Hitter Fly Ball Pull% Changes — Jun 25, 2024

Yesterday, I reviewed the hitters whose FB% marks had changed the most compared to last year. We care about FB% because it directly impacts home runs. All else being equal, the greater the FB%, the higher the home run total. Similarly, pulled fly balls travel over the fence with significantly greater frequency than those hit straightaway or to the opposite field. So it stands to reason that an increased fly ball pull rate would raise a hitter’s HR/FB rate, while the opposite would be true.

In the Statcast era, check out the difference in home run rate bucketed by batted ball direction:

HR% by Fly Ball Batted Ball Direction
Batted Ball Direction HR%
Pull 39.2%
Straightaway 10.5%
Opposite 5.8%

That’s a massive difference, with pulled fly balls traveling for home runs nearly four times as often as straightaway, which itself is nearly double opposite field shots. So let’s begin with the fly ball pull% gainers compared to last year.

Fly Ball Pull% Gainers
Player 2023 FB Pull% 2024 FB Pull% Diff
Steven Kwan 12.6% 31.1% 18.6%
Tyler O’Neill 20.0% 36.7% 16.7%
Ezequiel Tovar 15.6% 29.5% 13.9%
Jeimer Candelario 28.4% 41.7% 13.3%
Maikel Garcia 12.2% 24.1% 11.8%
Andrew Benintendi 9.8% 21.1% 11.4%
Salvador Perez 26.8% 38.1% 11.4%

Steven Kwan’s maxEV of just 104.3 MPH and 2.2% Barrel% confirm that he hasn’t exactly added power this year, but what’s behind his HR/FB rate surge, which has more than tripled from last year, is all those additional pulled flies. He went from posting essentially half the league average rate last season to comfortably above the league average rate this year. Combine that with a microscopic strikeout rate and a .401 BABIP, partially buoyed by a crazy 31.3% LD%, and you have yourself a .443 wOBA, up more than 100 points from last year. Who saw this coming?!

Outside of his small sample debut in 2018, Tyler O’Neill had never posted a fly ball pull% above 24.4%. That’s pretty low for a power hitter. So getting above 30% is significant, but it doesn’t seem to be a result of his move to Fenway Park, given his home/road splits. He has posted similar fly ball pull rates at home and way, and has also posted a slightly higher HR/FB rate on the road. He’s striking out more and also hitting the highest rate of flies through his career. It sure seems like he’s selling out for power after two disappointing offensive seasons. It’s worked so far, and he certainly has the power to take advantage of all those pulled flies.

Ezequiel Tovar has combined a FB% surge with a big increase in fly ball pull%, but the latter hasn’t done anything for his HR/FB rate, which is surprising. He wouldn’t normally be the type to take advantage of so many flies and pulled flies, but since he plays half his games at power friendly Coors Field, it works. The overall skill set is still underwhelming though.

Jeimer Candelario last posted a fly ball pull% over 30% back in 2018, and it was barely above that level. So needless to say, this is the first time he’s above 40%. It certainly makes sense after moving to one of the most home run friendly parks, and sure enough, he has posted nearly double the HR/FB rate at home than on the road. An increased FB% has also helped here, as his HardHit%, maxEV, and Barrel% suggest there hasn’t actually been any improvement in his power skills.

Maikel Garcia hit three home runs in the first six games of the season, but only two since. He’s doubled his fly ball pull%, but his HR/FB rate is still stuck in the mid-single digits. From a maxEV and HardHit%, it certainly seems like he has more power than the results suggest. The below average FB% holds him back a bit, but I definitely think there’s ample HR/FB rate upside, especially if he maintains the increased fly ball pull%.

Welp, I guess Andrew Benintendi couldn’t go anywhere but up from his lowly 9.8% fly ball pull% from last year! That was easily the lowest of his career, but this year it’s bounced back to above his career average. And hey, his HR/FB rate has more than doubled! But, it was from a tiny base of just 3% last year, so rebounding to 7% this season is nothing to celebrate. I’m really surprised his power never blossomed, as his HR/FB rate peaked during his first full season and ISO in his second season. He has posted ISO marks below .100 since 2022 and I would love to understand what happened here.

Salvador Perez’s fly ball pull% hasn’t been over 30% since 2017, so this is a surprise after five straight sub-30% marks. However, it’s done nothing for his HR/FB rate, which sits at its lowest since 2014. This, despite his second highest maxEV and third highest Barrel% of his career. It’s a super weird combination as all the metrics point to a strong HR/FB rate, but the actual result has been weak. That’s why you find his xSLG a whopping 86 points higher than his actual SLG. I would expect a HR/FB rate surge imminently.

