2019 HR/FB Rate: More than just Batted Ball Speed
New baseball data continues to emerge yearly, continually granting us insight into a player's core skill/ability. Indicators such as HR/FB rates are thankfully no longer looked at as blanket averages. As we have discussed, each hitter uniquely contributes to their HR/FB rates, and their batted ball speed plays a big part in that.....but there is more to the picture for this indicator. Data such as quality, location, direction, and frequency of contact are helping us redefine what we once accepted as happenstance.
Quality of Contact: Batted Ball Speed on HRs. I am often asked how BBS (Batted ball Speed on HRs) is distributed with HR/FB rates. The relationship is obvious, hitters that have a higher batted ball speed, tend to have a higher HR/FB rate. No surprises here. However the incremental change or increase in BBS is not linear to the increase in HR/FB rates, especially near the top end of the range. What this means is essentially, there's not a "for every X increase in BBS MPH, there is a Y increase in HR/FB rates". In fact what the data shows is that within the 102 to 105.5 BBS range, is a very slight increase in HR/FB rates. Without knowing anything else, we know that there are other factors at play, and even so if it were strictly based on BBS, the top end starts becoming exponential. From a statistical standpoint, the correlation (or R squared) last year between HR/FB rate was approximately .30. Not overwhelming, but clearly a pattern relationship. But again, clearly there are other factors to consider other than BBS in determining HR/FB rates. Below is a chart listing the average HR/FB rate based on BBS ranges:
|HR BBS Range||HR/FB|
Location of Contact: Stadium Variance - It's widely known that certain ballparks have a clear advantage for hometown players, and some ballparks are a disadvantage for others. To no one's surprise ballparks in Colorado, Cincinnati, Texas, and Milwaukee are among the leaders in upward HR/FB variance. These ballparks offer a 10-15% increase in HR/FB rates. And this variance helps explain the outlier we see in the 104.1 to 104.5 BBS range above. Players in this grouping have the highest stadium factor among all ranges listed. Keep in mind it's a very small subset with only 15 players in this range, so it doesn't take much to affect rates, and sure enough the ballpark inflation among this range made it's presence felt. From a statistical standpoint, the correlation (or R squared) last year between Stadium and HR/FB rate was approximately .12. A slight correlation, but part of a bigger picture.
Directional of Contact: Pull% - Although pull % is related to HR/FB rate, the relationship tends to have a more positive impact for hitters with slower BBS. Hitters with higher HR/FB rates don't need to pull the ball to hit HRs, they can hit the ball out in any direction because of their superior batted ball speed. So although pull % is related, it's more of a factor for those hitters that have a average BBS. Hitters in the 102-103 BBS range. An example of 3 hitters within this range, who have elevated HR/FB rates, which can be attributed in part to a higher pull% are: Max Muncy (29% HR/FB rate - 45 pull%), Evan Gattis (17% HR/FB rate - 50 pull%), Matt Adams (19% HR/FB rate - 48% pull%). Although their batted ball speed doesn't correlate in the traditional means to an elevated HR/FB rate, their ability to pull the ball does add leverage to their HR/FB rates. From a statistical standpoint, the correlation (or R squared) last year between Pull % and HR/FB rate was approximately .28. Again not overwhelming, but a key ingredient in our multiple regression model.
Frequency of Contact: Hard Hit % - Sports Info Solutions has done a meticulous job of charting quality of contact, and assigning them into 3 categories: Soft Hits / Medium Hits / Hard Hits. Obviously, the harder the contact, the better. Players with a higher Hard Hit% tend to have both a higher BABIP, and of course a higher HR/FB ratio. In most cases this hard hit rate has more bearing on the HR/FB rates than does HR BBS. Consider the likes of the following players, who have an average BBS on HRs is in the norm 102.5-103.9 range, but have a Hard Hit rate which is considerably above the 35% average:
In a nutshell, having a higher than average BBS average on your HRs is great, but that's not necessarily going to guarantee a high HR/FB rate if you are making hard contact less than 35% of the time. In the example above, these players are hitting the ball with authority more often than players like Maikel Franco, who had a superior BBS on HRs of 105.0, but his frequency of hard contact was below above average last season at 28% last season, which makes his 17% HR/FB rate slightly under represented but understandable. From a statistical standpoint, the correlation (or R squared) last year between hard Hit % and HR/FB rate was approximately +.66! For those who may not be statistics majors, the regression range is -1 to +1, with a +1 being a perfect fit. A .66 with P and F values in acceptable ranges, is pretty exciting.
