Early 2019 Barrels Per Fly Ball + Line Drive Leaders

With about a quarter of the season now in the books, let’s dive into some Statcast data. We know that power could ebb and flow each month and we have witnessed time and time again a hitter whose power is down early, but ends up going absolutely bonkers at some point and making up for the slow start. One of the best, most easily calculable metrics is barrels per fly ball + line drive rate. The problem with the barrels per batted ball event on the Statcast leaderboard is that it counts all batted ball types. It therefore ends up punishing ground ball hitters and doubly benefiting fly ball hitters. While that’s fine if you want to project isolated slugging, it’s a flawed metric if we only care about HR/FB rate. Barrels per plate appearance is even worse, as batters are now punished for walks and strikeouts, as those particular times to the plate failed to result in a barrel…well, duh! So Barrels/FB+LD it is.

I filtered my leaderboard for only those batters who have hit at least 20 fly balls and liners. It’s an arbitrary cut-off point, but there were some interesting names below 30 I wanted to include.

Barrels/Fly Ball + Line Drive Rate Leaderboard
Player Barrels/FB+LD
Gary Sanchez 48.7%
Joey Gallo 46.3%
Peter Alonso 42.6%
Jose Abreu 41.5%
Michael Chavis 40.0%
Christian Yelich 36.7%
Mike Trout 35.8%
Christian Walker 35.4%
Mitch Moreland 35.4%
David Dahl 35.1%
Gordon Beckham 35.0%
Josh Donaldson 35.0%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 34.5%
Matt Adams 33.3%
Ryan Braun 33.3%
Jay Bruce 33.3%
Marcell Ozuna 32.2%
Aaron Judge 32.1%
Anthony Rendon 31.8%
Luke Voit 31.7%
Howie Kendrick 31.4%
Derek Dietrich 31.3%
Yandy Diaz 31.3%
George Springer 31.0%
Joc Pederson 30.8%
Harrison Bader 30.0%
Willson Contreras 30.0%
C.J. Cron 30.0%
League Average 16.2%

Gone are the days where it’s prudent to be conservative with rookies. Seemingly every year some rookie lights it up, and so far early this season, Peter Alonso has been leading the charge. Sure, he has struck out often, but when he hits a fly ball, it’s typically hit hard, and he has also pulled his flies more frequently than the average. I’m sure there’s a slump in there and it’s difficult for anyone to sustain a HR/FB rate over 30%, let alone a rookie. But I don’t think I would be looking to sell high here, even in a redraft.

Speaking of rookies, Michael Chavis wasn’t expected to see much time in the Majors this year, but injuries ahead of him pushed up his timeline and he has taken full advantage. It’s a small sample, but his UZR/150 at second base has actually been positive so far, so there doesn’t seem like any reason to believe he’ll go back to the minors, unless he suffer through an extended slump. With his sky-high walk rate (possibly more impressive than his power), I don’t see him giving up his job.

Christian Walker is another that parlayed an injury ahead of him into every day at-bats, but he wasn’t exactly the prospect Chavis is. Walker used to be a solid prospect, but now at age 28, it appeared that his chances of ever possessing a full-time job were slim. Oops. The only real concern here with regards to his power is that his fly ball pull rate is about half the league average. It’s tough to maintain such a strong HR/FB rate going to center or the opposite way the vast majority of the time.

So David Dahl has been crushing it as per this metric, yet his HR/FB rate sits at just 15% and he’s knocked just three homers. That’s rather shocking considering his fly ball pull rate is around league average (just below it), while his fly ball Hard% is an absurd 70%, which leads baseball. The problem here though is he’s striking out a ton, backed by a miserable SwStk%, he rarely walks, and no matter how sterling his batted ball distribution looks right now, he’s not going to maintain a .435 BABIP. His FB% also sits below 30%, which isn’t what you want from a power hitter, especially one who could take advantage of those flies while calling Coors Field home. So it’s been a mixed season so far, but owners should hold tightly.

In the first WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!??!? on this, Gordon Beckham finds himself ranking 11th. Yes, that Gordon Beckham. The one that was a top prospect like 10 years ago, enjoyed a respectable rookie campaign back in 2009, then saw his wOBA exceed .300 just twice after. Beckham seems to have consciously changed his approach in a last ditch effort to remain employed, as his strikeout rate has skyrocketed above 30%, the first time it has stood above 20% in any season with a reasonable number of at-bats. The strikeouts combined with this newfound power and a career high fly ball pull rate definitely suggests he has transformed himself into a power hitter. Let’s see how long it lasts. At the very least, he’s not going to maintain a .379 BABIP, even though his line drive rate does currently sit at an elite 28.1%.

Nice to see Josh Donaldson’s name on this list to validate his health. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate has now jumped for a third straight seasons, so even with his HR/FB rate just above his career mark, he’s still nowhere near the pace of his peak years.

It’s too bad he’s hurt, but once again, Fernando Tatis Jr. is a reminder that rookies seem to hit the ground running far more often than in the past. And this was a rookie who completely skipped Triple-A and posted a 16.5% SwStk% at Double-A last year!

Just when you thought that 2017 was the fluke in Marcell Ozuna’s career, he rebounds right back to that level after regressing last season.

Wait, how did Howie Kendrick get up to 99 plate appearances, when did he hit six homers and knock in 21 runs?! Where have I been? The 35-year-old has traded liners for fly balls, which is rather dangerous, but it has led to a career best HR/FB rate. Coupled with his best strikeout rate, this has been a nice little late career surge so far.

Though he technically doesn’t have a starting job now, Derek Dietrich has managed to come to the plate 100 times and has posted one of the strangest results so far this season. His HR/FB rate has more than double from his career mark, he’s hitting flies over 50%, compared to his career average of just 39%, he stopped hitting line drives, and his BABIP sits it a paltry .179. Weird weird weird.

I missed Yandy Diaz in my recent newest fly ball revolution members article because of my minimum at-bat filter for 2018, so it’s good to find him here so I could provide my quick thoughts. And those thoughts are GRRRRRRRRRRR. Here’s a guy whose skill set showed so many avenues to reach major fantasy relevancy, but lots had to go right for that to happen, not to mention the guarantee of playing time. There were way too many question marks heading into the season that prevented me from buying in, but needless to say, everything that needed to go right has. He’s still not pulling his flies as often as you would like to see, and there’s still room for improvement in other areas, but man, this is one intriguing skill set.

The sample size for Harrison Bader is the smallest on this list, but his appearance here validates the tantalizing power/speed combination he brings for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, he has struck out too often in the Majors, and he has been caught on all three of his stolen base attempts.

We hoped you liked reading Early 2019 Barrels Per Fly Ball + Line Drive Leaders by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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Jim Dezieck
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Jim Dezieck

If I understand rightly you are suggesting that barrels/(fly+line) is a leading indicator of HR/FB? Or are these guys headed for a major and negative regression in barrels? I thought that HR/FB follows a three year rolling average (BBHQ) and for the few I checked – Dietrich, Kendrick and Walker – their 2019/3-year-mean numbers are – (Walker 19.4/19) (Kendrick 22/15) (Dietrich 24.9/10). These data would suggest that Walker is on point while the other two will see a decreased HR/FB rate going forward. My legs are splayed – love to believe there’s more hr’s to come from these three and that you metric is lighting the way. But don’t want my heart broken again …… Or perhaps I’m just mistaken. Anyway, Walker just showed up in my 12-mixed free agent pool and I’ve got Gurriel currently – scoop? Many thanks.