Hitter FB% Gainers — Through May 16, 2023

There are three metrics that directly drive a hitter’s home run rate — strikeout rate, HR/FB rate, and FB%. Strikeout rate ties to balls in play, so the more balls in play, the greater the home run rate, all else being equal. The hitter’s HR/FB rate is obvious, as that’s literally telling us what percentage of fly balls have left the yard. Finally, FB% is the percentage of balls hit in the air. While a small percentage of line drives do end up as home runs, the vast majority come from fly balls. We typically think a hitter increased his power by raising his HR/FB rate when we see a home run spike. But as there are actually three metrics driving home run rate, that’s not always the case. So let’s focus on the hitters who have increased their FB% marks the most versus last year. More fly balls equals more opportunities for a home run.

FB% Gainers
Name 2022 2023 Diff
Gunnar Henderson 24.4% 39.4% 15.0%
Jace Peterson 31.9% 46.3% 14.4%
Jack Suwinski 42.3% 55.4% 13.1%
Edward Olivares 29.4% 42.3% 12.9%
Max Kepler 34.4% 46.8% 12.4%
Jake Meyers 25.3% 37.0% 11.7%
Brandon Lowe 41.4% 51.8% 10.4%
MJ Melendez 40.8% 51.1% 10.3%

I discussed Gunnar Henderson on Monday and opined that he looked like a good buy low candidate, especially in keeper leagues. While his FB% gains are fantastic for his power, it has also simultaneously hampered his BABIP. However, his batted ball profile looks much better now, as there’s no reason for a guy with his power to be hitting fly balls at just the 24.4% rate he did during his 2022 debut. His FB% now better matches his minor league history, as he had never posted a mark below 31.4% before his sub-30% mark with the Orioles.

It’s odd to see a 33-year-old suddenly become an extreme fly ball hitter, but that’s exactly what Jace Peterson has done. It’s even more surprising for a hitter who sports a career 7.8% and just once posted a double digit mark over any reasonable sample size. His BABIP now sits at its lowest mark since 2019, while his ISO is actually right at his career average, and also its lowest since 2019. Clearly, he doesn’t have the right skill set to sell out for fly balls and power, so if I were his hitting coach, I would do my best to convince him to get back to his old batted ball profile!

Jack Suwinski was already a fly ball hitter last year when he made his MLB debut, but he’s taken those fly ball tendencies to new heights this year. He has posted the second highest FB% of all hitters with at least 100 PAs. Shockingly, his BABIP is actually not far below the league average, despite the fact that he’s paired his fly ball ways with few line drives. He’s already batting just .226, so I’d hate to see where that average would land if his BABIP fell due to his lack of liners and plethora of fly ball outs! He certainly has the power to take full advantage of this profile though and has walked at an elite pace, offsetting the lack of singles.

For several years, I had drafted or picked up Edward Olivares for his breakout potential. Instead, the Royals showed no patience with him and failed to give him an extended opportunity. This year, he’s starting most days, but in typical Royals fashion, still sitting here and there, including all weekend. His batted ball profile has gotten out of whack, as his FB% has spiked, while his IFFB% has surged as well. Even worse is he’s not taking advantage of the flies, as his HR/FB rate has slipped to just 7.3%, and his BABIP has declined to well below the league average. He’s looking like a real mixed bag right now and he would be frustrating to own given all the random days he’s not in the lineup.

Max Kepler just recently hit the IL and is only on this list given that his FB% fell to a career low last year. This season, that mark has fully rebounded and actually sits at a career high, but barely. His fly ball tendency and lack of line drives are two of the main reasons he sports a career .247 BABIP.

Jake Meyers’ power has disappeared, so you don’t really want to see him getting his FB% back into the range he had settled into during his minor league days. Given his not-quite-full-time status and just one steal, he’s clearly not someone fantasy owners should be relying on.

Brandon Lowe has always been a fly ball hitter, posted a mark of at least 42.9% since 2019. This year, he has stopped hitting line drives in favor of even more fly balls, which has killed his BABIP. This would work out better if his HR/FB rate rebounded back to his previous 20%+ levels, but stuck in the mid-teens, it has left him with a nearly identical wOBA to last year and a sub-.200 batting average. He needs to get his swing back in line.

MJ Melendez’s power has been a disappointment so far in the Majors, but it’s not because of his FB%! Always a fly ball hitter in the minors, he’s upped it to over 50% for the first time. Surprisingly, his BABIP has actually risen and is now above the league average, despite a below league average LD%. All these fly balls would be great for his home run output, except that his HR/FB rate sits in the single digits, which is shocking given his 113.2 MPH maxEV and 12.8% Barrel%. That has to be some sort of record for lowest HR/FB rate paired with that Barrel%! I’m still optimistic that big power is imminent and I’m proud of the Royals for a change for actually sticking with him and even keeping him in the middle of the order.

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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Naked Mole Gaetti
1 year ago

If you’ve seen Edward Olivares play defense, you understand KC’s reluctance to give him an extended run in the OF. If his bat were potent enough to offset his glove and make him an everyday player, he’d also be playable as a full-time DH. As it is, the man is a solid hitter who is positionless.