ESPN Home Run Tracker Analysis: The 2016 HR/FB Upsiders – A Review

Yesterday, I reviewed the list of players my ESPN Home Run tracker analysis suggested had significant HR/FB rate downside this season. So today I’m going to check in on the group of players I identified as possessing serious upside. I would imagine this group would have done well simply due to the league-wide power surge. Let’s find out if that was indeed the case.

The JE+Lucky % HR/FB Upsiders
Name 2015 HR/FB 2015 JE+Lucky % 2016 HR/FB 2016 HR/FB – 2015 HR/FB
Jedd Gyorko 13.7% 12.5% 24.4% 10.7%
Jonathan Schoop 17.4% 13.3% 14.9% -2.5%
Brian McCann 14.9% 15.4% 13.7% -1.2%
Chris Carter 18.9% 16.7% 23.8% 4.9%
Justin Bour 21.5% 17.4% 19.2% -2.3%
Albert Pujols 17.8% 17.5% 15.0% -2.8%
Giancarlo Stanton 32.1% 18.5% 22.7% -9.4%
Adam Jones 16.8% 18.5% 14.1% -2.7%
Rougned Odor 11.8% 18.8% 17.0% 5.2%
Nolan Arenado 18.5% 19.0% 16.8% -1.7%
The average JE + Lucky % was 36.5% for the group I plucked my downside candidates from

Jedd Gyorko had to be one of the most surprising 30-homer hitters this season, especially since he entered the year without a full-time job. But injuries propelled him into the lineup and he ended up amassing around the same number of plate appearances he has recorded in the previous two seasons. Aside from enjoying the HR/FB rate surge, he also improved his strikeout rate to a career best mark, as well as his fly ball rate. That all combined for a home run spike, and yet it only resulted in a .339 wOBA. With his defensive flexibility, perhaps he’ll reach the 500 plate appearance level in 2017 for the first time since his 2013 rookie campaign.

Jonathan Schoop finally got a full season’s worth of plate appearances in and did what we expected after his power spike last year. But both his fly ball rate and HR/FB rate fell. I’m also skeptical of his newfound BABIP skills given his serious penchant for the pop-up.

Has there been a more consistent hitter from a HR/FB rate perspective than Brian McCann? His HR/FB rate has sat between 12% and 16.3% every single season since 2008! And that 16.3% career high was a blip, while his second highest mark posted in 2015 was as well. Exclude those two years and he has never been above 13.7%, which is a very narrow range. With Gary Sanchez’s emergence, it will be interesting to see how the catcher/DH at-bats play out next season.

Without massive power, Chris Carter is worthless to fantasy owners given a perennially scary batting average. This analysis gave us hope that the power would rebound, and sure enough, it did to the tune of a career best home run mark and his highest HR/FB rate since 2012. Now playing half his games in the third best park for right-handed home runs, perhaps he could stay at this level.

Justin Bour was limited to just 321 plate appearances due to injuries in his follow-up to a surprising 2015, but he came close to replicating the power. While his HR/FB rate actually did fall, he didn’t regress as much as one may have expected him to. The power being sustained was made even more impressive given that he also improved his SwStk% and strikeout rate.

It was hard to believe that Albert Pujols, at age 36, was set to increase his HR/FB rate from a 2015 mark that represented his best since 2011. So I was skeptical, despite his name appearing here. His HR/FB rate did indeed regress, but it remained above his down years from 2012 to 2014. Somehow, he still managed his highest RBI total since 2009.

Another year, another Giancarlo Stanton injury. Pretty crazy that he appeared on the list to begin with considering he was coming off a 32.1% HR/FB rate, which represented a career high. He makes for a good example of the weakness in this type of analysis. Rather than make the difficult improvement from the 30%+ HR/FB rate from 2015, he actually dropped to his second lowest mark of his career. Combine that with a career low BABIP and he was quite the fantasy disappointment. Perhaps he’ll come cheaper than ever in 2017 drafts and auctions and suddenly make him a good buy for a change.

In only one month this season did Adam Jones match or exceed his HR/FB rate from last year. His 14.1% mark marked his worst since 2010, but since he paired it was a career high FB% and his best strikeout rate, his home run total wasn’t affected. The odd thing is that improved strikeout rate was driven by a…career high SwStk%?! How does one ensure that don’t strike out more often if they’re swinging and missing at career high rates? By swinging like never before, of course! His Swing%, already at inflated rates in the past, jumped further to a new career high and actually led baseball. It’s amazing to me that this approach has been decently successful for so long. But perhaps we’re seeing the first chinks in the armor, as his wOBA was essentially league average this year at .319.

Finally, a true hit! Rougned Odor enjoyed the type of full season that his performance post-demotion last year suggested he was capable of. Though he struck out more frequently, he bumped up his fly ball rate and the HR/FB rate surged. Add double digit steals and a batting average with upside thanks to a mere league average BABIP, and you have a potential five-category contributor at second base.

Nolan Arenado’s HR/FB rate fell, but maybe this analysis validated that his power was for real and would be closer to his 2015 output than his 2014. It’s still amazing to me that even calling Coors Field home, he hasn’t been able to post a BABIP above .296. One of these years he’s going to hit well above .300.

Well this was a pretty disappointing performance for this list! Of the 10 hitters, only three actually improved their HR/FB rates, which is even more surprising given the league power spike. With the exception of Giancarlo Stanton, all the decliners only fell by small amounts, while the biggest movers were the improvers. So hey, maybe there is some value here. But to be honest, the results of yesterday’s combined with today’s is convincing me to just stop looking at ESPN Home Run Tracker. It makes much more sense to look at all fly balls, rather than just home runs.

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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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