Does Blast Rate Suggest Impending HR/FB Spike?

Yesterday, I dove into the new Statcast bat tracking metrics to learn whether the metrics are any better at predicting HR/FB rate than what we already have, namely Barrel%. Sadly, the answer was no. However, that doesn’t mean these new metrics are useless, of course. As we collect more and more data and sample size issues go away, we’ll be able to investigate more with significantly greater confidence in the results.

I wanted to look at Blast Per Bat Contact (or Blast%), since that was the highest correlated of the new metrics with HR/FB rate. Specifically, I wanted to identify hitters with relatively high Blast% marks, but relatively low HR/FB rates. Does the high Blast% suggest an increased HR/FB rate over the rest of the season? We don’t have the historical data to determine its predictive power, so this is more of a fun exercise imagining what could be than a definitive list of HR/FB rate improvers.

HR/FB Increasers?
Name HR/FB Barrel% Blast Per Bat Contact
William Contreras 15.9% 11.1% 30.2%
Salvador Perez 12.9% 16.1% 23.2%
Eloy Jiménez 14.3% 11.7% 22.7%
Starling Marte 12.1% 7.6% 22.2%
Austin Riley 6.4% 12.0% 22.2%
Manny Machado 11.9% 10.2% 21.3%
Julio Rodríguez 5.1% 7.0% 21.3%
Yandy Díaz 7.7% 3.8% 21.2%
Leody Taveras 6.7% 3.2% 21.0%
Bobby Witt Jr. 6.8% 15.6% 20.0%
League Average 10.8% 7.6% 14.0%

Yes, that’s William Contreras leading baseball in Blast%! And yet his HR/FB rate still remains in the mid-teens, barely above his mark last year. This is also a guy who posted HR/FB rates over 20% and as high as 27% back in 2021 and 2021 with the Braves, so it’s not like he’s never shown the ability to post a higher mark. Obviously, the .401 BABIP is unsustainable, but it seems pretty clear that he’s deserving of an ISO over .200 (he’s at .198 now) at the very least, though a low FB% is holding him back a bit. He’s shown far more power than I ever expected he was capable of given his last set of scouting grades in 2021 that included 35/50 Game Power and 50/55 Raw Power marks.

It’s a catcher parade! Salvador Perez is another name posting a big Blast% and even his Barrel% is impressive, ranking 11th out of 163 qualified hitters. Yet, his HR/FB rate has continued its downward trend since peaking in 2021. In fact, his Barrel% is nearly identical to that peak year when he posted a 26.4% HR/FB rate and swatted 48 home runs. He’s still been a strong fantasy contributor thanks to an inflated .372 BABIP, along with his best strikeout rate since 2015. Now imagine that HR/FB rate jumps closer to 20% the rest of the way, while he maintains the mid-teens strikeout rate. The additional power would more than offset a drop in BABIP and batting average.

Eloy Jiménez is now in his sixth full season and we’re still waiting for a healthy, breakout year. He’s shown glimpses, as he posted wOBA marks of at least .370 back in 2020 (during the short Covid season) and 2022, but hasn’t reached 500 PAs since his 2019 debut, and has alternated strong and mediocre performances. This year, his power is at a career worst, despite a strong Blast% and even a Barrel% in the low teens, just below his career average. I think he’s a pretty obvious candidate to enjoy a HR/FB rate spike over the rest of the season. However, his BABIP is in trouble given the low LD% and he oddly continues to hit over 50% of balls in play on the ground.

Despite strong maxEV marks, Starling Marte has never been much of a barreler, posting mid-to-high single digit marks his entire career. That hasn’t changed this season, though his current mark is a jump from the last two seasons, while his Blast% ranks 11th in baseball. With a sub-30% FB%, it’ll be tough for him to become a major home run contributor.

