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

Today, I continue reviewing my 2021 preseason predictions by moving onto my list of potential HR/FB rate surgers. I used my xHR/FB rate to identify and discuss a handful of names that posted actual HR/FB rates well below what my equation calculated as a deserved mark. Since 2020 was a short season, there were a lot more significant gaps between xHR/FB rate and actual HR/FB rate, so there should have been less reliance on both marks given that we had smaller sample sizes to work with.

Let’s find out what ended up happening this year.

Potential 2021 HR/FB Surgers
Player 2020 HR/FB 2020 xHR/FB 2021 HR/FB
Jose Trevino 9.1% 22.2% 6.9%
Nomar Mazara 4.3% 17.3% 7.7%
Ty France 12.1% 23.0% 12.2%
Bo Bichette 15.6% 25.6% 18.8%
Cesar Hernandez 6.4% 16.1% 13.9%
Justin Turner 7.3% 16.1% 14.0%
Manuel Margot 2.7% 11.2% 8.0%
Dylan Carlson 12.5% 20.8% 12.2%
Yellow = higher HR/FB rate
Red = lower HR/FB rate

So this is the rare case where I’m not really ecstatic that six of eight hitters did boost their HR/FB rates over their 2020 marks. That’s because most of them still fell well short of their 2020 xHR/FB rates (even though the metric is not a 2021 projection) and predicting a better 2021 really didn’t require any fancy formula as most were fairly obvious.

Jose Trevino probably shouldn’t have even been included on the list as he recorded just 76 at-bats in 2020 and hit just 22 fly balls. That’s a tiny sample, so his HR/FB rate and xHR/FB rate were pretty meaningless. He reverted right back to his 2019 HR/FB rate, but it’s not like his 2020 mark was significantly higher. He did raise his maxEV to 110.2 MPH this year, so that’s something.

Man, I really did like Nomar Mazara as a buy low rebound this year. Actually, 2021 may have been the first year I had any interest in rostering him, probably because I felt his price was always factoring in further upside I hadn’t seen. Coming off a weak 2020 caused his price to plummet, but I figured it was just a small sample fluke given that his xHR/FB rate was right in line with his history. Instead, his ISO barely popped back over .100, his HR/FB failed to even double, and his wOBA actually declined slightly from his disappointing 2020 mark. Amazingly, he was released by the Tigers in mid-July and now his future is suddenly up in the air. He’s still 26 years old though, so I would be surprised if he didn’t latch on somewhere and perhaps find himself fantasy relevant again at some point.

That 30.7% HR/FB rate posted at Triple-A in 2019 is looking flukier and flukier by the season for Ty France. He barely beat his 2020 HR/FB rate, so technically that gave me a “win”, but I have been expecting more from him after believing in the Triple-A breakout. Everything here looks good though, but more fly balls would be a help, especially if he does vastly increase the HR/FB rate. Increases to both could lead to flirting with the 30-homer plateau, which makes for a nice bold prediction.

I nailed Bo Bichette’s 2021 on the head with these original comments:

Injury limited Bo Bichette last year, but when he was healthy enough to play, you thought his power regressed back to a more sustainable level, right? Not so fast. His xHR/FB rate actually surged from his 2019 debut, which surprised me since I really didn’t think Bichette had such power potential. His 2020 xHR/FB gives me more confidence that a high teen rate is no fluke, but I’m still not ready to project a mark in the 20% range.

He also boosted his maxEV to an elite level at 115.5 MPH, so there’s no way you could question the sustainability of his power any longer. He was even an elite base-stealer, swiping 25 bases and getting caught just once. More walks would be nice and a higher FB% could allow him to challenge 40 homers at his peak. But he’s a close to perfect fantasy player as it is now.

Cesar Hernandez represented a nice win for xHR/FB rate as it observed that increased power before he actually posted a career best mark this year. That was backed by career bests in maxEV and Barrel%, as well, and he made the most of it with a career high FB%. Of course, he gave up something for the increased power — BABIP, which tumbled below .313 for the first time to just .266. With just a .232 batting average and his steals gone (he swiped just one), he wasn’t even all that valuable despite his best power year.

One can never be too sure of the rebound potential after a mid-30s guy suffers a big decline in HR/FB rate. That’s what happened to Justin Turner in 2020 as his HR/FB rate slipped into single digits for the first time since 2013. But xHR/FB rate believe nothing had actually changed as far as underlying skills and sure enough, he fully rebounded this season, delivering one of his best fantasy seasons at the tender age of 36.

We always expected more stolen bases from Manuel Margot, but even at the teens level, he possessed a nice power/speed mix that made him interesting in deeper leagues. Then in 2020, the power disappeared, but his xHR/FB rate actually sat just into double digits, suggesting it was just one big small sample size fluke. This year, he fully rebounded, right in line with his historical averages.

Dylan Carlson was one of the more hyped debuts last year, but it didn’t exactly go swimmingly, as he posted just a .264 wOBA. His 12.5% HR/FB rate was fine, but his minor league track record suggested he was capable of better. No one needed to consult my xHR/FB rate equation to predict Carlson would increase his HR/FB rate this year during his sophomore season, as most just assume a highly regarded youngster is going to improve from a league average rate the following year. It didn’t happen. Instead, Carlson’s HR/FB rate actually declined slightly, but an increased FB% and improved strikeout rate allowed him to hit 18 homers anyway. Since he doesn’t seem to be interested in stealing bases after swiping a combined 20 in the minors in 2019, he’ll need that power to develop for fantasy owners to care in shallower leagues.

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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Green Mountain Boy
Green Mountain Boy

Ultimately, is this not simply a search for gold nuggets? I’m thinking of previous proven performance levels and revision to the mean as being way more reliable indicators of future performance for established, veteran guys.

If it were me looking for potential HR/FB surgers, I’d look for guys under 25 with steadily improving FB rates and enough potential power to make it matter. Think Xander Bogaerts when he first came up for one.

If you eliminate that low-hanging fruit, that leaves us prospecting for guys who change their entire swing philosophies mid-career. Think JD Martinez. When it comes right down to it, aren’t those the guys this article is trying to identify? I would say yes, which is what makes the exercise so difficult, but yet potentially valuable at the same time. I would think an acceptable “identification rate” would be something like 5% (1 in 20).

Lots of work for potentially little to no return, no?