Surprises Among the 2020 Barrels Per True Fly Ball Leaders

In just a 60 game season, all the numbers and rates I typically analyze and include as components in my various equations will look wackier than normal. The small the sample size, the greater the chance a rate settles in at the extreme end of expectations. This is why we’ll have to heavily regress this year’s numbers when developing 2021 projections. That said, it’s still worth reviewing 2020 rates, as skill changes obviously still did occur. So we’ll start with one of my favorite metrics, barrels per true fly ball (Brls/TFB). This is my own metric that is used as a component in my xHR/FB rate equation. It simply takes Statcast’s barrel and divides by Fangraphs’ fly balls minus infield fly balls.

The denominator of the various barrel rate metrics is important to be aware of, as the wrong denominator could lead to very misleading interpretation. Most barrel rates use all batted balls or even plate appearances as the denominator. That’s fine and good if you want more of an overall picture of a hitter’s ability to hit for power. But if all we care about is home run power, and specifically home run power when a fly ball is hit, then our denominator should only be the types of batted balls that get hit for home runs. My xHR/FB rate equation only looked at true fly balls, as I believe at the time, there were few home runs hit on what Statcast considered line drives. That seems to have changed, or I just screwed up my search in the past. I will likely be reviewing my equation this offseason to see if any updates are warranted, which means the possibility of adding line drives in to the denominator.

With that said, let’s review the Brls/TFB leaders and discuss the surprising names.

2020 Brls/TFB Leaders
Player 2020 HR/FB 2020 Brls/TFB
Juan Soto 36.1% 67.6%
Eloy Jimenez 31.1% 65.0%
Miguel Sano 34.2% 64.7%
D.J. Stewart 33.3% 62.5%
Jorge Soler 22.9% 60.7%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 29.3% 56.1%
Nelson Cruz 41.0% 54.3%
Colin Moran 27.8% 53.1%
Jesse Winker 40.0% 50.0%
Teoscar Hernandez 32.7% 50.0%
Jose Abreu 32.8% 49.1%
Austin Slater 25.0% 47.4%
Matt Chapman 22.2% 47.1%
Jedd Gyorko 27.3% 46.4%
Marcell Ozuna 26.5% 45.6%
Chris Taylor 22.9% 45.5%
Gary Sanchez 23.8% 44.4%
Franmil Reyes 18.4% 43.2%
Brandon Lowe 23.7% 42.1%
Michael Conforto 22.0% 42.1%
Brad Miller 21.2% 41.9%
Nicholas Castellanos 23.7% 41.4%
Keston Hiura 26.0% 41.3%
Corey Seager 21.7% 41.2%
Wil Myers 27.8% 41.2%
Dominic Smith 22.2% 40.9%
Willy Adames 22.9% 40.7%
Alec Bohm 12.5% 40.6%

I was a fan of D.J. Stewart as a nice little sleeper heading into the season, as he once again opened with a starting job and a minor league track record that suggested the potential for both power and speed. He got off to a miserable 0-14 start (though with a whopping six walks, so his OBP was still .300!), and the impatient Orioles jettisoned him to the team’s training site. He then returned a month later and crushed it, posting a .311 ISO and 38.9% HR/FB rate. Amazingly, that sizzling streak vaulted him up the Brls/TFB leaderboard and he ended up finishing in fourth! There are still some red flags here like his elevated strikeout rate, but the strong finish should give him a longer leash in the starting lineup next season, but ya just never know for sure when it comes to the Orioles.

In Triple-A in 2017, Colin Moran joined the fly ball revolution, boosting his FB% to 40% and his HR/FB rate surged to the high teens, after finishing at exactly 10% during his previous two minor league seasons. During his first two seasons with the Pirates, the pre-fly ball revolution version had returned and we totally forgot about the changes he had made. Then 2020 happened, and even though his FB% remained at pre-2017 levels and actually fell to its lowest MLB mark, his HR/FB rate skyrocketed on the heels of a massive Brls/TFB rate. It was a nice run, but still didn’t produce a whole lot of fantasy value thanks partially to his teammates. That means that at best, he still isn’t that far above replacement level in shallow mixed leagues next year.

