Power Up — Who Would Benefit From More Pulled Fly Balls?

One of the components of my new xHR/FB equation is fly ball pull percentage (FB Pull%). Sadly, I have spent significantly more time discussing barrels per true fly ball and average fly ball distance, so I’m going to change that. Let’s talk FB Pull%!

First, let’s look at the trend in the metric over the past three seasons in my population set:

FB Pull% Trend
Season FB Pull%
2015 22.5%
2016 23.7%
2017 24.2%

Probably not surprising to find that FB Pull% has inched up in each of the last two seasons. This jibes with the leaguewide shift toward elevating fly balls and sending them over the fence, as pulled fly balls go for homers far more frequently than those heading the opposite way (33.7% HR/FB rate for pulled vs just 4.5% for opposite way in 2017).

It’s clear that pulling your fly balls is preferable if you want to find your name among the home run leaders. So let’s filter for batters who were above average in both Brls/True FB and Avg FB Dist, but below average in FB Pull%. These guys seemingly have some hidden home run upside if they decide to join the revolution and start pulling more of their flies. They already have the power to turn those flies into homers, they just need those balls to travel at the correct horizontal angle.

FB Pull% Upside
Player HR/FB xHR/FB HR/FB – xHR/FB Brls/True FB FB Pull% FB Oppo% Avg FB Dist PF
Alex Avila 21.5% 25.0% -3.5% 45.3% 7.7% 55.4% 345 101
Nick Williams 20.0% 16.5% 3.5% 28.8% 10.0% 45.0% 323 116
Domingo Santana 30.9% 21.1% 9.8% 35.8% 10.3% 58.8% 340 104
Derek Fisher 26.3% 16.2% 10.1% 31.3% 10.5% 36.8% 351 104
Eric Hosmer 22.5% 18.0% 4.5% 34.0% 10.8% 57.7% 332 93
Bradley Zimmer 13.1% 16.8% -3.7% 32.1% 11.5% 45.9% 325 105
Corey Seager 16.2% 16.1% 0.1% 26.9% 11.8% 51.5% 331 107
Khris Davis 26.9% 23.7% 3.2% 44.7% 11.9% 37.5% 350 95
Carlos Correa 22.6% 16.9% 5.7% 31.3% 12.3% 41.5% 330 103
Brandon Nimmo 12.8% 12.7% 0.1% 21.6% 12.8% 43.6% 328 99
Shin-Soo Choo 20.4% 19.7% 0.6% 33.6% 13.0% 42.6% 336 103
Robinson Cano 14.7% 13.4% 1.4% 21.5% 13.5% 44.2% 330 104
Nick Castellanos 14.3% 17.1% -2.8% 28.5% 13.7% 50.5% 329 101
Michael Conforto 27.3% 19.4% 7.9% 37.1% 14.1% 48.5% 332 99
Jason Castro 12.0% 12.5% -0.4% 22.7% 14.5% 44.6% 323 98
Freddie Freeman 19.9% 20.1% -0.3% 32.6% 14.9% 47.5% 334 105
Chris Taylor 15.8% 13.7% 2.1% 23.6% 15.0% 45.1% 323 96
Ryon Healy 15.1% 12.5% 2.5% 21.4% 15.7% 39.8% 328 95
Joey Votto 19.7% 16.6% 3.1% 24.2% 15.8% 50.8% 331 110

I sorted my filtered players in ascending order of FB Pull%, so the hitters at the top would seemingly have the most upside from a change in approach.

Look at Alex Avila all by his lonesome at the top. Rather than pull the ball, he goes the opposite way far more frequently than average. His aversion to the fly ball clearly hasn’t hampered his ability to knock the ball out of the park though, so it’s hard to envision much more upside from here.

We’re still not entirely sure what the Phillies plan to do in their outfield after their Carlos Santana signing pushed Rhys Hoskins into a corner spot. But if Nick Williams earns a starting job, there’s some serious power potential there, and it could be better than expected if he starts pulling the ball more often.

Man, Domingo Santana has to be one of the weirdest elite HR/FB guys in the league. He has never posted a fly ball rate of 30% and his highest FB Pull% is just 15%. So he doesn’t hit fly balls, or pull the flies he does hit, yet he’s one of the top home run guys in the league! I can’t imagine it gets better, but an increased FB Pull% would help stave off regression toward that xHR/FB rate.

If only the Astros weren’t so darn good, Derek Fisher would be a prime breakout candidate.

Are Eric Hosmer and Domingo Santana the same player? Both hit too many ground balls and don’t pull enough of their flies.

Though I hate that Bradley Zimmer will likely open the season batting last in the Indians order, I love his potential for power and speed contributions, though his batting average may be ugly.

Wondering how Corey Seager gets to 30 homers? This is how.

Carlos Correa could potentially fight off regression by increasing his FB Pull% and then maybe, just maybe, he’ll break even for the owners taking him 14th overall.

I swear Nick Castellanos did not bribe me into including him on every single positive list heading into 2018. But here he is again, offering yet another reason to be optimistic that there’s still more upside.

Look at Freddie Freeman and his twin Joey Votto rounding out this list. Both are just such good hitters that you can’t even really call them power hitters. They both consistently post pristine batted ball profiles and their expertise of the strike zone allows them to mash. Imagine if they pulled more of their flies? They might give up some BABIP, but perhaps take their power to a new level.

We hoped you liked reading Power Up — Who Would Benefit From More Pulled Fly Balls? by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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Mario Mendoza
Mario Mendoza

Castellanos– did his xHR/FB go down with the formula update? The formula update may have revealed that he’s not quite so “unlucky” as we thought. He makes another list of potential upsiders, but this one is mostly predicated on making a swing change.