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

Let’s finally move past the hitter xHR/FB rate variables and get into the equation’s output. Today, I’ll start by checking in on the hitters whose HR/FB rates spiked in 2021 that were real, meaning actually validated by their xHR/FB rates. In other words, the HR/FB rate surge was accompanied by a similar xHR/FB rate, lending more credence to the jump. A word of caution — just because the xHR/FB rate validated the HR/FB rate does not mean the hitter is going to sustain this new level, but it should certainly give us more confidence that he will than if his xHR/FB rate came up significantly short.

I’ll use 20 fly balls, as defined by FanGraphs, in both 2020 and 2021 to qualify for this list. The determination of whether an xHR/FB rate “validates” a HR/FB rate is subjective, as the numbers do not have to match and xHR/FB rate could still slightly lag actual HR/FB rate for me to consider validation having occurred.

xHR/FB Rate Positive Validations
Player 2020 HR/FB 2021 HR/FB 2021 xHR/FB HR/FB Diff 2021 HR/FB – xHR/FB
Avisail Garcia 5.6% 26.1% 21.2% 20.6% 5.0%
Jason Castro 8.3% 23.5% 22.2% 15.2% 1.3%
Pablo Sandoval 5.0% 19.0% 15.8% 14.0% 3.2%
Mike Zunino 17.4% 30.3% 26.2% 12.9% 4.1%
Shohei Ohtani 20.6% 32.9% 30.4% 12.3% 2.5%
Franmil Reyes 18.4% 30.6% 26.0% 12.2% 4.6%
Ketel Marte 3.8% 15.6% 20.1% 11.8% -4.6%
Mike Tauchman 0.0% 11.4% 11.0% 11.4% 0.4%
Jonathan Villar 7.1% 18.4% 17.9% 11.2% 0.4%
Miguel Andujar 4.5% 15.4% 13.0% 10.8% 2.4%
Ji-Man Choi 8.3% 18.6% 16.4% 10.3% 2.2%
Jorge Polanco 5.8% 15.8% 17.3% 10.0% -1.5%

Avisail Garcia easily led the field in HR/FB rate gain versus 2020, but his xHR/FB rate was borderline validating. However, Garcia did post a slightly higher xHR/FB rate in 2019 and also posted a mark just over 20% in 2018 as well. So this was a nice rebound for him after an off 2020, but his HR/FB rate probably got a bit ahead of itself. He’ll face a tougher test in Miami now.

All we ever expected from Mike Zunino was home runs and in 2021, he made sure to give us more than he ever has. It was nearly supported by his xHR/FB rate, which spiked to his highest level for as far back as my spreadsheet goes (2015). It was thanks to an insane series of rates driving the equation, with an elite average distance, crazy barrel rates, and even high rates of pulling those balls. It’s too bad that even with all those extra dingers, he still managed to hit just .216.

After a disappointing 2020, Shohei Ohtani was back in peak form, but actually boosted both his HR/FB and xHR/FB rates slightly to record career highs in each. How can someone be so good at baseball?

This was nothing new for Franmil Reyes, but he was coming off a disappointing 2020 and he fully rebounded in 2021. He was an absolute all-or nothing guy, as evidenced by his absurd standard deviation of the distances of his flies and liners. That means he was a beast at alternating huge flies with dinkers. Remember, if your average distance is 300 feet (really good!), but every single batted ball goes exactly 300 feet, then you’ll end up with zero homers, despite the strong average distance. That’s why the standard deviation matters.

Ketel Marte skipped a year in following up his power breakout in 2019, as he was a bust in 2020, but picked back up in 2021. You might realize that his xHR/FB rate was actually higher than his actual HR/FB rate this past season. It was also just barely below his 2019 mark. It could mean there’s a chance he reaches his 2019 HR/FB rate again if he could maintain similar xHR/FB variable rates.

As a member of the Rays, Ji-Man Choi will likely continue to be frustrating to own given inconsistent starts and batting order spots, but his power did rebound after a disappointing 2020. Because of his massive walk rate, he’s a significantly better fantasy contributor in leagues that use OBP instead of AVG, and he’s also more of a help to the Rays offense, as that high OBP hasn’t exactly resulted in a lot of runs scored.

Finally, Jorge Polanco reached a double digit HR/FB rate for the first time as he turned the magical age 27. This was pretty out of nowhere as there was nothing to suggest, other than his age, that he would suddenly enjoy a power spike. Sure enough, his xHR/FB rate fully validated the surge, even finishing just above his actual mark. He did post a low double digit xHR/FB rate in 2019, but he underperformed that mark to fall just short of double digits. This season’s breakout was due to a big jump in his standard deviation, and increased barrel and pull rates. What did not increase was his overall average distance, which is surprising. I’m not sure if that makes him less likely to repeat or not, but it’s worth noting.

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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2 years ago

Just want to give a shout out to the old-as-dirt flyball hitters Jason Castro and Pablo Sandoval. Fantasy irrelevant, but still showing up uninvited at these kinds of statistical parties.

2 years ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

There’s a joke in there somewhere concerning Sandoval, food, and uninvited parties…but damned if I can’t put it together