Players who were outliers in 2018
So who do we expect to see an increase/decrease in HR/FB rates in 2019? Lets start by identifying the players who posted HR/FB rates that were not in line with the underlying indicators discussed abive.
Here are players who posted a less than expected HR/FB rate in 2018, and should see a sizable increase in HRs in 2019:
*ND - No Doubter HR in 2018 *JE - Just Enough Distance HRs in 2018 *Data from ESPN HR Tracker
(Player notes below can be found in the player projections software and may not directly reference HR/FB rates)
Rougned Odor Odor posted a pretty big let down season for his fantasy
owners in 2018, dropping from 2 seasons at 30+HR to only 17. The good news
is that his underlying indicators point to a hitter that should see a
considerable increase his HR/FB rate in 2019 (404 Distance/107 BBS / 45% HH),
which should float both his RBI and RS count. At only 25, there is upside in
Odor this season.
Mike Moustakas Mike's HR totals were a little muted last season, as his 2017 18% HR/FB rate dropped down to a middle of the road 13%. Which is very much likely to pop up back to a 16-17% in 2019. We can base this on a superior 104.8 BBS and 41% hard hit rate. Look for a pop in his RS as well, as that was less than it should have been last season. His BA of only 251 was based on an unlucky .259 BABIP. A BA between 260-270 seems more likely based on his solid 80% contact rate.
Manuel Margot Margot took a step up last season increasing his contact rate from 25% to 39%. His BA was under represented based on an unlucky 216 Singles% and 281 BABIP. His 6% HR/FB rate has room for upside as his distance and SOB are very close to league average, so we wouldn't be surprised to see his HRs go into the mid teens to lower 20s at some point as he continues to develop. His speed component was sloppy last year with only 11 SBs for 21 attempts. He'll need to improve that ratio to see more opportunities.
Andrelton Simmons Simmons Hard Hit rate has increased progressively over the last 2 years, from .23 to .29 to .36 last season. Looking back to last year, his batting average was a little bit bloated (.281 expected vs 292 actual), but there is more room in the HR department. He finished with 11 (7% HR/FB), which based on his 36% hard hit rate and 102.5 BBS on his HRs, should have been closer to 10%. RBI and RS count from 2018 was legit. Oddly struggled at home with a minus 136 SLG. Fantasy owners will continue to capitalize on his positional scarcity.
Marcell Ozuna is one of the many players we've identified as having a lot more upside in his 2019 HR/FB rate. As expected prior to the start of his 2018 campaign, his 2017 line of 37/124/93/.312 was not going to be repeatable. A lot of that had to do with a bloated 23% HR/FB rate, which regressed to only 14% in 2018. The good news is that it's likely to pop back up into the 18-19% range in 2019, and with Goldy now in this lineup...it's a good time to reinvest in Ozuna. After all his superior 45% Hard Hit rate and 108.1 BBS on his HRs are considered elite.
Joey Wendle Wendle hit for average last season with a .300 BA. Although Wendle hit for average in the minors as well (285 with a 23% strikeout rate and 14% iso).The batting average is not sustainable, he was lucky on balls hit into play with a 353 BABIP. He'll needs to improve on the 6% walk rate. Has a low teens HR and SB potential.
Trevor Story Trevor wrote an unbelievable story (sorry) last season and excelled as we had projected (88RS/37HR/108RBI/27SB/291BA). Lets start with the favorables: 45% Hard Hit rate/ 420 Distance/106.2 BBS...ALL ELITE. Sure he's partially a Coors Field product (+225 SLG at home), but there's not many ballparks that would have contained a majority of his HRs last season. Sure there's another stud SS in the Rockies farm system, but Trevor Story isn't moving out of this lineup anytime soon.
Justin Turner The guy that looks like a lawn gnome, is really really good. Turner tends to streak in production more than other hitters, and when he's hot....he's red hot. Insane 89% contact rate with elite 45% Hard Contact rate in 2018, but really doesn't have distance on his swing as evidenced by his 103.4 BBS on his HRs. His overall numbers were muted by a late start to the season. Expect the HR rate to climb as he's considerably more than a 10% HR/FB hitter.