Let’s now move to the fly ball pull% decliners:

Fly Ball Pull% Decliners
Player 2023 FB Pull% 2024 FB Pull% Diff
Lane Thomas 36.8% 20.0% -16.8%
Charlie Blackmon 29.8% 15.6% -14.3%
Corbin Carroll 27.2% 13.8% -13.4%
Elly De La Cruz 26.4% 14.3% -12.1%
Anthony Volpe 28.3% 16.4% -11.8%
Mitch Garver 41.7% 30.0% -11.7%
Andrew Vaughn 25.3% 13.7% -11.6%

Lane Thomas has been too busy running wild on the bases to care about pulling his flies for home runs. While his HR/FB rate is down from last year, it’s right in line with previous seasons, plus he’s gotten a boost from a career best FB%. If he doesn’t improve upon his fly ball pull%, I wouldn’t expect his HR/FB rate to jump back toward where he finished last year. But, I’m sure his owners don’t care if the steals keep coming.

Speaking of lost power, where’d Charlie Blackmon’s go?! This is the lowest fly ball pull% of his career, where his career mark matches the league average. So this is a big dropoff for him. He has still posted a Barrel% in line with his career, but his HardHit% and maxEV are both down, so combine that with a lower rate of pulled flies, and you get a weak 3.9% HR/FB rate. At least he’s already swiped the most bases in a season since 2018, but he’s clearly a shell of his former fantasy self.

Aha! Wondering what on Earth has happened to Corbin Carroll’s power? Surely his fly ball pull% has a lot to do with it. It’s hard to post a strong HR/FB rate when you’re pulling such a low rate of fly balls. Of course, there’s got to be some degree of bad luck involved given that Carroll’s HR/FB rate is sitting at just 2.5%, but he’s absolutely deserving of a decline compared to last year. His HardHit% doesn’t look that bad and his maxEV is still above 110 MPH, so there’s still more power in this bat than his HR/FB rate and ISO suggest. But his 4.4% Barrel% is weak and well below last year’s mark. I don’t know what’s going on here, but he’ll either have a big second half that will mostly make his owners forget his disappointing first half, or he’ll end up being a bargain next year if no rebound comes.

So last year, Elly De La Cruz didn’t hit enough fly balls, and now this year, he has corrected that, but isn’t pulling enough of those flies. And yet, his HR/FB rate remains over 20%! Given his maxEV and Barrel%, he clearly owns massive power. It’s just a matter of putting all the skills that result in home runs together in a single season. What’s also interesting here is that he actually doesn’t swing and miss as often as you would think given his high strikeout rate. Instead, he has been far too passive at pitches inside the strike zone, as his Swing% is well below the league average. Correcting for that would improve his strikeout rate, resulting in more balls in play and potential good stuff to happen.

Anthony Volpe is a totally different hitter this year. In addition to hitting a lower rate of pulled flies, he has reduced his SwStk% and strikeout rate and he’s hit a significantly lower rate of fly balls. Word during the Spring was that he was trying to cut down on his swing, and so far, the results suggest that’s exactly what he has done. His HR/FB rate has suffered for it and his Barrel% is less than half of last year. In turn, his BABIP has spiked and he has ultimately gotten better results. However, his xwOBA is actually slightly lower than last year’s, so it’s anyone’s guess whether his actual production will be sustained with these new skill levels.

Mitch Garver has posted the lowest HR/FB rate of his career and now you know part of the reason why! From posting a significantly above average fly ball pull% to a mark just regularly above average, his maxEV and Barrel% have also slipped. That’s bad news when combined with a jump in strikeout rate and a BABIP of just .216. His results have bounced around from year to year, so you never really know what you might get here.

After ending April with zero home runs, Andrew Vaughn has picked it up, hitting nine since, including five in June. However, he’s still sitting with a single digit HR/FB rate, and posting a fly ball pull% that’s about half the league average isn’t helping. He has upped his FB% to a career best over 40%, so that has certainly boosted his home run potential. He also still sports a maxEV over 110 MPH and a decent Barrel% that’s second highest of his career. But that power breakout we all thought he’s been capable of hasn’t materialized yet. It won’t unless he gets back to pulling his flies.

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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Sonny Lmember
24 days ago

What is league average pulled FB%?

24 days ago
Reply to  Sonny L

In the 2020’s, looks like it is 26.5%.

Statcast search for FB that are pulled: https://tinyurl.com/3dswkdfy