2021 Review: Hitter Barrel FB% Decliners

Yesterday, I reviewed the hitters whose Barrel FB% (BFB%) surged the most in 2021 vs 2020. Today, let’s flip on over to the decliners. As a reminder, due to a potential batted ball classification issue between flies and line drives in 2020, BFB% looked suppressed in 2020 (while Barrel LD% was inflated), so there were far more surgers in 2021 as a result, as the two metrics returned back to their normal levels. So that also means that there are fewer decliners and the magnitude is smaller. It’s all relative though, so these declines are more significant than the raw differences suggest.

Barrel FB% Decliners
Player 2020 HR/FB 2021 HR/FB 2020 Barrel FB% 2021 Barrel FB% Barrel FB% Diff
Marcell Ozuna 26.5% 12.1% 36.8% 19.0% -17.8%
Wil Myers 27.8% 15.2% 32.4% 20.5% -12.0%
Ty France 12.1% 12.2% 35.0% 25.0% -10.0%
Juan Soto 36.1% 24.4% 45.0% 36.0% -9.0%
Nick Ahmed 11.4% 4.5% 16.7% 8.3% -8.3%
Nelson Cruz 41.0% 20.9% 38.1% 30.7% -7.4%
Jurickson Profar 14.9% 3.8% 15.4% 8.3% -7.1%
Austin Nola 14.6% 3.6% 10.0% 3.1% -6.9%
Trent Grisham 20.0% 12.0% 25.0% 18.5% -6.5%
Miguel Sano 34.2% 24.4% 40.0% 33.7% -6.3%
Mitch Moreland 23.3% 15.4% 25.0% 20.0% -5.0%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 7.7% 5.6% 7.1% 2.4% -4.8%
Christian Yelich 32.4% 13.2% 29.2% 24.5% -4.7%
Dominic Smith 22.2% 9.1% 21.7% 17.5% -4.2%
Population Avg 15.0% 13.7% 13.7% 23.1% 9.4%

First of all, it’s surprising that Wil Myers hasn’t recorded more than 500 plate appearances since 2017. Anyhow, this was Myers’ lowest BFB% since 2016, though it looks worse because he posted his highest mark in 2020, going back to 2015. Myers enjoyed a legit power surge during the short 2020 season, as his barrel rate surged and his average distance rose to the highest mark going back to 2015. But he lost it all this year and posted his lowest xHR/FB rate during that period. I would suggest just random variation, but I don’t see his 2020 output happening again.

Ty France’s BFB% fell, but his HR/FB rate was virtually unchanged. His 2020 xHR/FB rate of 23% had me thinking he was tapping into the big power he showed during his Triple-A power spike in 2019. Sadly, it didn’t happen. It has only been 896 at-bats in the Majors, but sooner than later, we’re going to realize that his 2019 Triple-A surge was the fluke and he’s really just an average power guy. I’m still willing to give him another full season to see if his power spikes. If it doesn’t, you probably didn’t invest a whole lot anyway.

It’s rare to see Juan Soto on a negative list, but here he is. It’s not like his 2021 BFB% of 36% is bad. It’s still in the upper echelon! But he was coming off an epic short 2020 that resulted in an absurd 36.3% xHR/FB rate. That’s right, his actual mark just a smidge below was completely legit. But that would have been really, really hard to repeat, and sure enough, all of his important metrics slid right back to his 2018-2019 levels. Given his still young age, I’m sure he’ll have at least one more high-20% or low-30% HR/FB rate season.

Nelson Cruz was just nuts during the short 2020 season, and it was accompanied by his first 30%+ xHR/FB rate going back to 2015. This year, at age 40, all his metrics took a step back and he posted his lowest HR/FB rate since 2014 and lowest xHR/FB rate going back to 2015. We figured this had to eventually come, but Cruz has been dragging out his decline for as long as humanly possible. He’s not even striking out more often, so this could easily be a career ending that ends near the top, rather than a final season of collapsing offense.

Man, if you knew that Jurickson Profar would record 412 PAs in 2021 on a strong Padres offense, you would have been excited in deeper leagues. Instead, his power went MIA, as all his metrics plummeted. He’s still penciled in as the team’s starting left fielder for now and could be worth gambling on for cheap as a bounceback candidate.

Austin Nola makes for the third Padres hitter on the list. He doesn’t have much of a track record of hitting for power in the minors and both his 2019 and 2021 xHR/FB rates sit in single digits. So while he’ll almost certainly show better in 2021, I don’t think a return to double digits is a lock. The sample sizes here are small though, so it’s tough to get a real read on his true talent level.

Aaaaaand Trent Grisham makes it a crazy four Padres on this list! What on Earth was going on in San Diego in 2021?! While Grisham’s BFB% fell from 2020, it actually finished a bit higher than in 2019. Small sample sizes, but now his 2020 performance looks like the outlier as his 2019 and 2021 xHR/FB rates sit in the high single digits. I’m not sure what to make of his power moving forward.

Miguel Sano’s BFB% was still strong, just not nearly as so as in 2020, or even 2019, when he posted an insane 50% mark. Sano is your stereotypical one-dimensional slugger for fantasy leaguers, so he needs to continue posting HR/FB rates well above 20% to maintain any fantasy value.

I thought Christian Yelich would make for a good buy coming off a disappointing 2020, but instead he got even worse, as his wOBA slid to just .325 and his power disappeared. A .125 ISO and 13.2% HR/FB rate?! After two straight disappointing seasons, I’m guessing his price will be cheaper than it has in years and will likely be pretty enticing.

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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Joe Wilkeymember
2 years ago

“What on Earth was going on in San Diego in 2021?!”

A theory: they were too passive in the zone. They had the fifth highest Zone% of any team, with the fifth lowest Z-Swing%. They took the third most pitches in the strike zone (14.01% of all pitches seen) of any team last year, fractionally behind Houston (14.09%) and relative miles behind Arizona (14.45%). League average is 13.09%, and while the difference may not seem like much, it adds up to 217 extra strikes over the course of the year on pitches that, when put in play, have a wOBA of .389 league wide. Furthermore, 94%+ of all barrels last year were pitches in the zone, despite only 48.9% of all pitches being in the zone.

If you dig even further, their Heart% per StatCast was also fifth highest in the league, so it wasn’t like they were seeing a bunch of nibbling strikes around the edge of the zone. They did at least swing at these, but still at a below average rate (swung at 73.38% of Heart zone pitches, league average of 73.88%). 71.3% of all barrels were on pitches in the Heart zone last year, with only 26.4% of pitches being in the Heart zone.

They did tend to avoid swinging at the edge of the zone, they took more than half the pitches they saw in the Shadow zone on StatCast (49.34%, league average of 53.12%), but if it’s coming at the cost of swinging at pitches you can drive, it’s probably a tradeoff worth making. I don’t know if this was a team-wide goal, but I think it helps explain what’s going on.

2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Wilkey

Great observation. It seemed that the team was focused so hard on not swinging at pitches outside of the zone that they watched more strikes than most. Wil Myers in particular seemed to watch a bunch of fastballs right down the pipe. Maybe he was guessing and not expecting FB but it sure is frustrating seeing a guy spit on pitches that he could be sending to the bleachers.

I’d like to point out that Austin Nola missed the start of the season with a broken left hand, and Trent Grisham was battling a heel bruise most of the season, two injuries that can sap power for an extended period of time.