Introducing Batter xHR/FB Rate, Version 4.0: Avg Dist FB+LD Fun

*The 2021 Pod Projections are now available!*

Last week, I unveiled my newest xHR/FB rate equation, v4.0. On Thursday, I dove into Std Dev of Dist FB+LD, which is one of the components of the equation and not a metric that is typically discussed because the values need to be calculated manually. Today, let’s move along to Avg Dist FB+LD, which is a much more familiar metric. It’s simply the average distance of a batter’s fly balls and line drives. Naturally, all else being equal, the higher the average, the greater the HR/FB rate.

First, let’s review the average distance in my population set by year, which includes all batter seasons since 2015 with at least 10 fly balls plus line drives.

Average Distance
Season Avg Dist FB+LD
2015 281
2016 284
2017 285
2018 284
2019 287
2020 291

It just keeps going up! There’s no stopping that distance train. After jumping from 2015, it remained pretty stable from 2016-2018, before rising again in 2019, and then spiking over the short 2020 season to what I would guess would be a historical high. I’m really curious to see where the average distance moves with the new baseballs. Since we can compare over the same date range to previous years, we should have a good idea a couple of weeks in if the ball is actually traveling a lesser distance.

Now let’s check out the hitters with the highest and lowest recorded average distance marks in my entire population set, regardless of how small the sample size was.

Highest and Lowest Avg Dist Marks
Player Season Avg Dist HR/FB
Peter O’Brien 2016 341 26.3%
Rey Fuentes 2016 199 0.0%

Welp, now you know why Peter O’Brien has been a part of seven(!!!) different organizations since his 2012 minor league debut. That power potential was just too exciting to give up on. I bet if he was given an extended look, he could have enjoyed some Joey Gallo-esque seasons. There’s a good reason I totally don’t remember who Rey Fuentes was.

Now let’s look at the highest and lowest recorded average distance marks in my entire population set, but this time set a minimum number of FB+LD so the sample size is large enough to actually reveal meaningful information. We’ll go with 200+ FB+LD, which equates to around 500 AB.

Highest and Lowest Avg Dist Marks >=200 FB+LD
Player Season Avg Dist HR/FB
Aaron Judge 2017 315 35.6%
Ben Revere 2015 246 2.0%

Sweet, this table nearly perfectly describes the best and worst power hitters in baseball since 2015. Though Judge continues to mash when healthy, it’s easy to forget he hit over 50 homers during his first full season, because he keeps getting hurt. That was the only season he recorded more than 500 plate appearances and he hasn’t exceeded 413 at-bats since. It’s still crazy to me that in the minors, the highest HR/FB rate he has posted was just 20.3%, and every other mark he posted was in the teens. You typically expect a hitter to hit for less power against Major League pitchers than against minor league pitchers, but Judge has been one of the big exceptions.

With no power, neutral to maaaaaybe slightly beneficial runs scored, a harmful RBI total, a strong batting average, and lotso steals, Ben Revere represented a challenge for valuation systems. He really tested how the system valued both steals and batting average, while accounting for the harm produced by the zippo power and RBI.

Now let’s check out the leaders and laggards of 2020. I’ll set a minimum FB+LD total of 60.

2020 Avg Dist Leaders >=60 FB+LD
Player Avg Dist HR/FB
Fernando Tatis Jr. 315 29.3%
Nelson Cruz 311 41.0%
Max Muncy 311 19.7%
Nolan Arenado 311 10.3%
Bryce Harper 310 19.7%
Jose Abreu 310 32.8%
Kole Calhoun 309 28.6%
Mike Yastrzemski 309 17.2%

Fernando Tatis Jr. was 21 during the 2020 season. That’s all.

I love when I see a surprising name on a list that kind of goes against what you had assumed. Nolan Arenado battled a shoulder injury last season and you would obviously expect a shoulder injury to hamper power, right? And yet, Arenado’s average distance was the highest it’s been in the Statcast era, which goes back to 2015! Of course, everything else declined, so his xHR/FB rate actually did fall to a career low. But still, you would never have guessed his average distance was at a career best.

Kole Calhoun is definitely one of the more out of place names on this list, but his appearance here certainly helps explain that 28.6% HR/FB rate. That represented a new career best for the second straight season, and Calhoun has now raised his HR/FB rate for four straight years beginning with its trough in 2016.

Mike Yastrzemski spent a looooooooong time in the minors and last year was already his age 29 season. But he clearly looks like a late bloomer.

2020 Avg Dist Laggards >=60 FB+LD
Player Avg Dist HR/FB
Victor Robles 255 7.7%
David Fletcher 257 7.9%
Hanser Alberto 261 5.3%
Raimel Tapia 263 3.1%
Jose Iglesias 269 11.1%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 270 7.7%

I think many expected Victor Robles to turn into an elite power/speed contributor as he matures and fills out, but man, that power just hasn’t manifested. The issue now is that if his power is just hopes and dreams, that means we should just pay for the speed and whatever homers come along with it is a bonus. Yet, his speed disappeared in 2020 too, as he swiped just four bases, for a 13 steal pace given the same number of plate appearances accrued in 2019! I have no idea why he suddenly stopped stealing, and while the pitiful .293 OBP cut into his opportunities, that doesn’t explain the entire drop. I’ll buy here if he’s heavily discounted from his 2020 price since he’s still just 23, but the price needs to price in the lack of power and at least some of that surprising loss of speed.

Raimel Tapia calls Coors Field home and is apparently the leading candidate to bat leadoff for the Rockies. There’s real intrigue here, but some semblance of power needs to return. So much for that power display during last year’s Spring training for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, eh? I usually pay attention to mechanics changes that are translating into results, but this one didn’t work out.

That concludes our Avg Dist FB+LD fun for today. As a reminder, the metric sports the highest correlation with HR/FB rate of all the components in my xHR/FB rate equation, along with some additional metrics I tested. It also correlates pretty well year over year, so you could be pretty confident that what you’re seeing is a real skill.





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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Carlos Baerga
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Carlos Baerga

Mike I’ve always been curious when we talk about average distance if we are boosting the big power hitters too much and I’m curious if you’ve ever had the same thoughts.

What would it look like if we set a “max” on distance to something like 430 feet (a HR in every direction of every park) since hitting a ball 500 feet doesn’t count as extra points compared to 430 feet. I know using the actual distance is valuable in many applications, but I’m torn on the average distance calculation.

Example:

Player A: 495, 450, 300 distances
Player B: 425, 405, 415 distances

Both get an average distance of 415 feet but the second player is much more likely to have 3hr vs 2hr compared to player A. The 495 blast is impressive, but it really pulls up the average distance when it doesn’t really add value in extra HR probability.