Whit Merrifield Late bloomer accurately describes Whit Merrifield. Consider that he didn't see everyday playing time until he turned 28 in 2017. Last season he was 43 for 53 in stolen bases and 28 for 33 over his last 67 games. There is some upside on his HR count from last season (7% HR/FB rate), but the batting average of 304 is likely not sustainable based on his 352 BABIP.
Andrew McCutchen McClutch saw his HR/FB rate drop from 16% to 13% last season, and that has more to do with the ballpark he was playing in, verses the hitter. His Hard Hit rate last season rose to a career high 43%, which is an indication that he's far from done. We expect a nice bounce back season from him this year in the more friendly confines of Philly, and expect to see his RBI count soar this season.
Nicholas Castellanos Hard Hit rate was elite last season (48%), but the 361 BABIP was elevated. What also didn't correlate was a 14% HR/FB rate last season, that should easily rise to 16-18% this season. On top of that he was shorted 15+ RBIs in 2018 (based on his underlying indicators). So we're going to call a slight drop in BA this season with a few more HRs and RBIs.
Max Kepler Kepler came a long way figuring things out verses LHP, as evidenced by his rise in SLG from.240 SLG or .422 against. His 37% Hard Hit rate is solid. Expect that 10% HR/FB rate to tick up in 2019 and the RBIs should follow. BA will also rise based on an unlucky .264 BABIP last season. At only 26, Kepler's stock is on the rise.
Here are players that posted a more than expected HR/FB rate in 2018,and should see a sizable decrease in HRs in 2019:
*ND - No Doubter HR in 2018 *JE - Just Enough Distance HRs in 2018 *Data from ESPN HR Tracker
J.D. Martinez Martinez was a beast the entire 2018 campaign. His 45%
Hard hit rate remains elite, but he figured out that he didn't have to swing
as hard at home to hit HRs. His Distance on HRs fell last year from 414 to
396 as did his BBS of 105.5 to 102.6. Playing in a stacked lineup led to a
massive surge in RBIs. Looking forward, his 330 BA is likely not sustainable
based on his 375 BABIP (yes the elevated Hard hit rate mitigates some of
this), and his 30% HR/FB rate is also something that's very difficult to
replicate. Other than that, he's going to continue to register a ton of RBIs
and Runs in 2019, if he can stay healthy.
Javier Baez Baez kicked up his hard hit rate to 36% last season and an additional 3% contact rate (69%), helped Baez post an MVP caliber season: 101RS/34 HR/111RBI/.290BA/21SB. At 25, Baez has finally arrived. At only 26 it might be counter intuitive to knock down his HR rate, but at a 24% HR/FB rate last season, that's a pace that's going to be difficult to maintain. When Baez connects, he hits many deep blasts, but last year there was 12 "just enoughs", which might regress his HR totals in 2019. There was the bonus 21 steals that his fantasy owners benefited from last season, that might also be difficult to achieve or exceed based on the 30 attempts. There's a lot to like here, especially from the middle infield slot, but may need to temper our expectations based on the underlying indicators. This coming from someone who drafted him as a flyer on their non keeper fantasy team before the 2014 season.
Christian Yelich Last season we said that Yelich's RBI count was going to explode in 2018, and to buy in at the discount. It's been over 4 years since we begged for someone to get in Yelich's ear and have him start lifting the ball, last season he finally did and finished with 36 HRs! MVP season. 25 HRs came in the 2nd half at a HR/FB pace of 48%! Clearly not sustainable despite his increase in HR distance (411) and BBS (105.8). Overall his 35% HR/FB rate is likely to drop into the low to mid 20s, which means that he'll probably be too expensive for us to buy in this season.
Max Muncy At 27 Muncy was nearing the end of being a career minor league player before getting the call up to the majors in 2018. His short season, was nothing short of remarkable. In only 387 Abs he finished with 35 HR/77RBI/75RS. His 47% Hard Hit rate was remarkable, as was his 16% XBH/13.3ISO. His 29% HR/FB rate / 582 SLG is just not emblematic of a hitter who toiled in the minors with a 437 SLG over 7 years. Regression is obviously projected.
