2020 Review — HR/FB Rate Negative Validations, A Review

Yesterday, I reviewed my pre-season post comparing my xHR/FB rate to actual HR/FB rate from 2020, revealing which players sustained those 2020 HR/FB rate gains. Today, let’s now flip to the other side — those players in which xHR/FB rate validated a 2020 HR/FB rate decline. Did their 2020 marks represent a new, lower level of sustained production or did it turn out to be a short season fluke? Let’s find out.

HR/FB Rate Negative Validations
Player 2020 HR/FB 2021 HR/FB Diff
Joey Gallo 16.7% 27.1% 10.4%
Ketel Marte 3.8% 15.6% 11.8%
Gleyber Torres 7.1% 6.9% -0.2%
Franmil Reyes 18.4% 30.6% 12.2%
Jose Altuve 11.4% 15.8% 4.4%
Khris Davis 7.7% 10.3% 2.6%

Opposite of what we saw in the HR/FB rate positive validations, we find that five of the six here enjoying HR/FB increases from their disappointing 2020 marks. The only one who declined further suffered only a minor drop. Three of the increases were significant at double digits.

After never posting a HR/FB rate below 27.6% in more than 100 at-bats, Joey Gallo disappointed during last year’s short season with just a 16.7% mark. Since we were never able to count on him to contribute in batting average and he has never swiped more than seven bases, fantasy owners relied on a big home run total to drive his fantasy value. Unfortunately, xHR/FB rate validated his decline, but at just age 26, that didn’t mean we should automatically expect that lower level moving forward. Sure enough, Gallo completely rebounded this season, bringing his HR/FB rate just below his career average. He even posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career, though barely, and it’s still extremely high. Surprisingly, his HR/FB rate didn’t rise with the Yankees, as I figured their home park would be amazing for him. With his elite walk rate, he remains an OBP league monster and significantly more valuable than in batting average leagues.

We all wanted to know how Ketel Marte would follow up his breakout 2019 season. Sadly for those who believed it to be real, his results fell off a cliff and he ended up posting the second lowest HR/FB rate of his career. Looks like it was 2020 that was the fluke, as he came roaring back this year to post the second highest HR/FB rate of his career, landing squarely in the mid-teens. His BABIP rose to the highest of his career, so his 2022 cost is going to skyrocket and might land him near to his cost in 2020. It’s too bad he barely steals bases, so owners will have to hope the heightened power sticks this time. Without having calculated his 2021 xHR/FB rate, and just looking at his fly ball Pull%, Hard%, and overall HardHit%, and maxEV, I’m going to say the power is real and he’s far closer to the teen HR/FB rate version than single digits.

Gosh, I was pretty confident that the 24-year-old Gleyber Torres would rebound from last year’s disappointing HR/FB rate and overall power output, given both his age and the fact that it came over only 136 at-bats. Instead, his HR/FB rate fell even further, albeit just slightly, along with his ISO to barely above .100. This from a guy who began his career so strongly, with high teens to low-20% HR/FB rates and ISO marks above .200. One of the issues is that he has stopped pulling his flies and instead those flies are going to center or the opposite way, which go for home runs far less frequently. At least he made up for the lack of power with a shocking 14 steals, but I wouldn’t bet on double digits again. At a likely further depressed price, I’d absolutely take another shot here in 2022 given that there’s going to be limited downside risk and massive upside.

Clearly Franmil Reyes took the 2020 season off. That’s understandable as 2020 was a wacky year and it was silly to put so much weight on 200 to 250 plate appearances. This year, he was back to what we expected from him. Though, it’s pretty crazy that he managed to score just 57 runs, despite knocking 30 homers. That’s a sad commentary on both his lack of speed (he ranked 433 out of 557 in Sprint Speed this season) and quality bats behind him driving him in when he reached base.

Having spent the first five seasons of his career as a speed only source, Jose Altuve added power and became a power/speed threat and one of fantasy baseball’s most valuable hitters. After a career best HR/FB rate, and the only time his mark reached 20%, in 2019, his HR/FB rate fell back toward his career average in 2020. It would have been easy to just think 2019 was the fluke. Instead, he partially rebounded this year and actually posted the second highest HR/FB rate and ISO of his career. Unfortunately, the steals are gone, as he has made the complete transition from speed guy to power guy.

Finally, we end with Khris Davis, whose sudden lack of power is baffling. The slide began in 2019 and hasn’t recovered since. It’s possible that we’re still just looking at small sample size noise given that he recorded just 85 at-bats in 2020 and 102 in 2021, but we’ll likely never know as he’s unlikely to garner significant playing time again.

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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As a general question/comment about HR/FB, one of the things which surprised me for most of this season was how the Giants had such a high HR/FB rate (most of the year they were 1st in MLB, in the end they finished #4 at 15.6%) given their low hard-hit rate (31.6%, #1) and not particularly high pull rate (40.5%, #11). It was looking like the high HR/FB was a fluke. It turned out, though, that specifically for pulled fly balls, they had by far the highest hard-hit % in the majors (63.6%, #2 was Cincinnati with 57.1%), so maybe it wasn’t a fluke after all. Have you found other patterns like this?