Fly Ball Revolution Departers — 9/3/20

Yesterday, I identified and discussed the qualified hitters who had raised their fly ball rates (FB%) the most versus last season. All else being equal, more fly balls leads to more home runs. Fantasy owners like home runs. Unfortunately, not every hitter has decided they wanted to participate in the fly ball revolution. So let’s check out the hitters who have sadly departed and experienced the biggest declines in FB% versus last season. This could help explain disappointing home run totals so far.

FB% Decliners
Name 2019 FB% 2020 FB% Diff
Yandy Diaz 32.0% 11.3% -20.7%
Chris Taylor 34.8% 18.9% -15.9%
Adam Eaton 40.4% 25.3% -15.1%
Austin Riley 48.8% 34.2% -14.6%
Carlos Correa 39.6% 26.6% -13.0%
Aaron Hicks 40.8% 29.0% -11.8%
Brian Anderson 35.3% 24.2% -11.1%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 33.1% 23.7% -9.4%
Jeimer Candelario 39.8% 30.5% -9.3%
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 42.9% 33.7% -9.2%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 33.1% 24.1% -9.0%
Eduardo Escobar 44.6% 35.6% -9.0%

Yandy Diaz’s arms made us dream of his power potential, but it was challenging for him to showcase it when he has been such an extreme ground ball hitter in the past. Then last year, he raised his FB% over 30% for the first time, and paired that jump with a career high 17.5% HR/FB rate. While there was no telling whether the FB% gains were sustainable, the underlying metrics supported the HR/FB rate surge. Unfortunately, he has gone right back to his ground balling ways, as his FB% sits at the lowest mark among hitters with at least 50 PA. That, along with zero pop-ups, has boosted his BABIP to .347, but he has also hit just two homers, even though his HR/FB rate is in-line with last year’s spike. Unless and until he proves he could post a 30%+ FB% again, he’ll only earn value in deep leagues, particularly those that count OBP instead of average.

For someone with Adam Eaton’s skill set, it made little sense for him to be hitting fly balls at a 40% rate. This year, he’s more or less back to normal in batted ball type distribution, though oddly his BABIP has fallen to a career low, bringing his wOBA down with it. His strikeout rate is near a career high, but everything else looks superb. A solid buy target for the last couple of weeks.

You own Austin Riley strictly for his power, so it’s not a good sign when his FB% has declined so dramatically. Of course, it was silly to expect a repeat of that 48.8% rate from last year, but this represents more significant regression than what we would have guessed. The good news here is his strikeout rate has dipped below 30%, which is where he really needs to be, especially given his paltry walk rate (otherwise his OBP would be even sadder than it already is).

Since posting sub-30% fly ball rates during his first two seasons, Carlos Correa had increased that mark each season from 2016 to 2019, peaking at last year’s 39.6%. His current mark now would represent a career low. Also oddly, his HR/FB rates have bounced like a yo-yo, jumping back and forth between 20%+ and the mid-teens each season. This is his even year teen HR/FB rate performance, I guess. Of course, it’s tempting to call it a result of BangGate, but I don’t get into such speculation.

Man, I really wanted to believe that Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a new hitter after talk of his changed approach during Spring and Summer. Nothing in his profile suggests that he is indeed a new hitter though, and the power has been as lowly as it always has been. I’ll keep holding in my AL-Only league solely because of the steals and the lack of any semblance of a reasonable replacement option.

A 50% rise in HR/FB rate has offset a big decline in FB% for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who probably qualifies as a disappointment once again for fantasy owners. It’s so odd to see him struggling to hit fly balls, and unfortunately he doesn’t have the speed to make any sense as a ground ball hitter. He still needs to get some things worked out before we see an offensive explosion, but at just 21 years old still, he’s got plenty of time to do so.

Eduardo Escobar’s power breakout over the last three seasons was fueled by a FB% that hopped over 40%, along with HR/FB rates hitting double digits. His FB% is now back to pre-breakout levels, though he has maintained most of his HR/FB rate gains. Right now, his disappointing performance is almost entirely due to a .216 BABIP, which if there was more time left, would be a near guarantee to return toward his career average.

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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Alec Dentonmember
3 years ago

Candelario’s 2020 FB% is down almost ten percent from both his 2019 FB% and career FB%, but he currently is running a career season high wRC+ (131). A BABIP eighty points higher than his career BABIP may be part of that.