2021 Review — Hitter HR/FB Declines That Were REAL!

Yesterday, I identified and discussed the hitters whose xHR/FB rates validated their HR/FB rate spikes. Today, let’s flip to the other side and check out the list of hitters whose HR/FB rates fell compared to 2020, and whose xHR/FB rate confirmed those results.

xHR/FB Rate Negative Validations
Player 2020 HR/FB 2021 HR/FB 2021 xHR/FB HR/FB Diff 2021 HR/FB – xHR/FB
Nelson Cruz 41.0% 20.9% 18.5% -20.1% 2.4%
D.J. Stewart 33.3% 13.6% 11.6% -19.7% 2.1%
DJ LeMahieu 27.0% 7.7% 5.7% -19.3% 2.0%
Jesse Winker 40.0% 20.7% 19.6% -19.3% 1.1%
Christian Yelich 32.4% 13.2% 16.6% -19.2% -3.4%
Kole Calhoun 28.6% 9.6% 13.0% -19.0% -3.4%
Curt Casali 25.0% 7.9% 11.8% -17.1% -3.9%
Ke’Bryan Hayes 25.0% 8.6% 9.8% -16.4% -1.3%
Clint Frazier 26.7% 10.6% 12.7% -16.0% -2.0%
Brian Anderson 26.8% 11.5% 10.7% -15.4% 0.8%

Where do you go after posting an absurd 41% HR/FB rate? Down of course. So there’s no reason to blame Nelson Cruz for leading the pack in HR/FB rate drop in 2021, as it would have been near impossible for him to maintain anything close to that 2020 level. But he also ended up posting his lowest HR/FB rate since 2014, which is just incredible given he has spent that entire time in his mid-to-late 30s! We’ll have to see where he signs, but he’s clearly not totally done contributing fantasy value, even if you could finally see signs of some skill erosion.

Yyyyeah, no one expected D.J. Stewart to come close to repeating that 33.3% HR/FB rate, but I personally didn’t expect it to drop into the low-teens. Most of his metrics went in the wrong direction, and since he won’t open the season with a starting job, or even a strong side platoon role, he’s left for the end game of deep leagues that count OBP.

Welp, DJ LeMahieu’s Yankees career has been quite fascinating, huh? His HR/FB rate surged during his debut with the team in 2019, as he suddenly went barrel crazy and his opposite field approach worked well at Yankee Stadium. His results were even better in 2020’s short season, but the skills didn’t match this time. In fact, they predicted a huge fall from grace in 2021. I think the safe bet is a HR/FB rate in the low teens, but who the heck knows if he could use Yankee Stadium to his advantage again, where he has posted a 21.2% HR/FB rate versus a 9.3% mark in away games.

The top of this list is littered with ridiculously high HR/FB rates from the short 2020 season and Jesse Winker was another who didn’t play enough that year for his mark to normalize. The good news is that his xHR/FB rate was still the second highest of his career, even though he has posted higher actual HR/FB rates in the past, excluding 2020. He still hasn’t recorded 500 plate appearances, but remains a monster OBP league contributor while he’s playing.

It’s been a super weird two seasons for Christian Yelich. In 2020, his strikeout rate suddenly skyrocketed, while his BABIP plunged, resulting in a shocking .205 batting average. His power was fine though as he posted a third straight 30%+ HR/FB rate. Then in 2021, his strikeout rate mostly rebounded, as did his BABIP, but this time his power disappeared, as he posted the lowest HR/FB rate since 2015. His xHR/FB rate was a little better, but still the lowest he has posted going back to 2015. What’s going on with him?!

Ke’Bryan Hayes was limited to just 396 plate appearances thanks to a wrist injury, and it would be easy to chalk up his decline to health reasons. Then again, his 25% HR/FB rate during his 2020 debut was surprising given his measly power historically in the minors, so how much of the decline was expected regression and how much was due to injury is anyone’s guess. At the very least, he needs to pull more of his flies to become a true power hitter, as he posted a sub-10% mark (26.1% league average) last season. It’s difficult to hit a high rate of home runs when the majority of flies are going to center field or the opposite way.

Brian Anderson also dealt with injury and was limited to 264 plate appearances, so we should definitely give him a mulligan. My xHR/FB rate equation suggests his 2020 breakout was mostly real, but it did come over a small sample. He’ll be returning from shoulder surgery, so it’ll be interesting to see if it takes some time for his power to return.

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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