2021 Forecast — Potential HR/FB Rate Decliners, A Review

Yesterday, I reviewed the eight hitters on my 2021 potential HR/FB rate surger list. Today, let’s once again rely on my xHR/FB rate equation to review my preseason potential HR/FB rate decliners list.

Potential 2021 HR/FB Decliners
Player 2020 HR/FB 2020 xHR/FB 2021 HR/FB
Yandy Diaz 18.2% -0.7% 10.6%
DJ LeMahieu 27.0% 9.4% 7.7%
Luke Voit 34.9% 21.6% 20.0%
James McCann 26.9% 16.7% 13.3%
Nelson Cruz 41.0% 31.6% 20.9%
Jesse Winker 40.0% 31.6% 20.7%
Christian Yelich 32.4% 24.1% 13.2%
Ke’Bryan Hayes 25.0% 17.2% 8.6%
Yellow = lower HR/FB rate
Red = higher HR/FB rate

Eight for eight! It’s hard to not take full credit for batting 1.000, even though most of these names were very obvious HR/FB rate regression candidates this season given their lofty levels in 2020.

As I confirmed in my original writeup, Yandy Diaz’s 2020 xHR/FB rate wasn’t a typo. It actually was negative. Obviously, no one could have a negative rate, but I chose to allow my equation to go negative if the underlying skills were just that bad, rather than limiting it to a 0% floor. Diaz didn’t lose any maxEV and more than tripled his Barrel%, but still saw his HR/FB rate plummet. What’s unfortunate about his loss of power is that he was able to boost his FB% back above 30% after it fell to a sad 11.3% in 2020. And yet, even with the rebound, the drop in HR/FB rate meant his homer total would finish at a measly 13. Diaz remains a much better OBP fantasy earner, but at a corner infield spot, you’ll need to get your power elsewhere.

It’s not often you see a hitter leave Coors Field and immediately enjoy a massive HR/FB rate spike, but that’s exactly what happened to DJ LeMahieu. The former Rockies second baseman always went the opposite way with his flies often, which made him a potentially perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. Not only did he continue going the opposite way, but he also jacked up his fly ball Hard% when he joined the Yankees in 2019. xHR/FB rate wasn’t fully buying it though. However, it’s not park adjusted so it was reasonable to assume he was capable of posting a higher mark than expected. But not 20 percentage points higher! Whatever magic led to his power surge from 2019-2020 completely disappeared this season, as his fly ball Hard% fell to the lowest mark of his career. At age 33, does he rebound at all, and by how much?

Look at that, Luke Voit’s HR/FB rate fell right down to just about where his xHR/FB rate landed in 2020. Voit was limited to just 241 plate appearances, nearly the same as in the shorted 2020 season, due to a plethora of injuries, so you can almost throw out his performance. Then when he finally returned, he was banished to the bench as the newly acquired Anthony Rizzo took over as the team’s starting first baseman. The big spike in his strikeout rate and SwStk% is a concern, and he’ll be 31 next year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees let Rizzo go and reinstall Voit as their starter.

James McCann surprised us all last year when he posted a career best 26.9% HR/FB rate. It came in just 97 at bats though, so you had to take it with a grain of salt, especially since xHR/FB rate wasn’t buying it. He returned to Earth this year and was barely usable in even two catcher mixed leagues.

While xHR/FB rate didn’t exactly buy Nelson Cruz’s insane 2020 HR/FB rate, it did calculate a deserved mark just over 30%, which was incredible for a 39-year-old. Cruz’s HR/FB rate did fall this year — obviously — but perhaps far more than most expected. He actually ended up posting the lowest HR/FB rate since 2014. Amazingly, there still weren’t any obvious signs of aging. His strikeout rate actually improved, as did his HardHit%, while his maxEV sat over 117 again for the fourth time in the Statcast era. He was still a slight fantasy disappointment, but nowhere near the colossal dropoff in performance many 40-year-olds experience. Will it happen to Cruz or does he ultimately retire without that final down season?

Jesse Winker posted almost identical HR/FB and xHR/FB rates in 2020 as Cruz did, and then even posted an almost identical HR/FB rate this year as well. Winker continued to post fantastic skills all around, though a higher FB% couldn’t hurt to make the most of his HR/FB rate. He still has been unable to reach 500 plate appearances though, so health has been his biggest issue so far.

Christian Yelich endured another bizarre season, this time his power disappearing, after his BABIP plummeted last year. His price now may drop even further from his 2021 cost, making him a potential highly profitable buy for a change. He’ll be 30 years old next season, which isn’t quite too old to think a big rebound is possible.

Ke’Bryan Hayes only recorded 95 plate appearances during his 2020 debut, but he made a splash, posting a .464 wOBA and showing far more power than he ever had in the minors, with a HR/FB rate of 25% after never even reaching double digits in the minors, and an ISO of .306, after never exceeding .151 in the minors. While my xHR/FB rate didn’t exactly buy the 20%+ HR/FB rate, it did suggest he displayed legitimately much greater power than expected based on his minor league history. Injury limited him to just 396 plate appearances and his HR/FB rate slipped dramatically, right back in line with his 2019 mark at Triple-A. He did make up for some of the power loss by stealing nine bases. Given that he’s just 24, you would imagine his power will continue to develop, but I don’t think he’ll get anywhere near his 2020 marks anytime soon.

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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Brad Lipton
Brad Lipton

There was a discussion in the article from yesterday about the value of such an exercise. Personally, I think it is very valuable and adds another “piece of information” to the puzzle when considering rostering a particular player (or placing a $ value at a draft).

When this projection is 8 for 8, it gives me confidence that I will consider this again in the spring as a useful piece of information.

Thanks for your efforts, Mike.