Fly Ball Revolution Joiners — 9/2/20

An underreported avenue to increased home run output is FB%. It’s one of the three variables that directly drive HR/AB, along with strikeout and HR/FB rates. Since the denominator in fly ball rate is all balls in play, it stabilizes much more quickly than HR/FB rate, which uses the smaller denominator of just fly balls. So when evaluating a significant HR/AB change, put more weight on fluctuations in FB% than HR/FB rate when determining how sustainable the change is. With that background out of the way, let’s identify and discuss the hitters who have raised their FB% marks the most versus last season.

FB% Gainers
Name 2019 FB% 2020 FB% Diff
Niko Goodrum 31.5% 48.4% 16.9%
Luke Voit 34.7% 45.8% 11.1%
Tommy La Stella 33.2% 43.8% 10.6%
Jean Segura 27.1% 37.3% 10.2%
Alex Gordon 30.7% 40.8% 10.1%
Ryan McMahon 27.9% 37.5% 9.6%
Trevor Story 42.3% 51.4% 9.1%
Joey Gallo 47.2% 55.9% 8.7%
George Springer 35.7% 44.4% 8.7%
Max Muncy 38.7% 47.3% 8.6%
Giovanny Urshela 33.4% 41.9% 8.5%
Andrew McCutchen 36.6% 44.7% 8.1%
Matt Chapman 43.1% 51.1% 8.0%

Who guessed Niko Goodrum would lead baseball — by far — in FB% gain? In his previous two seasons, his high was just 33%, so this is a massive gain. It looks like he may have completely changed his approach too, as his strikeout rate has skyrocketed, while his SwStk% also sits at a career high. With a .286 wOBA, the apparent sell out for power hasn’t worked out very well just yet, though fantasy owners can’t complain about five homers and steals.

Remember that ridiculous 132 at-bat stretch Luke Voit enjoyed during his Yankees debut in 2018? His power output has returned to that insane level. And since he has raised his FB% above 40% to a career high, his actual power has been even more impressive, even if he’s hitting homers on his flies at about the same rate as that stretch. It’s pretty amazing that he has been able to keep his BABIP over .300 despite the fact he’s hitting so many more flies and is pretty slow.

Tommy La Stella’s FB% jump is making it look like he’s repeating last year’s power output, but it’s an illusion. His HR/FB has been cut in half, but you wouldn’t realize it because of all those extra fly balls plus an elite strikeout rate that easily sits at a new career best. He’s a good example of why it’s so important to look at all the variables driving home runs.

Jean Segura, power hitter. It happened onced, back in 2016, but he has fallen back ever since. Now he’s trying again, but this time pairing the increased HR/FB rate (now at a career high!) with a FB% above 30% for the first time.

Alex Gordon is still playing?

More fly balls when Coors Field is home is a really good thing, but Ryan McMahon is offsetting the goodness by strikeing out so often. I still want to take advantage of his homestands, as his home/away splits are insane.

Trevor Story has always been a fly ball hitter, but this year he has taken that tendency to another level. That he has combined the FB% gain with a reduction in strikeout rate is exciting.

Joey Gallo is back to hitting everything in the air, pushing his FB% above 50% for the first time since 2017. Unfortunately, his HR/FB rate has tumbled and sits at a career low. On the positive side, his strikeout rate is also at a career low, and his SwStk% has declined every single season since his debut. Perhaps there’s hope for a sub-30% strikeout rate eventually! Though whether it negatively affects his power will be the big question.

Everything looks good for George Springer, who happens to be suffering from a measly .209 BABIP. The increased FB% certainly hurts that mark, but not by this much!

This isn’t totally new for Max Muncy, as he posted a 54.9% FB% during his 2015 debut over 102 at-bats. Unfortunately, the high FB%, combined with a low LD%, is killing his BABIP.

Was Giovanny Urshela’s surprise 2019 breakout real? So far, he’s convincing us the answer is yes. Not only has he increased his FB%, but his HR/FB rate has even jumped from last year’s spike. Even more impressive, his walk rate has more than doubled off last year’s low level. He’s looking like the real deal.

Andrew McCutchen’s FB% gains are being watered down by his first single digit HR/FB rate since 2010. He has also stopped walking, as his walk rate is about half his career mark and the first time it’s dipped into single digits. An early sign of massive age-related decline? His SwStk% is also at its best mark since 2010, so that gives us hope this is just some randomness over a small sample.

It’s been a weird season for Matt Chapman, whose walk rate has plummeted, strikeout rate and SwStk% spiked, and is hitting fly balls and pop-ups all over the place. His HR/FB rate keeps rising though, so I don’t think anyone’s complaining.

We hoped you liked reading Fly Ball Revolution Joiners — 9/2/20 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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How does Hosmer not make the list? He’s up over 15 points in FB% (and not coincidentally having his best season ever)