2020 Review: Surprising Average Fly Ball Distance Laggards

On Monday, I listed and discussed the surprises among the 2020 average fly ball distance leaders. Today, let’s do the same for the laggards.

Avg FB Dist Laggards
Player HR/FB Avg Dist FB
Cole Tucker 3.7% 273
Phillip Ervin 0.0% 275
Nick Madrigal 0.0% 278
Starlin Castro 10.0% 278
Carter Kieboom 0.0% 279
Ender Inciarte 3.1% 279
Josh Fuentes 10.5% 279
Adeiny Hechavarria 0.0% 280
Pedro Severino 12.2% 280
Omar Narvaez 8.0% 281
David Fletcher 7.9% 281
Eduardo Escobar 6.1% 282
Victor Robles 7.7% 282
Nick Markakis 3.4% 282
Tzu-Wei Lin 0.0% 283
David Peralta 10.9% 283
J.P. Crawford 3.7% 284
Kevin Newman 2.4% 285
Hanser Alberto 5.3% 285
Ketel Marte 3.8% 285
Josh Donaldson 30.0% 286

I’ve discussed Carter Kieboom in previous laggard list articles, but it’s worth talking about him again. He was the top ranked prospect in the Nationals system heading into the season and while he owns a weak .257 career wOBA in MLB so far, it’s important not to forget that comes in just 165 plate appearances. That means it’s far too early to give up on him and that goes for the Nationals as an organization as well.

On the bright side, while his strikeout rate has spiked in the Majors, his SwStk% has been better than league average and right in line with his solid minor league days. He has also been quite patient at the plate, posting a double digit walk rate. With just one extra-base hit over 99 at-bats this season, clearly the power was missing. But everything else looks fine, so now is the time to try acquiring him in a keeper league if his price is cheap.

Man, what happened to Eduardo Escobar?! I feel like he was one of the quieter busts of the season, but he was coming off a 35-homer campaign with 118 RBI! He ended up posting a .257 wOBA, swatting just four homers, and batting .212. All his underlying skills look normal, except his BABIP fell to a career low and his power disappeared. Not surprisingly, this was his lowest Avg FB Dist in the Statcast era (since 2015). Since 2017, he hadn’t posted a mark below 314 feet.

He’s a tricky one for 2021, because even if he rebounds, his 2017 and 2018 seasons are much more likely to be his true talent level than 2019. In shallow mixed leagues, his 2017 and 2018 seasons aren’t worth a whole lot more than replacement level anyway (maybe $5?), so while he would certainly earn you a profit if you bought him for a couple of bucks, it’s not really the same buy low opportunity as some other 2020 small sample busts. Then again, perhaps he will rebound closer to 2019 level and he does end up being a huge bargain!

Did the Diamondbacks turn up that humidor or what?! David Peralta is another who distance paled in comparison to previous seasons. Somehow, he still managed a double digit HR/FB rate and since he hit .300, he wasn’t a complete loss in shallower mixed leagues (if he was even rostered). As we get further and further away from his 2018 HR/FB rate spike, it seems pretty clear that was the outlier.

Gosh, there must have been something going on in Arizona, as Ketel Marte is the third fantasy relevant hitter whose Avg FB Dist was shockingly low. Since Marte did use to be a light hitter, his career low came back in 2015. However, since 2016, he never posted a mark below 300 feet, and his last two seasons were 326 and 316 feet. After a massive 2019 breakout, Marte was one of the hitters we were eager to see perform in 2020. Not only did he regress off that peak 2019 level, but he posted his lowest ISO and HR/FB since 2016. I don’t think anyone expected that much regression. He also only stole one base, so fantasy owners couldn’t even lean on those to capture some value.

He now becomes a big question mark for 2021. Does he rebound off a small sample down year? If so, is that rebound closer to 2018 or was 2019 true skills growth he still owns that just needed more time to show up in 2020? And what about his steals? A 10 steal Marte is a lot different than a two or three steal Marte, in which case you would need 20+ homers to earn significant fantasy value.

I was so surprised to find Josh Donaldson here that I went back and reran the Statcast search to make sure my Excel file was correct. Since 2015, Donaldson’s Avg FB Dist hasn’t dipped below 334 feet! So this year’s 286 foot distance is downright baffling. But perhaps even crazier is that given that distance, he somehow still managed to post a 30% HR/FB rate, which is the highest rate of his career! Since he missed time to injury, he only recorded 81 at-bats and the distance is based on just 11 fly balls. So yeah, the sample size is tiny. But it’s still wild to see the Avg FB Dist and HR/FB pairing. The one encouraging sign as he attempts to stave off the effects of aging is that his walk, strikeout, and SwStk% rates remain fine and stable.

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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