Hitter FB% Decliners — 8/11/20

Yesterday, I identified and discussed the hitters who have increased their FB% by at least 10% compared to last season. That’s a good thing for the hitters’ home run potential, assuming all their other metrics remain stable. Today, we’ll look at the decliners, those hitters whose FB% marks have fallen the most versus last season. While this might raise their BABIP expectations, it’s bad news for their home run potential, unless their FB% reverts back to previous levels.

FB% Decliners
Name 2019 FB% 2020 FB% Diff
Yandy Diaz 32.0% 7.3% -24.7%
Chris Taylor 34.8% 14.7% -20.1%
Nelson Cruz 40.2% 22.7% -17.5%
Yasmani Grandal 38.0% 20.7% -17.3%
Eric Sogard 42.3% 25.8% -16.5%
Avisail Garcia 31.6% 16.0% -15.6%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 33.1% 17.6% -15.5%
Kyle Seager 43.8% 30.2% -13.6%
Willson Contreras 34.0% 20.8% -13.2%
DJ LeMahieu 26.2% 13.2% -13.0%
Shed Long 31.3% 18.6% -12.7%
Pete Alonso 41.5% 28.9% -12.6%
Eduardo Escobar 44.6% 32.5% -12.1%
Cesar Hernandez 28.7% 17.1% -11.6%
Mike Trout 49.2% 38.9% -10.3%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 33.4% 23.3% -10.1%

My gosh Yandy Diaz, so much for your power breakout last year! Pre-2019, Diaz was an extreme ground ball hitter, but even when he put the ball in the air, he only managed to knock those flies over the fence at a low rate. Until last year. He raised his FB% over 30% for the first time in his career and pushed his HR/FB rate into the high teens, setting another career high. This year, all those gains seemed to have vanished. He holds a ridiculous 73.2%/7.3% GB/FB ratio, and not surprisingly, he hasn’t homered on any of his three flies. I was bullish on a repeat for Diaz, but he has no chance of repeating if he’s rarely hitting fly balls. Might as well hold him in AL-Only OBP leagues, but that’s about it.

We keep expecting the Nelson Cruz age-based decline to occur any season now, but he just keeps raking. Well folks, that decline might actually be happening now, and you don’t even realize it. Both his strikeout rate and SwStk% are up at career highs, his walk rate has plummeted, and his FB% is slightly more than half his 2019 rate. Losing contact skills and the ability to lift the ball seem like signs of decline, but it’s all overshadowed by a .450 BABIP and 40% HR/FB rate, neither of which will last. The season is short, so he still might not show much decline by the time the season ends. But these are the most obvious signs in years that the decline is coming…unless, of course, this is all just small sample size stuff, which it very well could be.

Yasmani Grandal’s FB% has remained amazingly consistent since 2014, ranging narrowly between 37.3% and 41.7%, so seeing this drop is alarming. His strikeout rate has also skyrocketed, but his SwStk% has risen as much. It’s been a weird season for Grandal so far with no homers, but a 37.9% LD%. In fact, he has seemingly traded flies for liners, which is weird and unsustainable. It’s actually better than trading flies for grounders though, so curious how this plays out.

Avisail Garcia’s batted ball type distribution this season is looking like vintage Christian Yelich. Perhaps Yelich could remind him of the benefits of hitting more flies. Garcia did raise his FB% over 30% the last two seasons after it sat in the mid-20% every season previously, but he’s never been sub-20%. He’s worthless in fantasy leagues if he’s hitting so few fly balls.

I bought into the Spring/Summer performance of Isiah Kiner-Falefa thinking he made actual adjustments that were behind the hot hitting. So far, none of it has manifested yet during the actual season. He hasn’t homered, sports just a .119 ISO (though admittedly, that’s better than his tiny .084 mark last year), and has rarely hit a fly ball. He’s made up for it for fantasy owners by swiping four bases, and he’s hitting .333, so he has definitely earning his cost so far, but not exactly in the way we expected. Since he’s catcher eligible, owners should hold him all season long and whatever happens, happens.

