt Adams 22.7% 13.3% 39.8% 13.3% -26.4%
Andrew Knapp 6.7% 12.5% 30.0% 6.3% -23.8%
Andrelton Simmons 6.1% 0.0% 42.1% 20.0% -22.1%
Willie Calhoun 18.4% 2.9% 47.4% 25.7% -21.7%
Billy Hamilton 0.0% 7.1% 34.6% 14.3% -20.3%
Yandy Diaz 17.5% 18.2% 20.0% 0.0% -20.0%
Derek Dietrich 22.4% 35.7% 34.1% 14.3% -19.8%
Mike Tauchman 20.6% 0.0% 19.0% 0.0% -19.0%
Tim Locastro 1.7% 10.5% 28.3% 10.5% -17.8%
Anthony Bemboom 6.3% 20.0% 37.5% 20.0% -17.5%
Jorge Alfaro 25.4% 17.6% 16.9% 0.0% -16.9%
Cole Tucker 6.9% 3.7% 31.0% 14.8% -16.2%
Abraham Toro 10.5% 15.8% 26.3% 10.5% -15.8%
Luis Arraez 4.6% 0.0% 18.4% 3.3% -15.1%
Brett Gardner 19.3% 13.2% 35.9% 21.1% -14.8%
Gio Urshela 17.5% 14.3% 21.7% 7.1% -14.5%
Jose Trevino 6.9% 9.1% 27.6% 13.6% -13.9%
Kyle Farmer 20.5% 0.0% 25.0% 11.1% -13.9%
Ketel Marte 19.0% 3.8% 34.5% 20.8% -13.8%
Enrique Hernandez 12.2% 11.6% 34.5% 20.9% -13.6%
Pat Valaika 5.0% 19.0% 35.0% 21.4% -13.6%
Omar Narvaez 16.1% 8.0% 25.5% 12.0% -13.5%
David Dahl 17.2% 0.0% 20.7% 7.4% -13.3%
Josh Fuentes 25.0% 10.5% 50.0% 36.8% -13.2%
Kurt Suzuki 16.0% 4.9% 47.2% 34.1% -13.0%

Of the 26 hitters listed here, 17, or about 65%, of them suffered a HR/FB rate decline as well as a drop in FBP%. That’s almost identical to yesterday’s percentage and count of hitters whose HR/FB rates rose along with their FBP% marks.

The biggest drop came from the top Cubs prospect heading into the season, Nico Hoerner. The sample size was small as he only recorded 108 at-bats, but my gosh, a 5% FBP%?! It’s no wonder he failed to hit a home run. A whopping 55% of his fly balls were hit to the middle of the field, which is the deepest part of ballparks, while the remaining 40% went to the opposite field.

There are two things to keep in mind here. First, while his current and future Raw Power were graded out as 50, his Game Power only graded at 35/45 and he posted just a 3.6% HR/FB rate at Double-A in 2019. That means that at least in the near term, there’s no reason to expect much contribution in home runs as a fantasy owner. Second, he never played an inning at Triple-A, skipping the level completely. It’s possible, perhaps likely, he would have played there this year if there was a minor league season. In fact, depending on what happens in 2021, I would guess he would open the season at the level given his weak showing in 2020. While I like his contact ability, right now, there’s not much fantasy intrigue.

Let’s just completely forget this season even happened for Willie Calhoun. After getting hit in the face with a pitch during Spring Training and fracturing his jaw, it clearly had an effect on his offense. While his walk and strikeout rates were in line with his short history, nothing else looked normal, as his LD% plunged and power disappeared. Hopefully the offseason gives him a chance to recover mentally and he’ll be given another shot for every day at-bats. But with no speed, and a batted ball distribution that typically results in a below average BABIP, you’re betting solely on the power here.

Man I’ve written a lot about Yandy Diaz since the season ended as he keeps appearing on my lists. One of the drivers of his 2019 power spike, besides a jump in FB%, was a near league average FBP%, for a change. Sadly, that lasted just that one season, as he literally failed to pull even one fly ball this year. A crazy 72.7% of his flies went to the opposite field, and while that’s perfectly fine for BABIP, it’s not so for hitting home runs. The funny thing is, this is all from just 11 fly balls, so obviously the sample size is tiny. But that’s also the point, he took his ground ball ways to even greater heights, so the first problem is just hitting fly balls again, and then we can worry about whether he’s pulling those flies. It’s anyone’s guess whether the ground balling Diaz will show up again in 2021 or the 2019 version will return.

Jorge Alfaro was one of many Marlins that missed significant time as part of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, so it’s not entirely fair to judge him based on his small sample performance either. All of his underlying skills were pretty normal, and as extreme as always, but like Diaz, he failed to pull even just one of his fly balls. He still managed to post a solid 17.6% HR/FB rate, but that was down from 2019’s 25.4% mark and his career 20.8% mark. Still, it’s pretty impressive given that none of his flies were pulled.

Gio Urshela was on of 2019’s biggest offensive surprises, and while he almost matched his wOBA, and both his ISO and HR/FB rates only fell marginally, his FBP% dipped drastically to single digits. It’s amazing his HR/FB rate didn’t drop back into single digits as well, but perhaps it’s a good sign that he was able to come closer to his 2019 mark even without the pulled flies. It suggests his raw power spike was actually sustained.

One major reason for Ketel Marte’s 2019 power surge was a spike in FBP%. That mark hit a career high and jumped over 30% for the first time. Such a change in approach often sticks, but there’s no way to be sure ahead of time. This year, we learned that Marte reverted right back to where he was pre-2019, in terms of pulling his fly balls. That’s going to be a major key for his chances of rebounding anywhere close to his 2019 breakout.

Since 2019’s FBP% mark so far is the outlier, then the odds are overwhelming that he once again settles into the low 20% FBP% range in 2021, as opposed to 30%+. That would likely mean a mid-teens home run total. However, we do know now what he’s capable of, so there’s always a chance he gets back to those fly ball pullin’ ways of 2019. We just don’t know. Just as important is whether he’ll get back to stealing bases, as he attempted just one steal this year, after attempting 12 in 2019.

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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