2020 Review: Fly Ball Pull Percentage Surgers

Since 2015, pulled fly balls have left the park 33.1%, while the HR/FB rates of balls hit to the center of the park and opposite field sat at just 8.9% and 4.4%, respectively. Clearly, if a batter is trying to hit a home run, pulling his fly balls should give him the best chance. So knowing how important pulling fly balls is to hitting home runs, let’s review the fly ball pull percentage (FBP%) surgers versus 2019. I’ll discuss the interesting and fantasy relevant names.

FB Pull% Surgers
Name 2019 HR/FB 2020 HR/FB 2019 FB Pull% 2020 FB Pull% Diff
Jarrod Dyson 7.2% 0.0% 18.6% 53.8% 35.3%
Leury Garcia 7.8% 18.8% 11.7% 43.8% 32.1%
Luis Urias 8.3% 0.0% 12.5% 42.9% 30.4%
Chad Wallach 6.3% 9.1% 6.3% 36.4% 30.1%
Jesse Winker 23.2% 40.0% 8.7% 36.7% 28.0%
Mitch Garver 29.0% 14.3% 31.8% 57.1% 25.4%
Nick Ahmed 13.2% 11.4% 16.0% 38.6% 22.7%
Sandy Leon 8.9% 11.8% 25.0% 47.1% 22.1%
DJ Stewart 10.8% 33.3% 35.1% 57.1% 22.0%
Giancarlo Stanton 25.0% 30.8% 25.0% 46.2% 21.2%
Carson Kelly 18.6% 13.9% 23.7% 44.4% 20.7%
Ronald Guzman 16.9% 28.6% 15.3% 35.7% 20.5%
Derek Fisher 24.1% 10.0% 20.7% 40.0% 19.3%
Aaron Judge 35.1% 32.1% 13.0% 32.1% 19.2%
Lewis Brinson 0.0% 13.0% 15.7% 34.8% 19.1%
Jon Berti 15.8% 9.1% 13.2% 31.8% 18.7%
Ben Gamel 11.5% 16.7% 14.8% 33.3% 18.6%
Jedd Gyorko 7.4% 27.3% 14.8% 33.3% 18.5%
Robbie Grossman 5.2% 16.3% 12.2% 30.6% 18.4%
Austin Slater 20.0% 25.0% 12.0% 30.0% 18.0%
Phillip Ervin 10.8% 0.0% 18.5% 36.4% 17.9%
Michael Perez 0.0% 4.3% 0.0% 17.4% 17.4%
Joey Wendle 4.8% 10.8% 12.7% 29.7% 17.0%
Yadier Molina 8.1% 8.7% 17.9% 34.8% 16.9%
Eric Hosmer 20.8% 22.5% 14.2% 30.0% 15.8%
Ryan Braun 20.4% 20.0% 16.7% 32.5% 15.8%
Robinson Cano 13.0% 26.3% 16.0% 31.6% 15.6%
Chris Davis 18.2% 0.0% 21.2% 36.4% 15.2%

Of the 28 hitters listed here, 17 of them, about 61%, increased their HR/FB rates. That’s a pretty good hit rate considering we’re completely ignoring exit velocity and looking solely at horizontal direction.

Now you have a better idea of how Jesse Winker raised his HR/FB rate to an already good 23.2% to an elite 40% (obviously, some good luck was involved too). Winker posted a ridiculously low FBP% in 2019 and although he still posted a 20%+ HR/FB rate, that mark would seemingly be difficult to sustain with so few pulled flies. He corrected that in 2020 and although we obviously can’t expect him to continue posting such an inflated HR/FB rate, this new pulled fly ball tendency makes it far more likely he maintains a 20%+ HR/FB in future seasons. The spike in pulled flies came along with a surge in strikeout rate and SwStk%, making it appear that Winker consciously changed his approach to tap into his power more. He had already posted an ISO over .200 the previous season so it’s odd that he’d want to make a change, but it clearly worked!

When you combine the raw power of Giancarlo Stanton with more pulled flies, good things happen. Stanton ended up posting a HR/FB rate over 30% for the this time in his career. Oddly, his FB% settled in at a career low and below 30% for the first time. Of course, all this is pretty meaningless as once again, injury forced him to miss significant time. He only recorded 76 at-bats, hitting 13 fly balls. Given his injury history, he’s become a much better shallow league buy as it’s much easier to replace him when he hits the IL.

Interesting to find Aaron Judge not far down from Stanton, as he makes for another Yankees hitter who raised his FBP% significantly, but played in less than half a season. Judge still hasn’t recorded more than 500 plate appearances since his first full season in 2017. Rostering both he and Stanton makes for an exciting high risk, high reward play in shallow mixed leagues!

You’ve all given up on Lewis Brinson right? Baby steps. The increased pull rate is a good sign, as is the improved strikeout rate. He also stole four bases as a reminder that his promise as a fantasy contributor was a power/speed combo, not just power. Of course, this all came in a pretty small sample, but any progress we see from him makes us dream of the upside. Depending on his opening day role, I’d be happy to speculate in NL-Only leagues as what should be a super cheap price.

Not only did Eric Hosmer raise his average fly ball distance, but his FBP% more than doubled as well. In fact, he recorded the highest mark of his career and only the second time the mark was over 20%. That represents quite the change in approach. When you also consider that his FB% jumped above 30% for just the second time in his career and first time since 2014, you realize that after all these seasons, Hosmer may have finally changed as a hitter to better take advantage of his power. It made little sense that he was hitting grounders over 50% of the time. If he has changed permanently, he’s much more appealing as a fantasy option now, as 30 homers could now be in reach for the first time.

Who expected Robinson Cano to post his highest wOBA since 2013?! So much for aging. The 37-year-old posted his highest career HR/FB rate, no doubt partly as a result of the near doubling of his FBP%. In fact, that FBP% was a career best, and the first time he was over 27%. Amazingly, the only real sign of decline is a career worst SwStk%, which jumped into double digits for the first time. How much of that is small sample and how much is age-related decline, there’s no way to know. However, even heading into his age 38 season, it seems like he still has plenty left in the tank, so fantasy owners shouldn’t ignore him, as tempting as it is.

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.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Lewis Brinson, stop doing this to my heart. I can’t take it.