Ten 2017 Average Fly Ball Distance Decliners

Yesterday, I shared and discussed nine fantasy relevant hitters whose Statcast Average Fly Ball Distance (Avg FB Dist) marks surged the most versus 2016. Not surprisingly, every single one of them enjoyed HR/FB rate gains, most of them significant jumps. Now let’s dive into the batters on the opposite end of the spectrum, those fantasy relevant hitters whose Avg FB Dist marks dropped most versus 2016.

2017 Avg FB Dist Decliners
Player 2016 HR/FB 2017 HR/FB 2016 Avg FB Dist 2017 Avg FB Dist Avg FB Dist Diff
Gary Sanchez 40.0% 25.4% 380 339 -41
Christian Yelich 23.6% 15.3% 347 321 -26
Adam Frazier 7.1% 6.4% 330 306 -24
Miguel Cabrera 22.1% 13.4% 345 321 -24
Dansby Swanson 10.0% 5.5% 325 302 -23
Jonathan Lucroy 15.8% 5.7% 322 300 -22
Ryan Braun 28.8% 17.3% 343 321 -22
Matt Joyce 22.4% 16.1% 343 322 -21
Tim Anderson 12.3% 14.4% 335 315 -20
Avisail Garcia 17.1% 16.1% 338 319 -19

It should surprise exactly no one to find Gary Sanchez atop the list of biggest decliners. His 2016 debut was historically epic, there was obviously no way he could match, or come close to matching, that power output in 2017. That said, he still remained among the elite, once again displaying far more power than he ever did in the minors.

In 2016, Christian Yelich was able to overcome his extreme ground ball tendency by ensuring the few fly balls he did hit went as far as he could muster. He couldn’t keep it up in 2017, however, but did offset the loss of fly ball power by raising his FB% for the second straight season. The increased FB% has a side effect though – his BABIP keeps falling. It’s a trade-off many players have to make (we know which path Ichiro Suzuki opted to travel along) between hitting for power with lots of fly balls, or hitting for average with a more balanced batted ball type distribution. More concerning is what happens to Yelich’s RBI and runs scored opportunities if he remains on a depleted Marlins offense.

Who whudda thunk that little Adam Frazier posted a muscular 330 ft Avg FB Dist in 2016?! It came over a small sample size and didn’t actually do anything for his HR/FB rate, and he fell back to Earth in 2017. He looks likely to earn a starting outfield job, and although the power won’t be there, he has speed and owns fantastic BABIP skills. I’m betting lots on the over against the Steamer .316 BABIP projection.

Well I guess we now have quantifiable evidence that Miguel Cabrera simply lost distance on his fly balls, hampering his performance. Interestingly, he has actually significantly underperformed his xHR/FB rate for three straight seasons. I wonder what’s happening here that isn’t being accounted for in my equation. Because whatever skill it is, he’s been lacking in it! Eager to find out his price before determining if he’s a bargain to pounce on or not worth the headache.

Are people really calling Dansby Swanson a bust after just 696 plate appearances?! Sure, the power hasn’t been there, but it wasn’t exactly there in the minors either. I guess scouts were assuming growth. Since he doesn’t steal bases, it’s hard to get too excited about his fantasy prospects. Probably a reasonable bet to provide a profit in NL-Only leagues if your leaguemates have moved on to the latest and greatest, but not worth speculating on in anything shallower.

Jonathan Lucroy’s power just completely evaporated. What’s crazy is this occurred as he has continued his tour of all the best power parks in baseball. With catchers, you never know when a secretive injury is bugging them, so was that the case for Lucroy in 2017? It was a weird year, as the down performance was paired with the lowest strikeout rate of his career. You don’t see a career low wOBA coupled with a career best strikeout rate often!

Injuries, injuries, injuries marred Ryan Braun’s season, so you have to assume that at least some of the decline here is health related. At 34, don’t expect those issues to disappear. It’s a good thing he continues to steal bases, but what if those dry up too?

Matt Joyce enjoyed one of the big surprise breakouts in 2016, so of course he figured to regress in 2017, especially in his age 32 season. He still had a fine year and posted the second highest HR/FB rate of his career. Will his playing time be cut though to give the Athletics youngsters a chance?

So Tim Anderson was the only player on this list whose Avg FB Dist dropped, but HR/FB rate actually rose. How’d he accomplish that feat?! You can’t bet on another high teens home run total, but man, he should be stealing more than 15 bases a year. Blame it on a pitiful walk rate and OBP. If he could ever learn to accept the free pass and/or cut down on the strikeouts, he could become a 10/30 man in short order.

Avisail Garcia’s AVg FB Dist declined dramatically, but you would never know if you were just looking at his HR/FB rate. Garcia avisailed along to an insane .392 BABIP, which was wholly undeserved. The coming BABIP/batting average correction alone is enough to make him a clear bust candidate and one likely to be overpriced.

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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The Natural 23
The Natural 23

Do you think it’s more telling who lost distance during the “juiced ball” of 2017 than who gained distance? Gary is understandable since he had a smaller sample size. I’d be curious to know the ratio of players who gained distance compared to those who lost distance. Also saw your post about adding ADP to your projections, thank you! I would input them by hand every year.

Joe Wilkey
Joe Wilkey

Yeah, I’d be interested to see something like a percentile comparison, especially for cases like Sanchez in this post or Yuli Gurriel in the last post. Sanchez was 17 feet clear of second place (minimum 25 FB) last year, he clearly had nowhere to go but down, so the drop off is not quite as concerning for him, because he’s still in the top 20% of hitters. Miggy going from 12th out of 359 to 170th out of 364 is much more concerning.