Hitter Average FB/LD Exit Velocity Surgers — 8/3/20, A Review

After only about a week and a half of the season, I decided to peruse the average fly ball + line drive exit velocity (let’s just call it EV in this article) leaderboard and compare the then-current marks to 2019. Even though the sample was tiny, perhaps we could get an early read on some breakout hitters by identifying the early surgers. So let’s review the original list of surgers and find out how these hitters performed the rest of the way. Did their EV remain at those elevated marks, rise even higher, or regress right back down to or toward their 2019 marks?

FB/LD EV Surgers
Player 2019 EV 2020 EV Through 8/1 Diff 2020 EV After 8/1 EV After 8/1 vs Through 8/1 EV After 8/1 vs 2019
Chris Taylor 90.1 101.6 11.5 94.8 -6.8 4.7
C.J. Cron 96.2 105.1 8.9 94.3 -10.8 -1.9
Kolten Wong 89.3 97.9 8.6 88.8 -9.1 -0.5
Miguel Cabrera 92.3 100.7 8.4 95.1 -5.6 2.8
Corey Seager 93.3 100.9 7.6 97.7 -3.2 4.4
Eloy Jimenez 96.6 103.5 6.9 96.9 -6.6 0.3
Hunter Renfroe 94.6 101.2 6.6 95.1 -6.1 0.5
Colin Moran 93.3 99.8 6.5 95.6 -4.2 2.3
Ian Happ 95.5 101.8 6.3 93.8 -8.0 -1.7
Elvis Andrus 90.6 96.1 5.5 93.5 -2.6 2.9
Brian Goodwin 91.1 96.4 5.3 93.0 -3.4 1.9
Trent Grisham 91.0 96.3 5.3 93.6 -2.7 2.6
Shed Long Jr. 91.2 96.4 5.2 93.8 -2.6 2.6

All 13 hitters suffered a decline in EV after August 1, and the minimum decline was 2.6 MPH. As exciting as it is to see your fantasy player’s EV spike in the early going, remember that the regression monster is a powerful beast and the overwhelming odds show those gains are unlikely to last. However, if we check out the last column, where I compared the after August 1 EV to 2019, we find that eight of the 13 hitters still managed to post an EV at least 1.0 MPH higher than 2019, suggesting that the early gains did indeed signal something, just not to the same degree. So perhaps those early gains shouldn’t be completely ignored, just not expected to be sustained to such an extreme. Interestingly, three hitters actually saw their EVs settle in below their 2019 marks.

Chris Taylor was the early EV surge leader, as the only hitter gaining double digits. He couldn’t come close to maintaining that 100+ mark, but still managed to hold onto nearly half his gains and lead the pack in Post Aug 1 vs 2019 EV. Though he didn’t enter the year with a starting role, he found enough time between the infield and outfield, plus DH, to essentially record a full season’s worth of plate appearances in what ended up being a nice rebound season of a 2018 and 2019 dip from his 2017 breakout.

C.J. Cron only appeared in five more games before his season ended prematurely due to a knee injury. If healthy, don’t forget about him next year.

Though it was only a small decline, Kolten Wong was one of three hitters on this list whose EV dropped compared to 2019 after his early 2020 surge. He ended up posting a mere 2.3% HR/FB rate and was off his 2019 stolen base pace as well, so he was quite a disappointment considering he hit leadoff the majority of the season.

I was intrigued by Miguel Cabrera’s early EV spike, and although it didn’t last, he did post a meaningfully higher mark the rest of the way versus 2019. And surprise, surprise, his HR/FB rate spiked to its highest mark since 2016, marking only the second time it reached at least 20% since 2013. His BABIP hit a new career low though, resulting in just a .250 average, so he wasn’t worth all that much anyway, but it was nice to see him regain some of his lost power. He still hits a ton of line drives and maintains a strong batted ball distribution, so it’s hard to believe his BABIP is going to stay below .300. Perhaps he’s not done quite yet as a fantasy contributor in deeper mixed leagues.

Corey Seager was the second best performer of the rest of the year, as even though he also couldn’t hold onto all his early gains, he still gained the second most EV versus 2019 the rest of the way. Sure enough, it led to a surprise performance spike, as his HR/FB rate rose above 20% for the first time, en route to his highest wOBA since his 2015 debut in a small sample. With no speed, he’ll have to show this power again to return to the top of the crop among shortstops.

Eloy Jiménez settled right back down to his 2019 mark after the early season outburst, but his HR/FB rate jumped above 30%, as he did his best to offset a lowly sub-30% FB%. It’s baffling that a hitter with his power would hit so many ground balls, but at least we could look at the mix between grounders and flies and feel there’s home run upside if he hits more fly balls.

Even if you thought Colin Moran’s July was a total fluke, when he hit four homers and posted a 57.1% HR/FB rate, he still finished stronger than ever the rest of the way. He posted an 18.2% HR/FB rate in August and 22.2% mark the rest of the way, so although he suffered regression as expected, all those HR/FB rates were significantly above his previous two seasons around 11%. That’s not to say that this is confirmation his performance is for real and we should expect a HR/FB rate in the 20% range next year, of course. What’s interesting is that while his early season EV backed his home run outburst, that EV wasn’t massively higher than 2019 the rest of the way, even though his HR/FB rate essentially doubled. Even with the power surge, all his other numbers combined to make him not worth a whole lot anyway in shallow mixed leagues. He could thank his teammates, as the Pirates were the lowest scoring team in baseball, which hurt his RBI and runs scored totals and reduced his plate appearances as the lineup turned over less frequently.

If you exclude Cron because of injury, then Ian Happ was the only hitter on the list to actually lose over a mile per hour of EV compared to 2019 over the rest of the way. He still finished similarly to 2019, except his FB% plummeted, which took a bite out of his home run total.

I’ll be mad at myself all offseason for not rostering Trent Grisham, as I was a big fan, but worried about his playing time and figured at best he’d be in a platoon (albeit on the strong side). Grisham couldn’t maintain his early season EV, but still held onto about half his gains the rest of the way en route to a very profitable fantasy season given his likely cost. He’s another ultra passive hitter who strikes out a lot not because of his inability to make contact, but because he simply doesn’t swing that often. If he swung at more pitches inside the zone, his walk rate might decline slightly, but his strikeout rate would decline more, and more balls in play could result in an even higher wOBA and fantasy production.

Sheesh, so much for Shed Long Jr., sleeper deluxe. As a keeper league owner, I was excited by his early season EV surge, and while he maintained half those gains the rest of the way, a terrible batted ball profile heavy on grounders and pop-ups and low on line drives, resulted in a weak BABIP, resulting in lost playing time before an injury ended his season. With Ty France now in the mix, he’ll probably need to impress in spring training to reestablish himself a part of the team’s future.

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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3 years ago

I agree Miggy is a conundrum. He still hits tons of line drives and hits the ball hard. HIs chase rate (something I always key on for aging hitters) spiked last year but went down this year to a level consistent with past years. OTOH he’ll be 38 next year and has posted a cumulative .267/.342/.406 line over 1,466 PA the last 4 years for a .321 wOBA. HIs contact rate plummeted this year but almost all of the drop came from z-contact which isn’t really a bad thing. His SwStr% skyrocketed to a new career high and dragged his overall K% to the highest level since his rookie year.