Hitter FB% Decliners — Through May 20, 2023

Last Thursday, I reviewed and discussed the hitters whose FB% has increased the most versus last year. Now let’s flip to the FB% decliners. Wondering why your supposed power hitter has disappointed in the home run category? Perhaps it’s because he’s hitting fly balls at a lower rate than he did last year.

FB% Decliners
Name 2022 FB% 2023 FB% Diff
Jarred Kelenic 52.4% 29.1% -23.3%
Mauricio Dubon 44.7% 26.4% -18.3%
T.J. Friedl 50.0% 33.7% -16.3%
Pavin Smith 43.1% 28.6% -14.5%
Mike Trout 56.7% 42.2% -14.5%
Nick Castellanos 38.1% 24.6% -13.5%
Lars Nootbaar 38.8% 25.3% -13.5%
Cal Raleigh 55.7% 42.7% -13.0%

It would be silly to criticize anything Jarred Kelenic has done this season, as he’s in the midst of a breakout. What’s interesting here is that his FB% has been almost cut in half, but his HR/FB rate has doubled. That should result in a similar AB/HR rate, but he has also cut down on his strikeout rate, so he’s a bit ahead of last year’s pace. His swing was clearly totally out of whack last year, as his batted ball profile was heavy on flies and pop-ups and light on liners. This year, while his batted ball profile isn’t great for home runs, it is excellent for hits in general, as he’s posted a massive LD% and popped up very infrequently. Those liners will likely turn into flies, so while he’ll lose some BABIP, he might maintain his HR rate even if his HR/FB rate falls a bit.

Clearly, it made no sense for Mauricio Dubón to post a FB% over 40% last year given his weak power. He’s back to a batted ball distribution that makes the most sense for his skills. Sadly for his fantasy owners, he appears out of a job now that Jose Altuve has returned.

T.J. Friedl was an extreme fly ball hitter during part-time work last year, but has transformed his batted ball profile completely. Given his below average home run power, he had no business hitting flies 50% of the time. This profile suits him much better. Keep in mind if you own him, his xwOBA sits significantly below his actual wOBA, so some regression could lead to a slump that dramatically cuts his playing time.

Pavin Smith forced his way into the Diamondbacks lineup and essentially allowed the team to demote Jake McCarthy, after posting a .391 wOBA in April. But as is typical when teams make roster decisions based on small sample sizes, Smith has posted just a .279 wOBA in May. With middling power, his current batted ball profile fits him better. Since he has no speed, he’s not much of a fantasy option, though gains significant value in OBP leagues.

Mike Trout’s appearance here is less surprising than it seems. Last year, he posted a career high FB% and just his second mark above 50%. While he certainly has the power to take advantage of all those flies, it’s not ideal for his BABIP. He’s back to normal now, as his FB% stands almost exactly at his career mark. But combined with the fact his HR/FB rate is sitting at its lowest since 2016, his home run pace is currently well below expectations. His walk rate has also failed to rebound after tumbling last year, so he’s gone from an OBP league monster to just one of the better fantasy players in baseball.

Nick Castellanos has suddenly become a ground ball hitter. This is the first time his FB% has dropped below 35%, so this is a real drastic decline. His LD% has rebounded from last year’s low, but oddly his IFFB% has skyrocketed after last year’s surge. It’s a weird batted ball profile to say the least. It’s led to a .388 BABIP, but that ain’t going to last, of course. Given his power, he should really be hitting a higher rate of flies, as he’s hit just five home runs so far.

Lars Nootbaar has been an extreme ground ball hitter this year, though he does have the power to take advantage of a higher rate of fly balls. Given the elite walk rate, he remains a strong OBP league option.

Cal Raleigh went fly ball crazy last year with his 55.7% mark, which killed his BABIP. Sure, he has the power to take advantage, as he posted a 19.1% HR/FB rate, but it resulted in a .211 average and .284 OBP. A decline in FB% and increased LD% has resulted in a BABIP rebound, and while his home run pace is down from last year, he’s batting a slightly more palatable .235, while his OBP is significantly better at .327, which has dramatically increased his runs scored pace.

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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