2021 Review — Hitter xHR/FB Rate Overperformers

Yesterday, I listed and discussed the hitters whose HR/FB rates most underperformed their xHR/FB rates. In that list were a couple of potentially undervalued gems to remember for your 2022 drafts and auctions. Let’s now flip to the overperformers, those whose actual HR/FB rates most exceeded their xHR/FB rates. This group might end up being overvalued if your leaguemates are buying them expecting their 2021 HR/FB rates to be repeated.

xHR/FB Overperformers
Player HR/FB xHR/FB Diff
Nick Madrigal 5.6% -2.4% 7.9%
Wilson Ramos 25.0% 17.4% 7.6%
Yonny Hernandez 0.0% -7.1% 7.1%
Joey Gallo 27.1% 20.2% 6.9%
Taylor Trammell 23.5% 17.0% 6.6%
Patrick Wisdom 30.8% 24.2% 6.5%
Giancarlo Stanton 26.7% 20.3% 6.4%
Yasmani Grandal 28.4% 22.1% 6.3%
Jordan Luplow 19.3% 13.1% 6.2%
Magneuris Sierra 0.0% -6.1% 6.1%
Daniel Johnson 15.4% 9.3% 6.1%
Brandon Belt 26.9% 20.8% 6.0%
Ian Happ 24.3% 18.3% 6.0%
Gavin Sheets 23.9% 18.0% 5.9%
Javier Baez 28.2% 22.5% 5.7%

LOL, check out both Nick Madrigal and Yonny Hernandez’s xHR/FB rates! Both are negative. That’s what happens with formulas sometimes, they produce results that are literally impossible. It also just goes to show how little power each displayed last year. I could adjust my formula to use a floor of 0%, but that’s no fun.

Joey Gallo was on last week’s HR/FB rate spikes that were fake list, so I’ll reiterate my surprise at his appearance. From 2015 to 2020, he has posted an xHR/FB rate of at least 26.4%, always pretty close his actual mark. But suddenly in 2020, his power skills deteriorated, as he posted a 20% xHR/FB rate. He was actually a bit unlucky for a change, as his HR/FB rate slipped to just 16.7%, the first time it dipped below 27.6% over a reasonable sample. In 2021, his HR/FB rate rebounded, but his underlying skills and xHR/FB rate did not. One of the big reasons is his standard deviation of distance of his flies and liners declined dramatically in 2020 and only slightly increased in 2021. That means he’s alternating absolute blasts with weaker flies and liners than he had historically. The mark is still well above average though, so there’s no big cause for concern, but if not improved upon, could result in a drop to the low-20% range for HR/FB rate. Luckily, Yankee Stadium could give him a boost.

Going back to 2015, this was Giancarlo Stanton’s lowest xHR/FB rate, but he hasn’t been as consistent season to season as Gallo had been. Both his Barrel FB% and Pull FB% declined, the latter of which hit a low during the period. At age 32 now, it wouldn’t be so far fetched to believe that maybe his power might gradually weaken. There are no other red flags though, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% trends are fine. As usual, health is the biggest question, but age-related decline could be coming too.

Yasmani Grandal was another who appeared in the HR/FB rate spikes that were fake article. He did manage to post his highest xHR/FB rate going back to 2015, but this was the most his HR/FB rate has exceeded that mark. This was also actually only the second time his HR/FB rate reached into the 20% range. This was a pretty cool season for Grandal, as he didn’t just walk more often than he struck out, but he did so by posting an absurd 23.2% walk rate. That’s insane! Remember he’ll be entering his age 33 season, so expected regression toward his xHR/FB rate, plus potential age-related decline means he’s probably not the greatest target at whatever the going rate is.

Brandon Belt is a third member of the HR/FB rate spikes that were fake list, and also on the wrong side of 30. In fact, he’ll be spending most (or all, depending on when the season begins) of the season as a 34-year-old. He posted a higher xHR/FB rate in 2020, but his last two seasons have been significantly higher than anything he has posted previously. So his power skills have clearly improved, but the park remains a challenge, and his advanced age won’t help.

I don’t know how Ian Happ has been doing it, but he has significantly outperformed his xHR/FB rates in each of the past three seasons. Of course, his 2019 and 2020 seasons were small samples, but 2021 was not. This was actually the lowest xHR/FB rate he has posted over his career, but his outperformance essentially matched his 2020 outperformance and was even lower than his 2019. Statcast’s flawed xHR metric agrees that Happ has seemingly hit far more homers than deserved. It’s probably too small a sample to claim Happ will be an annual outperformer for whatever reason, but clearly the possibility is there. That said, why take a chance on him with the risk of his HR/FB rate dropping toward his xHR/FB rate when you could just buy any of a number of outfielders with power, a bit of speed, and is neutral to weak in batting average at fair value instead?

While Gavin Sheets outperformed his xHR/FB rate, I think the story here is more about the fact that he still managed to post an 18% xHR/FB rate, which could give him the leg up in the competition for DH at-bats. Sheet’s power surged during his time at Triple-A in 2021, so it was a really good sign that he was able to carry over that breakout into the Majors. He owns a decent enough overall offensive skill set, but will have to fend off former top prospect Andrew Vaughn and whoever else might earn an opportunity.

Javier Baez is the fourth member of the HR/FB rate spikes that were fake list and his appearance here should be a reminder that there’s a good chance he ends up overvalued this season and disappoints. Rather than taking his home run power to a new level, he was actually the same as he has been. So if owners think he’s now a high 20% HR/FB rate guy, they will likely be disappointed. Add in the potential negative effects of his new home park in Detroit and it’s easy to see how he could fail to live up to his draft day cost.

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
4 months ago

Gallo’s 2021 is a super interesting case. He had a TON of pull power, but if he connected weakly, it seems like his natural power was almost a hindrance, because where someone else’s weak contact falls between the IF and OF for a hit, his “weak” contact turns into a can of corn FB. Once you get below 75 mph EV, batting average skyrockets for FB. Also, his opposite field FB useful power was non-existent, most of his opposite field FB were so high that they had no chance of clearing the fences. Furthermore, Gallo put the ball in play in less than half of his PA, the only player with 300+ PA to do that, so in order to have a good amount of HR, he has to have a lot of FB and have a good HR/FB. Just a very strange season all around.