Austin Riley had been one of my recent trade targets thanks to his slow start, but I was rebuffed, and then he got hurt. It’s shocking to see his HR/FB rate all the way down in single digits, and even more so when all the supporting power metrics are normal. He has pulled his flies less frequently than in the past, while going the opposite way more often. So that definitely explains some of the down HR/FB rate, though it’s anyone’s guess whether that shift will last or he’ll revert to form. If he returns from missing a bunch of games fully healthy with no effect on his power, he’s the lockiest of locks to get his power back to where it’s always been.

Manny Machado isn’t that far off from where he’s been to raise the red flag, but I included him here because he ranks 13th in Blast%, while his HR/FB rate is barely above the league average, and his lowest since 2013. The other odd thing here is his FB% is at its lowest since 2014, as he has suddenly become a ground ball hitter, with a mark over 50% for the first time in his career. If that doesn’t improve, then any HR/FB rate rebound isn’t going to result in as much of a home run rebound as you might expect. Also concerning is a career worst strikeout rate and only the second mark over 20% in his career. He’s a slightly riskier buy low target given the trends in several metrics.

Yikes! Julio Rodríguez was likely one of the most expensive players in your drafts and auctions, but his power has been a major disappointment. It’s bizarre to see him ranked 14th in Blast% with a 114.5 MPH maxEV, but sit here with a microscopic 5.1% HR/FB rate. Like Riley, Rodríguez has also pulled a lower rate of his fly balls, but the missing pulled flies have gone to straightaway, instead of to the opposite field. That’s not good for HR/FB rate, but it’s still hard to believe that’s the sole cause for the lack of homers. His Barrel% has dropped to single digits, so he’s simply not combining high EV swings with optimal launch angles like he has. I’d have to imagine that improves and his HR/FB rate jumps in a hurry. A big 27.9% LD% confirms that there’s nothing wrong with his swing now, so the home runs should come.

Gosh, is Yandy Díaz’s power an enigma or what?! He typically has trouble lifting the ball and hitting too many grounders, and this year has been no different. Right now, his FB% ranks last among qualified hitters, which severely cuts into his home run potential, even if his HR/FB rate rebounds. What really sticks out here is the yo-yoing of his Barrel%. It’s been up and down throughout his career and to follow the trend, this year he was due for a down one after posting a career high last season! But still, it’s hard to understand how a guy could be so good at hitting blasts, but be so bad at barreling the ball. I wish I could tell you what he’ll do the rest of the season, but my crystal ball ain’t working. The bottom line is the upside just isn’t high enough to justify holding and waiting for him in shallow mixed leagues.

Wow, I did not expect to find Leody Taveras’ name ranked 17th in Blast%! He’s another who usually has the maxEV, but simply doesn’t barrel the ball enough to post a high HR/FB rate. This year, the maxEV is at its lowest since his 2020 debut, while his Barrel% is at a career low. The one piece of positive news is that his strikeout rate continues to improve and now sits at a career best, below 20% for the first time. I’m not sure how real that is, though, as his SwStk% is nearly identical to last year and not that far below previous seasons. I would love to see his historical Blast% marks to see if this is typical for him or not, but given what we know about his lack of barrels and lowly HR/FB rates, there probably isn’t any meaningful HR/FB rate surge coming.

Bobby Witt Jr. is doing the impossible! He ranks 25th in Blast%, 14th in Barrel%, 18th in HardHit%, 31st in maxEV, and……127th in HR/FB rate. What?! I don’t know how one puts that combination of metrics together, but it’s hard to understand how it’s possible. His fly ball distribution is a bit different than in the past, but not because of pulled flies. Instead, he’s swapped some oppo for straightaway flies, which ain’t great, but most of his home runs historically have come from pulled flies. It’s therefore no surprise that Statcast also calculates an xISO of .273 versus his .215 actual mark, so the calculation agrees that his power output should be significantly greater right now given his actual batted balls. He would make for a great buy low, but he’s doing enough of everything else that he’s highly unlikely to come at a discount.

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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