Hitter FB% Decliners — 8/11/20, A Review

Yesterday, I reviewed the hitters that enjoyed a fly ball rate surge early on in the season to see how they performed the rest of the way. Today, let’s review the decliners. Did they rebound back to their 2019 level or was the early season slump an indication of a season-long decreased FB%?

FB% Decliners
Name 2019 FB% 2020 FB% Through 8/9 Diff 2020 FB% After 8/9 FB% After 8/9 vs Through 8/9 FB% After 8/9 vs 2019
Yandy Diaz 32.0% 7.3% -24.7% 13.6% 6.3% -18.4%
Chris Taylor 34.8% 14.7% -20.1% 32.3% 17.6% -2.5%
Nelson Cruz 40.2% 22.7% -17.5% 33.7% 11.0% -6.5%
Yasmani Grandal 38.0% 20.7% -17.3% 48.7% 28.0% 10.7%
Eric Sogard 42.3% 25.8% -16.5% 35.3% 9.5% -7.0%
Avisail Garcia 31.6% 16.0% -15.6% 29.4% 13.4% -2.2%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 33.1% 17.6% -15.5% 23.5% 5.9% -9.6%
Kyle Seager 43.8% 30.2% -13.6% 55.6% 25.4% 11.8%
Willson Contreras 34.0% 20.8% -13.2% 35.8% 15.0% 1.8%
DJ LeMahieu 26.2% 13.2% -13.0% 23.8% 10.6% -2.4%
Shed Long Jr. 31.3% 18.6% -12.7% 35.1% 16.5% 3.8%
Pete Alonso 41.5% 28.9% -12.6% 47.8% 18.9% 6.3%
Eduardo Escobar 44.6% 32.5% -12.1% 42.7% 10.2% -1.9%
Cesar Hernandez 28.7% 17.1% -11.6% 31.6% 14.5% 2.9%
Mike Trout 49.2% 38.9% -10.3% 54.4% 15.5% 5.2%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 33.4% 23.3% -10.1% 28.9% 5.6% -4.5%

Every single one of the 16 hitters experienced at least a partial rebound in FB%. In fact, 12 of the 16 saw their FB% rebound by at least 10%. Surprisingly, seven of the 16 actually improved their FB% so much over the rest of the season, the RoS mark was actually higher than their 2019 mark! There were only five whose RoS FB% remained meaningfully below their 2019 mark (I’m considering those who lost at least 4.5% from 2019 as “meaningful”). So once again, we learn that when dealing with small samples, no matter what metric we’re looking at, odds are good the hitter ultimately reverts back to historical performance.

After a partial season power breakout in 2019, I was bullish on Yandy Díaz. While I was right in that he not only repeated his HR/FB rate spike, but actually slightly improved it, I was wrong about his ability to sustain his FB% gains. While injury limited him to just 114 at-bats and 97 balls in play, it’s hard to fluke your way into a measly 11.3% FB%. There’s no way of knowing which version of Díaz appears next year, the worm-killing extreme groundballer, or the 2019 power breakout, but it’s going to determine how much fantasy value he’ll earn. His value will either be limited to OBP and AL-Only leagues or be playable in shallow mixed leagues.

I sounded foolish when I proclaimed that we might be seeing early signs of Nelson Cruz’s age-related decline, as most of his metrics rebounded, but his FB% didn’t come all the way back. At age 40 now, do you really want to pay the going rate for a guy whose strikeout rate was the highest of his career, SwStk% the second highest, FB% the lowest, and both EV and maxEV the lowest from the data we have going back to 2015? Nobody noticed these small skill declines because he BABIP’d a ridiculous .360 and posted an insane 41% HR/FB rate. While he’s shown no signs of being human just yet, the downside risk is likely going to make him a bad buy at his cost.

Yasmani Grandal enjoyed the biggest FB% rebound after a groundball heavy start, and he was so fly ball crazy that he posted a mark nearly 11% higher than 2019 over the rest of the season. He ended up posting a full season FB% right in line with his history, which is good, because you don’t want Grandal hitting so many grounders.

Kyle Seager ended up as the second biggest FB% gainer over the rest of the season, which was enough to push him to the top of the RoS leaderboard on this list when compared to 2019. He hit a crazy 55.6% of his balls in the air after the slow fly ball start. The funny thing is, that still wasn’t enough to push his full season FB% up to a career high. That was 51.6%, set back in 2017. All those fly balls weren’t exactly the best strategy though, as his HR/FB rate fell to its lowest since 2013, and his BABIP, which has always been low, fell another notch to a new career low. I’m intrigued by the career best walk rate coupled with a career low strikeout rate though!

Willson Contreras, DJ LeMahieu, Eduardo Escobar and Cesar Hernandez ended up more or less in line with 2019 over the rest of the season.

Pete Alonso got off to an overall poor start, which included a big decline in FB%. Alonso is the epitome of the type of guy you want hitting 40% fly balls, so an early decline deservingly sounded alarm bells. But he also struggled with BABIP, and as a result, his season was underwhelming given what he did during his 2019 rookie season. Does he come at a value next season? We’ll have to see, but his price will clearly come down, making him a much better buy than he was heading into this season.

Let’s talk about Mike Trout. Early on, a lot of his underlying metrics looked very unTrout-like. On the FB% front, he ended up going crazy the rest of the way like Seager, and actually brought his season mark up well above his 2019 mark. While his walk and strikeout rates moved much closer to what we expect from Trout, he still finished with his worst walk and strikeout rates since 2015. The more important concern I raised in my initial blurb is his steals. At that time, he hadn’t attempted one yet. He ended up attempting just two all season, succeeding once. That matters, a lot, because part of what has made him such a consistent top overall pick was that he also swiped double digit bases.

Now fantasy owners will have to decide how much to pay for his consistency, safety, and high floor, because without the double digit steals, his 2021 projection is highly unlikely to result in the highest projected dollar value. It was fine to take him at the top if he remained within a couple of bucks of the highest projected value who may have been higher risk. But what if his projection results in $5 less in projected value?

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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2 years ago

RE: Cruz, yes, I’ll pay for the guy with a 92nd percentile xSLG, 93rd percentile barrel rate, 86th percentile xwOBA. Sure the contact issue is real, but he’s still hitting the snot out of the ball. His max exit velo is down but is still at 114 mph, which is 24th of all qualified hitters. Even with inevitable decline at some point, he’s still really good and likely goes at a DH discount depending on league format. It’s not that we were distracted because of his babip, it’s that we looked at other batted ball metrics. Claiming everybody was fooled due to babip and hr/fb% is weirdly condescending.