2021 Forecast — Potential HR/FB Rate Surgers

Finally, it’s time for the main event! After weeks discussing the history and research, correlations, the xHR/FB v4.0 equation itself, and various xHR/FB rate components, we now set our sights toward 2021. Today, I will identify and discuss a handful of fantasy relevant names that underperformed their xHR/FB rates most significantly. Remember that this doesn’t automatically mean we should be projecting a higher HR/FB rate this season. But perhaps rather than take the hitter’s actual HR/FB rate at face value, we should substitute our xHR/FB rate mark when reviewing his historical marks and making a 2021 projection.

As you may have guessed, the short season meant more fluctuation in rates such as HR/FB rate, so there are far more significant underachievers in 2020 than normal. I can’t list them all, so these are only the fantasy relevant names (players with regular jobs) who underperformed their xHR/FB rates by at least 8%.

Potential 2021 HR/FB Surgers
Player HR/FB xHR/FB Diff
Jose Trevino 9.1% 22.2% -13.1%
Nomar Mazara 4.3% 17.3% -13.0%
Ty France 12.1% 23.0% -10.9%
Bo Bichette 15.6% 25.6% -9.9%
Cesar Hernandez 6.4% 16.1% -9.7%
Justin Turner 7.3% 16.1% -8.8%
Manuel Margot 2.7% 11.2% -8.5%
Dylan Carlson 12.5% 20.8% -8.3%

Remember how hot Jose Trevino was in late August? He recorded two hits in four straight games and ended up with two hits in five of six games. A homer was also sprinkled into that streak. That got the attention of fantasy owners and he’s now set to open the season as the Rangers starting catcher. He hasn’t posted a double digit HR/FB rate since 2014 and 2015 at the Single-A level, but late age catcher power spikes do happen. Both his average distance and barrel metrics surged, driving that xHR/FB rate far above his actual mark. However, remember this came over a tiny 31 fly ball and line drive sample. So really, this should mostly be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, we’re always looking for upside from our cheap catchers and his projections are terrible, like 2020’s power spike didn’t happen. So if his price fails to account for any semblance of potential to even match, let alone raise, his 2020 HR/FB rate, he’s a reasonable target as your second catcher.

Nomar Mazara’s performance collapsed last year, particularly in the power department. That got him released by the White Sox, at which point the Tigers picked him up. But that poor power performance looks like a mirage, as his xHR/FB rate was only marginally below his peak 2018-2019 seasons, and well above his 2016-2017 seasons. There’s no reason the Tigers shouldn’t give him every chance to stick, so at the very least, the power should return. That won’t necessarily make him all that valuable in fantasy leagues, but he’s still likely to yield a hefty profit, especially in AL-Only leagues.

From the looks of it, Ty France’s 2019 Triple-A HR/FB rate surge hasn’t translated to the Majors. But xHR/FB rate suggests that those power skills were actually there in 2020, and leaped from his 2019 level. With only DH eligibility in some leagues, and the expectation he opens the season as the Mariners’ DH, his unsecure playing time is definitely an issue. But if his performance comes closer to matching his underlying power skills established in 2020, fantasy owners won’t have to worry about him losing playing time.

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.

This was the highest xHR/FB rate of Cesar Hernandez’ Statcast career (going back to 2015). That’s pretty crazy considering his actual HR/FB rate declined to its lowest point since 2015. Hernandez used to be an ignored contributor in both power and speed, but his speed began to decline in 2019 and he swiped zero bases last year. So he ended up contributing nowhere, except some runs scored and a decent batting average. The strong xHR/FB rate provides hope that he’ll get back to double digit homers, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll even attempt a steal in 2021, let along return to double digits.

For one reason or another, Justin Turner has made a living underperforming his xHR/FB rate, as he’s now done so in five of six seasons. However, his biggest underperformance in the past was just 3.4% (10.1% actual HR/FB vs 13.4% xHR/FB). His 2020 season underperformance was therefore by far the largest of his Statcast career, giving us confidence he’ll rebound right back to a double digit rate in 2021, assuming the underlying skills driving that rate don’t crash.

Manuel Margot has alternated between limited home run power and flirting with a double digit HR/FB rate, but not quite getting there. This year, he showed the former, but his xHR/FB rate was actually the highest of his career. Sure, you’re buying Margot for his steals potential, but if that also came with mid-teens homers, he becomes a pretty valuable fantasy player. Of course, playing time will be a question on the Rays, who love to mix and match, and Margot’s career .298 wOBA means he’s not forcing his way into the lineup every day, even if he plays strong defense. But he’s still just 26, so it’s not ridiculous to think there’s significantly more offensive upside here.

Dylan Carlson keeper league owners and fans, you can now breathe a sigh of relief and get a bit more excited. While he didn’t exactly disappoint during his cup of coffee with a 12.5% HR/FB rate, it should have been a whole lot better! This was a much better debut than it appears on the surface, and this is especially true considering he recorded just 79 plate appearances at Triple-A before making the jump.

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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Jose Trevino has said that he was working on his launch angle to boost his power. He’s got a nice chance to be C. Vazquez-lite with this power bump and a decent BA he’s been peddling for the last couple of seasons.