The Hitter FB% Surgers

With the availability of Statcast data from the past couple of years, all we hear about now is exit velocities and launch angles. Armed with new data, players are adjusting and learning to become the best versions of themselves. We keep hearing about hitters that are increasing their launch angles, which is just a fancy way of saying they are hitting more fly balls. More fly balls usually results is more home runs. And home runs are good. The league fly ball rate currently sits at its highest mark since 2011, but since the HR/FB rate is at a historical high tied with last year, home runs are flying out like never before.

So let’s find out which hitters have increased their FB% most compared to last year. Here are the 10 that have boosted their marks by at least 12 percentage points, which is quite significant. It takes 80 balls in play to reach the stabilization point for fly balls, which is one of the lowest marks among the stats calculated, and hitters are pretty close to, or at, this level.

FB% Surgers
Name 2017 FB% 2016 FB% Diff
Scott Schebler 54.50% 29.1% 25.40%
Trevor Story 70.00% 47.1% 22.90%
Joe Mauer 42.30% 21.3% 21.00%
Yoenis Cespedes 60.00% 41.4% 18.60%
Francisco Lindor 45.30% 28.4% 16.90%
Tim Anderson 41.80% 24.9% 16.90%
Jed Lowrie 46.60% 32.0% 14.60%
Curtis Granderson 55.60% 42.1% 13.50%
Joey Votto 41.90% 29.7% 12.20%
J.J. Hardy 48.30% 36.2% 12.10%

Last year, Scott Schebler displayed the power as evidenced by his mid-teen HR/FB rate, but he only hit fly balls at a puny 29.1% clip. So far this year, he has upped that power, but now it’s coming with tons of fly balls. However, his LD% stands at a pathetic 7.3% rate, which is bound to improve dramatically. So some of those fly balls are going to turn into line drives, but even after that conversion, his FB% should remain far above what he posted last year. He shouldn’t be unowned in your shallow mixed league, as he could be this year’s Adam Duvall, which is funny considering he opened last season in a platoon with him.

Trevor Story is reinventing the three true outcomes as a walk, strikeout, or fly ball. His 70% fly ball rate leads baseball, though it hasn’t resulted in a better home run rate simply because he’s striking out at an absurd clip. He’s also not going to come anywhere close to last year’s BABIP if he keeps hitting all these fly balls, but it’s certainly one way to up the odds on hitting 30 homers.

Joe Mauer with power? The last time Mauer showed power was back in 2009, and that was really the only time he did so. Unfortunately, all these fly balls have done him no good, as he has 0 homers to show for it. But, this looks like a completely changed Mauer. He stopped walking, but he stopped striking out too. His SwStk%, which was always elite, is now down to an impossibly low 2.3%. He’s not swinging any more often, but because he’s rarely missing when he does swing, he’s not giving himself the opportunity to take a free pass! I’m not sure if this new approach is hampering what power he did have, but this is an interesting change to monitor. Since his Hard% sits at its highest since 2013, this could possibly be a very, very good change for his future production.

Like Schebler, a lot of Yoenis Cespedes‘ previous line drives have turned into fly balls. He’s also swinging less frequently than ever before and making better contact. He looks like a safe bet to at least match his increased production rates from the last two years.

Francisco Lindor was the inspiration for this post. With six homers already, he has been one of the more surprising power sources over the first month of the season. And while his HR/FB rate has almost doubled to the high teens, much of the power spike can also be attributed to the jump in fly ball rate. The near doubling of his HR/FB rate is backed by a large increase in Hard%, but impressively, he hasn’t had to sacrifice contact to do so — his SwStk% sits at a career low.

For many players, hitting more fly balls is a good thing as it should increase power output and more than offset a decline in batting average. But for speedsters like Tim Anderson, more flies is not a good thing. His current batted ball distribution void of line drives and heavy on flies is precisely why his BABIP sits well below .300. Sure, this increase should lead to an extra homer or two, but his overall offensive production is going to be hurting and it’s only a matter of time before he gets dropped to the bottom of the order, or worse, get sent back to the minors.

Jed Lowrie had always been a fly ball hitter, until last year. So this is the first example of a player whose FB% difference is inflated due to a down 2016. Lowrie’s strong start has been driven by a career low strikeout rate and career best BABIP. It’s interesting to see him pairing a high FB% with a high LD%, and hard to imagine that could continue. I doubt all this lasts, especially at age 33, which means he’ll return to being an AL-Only option, and not a very good one at that.

Curtis Granderson has posted a FB% above 40% every single season since 2006, but never exceed the 50% plateau. Like Schebler and Cespedes discussed earlier, Granderson has so far traded line drives for flies, which is unlikely to continue for much longer. Oddly, his extreme FB% hasn’t benefited him any as he has just one homer thanks to a puny 2.6% HR/FB rate and a Hard% that sits at its lowest since 2006. This is a scary skill set for a 36-year-old.

Joey Votto is always my top example of a pristine batted ball profile. But this is a completely transformed Votto, as he’s not hitting line drives at his typical rate, but instead hitting flies. He hasn’t posted a FB% above 35% since 2009! If he continues at this fly ball pace, he should have no problem hitting 30 homers for just the second time in his career and the first since 2010. But, you might not get the .300 average you’re used to.

J.J. Hardy has posted fly ball rates above 40% twice in his career, but never this high over a full season. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, he has taken the Schebler, Cespedes, and Granderson path, trading liners for flies. But since his power disappeared in 2014 and still hasn’t returned, this is just leading to easy fly outs. He’s another one where all these extra flies probably isn’t a positive for his offensive production.

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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7 years ago

Lindor actually has seven home runs, with yesterday’s solo shot against the Mariners.

7 years ago
Reply to  EonADS

Can you keep updating this as the season progresses? Thx.

7 years ago
Reply to  Oleg

No problem man, always happy to mention minor corrections and get snarked at for no discernible reason.