Khris Davis For the 3rd consecutive season, Khris posted a 40+HR/100+RBI season. The underlying indicators are legit (104.8 BBS on HRs and elite 45% Hard Hit Rate. Only concern is the BA, as his 69% contact rate, makes him more vulnerable to not being unlucky when he does make contact and the ball stays on the field, that said, his batting average has been exactly the same for 4 straight seasons. Looking back last season his RS count seems a bit elevated as does his RBI count. Needless to say, he's clearly established himself as one of the premier power hitters in baseball and he remains a fantasy commodity.
Juan Soto Amazing season at only 19 years old. Of his 22 HRs, he netted an average distance of 398 and a BBS of 104...which is ordinary on the surface, but includes 10 just enoughs which will lower his 25% HR/FB ratios in 2019. What we are really impressed with was his 23% ISO and only 8% Swinging strike rate....yes this kid had an amazing eye (.80) and quick bat. The future is very bright for this future star.
Trey Mancini His BA took a big dip from 2017, but that was expected
as his BABIP was elevated in 2017. That said his BABIP of 285 was depressed
last season, so we should see a pickup in BA in 2019. His 21% HR/FB rate
remains elevated and appears unsustainable with his 392 distance/103.5 BBS
on his HRs. While his 34% hard hit rate was rather ordinary. Expect more of
the same from Mancini in 2019, with maybe an uptick in his RBI count as
Ian Desmond After a full season in Colorado, Desmond posted a nice 22HR/82RS/88RBI/20SB line. The BA was deflated thanks to an unlucky .279 BABIP, which cost him 20+ point son his BA. The HR/FB rate of 25% was also inflated, so unless he gets more balls in the air this year (~3:1 GB|FB rate), I'd expect that rate to go down towards 18%. That said, to state the obvious, playing in CO, has it's advantages.
Michael Conforto 20% HR/FB rate may be overstated, as his Distance and BBS are right at the mean, as is his 36% Hard Hit rate from a season ago. Looking more closely at his HR's, he hit only 3 "no doubters' and 11 "just enoughs" last season. Although he's still getting better, we're going to need to discount his HR/FB rate this season, which will lead to less HRs....unless he becomes more of a flyball hitter (1.2 GB/FB rate) which is totally possible as power hitters tend to do this as they mature.
Jonathan Schoop School tailed off in 2018, other than the counting stats that were diminished due to injury, his rate indicators were less than 2017. His BA of .233 was hurt by a Singles % that was 40 points below what it should have been, and his teammates didn't get on base or drive him in at nearly the same rate as they did in 2017. He does more a better team this season, a team that register 20 points higher in OBP, which should bring his production rate stats closer to 2017.
Eric Hosmer Hosmer's production has been dampened by his new home and lineup around him. Add to that was his regression back to being more of a heavy groundball hitter last season (almost 3 to 1), which typically plays well for BA, but with a faulty and unlucky .217 Singles Percentage, he became a liability for many fantasy owners. Add to that the fact that he was shorted 12+ RBIs. He's going to rebound, but he's not nearly going to drive in 100 RBIs anytime soon.
Maikel Franco His K rate of 13% is very respectable for a power hitter. His HR/FB rate of 18% is supported by his 104.6 BBS on his HRs. What we don't see consistently enough to this point is his Hard hit rate, which has been wallowing between 28-31% the last 4 years. What's also disappointing is his 19% Infield Fly ball rate, which has always been historically high. I see a hitter that needs to be more patient at the plate and not swing at pitches that he can not square off on. When that happens, we'll see Franco blossom as a fantasy star.
Daniel Palka Palka has big league power as evidenced by his 27 HRs last season in only 409 Abs. Palka has big time swing and miss potential as well, as evidenced by his horrid 65% contact rate and 34% K rate. On top of this most of his struggles to get on base came against RHP, he bombed in limited ABs verses LHP (293 SLG). His power and struggles against LHP are similar to Joey Gallo, but Gallo was only 21 when he was making transitions. At 27, unless he makes some radical changes, he appears locked in a platoon role.
Nelson Cruz Continues to outperform with 24% HR/FB rate, which is a little bit more were it should be based on his elite 105.4 BBS on HRs and 42% Hard Hit rate. He's maintained this high rate through 4 seasons, which is astonishing considering that he'll be 38 this season. We have to project a HR/FB rate in the 20-22% range.
Are you ready to dominate your 2019 Fantasy Baseball Season? Join today and get our industry leading player projections that have helped thousands win their Championships. Click here for more details on how we did last season.