Jesse Winker’s power output during his minor league days was all over the map, with his last two seasons at Triple-A producing ISO marks below .100. So it was difficult to set expectations for his future MLB power. So far, he has likely exceeded whatever expectations did end up getting set, and had his most powerful season yet this year, though it came in just 149 at-bats. Like Moran, Winker doesn’t hit many fly balls and finished with a sub-30% mark. But he made the most of the fly balls he did hit. He also may have sold out for power as his SwStk% jumped and strikeout rate spiked nearly 10 percentage points. His fantasy line ended up looking very similar to Moran’s. Since he rarely starts against lefties (not sure if he ever started a game against one this season), and he doesn’t steal bases, it’s hard to get too excited about his fantasy potential. However, he does gain a ton of value in OBP leagues.

So Austin Slater was a monster against left-handers, was respectable against right-handers, and then got hurt. When he returned, he only faced southpaws, I believe. Someone, please explain how the Giants were unable to find him at-bats against right-handers. His minor league record and even last season’s small sample suggest his hitting prowess is no fluke. Free Austin Slater!

Gosh, don’t you love when small samples produce surprising hot streaks like Jedd Gyorko, whose HR/FB rate finished higher than any of his previous seasons?! This was one of the smaller samples on this list because he didn’t play every day, but man, where did this come from?!

Even though he didn’t enter the season with an every day job, Chris Taylor still managed to record more than 200 plate appearances, as he appeared at four different positions, plus got some DH at-bats. After stabilizing in the mid-teen HR/FB rate range, Taylor showed another gear, as his barrel rate exploded. It makes it harder for Gavin Lux to get an extended look as Taylor belongs in the starting lineup.

You would think this was a big rebound season for Brad Miller, but he actually did this very same thing in 2019 as well. In fact, his power was even better, as he posted higher ISO and HR/FB rates then. One wonders if he’ll be able to parlay 341 plate appearances of solid hitting the last two seasons into a more significant role.

The introduction of the NL DH was a boon for Dominic Smith, who wouldn’t have had a starting job without it. He essentially matched his 2019 HR/FB rate in the exact same number of at-bats. In fact, the two near 200 plate appearance periods in 2019 and 2020 were almost identical, except for a doubling of his doubles in 2020, raising his ISO and wOBA. So far he has shown significantly more power in the Majors than he did in the minors, which always baffles me! Perhaps it’s just the projectability of power, which takes some time to develop.

Willy Adames is another name who has shown far more home run power in the Majors than minors. Adames’ HR/FB rate in the minors never even reached double digits, while in the Majors, it hasn’t slipped below 16.9%! This season, his home run power took another step forward and he finally got his ISO above .200. He still doesn’t hit enough fly balls to fully take advantage though, but if he did, his elevated BABIP would likely come tumbling down. So it’s a balancing act to optimize his batted ball distribution to maximize his output.

Alec Bohm ended up making his anticipated debut, even though he hadn’t even reached Triple-A. But a power breakout at Double-A in 2019, combined with strong contact ability, made him an intriguing fantasy prospect. While his HR/FB rate and ISO were unimpressive, his barrel rate was. It suggests he deserved much better, but that doesn’t mean you should project that for 2021. Perhaps the barrel rate itself was flukey and can’t be expected to be sustained over a full 162 game season. Or, one of the other components of my xHR/FB rate were less favorable and explain the below average mark despite the strong barrel rate. Whatever the case, he clearly held his own and might never see a pitch at the Triple-A level now.

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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Winker didn’t start the Reds’ 1st 3 games against lefties but when Winker went on that insane tear in August he started 6 of the next 7 against lefties. But after he missed a half dozen games in mid-Sept (& his bat had cooled off) he went back to being a straight platoon guy and didn’t start any of their last 3 against lefties.

Winker is another interesting example of questioning how we should look at guys’ numbers this year. He got off to a bit of a slow start with a .363 OPS in his 1st 10 games, then completely blew up with an 1.435 OPS over his next 23 games before finishing with a .546 OS in his last 21 games. So was it a breakout? Or just one red hot month dropped into the middle of a shortened season? He did put up good numbers against lefties with an .890 OPS, but that was A) only 41 PA and B) driven by a .368 BABIP even though he only had a 14.3% LD rate. Statcast loved him with a .386 xwOBA.

I think trying to figure out what the numbers from this year mean is going to really difficult. . .