Hitter FB% Changes — Jun 24, 2024

A hitter’s fly ball rate is important to track because the vast majority of home runs are hit via that batted ball type. In fact, according to Statcast’s batted ball type buckets, there have been 10 times more home runs hit on fly balls than on line drives since 2022. So let’s find out which hitters have seen their FB% marks change the most compared to last year, which could explain a jump or dip in home run totals, compared to expectations at this point in the season.

FB% Gainers
Name 2023 FB% 2024 FB%* Diff
Elly De La Cruz 21.8% 35.5% 13.7%
Mike Tauchman 29.1% 42.6% 13.5%
Gabriel Moreno 22.0% 35.0% 13.0%
Seiya Suzuki 34.4% 47.1% 12.7%
Ezequiel Tovar 33.8% 46.0% 12.2%
Tyler O’Neill 38.0% 50.0% 12.0%
*Stats as of 6/21

Despite posting a fantastic 24.5% HR/FB rate during his rookie debut last year, Elly De La Cruz managed to hit just 13 home runs in 427 PAs. You can thank that lowly FB%, which is typical of a slap-hitting speedster, not a guy that owns 60/70 Raw Power and posts an absurd maxEV of around 119 MPH. This year, he tops our FB% leaderboard, bringing that mark much more in line with where it should be, given his power. His HR/FB rate is down a bit, but he has still hit just one less home run in 110 fewer PAs, all because of those additional fly balls. While he could afford to hit more line drives like he did last year, he needs to be at this FB% level as he has more than enough power to take advantage.

Mike Tauchman graces the injured list right now and might not return for a while. While he was on the field, he was posting the highest FB% of his professional career…by far. Of course, you probably didn’t notice because his HR/FB rate slipped to just 6.9%, so he’s a good example of a guy who might not actually have the power to make it worth hitting so many flies.

Gabriel Moreno is still hitting grounders, but traded line drives for fly balls, similar to De La Cruz above. But like Tauchman, he hasn’t taken advantage of all those extra flies, as his HR/FB rate stands at just 5.4%. At least he’s upped his walk rate and reduced his strikeout rate, but you didn’t notice because his BABIP has collapsed, so even with the additional balls in play, he’s hitting just .230. I like most of these changes though for his future offensive potential, but catchers are always impossible to predict.

Seiya Suzuki has posted monster maxEV marks and double digit Barrel% marks, yet his HR/FB rate has languished in the low-to-mid teens. What gives?! He’s become an extreme fly ball hitter this year, which looks like it could work given the aforementioned strong marks, but with just a 12.3% HR/FB rate, he’s only slightly above last year’s pace. I can’t imagine he sustains a .331 BABIP with this FB%, but his power metrics look realllllly good (including an elite HardHit%), so there’s seemingly some serious home run upside here, and he’s now got the FB% to take advantage.

So that’s why Ezequiel Tovar is only three home runs below his total last year in just over half the PAs! His HR/FB rate has barely moved, his maxEV is down, his Barrel% is right around his career average, yet he’s now on pace for about 25 home runs. Playing half his games at hitter friendly Coors Field, it makes sense to hit more fly balls to take advantage of the thin air. It’s too bad his plate discipline still stinks and it’s hard to believe that .362 BABIP sticks given all the flies. However, as long as he keeps hitting all those flies, the home run total is real.

After peaking in 2021, Tyler O’Neill’s HR/FB rate had dropped for two straight seasons, before rebounding forcefully this year so far. Simultaneously, he has upped his FB% to the highest of his career and since it’s come at the expense of line drives, while also hitting more pop-ups, it sure looks like he’s selling out for power. This is even more evident when you see his increased strikeout rate. Perhaps he was motivated to make a change after his last two disappointing seasons, and while it looks a bit messy, it has worked so far.

FB% Decliners
Name 2023 FB% 2024 FB%* Diff
Jack Suwinski 53.6% 37.6% -16.0%
José Caballero 47.9% 34.3% -13.6%
Harrison Bader 46.8% 33.3% -13.4%
Luis Rengifo 36.4% 23.2% -13.2%
Brice Turang 39.4% 27.7% -11.7%
J.T. Realmuto 42.4% 31.1% -11.3%
*Stats as of 6/21

Welp, Jack Suwinski is definitely not the name you expect to see topping this list, as he owns a career 18% HR/FB rate and 12.9% Barrel%. So he certainly has the power to take advantage of a high FB%, and now he’s right at the league average. Usually, a decline in FB% would benefit a hitter’s BABIP. But here, Suwinski’s BABIP has cratered to just .223. Since his HR/FB rate is also down in combination with his FB%, it means he’s not hitting for power, and also not hitting for BABIP. As a strong side platooner on a weak offense, there’s just not enough upside here to keep holding.

Uhhh yeah, José Caballero had no business posting a 47.9% FB% last year while recording just a 5% HR/FB rate. The latter has increased a bit this year, but he’s no power hitter. This is much closer to where his batted ball distribution should land. Sure enough, his BABIP has jumped above .300, but because he’s striking out more and stopped walking, he’s actually lost some wOBA from an already low baseline last year.

After two straight half seasons with a HR/FB rate in the mid-single digits, it was probably time for Harrison Bader to stop posting a mid-40% FB%. At least from 2019 to 2021, he posted low teen HR/FB rates to go with his low-40% HR/FB rate, but now that the power has disappeared, he needed to get his batted ball profile to match his current skill set. That’s exactly what he’s done so far this year, trading flies for line drives, and his BABIP has jumped to its highest since 2020. Of course, it’s still only resulted in a .299 wOBA, but that’s better than the last two years!

Luis Rengifo was never alarmingly high on the FB% scale given his home run power, so it’s odd to see his FB% plunge this season. What’s also odd is to see his Barrel% sitting at a microscopic 1.6%, yet he’s still managed a 9.5% HR/FB rate and four home runs. With a reduced strikeout rate as well, he looks like a completely new hitter. Owners expected some power with a tiny touch of speed have instead received a tiny touch of power and lots of speed. The overall value has been there, it’s just come in an entirely different shape than expected.

Brice Turang was another powerless guy who posted a FB% well above where he should have given his skill set. He’s corrected his batted ball distribution and what do ya know, his BABIP has rocketed from .268 to .338! He has also continued to supply the occasional blast and since he’s run wild this year, swiping the same number of bases already in 160 fewer PAs compared to last year, he’s been quite the cheap gem.

Surprisingly, J.T. Realmuto is really the first name on either list that mostly appears here because of last year’s FB%. Last season, he actually posted a career high, with his first mark over 40%. This year, he’s proving that last year was just a one season fluke, though now his FB% is the second lowest of his career, and lowest since all the way back in 2016. All his other power metrics are normal, so there could be an additional homer or two if he gets his FB% back up to his career mark in the mid-30% range.

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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