Joining the Fly Ball Revolution — May 2019

It’s becoming a fly ball happy world, as fly ball rate now sits at its highest mark since 2010. The revolution is showing no signs of slowing down. So let’s find out after the first month which hitters have increased their fly ball rates the most. I’ll list everyone who has boosted their marks by at least ten percentage points (40% to 50%).

FB% Surgers
Name 2018 FB% 2019 FB% Diff
Christian Yelich 23.5% 41.4% 17.9%
Curtis Granderson 37.1% 54.5% 17.4%
Jorge Polanco 38.0% 54.5% 16.5%
Omar Narvaez 29.0% 44.7% 15.7%
Willson Contreras 30.7% 45.8% 15.1%
Ian Desmond 21.5% 36.5% 15.0%
Adam Eaton 26.3% 40.8% 14.5%
Franmil Reyes 29.8% 43.0% 13.2%
Joey Votto 31.1% 44.2% 13.1%
Xander Bogaerts 35.6% 48.5% 12.9%
Maikel Franco 33.7% 46.2% 12.5%
Dee Gordon 22.4% 34.0% 11.6%
Jose Peraza 38.0% 49.4% 11.4%
Ryon Healy 36.6% 47.4% 10.8%
Hunter Dozier 36.6% 47.0% 10.4%
Kolten Wong 31.2% 41.4% 10.2%
Jay Bruce 48.0% 58.0% 10.0%
League Average 35.4% 36.3% 0.9%

Remember when we wondered about Christian Yelich’s future given his obvious power potential, but pathetically low FB%? After his first three seasons, his highest FB% was just 17.8%. He then stepped it up a bit, getting into the low-to-mid-20% range, but we cared little how high that mark got last year since he posted a 35% HR/FB rate. We figured that wouldn’t be repeated, so once again, we were focused on the FB% — was there additional upside coming? Yes, yes there was. It’s not often a hitter doubles his FB%, and while Yelich hasn’t yet, it’s pretty darn close to doing so. All those flies, the pop-ups they have resulted in, and the fewer line drives, have really pushed down his BABIP, but that’s been the only negative. Amazingly, he has paired a .400+ ISO with a career best strikeout rate. This transformation has been amazing.

I know, I know, home runs are all the rage, but really Jorge Polanco, there’s no reason you should be hitting fly balls more than 50% of the time. It’s extremely difficult to post a BABIP as high as he has while hitting flies so often, and because he has been rounding the bases more frequently, he has only attempted one steal (in which he was caught). This new approach has certainly worked out for him though, so he could easily reach the 20 homer plateau, and the shape of his fantasy value will simply look a little different.

So much for Willson Contreras‘ disappointing 2018 season, as his HR/FB rate is now more than triple that year’s mark. Since he’s never been much of a line drive hitter, it makes all the sense in the world for him to turn some grounders into flies.

It’s unfortunate that Ian Desmond has posted such terrible results so far, all the while Raimel Tapia has been fantastic. That’s because his skills look either normal or good and hint at a full rebound. But he’s gotta get hot soon or he risks becoming essentially a bench player. Amazingly, this represents his highest career FB%. What better home park to do that in!

Adam Eaton, fly ball machine? Uhhh no. It hasn’t affected his BABIP yet, but it likely will. And since he doesn’t have the power to take advantage of all the flies, this is probably a bad idea.

The only hesitation I had about Franmil Reyes‘ power potential (aside from the outfield logjam, of course) was his relatively low FB% marks throughout his minor league days and during his half season in San Diego last year. Welp, he’s gotten that figured out. Aside from the nice FB%, he has also been hitting lots of line drives and has yet to hit a pop-up. It provides major optimism that his .243 BABIP is due to surge.

I’m beginning to believe that this is truly the end for Joey Votto and last year was the first sign. His strikeout rate has spiked above 20% for the first time, while his walk rate has declined, and his HR/FB rate sits in the high single digits again. I fear that Votto is realizing the effects of aging and trying to compensate by hitting a ton of fly balls. I’m not buying here.

Man, Xander Bogaerts just cannot figure out what kind of hitter he is! His FB% has jumped all over the place and has now settled into a career high.

Seriously, Maikel Franco is so close to a major breakout, I can taste it. His strikeout rate has dropped for a third straight season to an elite level for a power hitter, his walk rate has nearly doubled to hit double digits for the first time, and now he’s a fly ball monster. Of course, he’s always struggled with pop-ups as a percentage of his flies, and now with more flies, he’s popping up even more frequently. His batted ball profile kills his BABIP potential, but the strikeout rate saves him from a killer batting average. I feel like something’s gotta give, though his spot in the batting order caps his fantasy value.

No no no, not you Dee Gordon. Feeling left out from all the power and flies, eh? Same to you, Jose Peraza!

Hunter Dozier seemed like an easy call to be worthless in mixed leagues or even deeper mixed leagues heading into the season despite a starting job. But boy has he proven us wrong. There are so many positives here that he deserves his own article. While I couldn’t possible tell you whether he could keep the underlying skills driving his strong results, what I could tell you is that given those skills, his results have been real. Doesn’t mean he won’t collapse, but at least he doesn’t appear to be the beneficiary of much good fortune (well, okay, he’s definitely not deserving of a .387 BABIP).

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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Cory Settoon
3 years ago

Franco might have the FB%, but his Hard Hit% is 10 points below average and his Soft Hit% is 9 points above.

Baseball Savant shows his EV and Hard Hit% as league average.

3 years ago
Reply to  Cory Settoon

And with Franco, 8 of 15 walks have been intentional, as he hits in front of the pitcher. His underlying walk skills don’t seem to have changed.

3 years ago
Reply to  JJ17Chi

Just checked and 7 of his 8 IBB have been from the 8th spot in front of the pitcher. The other one was April 26th when he was batting 6th in front of Cesar Hernandez. That was during that stretch when Segura was out and they jumbled the lineup a bit,