It was easy to call last season’s power outburst by DJ LeMahieu a fluke, even if his underlying skills backed up the results. This year, he’s hitting so few flies, it’s going to be near impossible to come anywhere close to a repeat, unless of course he could manage to keep his strikeout rate sub-10% for the first time in his career, and maintain a near 30% HR/FB rate. Both of those are highly unlikely, so he’ll need that FB% to rebound.

With both power and speed, Shed Long was one of several cheap Mariners hitters with major upside. So far, he’s doing a little of everything as expected, but his FB% has taken a dive, leaving him with just one homer. He’s also not hitting line drives, so his lost flies and liners have become grounders, which just isn’t very productive. As an owner in multiple leagues, I’ll hope his 30%+ rates in the minors returns.

Man, Pete Alonso is certainly one of the early season’s biggest disappointments, as he has regressed in multiple metrics. In his entire professional career, his FB% had never dipped below 40%, so it’s shocking to see it currently stand below 30%. I think the fly ball rate is the biggest concern now, as the HR/FB rate will bounce around over a small sample and his SwStk% is almost identical to last year, but his strikeout rate has spiked, so I expected an improved mark moving forward.

You would have no idea by just looking at the results, but Mike Trout hasn’t been vintage Mike Trout yet this season. Aside from a FB% that sits at its lowest since 2016, his walk rate has been more than cut in half, while his strikeout rate has surged to its highest since 2014 at the second highest mark of his career. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for him to attempt his first steal, as the promise of double digit steals every year is what keeps him as a top three pick. Without the steals, he remains a first rounder, but loses significant 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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Urban Shocker
3 years ago

I just don’t see how you’ve got anywhere near the PA, much less BIP, to draw any conclusions on the above chart. https://library.fangraphs.com/principles/sample-size/

For instance, you could also write an article saying Trout has the highest HR/FB of his career, but he has 16 FB, not even 50% of the 50 FB suggested.

3 years ago
Reply to  Urban Shocker

Agreed. Looking at Trout specifically you can find several months over his career where his FB% dipped this low – April of 2019, May of 2018, Sept of 2016, etc. Heck, if we want to microassess it, he had a FB% of 29.4% in July that is already back up to 47.8% in Aug .

I get it that Mike has to write about something, but the comments are much too strong given the SSS issues at this point. I would take this piece as something to keep an eye on, not “Well folks, that decline might actually be happening now, and you don’t even realize it.” for Nelson Cruz for example.

Urban Shocker
3 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Agreed-“here are some interesting trends” to keep an eye on in the early season would be more defensible. But if any Trout owners out there are ready to throw in the towel, I’d be happy to help them.

3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

Totally agree Mike…..lets separate Trout “the player” from MT the 1st round draft pick. He’s not stealing bases which loses value as a top pick. Consistency does put him there but he is not swiping bags.
Correct me if I’m wrong…one example is Tom Brady…..he may be the goat but his fantasy numbers were rarely in the top 5. Later…

3 years ago
Reply to  Krog

If Trout stops running I agree he will lose some value. But I’d still take the floor at 1 overall next year. Trout has basically never had a bad month ever, look at the start Yelich and Acuna were on a couple weeks ago. To everyone who says “it doesn’t matter in 5×5 when streaks occur ” I disagree entirely. Sure counting stats ending up the same, and its not like you would ever sit someone whose drafted in the first round, but it forces you to be more aggressive in FAAB or waiver wire that can hurt your lineup/position in standings at a later date. Consistency matters. While Acuna/Yelich seem to be coming around, they are the 68th/268ths overall hitter this year, where as Trout is the 9th. Yelichs numbers should be worse as well, as he got one of the most generous scoring I have ever seen on an inside the park home run. The base on ball percentage and K percentage change is weird, I admit, but he has made up for it by making much better contact when he does hit the ball.

3 years ago
Reply to  carter

Also I’d mention Trout seemingly decides to steal bases a lot more some years than other years. It has had a pretty wide fluctuation over the years, and you’d think his fluctuating weight has something to do with it, but he seems to steal more on his heavier seasons, so who knows.