Five Potential HR/FB Rate Surgers

So we all know by now that batted ball distance correlates pretty well with HR/FB rate. It’s fairly obvious, as the further the batter hits the ball, the better chance it has of landing on the other side of the fence for a dinger. Adding in the two additional components that compose my xHR/FB rate equation increases the usefulness, but sadly that data is not available just yet. So today, we’ll look at the top of the distance boards and I’ll identify five hitters whose HR/FB rates are out of place, and should be higher, perhaps significantly so.

For reference, the unweighted average HR/FB rate of all hitters with at least 300 feet of fly ball and home run distance was 19.7%.

Potential HR/FB Rate Surgers
Player Distance (Ft) HR/FB
Jose Abreu 315 12.5%
Stephen Piscotty 311 12.5%
Mark Reynolds 306 11.8%
Jayson Werth 305 13.6%
Kendrys Morales 299 9.1%

There’s absolutely no need to worry about Jose Abreu’s somewhat pedestrian start. His batted ball distance ranks seventh highest in baseball, so more of those fly balls will begin leaving the park sooner or later. Aside from a rebound in power, his BABIP should jump, as his batted ball profile is almost identical to last year. I highly doubt you could buy him at a discount, but if you’re an owner, hold tight.

Stephen Piscotty is at it again. In late January, I gushed about his batted ball distance and resultant xHR/FB rate in 2015. Then, his distance finished at 301 feet, which is 10 feet less than where it stands today. And although his HR/FB rate has inched up, it’s far below where you would expect it to be for the man who owns the 12th best distance in baseball. Some of that is Busch Stadium, which sports the fifth lowest right-handed home run park factor. But Piscotty’s Away HR/FB rate isn’t dramatically higher than his home mark. Either Piscotty is due for a serious power surge, or he’s the outlier that is doing something, or not doing something, that my equation and/or batted ball distance alone, is failing to account for. The good news, at least, is that he is proving that last year’s power spike was for real.

With Ben Paulsen now out of the picture, first base in Colorado is all Mark Reynolds‘. We all salivated at the prospect of Reynolds and his huge power playing half his game at Coors field. But 99 at-bats in, and he has just two homers and a career low HR/FB rate. It’s certainly not due to Reynolds not hitting the ball far, as his distance mark ranks 21st in baseball and it represents his highest since 2010, when he posted a nearly 20% HR/FB rate. Coors Field also reduces strikeouts, which hasn’t shown up yet in Reynolds’ strikeout rate, while his fly ball rate shoudl rebound somewhat, although Coors also boosts line drive rate. So there are multiple paths to power improvement. He could eek out some 12-team mixed league value, even despite the imminent regression of his insane .484 BABIP.

We can never be sure anymore how healthy the 36-year-old Jayson Werth is, but a 300+ batted ball distance certainly suggests he’s good to go. Amazingly, that would mark the highest distance since I have data for, going back to 2007. It makes him less likely to sustain such distance, but in the event that he does manage to, that HR/FB rate should be on the rise. Since his fly ball rate is also sitting at a career high at 50%, the home run upside could be substantial.

Kendrys Morales obviously knew he would be the subject of this article, so he homered last night, which is going to push his HR/FB rate a little closer to where it should be given his distance. That 299 foot distance would represent a career high, going back to 2009. And yet his HR/FB rate was sitting at the second lowest of his career heading into last night’s games! Like Werth, he’s also hitting more fly balls, which will help drive his home run total even higher once his HR/FB rate rebounds. Also like Werth, Morales is looking for a BABIP surge to get his batting average back into respectable territory.

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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Bryce harper hr/fb 25.6%, average fly ball 284 ft, #119 in majors.