2021 Review: Hitter Pull FB% Leaders

Let’s continue diving into the components of my hitter xHR/FB equation by reviewing the 2021 leaders in Pull FB% (PFB). This is the percentage of a hitter’s fly balls that are pulled. For home runs, the higher the PFB, the better…for the most part (there are always exceptions). Why? In the Statcast era (since 2015), average distance of fly balls by batted ball direction were as follows:

Avg Fly Ball Distance by Batted Ball Direction
Direction Avg Dist in Feet (2015-2021)
Pull 342
Straightaway 329
Opposite 292

Those are some serious differences solely based on the fly ball’s horizontal direction. Since hitters hit the ball further, on average, when they pull their flies, then a higher rate of pulled flies should typically result in a higher HR/FB rate. So let’s now review the 2021 PFB leaders (minimum 20 fly balls).

Pull FB% Leaders
Player HR/FB Pull FB%
Mike Zunino 30.3% 54.5%
Ha-seong Kim 9.8% 48.8%
Jose Ramirez 17.0% 48.8%
Robinson Chirinos 15.6% 47.8%
Patrick Wisdom 30.8% 46.3%
Dom Nunez 14.7% 46.0%
Danny Jansen 17.5% 45.7%
Jose Altuve 15.8% 44.9%
Nolan Arenado 13.5% 44.8%
Jonah Heim 11.4% 43.1%
Curt Casali 7.9% 42.6%
Marwin Gonzalez 8.6% 42.4%
Gary Sanchez 19.0% 41.5%
Gavin Sheets 23.9% 41.4%
Seth Brown 20.6% 41.3%
Adalberto Mondesi 17.6% 40.9%
Kyle Garlick 17.9% 40.9%
Mike Moustakas 9.4% 40.6%
Rougned Odor 14.9% 40.6%
Anthony Rizzo 13.4% 40.2%
Jorge Soler 16.7% 40.2%
Adam Duvall 21.0% 40.1%
Jake Fraley 18.0% 40.0%
Kurt Suzuki 9.0% 40.0%
Population Avg 13.7% 26.1%

Out of the 24 hitters who posted a 40% PFB and higher, 16, or two-thirds, of them posted a higher than league average HR/FB rate. That’s a good illustration of how important PFB is for hitting home runs. It’s not even higher because it’s just one of several components that drive that rate. You could pull all the flies you want, but if you’re a weakling and aren’t hitting them far, they won’t be traveling over the fence for a dinger.

Mike Zunino was the far and away leader in PFB in 2021. That was a surprise, as while he has generally posted above average PFB marks, just once did he even reach 40%. In fact, his 2021 mark was more than double his small sample 2020 mark. So this was one of the big drivers of his career best HR/FB rate. Is it repeatable? Probably not. He’ll likely need to keep his PFB in the 40% range to ensure his HR/FB rate stays in the low-to-mid 20% range and doesn’t fall back into the teens.

Who would have guessed that Ha-seong Kim would be the second pulliest flyballer?! He’s a good example of a pull hitter who didn’t have the strength to make those pulled flies really count. While his average fly ball and line drive distance was league average, his Barrel FB% and Barrel LD% were well below. I’m sure inconsistent playing time didn’t help, and unfortunately, his 2022 playing time outlook remains murky.

Want to know the secret to Jose Ramirez’s transformation into a power guy? It’s the pulled flies. He posted 20% marks in 2015-2016, along with mid-single digit HR/FB rates, then bumped up his PFB into the 30% range, as his HR/FB rate jumped into the mid-teens. Then in 2018, his PFB surged again above 40% and has remained there since. It’s no wonder his HR/FB rates have followed suit, with his two highest career marks these past two seasons. Until and unless he stops pulling his flies, he’ll continue to be good for a mid-teen HR/FB rate.

The pulled fly has also been the driver of Jose Altuve’s transformation into a power hitter. In 2019, his PFB spiked from the low-20% range to the low-30% range, and his HR/FB rate skyrocketed above 20% for the first time. He then posted a career high PFB in 2021, and while his HR/FB rate didn’t quite reach his 2019 peak, it still marked the second highest of his career. The transformation into a pull hitter has also eroded his BABIP skills, so he’s no longer an elite batting average contributor. Combine that with his speed drying up, and Altuve’s gotta keep hitting those bombs to maintain strong fantasy value. That makes him a risk now without the batting average and steals to fall back on.

Gavin Sheets enjoyed quite the solid debut with the White Sox, posting a .352 wOBA and big .256 ISO, driven by a 23.9% HR/FB rate, the latter two marks being professional highs. While he showed the barrel ability and strength to post a high HR/FB rate, it was really the penchant for pulling his flies. Sheets is currently atop the team’s DH depth chart according to our RosterResource page, on the strong side of a platoon with former top prospect Andrew Vaughn. While I like Sheets’ plate discipline and power skills, his reliance on those pulled flies, and the alternatives the Sox have to fill the DH slot makes him a risk. He probably won’t cost too much though, so the downside here isn’t too great.

It wouldn’t be a power-related list without Adalberto Mondesi’s name once again. I’ve talked enough about him on previous lists, so there’s nothing more to say here.

It was a disappointing and injury-riddled season for Mike Moustakas, even though he posted his highest PFB on my file, which goes back to 2015. Unfortunately, his average fly ball and line drive distance dropped to a low, while his Barrel FB% remained well below league average. With a questionable playing time outlook, there are better rebound candidates to speculate on.

This was Anthony Rizzo’s highest PFB, but his lowest xHR/FB rate since 2015, and lowest actual HR/FB rate since 2013. Surprisingly, at least to me, he has only posted a Barrel FB% above the league average twice since 2015 (seven years), coming in 2017 and 2019. We’ll have to see where the free agent ends of signing to determine his attractiveness as a rebound candidate off a disappointing fantasy season.

Jorge Soler has really picked up on the pulled flies the last two seasons, though he hasn’t been able to match his 2019 HR/FB rate. After a slow start, he really turned it on with the Braves, but like Rizzo, is a free agent and his new team will help determine our forecast.

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

That list of players is provides zero insight into anything. It is a random mix of fluky performances by guys with bad approaches and quality hitters that have a plan. Hitting is a lot more complicated than pulling flyballs. This analysis is so regressive its crazy. Yes, pulling balls is good for power, as every 12 year old has already realized when they took a few rounds of batting practice. You will get a more useful list by publishing the HR leaders but that list isn’t sponsored by AWS. Balls hit in the air towards fences that have a distance less than that of the ball are often HR, maybe we can call those xHR++. All you are really attempting to measure here are derivatives of well hit balls which doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know from the raw outcomes. I would suspect that players that yank lots of FB are extremely volatile and near the end of their careers in most cases. Making good decisions about what to hit in the air and pull is an elite skill. Yanking everything and hitting it in the air is the easiest thing a player can do and there is no coming back from that kind of a lazy approach – it kills development. Its the old sell out for power because it is the only hope you have left approach that everyone has known about for decades. Pull FB is more of a red flag than a positive. The list of guys that can hit HR without selling out for it are the good ones.