Surprising Average Batted Ball Distances

In Mid-May, I cherry picked some of the surprising batted ball distance leaders and laggards. I focused mainly on the top and bottom range of distances while ignoring the middle. Now, I’m going to look throughout the leaderboard and identify players who have averaged a distance that validates their season or seems out of whack.

Oswaldo Arcia | Distance Rk 14 | Avg Distance 302 Ft | 12.5% HR/FB

The rookie outfielder has been up and down this year for the Twins and has shown pretty solid power with a .185 ISO. He has shown even better power at various minor league stops and his average distance has been quite impressive. Unfortunately, Target Field kills left-handed home run power and sure enough, his home ISO has been just .143 while his away mark sits at a lofty .250. The good news is that the kid has serious power. The bad is that his home park might take a chunk of it away.

Jean Segura | Distance Rk 19 | Avg Distance 300 Ft | 17.7% HR/FB

Surprise, surprise, Segura’s HR/FB rate has actually been legit, not the result of a bunch of well-timed gusts of wind. And he’s been consistently powerful as well. Although his ISO has dropped each month, his worst batted ball distance month was actually April, he then surged well over 300 feet in May and then fell to 300 feet in June, which also happens to be his average for the entire season. I have no idea where the power came from, but I would no longer be surprised if he maintains a mid-teens HR/FB rate the rest of the way.

Adrian Gonzalez | Distance Rk 40 | Avg Distance 295 Ft | 10.3% HR/FB

Has Gonzalez’ power disappeared? His average distance suggests no. It’s better than his last two seasons and not significantly less than the 302-310 feet he had been posting during his prime power years. With hopes of a suddenly decent Dodgers lineup given the return of both Matt Kemp (who you’d think has to improve) and Hanley Ramirez, along with the impending return of Carl Crawford, as well as ManBearPuig’s emergence, Gonzalez may very well be a pretty good buy low guy at the moment. Surely his owners might be wanting more than the 20 homers he’s on pace for from their first baseman.

Desmond Jennings| Distance Rk 48 | Avg Distance 293 Ft | 10.1% HR/FB

While Jennings has been a disappointment in the steals department, the power continues to be there. Over the last two seasons, his distance sat in the mid-270 range, so this is quite the surge. If that speed would ever return, I feel like he’s this close to a major breakout.

Carlos Beltran | Distance Rk 114 | Avg Distance 285 Ft | 20.0% HR/FB

Beltran was at 296 feet last year and in the 289 to 293 feet range since 2007, with the exception of 2011, when he was at 284 feet. His HR/FB rate has bounced around quite a bit, but right now, his distance is essentially tied for his worst over a six season span. That’s not good when it’s also paired with a HR/FB rate that is basically tied for his highest. When you combine the disconnect between his distance and HR/FB rate with his injury risk, you get a perfect sell high candidate. Also a reminder that he stole 13 bases last year and has swiped just 1 bad this season, so those bonus steals are no longer boosting his fantasy value.

Shin-Soo Choo | Distance Rk 148 | Avg Distance 281 Ft | 18.8% HR/FB

Going all the way back to 2008, this season’s average distance would rank as Choo’s worst over that time period. Yet, his HR/FB rate stands at a career high. Hmmmm. Also troubling is that his fly ball rate dipped below 30% last year and hasn’t jumped back up. I wouldn’t necessarily consider him a sell high given his other stats, but I think he’ll fall short of his current home run pace.

Domonic Brown | Distance Rk 151 | Avg Distance 281 Ft | 25.0% HR/FB

Woah, Brown is perhaps the biggest surprise here and the inspiration behind posting this update. When I first published the xHR/FB rate formula that incorporated average batted ball distance, I knew it wasn’t perfect. There was obviously more going on than just the average distance of a hitter’s home runs and fly balls. However, this is one of the biggest disconnects between distance and HR/FB rate I have seen. His distance isn’t much higher than the league average, yet his HR/FB rate is more than double it.

If you peak on over at ESPN Home Run Tracker, we find more evidence of coming regression. His average speed off bat is actually below the league average. Though we haven’t studied that statistic yet, I would imagine it too correlates well with HR/FB rate. Furthermore, 8 of his 21 homers, or 38%, are classified as “just enough”, which is a bit higher than the league average, but not significantly so. All of his home runs have been pulled to right field, which is something we attempted to incorporate in our formula using the “angle” statistic at Baseball Heat Maps, but weren’t very successful. And last, Citizens Bank Park is a great place for left-handed home run hitters. Still, until he starts hitting the ball further, I have to think he’s due for some regression with perhaps a HR/FB rate well below 20% over the rest of the season.

Lance Berkman | Distance Rk 226 | Avg Distance 267 Ft | 8.3% HR/FB

The prospect of a former top power hitter coming to play half his games in Arlington and getting to DH was appealing, despite the fact that Berkman turned 37 before the season began. Well, it hasn’t exactly worked out as it appears that last year’s overall power decline and HR/FB rate outage was only the beginning. Maybe his power will increase as it heats up during the summer months in Texas, but that distance suggests that his power hitting days are over. Between 2007 and 2011, his distance was always between 290 and 300 feet, so this is one heck of a free fall. Those still holding out hope should give up — Berkman is done, though still has his uses in OBP leagues.

Justin Morneau | Distance Rk 238 | Avg Distance 264 Ft | 4.5% HR/FB

Joining Berkman in the “done” club is Morneau, but it’s not due to age like in the former’s case. Morneau simply hasn’t been the same since suffering multiple concussions and various other maladies. When he was healthy, his average distance was between 285 and 300 feet. Now he’s hitting the ball with about the same average distance as power titans like Jose Altuve, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jayson Nix.

Paul Konerko | Distance Rk 255 | Avg Distance 258 Ft | 8.1% HR/FB

And to round out our “done” club, joining Berkman in the old age category is the man whose jersey I own, Paul Konerko. The slide began last year when his distance fell to about league average at 280 feet after previously sitting between 285 and 298 feet. Now he ranks just 255th out of 279 batters on the leaderboard, flanked by such luminaries as Marco Scutaro, Alcides Escobar and Eric Sogard, proud owner of zero long balls. It’s sad to say goodbye, but the days of the consistently good Paulie are coming to an end.

*Distance data from Jeff Zimmerman’s Baseball Heat Maps leaderboard.

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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9 years ago

Excellent podcast the other day, by the way. Thanks for all these little tidbits of info for my fantasy team, Mike.