Batted Ball Distance Surgers

As you all know by now, the batted ball distance leaderboards and individual player pages at BaseballHeatMaps.com is one of my new favorite toys. I’ve sliced and diced the data in many ways in various attempts to identify breakout and bust candidates. Since about two-thirds of the season is now in the books, the time seemed to be right to compare distances to last year.

The following hitters have experienced the greatest increases in distance over last year. It should correspond to an increased HR/FB rate, so let’s find out if it does. Also, please note that there is some minimum number of fly balls plus home runs to qualify for the leaderboard, similar to the plate appearance and innings pitched minimums on the default FanGraphs leaderboards.

Player 2013 HR/FB 2012 HR/FB 2013 Distance 2012 Distance Diff
Yunel Escobar 8.0% 7.4% 290.07 263.47 26.6
Jayson Werth 19.2% 5.3% 295.84 269.76 26.08
Bryce Harper 25.0% 16.2% 306.47 280.84 25.63
J.P. Arencibia 17.2% 16.5% 295.93 276.07 19.86
Michael Young 9.6% 6.1% 284.59 265.21 19.38
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 10.8% 20.0% 300.94 281.85 19.09
Nate Schierholtz 15.7% 8.8% 284.45 265.72 18.73
Dexter Fowler 14.3% 12.3% 297.38 278.84 18.54
John Mayberry 11.9% 14.9% 281.68 263.28 18.4
Brett Lawrie 13.5% 9.0% 282.85 265.43 17.42

Look at that, it works! 8 of the 10 distance surgers have experienced an increase in HR/FB rate this season.

Yunel Escobar?! Yes, Yunel Escobar leads baseball in increased batted ball distance. The mark ranks 75th among hitters, versus just 260th last season. But, his HR/FB rate has barely budged. Although he is hitting more doubles and triples than last year, they are pretty much in line with pre-2012 levels. And his ISO is also right around his career average. Since Escobar doesn’t do a whole lot for fantasy owners to begin with, a power surge would be quite welcome. I have no idea if this distance surge is a precursor to it though, since it hasn’t led to one yet.

Jayson Werth lands second on the list simply because of his awful 2012. So what the distance is telling us is that Werth is healthy again. You could see that in his ISO, which is back above .200, and his HR/FB rate near his peak range of 19%-21%. While we can never be sure when his next DL stint will come, he should be able to sustain this level of performance as long as he remains healthy.

It didn’t take long for Bryce Harper to become one of the best power hitters in the game. AND HE’S ONLY 20 YEARS OLD!!!! He ranks ninth among all hitters in distance. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

It was quite the surprise to see J.P. Arencibia make the list because I couldn’t believe he was below the league average in distance last year. Looks like his distance caught up to his power, rather than the reverse, which is odd.

Power surge for Michael Young! And check out that increase in HR/FB rate. It still doesn’t make him worth much in shallower leagues, but at least he has reversed his declining power trend and isn’t going to go all Ben Revere on us.

Wait, so Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s distance rises nearly 20 feet, ranks him 14th in baseball, and yet his HR/FB rate is nearly cut in half? Hmmmm. One explanation is that many of those potential homers have instead become doubles. Over the same number of at-bats as last season, Salty is on pace for about 20 more doubles. That’s a significant jump. Sometimes there is little difference between a homer and a double and it’s possible that some of Salty’s bombs over the Green Monster from last year have been wall bangers this year. I would expect a better rest of season in the home run department.

Looking back at historical distances, this has simply been a rebound season for Nate Schierholtz. Pre-2012, he had consistently posted distance marks between 280 and 290 feet, so maybe last year he just wasn’t healthy. He’s due for a bit of regression though, but should remain a safe bet to at least sustain a 10% HR/FB rate the rest of the way.

Last year, Dexter Fowler’s HR/FB rate tripled, but his distance was actually at a career low. Now the HR/FB rate has surged even higher, and finally the distance has come along for the ride. Last season I didn’t believe the power was for real. But given his age, size and distance, I now do believe he is no fluke. He has also even stolen more bases than he has since 2009, giving him legit 20/20 upside if he could ever manage to reach the 500 at-bat plateau.

John Mayberry is another case of a hitter simply enjoying a rebound to a previous level. Strangely, last year’s weak average distance didn’t affect his HR/FB rate, though his ISO was down, and below this year’s rate.

Hey, Brett Lawrie appears on a positive list! He has even gotten his fly ball rate up to the mid-to-high 30% range, though that’s partly because he has quit hitting line drives. Now if only we could find out why he has stopped running and beg him to add that back to his game, we would have a nice buy low name on our hands.





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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olerudshelmet
8 years ago

Yunel’s increased distance not leading to an increase in HR/FB rate may have something to do with him playing in a new park this year.

Clifford
8 years ago
Reply to  olerudshelmet

yeah but with the exception of straight-away center, the Trop is actually shorter down both lines than the Rogers Centre, as well as both alleys. The Trop is 315/322 down the lines vs. the Rogers which is 328/328 down both lines. And the alleys are 371 vs. 375. I realize that isn’t a great analysis of your proposition because the ball certainly seems to fly differently in Toronto…but if that’s the case, doesn’t that mean Yunel is actually hitting the ball that much further? So maybe he is in store for a HR surge? I dunno.

Giovani
8 years ago
Reply to  Clifford

I believe Rogers Centre has been the second-most inflating park for HR numbers this year.

olerudshelmet
8 years ago
Reply to  Clifford

Interesting thought. Park factors aside, distance is distance. Maybe the fences are higher in the Trop (although I’ve always thought that Rogers fences seemed pretty high). As an owner, I hope he surges.