Batted Ball Distance Decliners

On Thursday, I discussed the six hitters whose average fly ball and home run distance increased most from 2012. Today, I will look at the opposite side of the coin, the decliners. While the surgers held onto half of their gains the following year, the decliners held onto about 65% of their decline, as their distance rebounded by just 35% . In other words, a decline in batted ball distance is more real than a surge. Or once again, regression at work, as higher batted ball distances are simply more likely to drop.

Player 2013 HR/FB 2012 HR/FB 2013 Distance 2012 Distance Diff
Ike Davis 11.8% 21.1% 275.7 301.8 -26.1
Carlos Ruiz 5.5% 15.1% 258.2 282.6 -24.3
Josh Hamilton 12.7% 25.6% 274.3 298.3 -24.0
Matt Kemp 9.1% 12.7% 285.3 308.2 -22.9
Wilin Rosario 17.1% 25.5% 285.2 307.9 -22.7

From ranking 11th to 189th. That’s how far Ike Davis fell in the batted ball distance rankings. In 2010, his distance was nearly identical to his 2012 mark, so it’s clear that his struggles were far-reaching. But, his ISO finally did rebound in August after returning from a minor league demotion in early July. Before August, his distance sat at just 275.7 feet. But oddly, his distance actually dropped further to just 265.6 feet over the last month, even though his ISO was a more normal .232. I was optimistic about a rebound based on his sky high walk rate and improved contact percentage upon his return, along with the thought that his power returned in August. However, perhaps that apparent increased power was just a mirage. With no guarantee he’ll depart spring training with a starting job, he remains a complete crapshoot. Though he’s shown that he’s capable of serious power with those previous distances of 300+ feet, so he’s still worth speculating on.

After experiencing a surprise power surge in 2012, Carlos Ruiz fell back to Earth this season, but his distance was actually the lowest of his career since data has been published in 2007. The 2012 season looks like the clear outlier and at age 35, he may only be able to muster a minor rebound.

Josh Hamilton was a massive disappointment last year and his distance declined along with the rest of his skills. Rather than appearing near the top of the distance leaderboard, he hung out with the likes of Daniel Descalso and Brian Roberts. It’s hard to believe that Hamilton is already 33, so he should be expected to endure some age-related decline. He can’t be as bad as he was last year, but I wouldn’t expect him to approach 30 home runs again.

Well, of course. Matt Kemp suffered through like 347 injuries last year, limiting him to just 290 plate appearances. When he was actually on the field, you wouldn’t be laughed out for being convinced that another baseball player was actually occupying his body. With more injury/recovery issues to deal with over this past offseason, it might be another year before Kemp regains full health and has the chance to genuinely rebound. He likely won’t be cheap enough in drafts/auctions to be worth the risk.

As a rookie, Wilin Rosario impressively ranked fourth in baseball in distance in 2012. But the great times couldn’t last, as his distance dropped to a more reasonable and sustainable mark. Amazingly, Rosario has nary a Triple-A plate appearance to his name, yet has still managed to hit like one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. With such a limited track record, it’s hard to predict if his distance will jump back toward his 2012 mark and by how much. I am guessing that 308 feet is a bit over his head and he’ll settle into the 285-295 foot range. That’s of course plenty good enough and ensures that he hits 20 to 25 homers a year.

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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. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

11 Responses to “Batted Ball Distance Decliners”

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  1. ray says:

    Kemp had offseason shoulder surgery and the shoulder is back to 100% according to reports. He has been lifting since the fall, something he wasn’t able to do last offseason. I see the power returning if the ankle is 100%.

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    • Cuck City says:

      Everyone is in the best shape of their careers in March

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    • philosofool says:

      I see Matt Kemp as the new Grady Sizemore.

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    • Spud says:

      We already know the ankle isn’t 100% to start. I doubt it gets healthy enough this yr for him to be very good. I expect minimal steals and his power to rebound a bit but not enough to make him worth his price, as he says in the article. Next yr I’ll be buying low on kemp…

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      • TheUncool says:

        Probably depends on your league, but in a relatively deep, dynasty league, you’ll probably need to buy low sooner than a year from now… maybe as soon as a week or two ago before recent reports that he’s feeling good and actually has a good shot at returning to be productive this year w/ a decent shot at becoming a top performer again by 2015.

        No, personally, I would not expect him to ever steal a lot of bases again… maybe a dozen or so come 2015 (or whenever his ankle gets as healthy and strong as it’ll ever get) w/ maybe a small chance of reaching 15-20 at some point down the line. Of course, he could also go the other way and not steal at all anymore, so “buying low” should take that into account.

        I think he should likely be healthy enough to mash again by 2015, if not a good deal sooner, but yeah, there are definite risks here. IF, however, you wait to see him start producing first, it’ll probably be a bit too late to buy low on him… not that you must buy low on him of course…

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  2. eph_unit says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Here’s a cool idea for an article, inspried by your Ruiz comment. Look at historical average BB distances, and compare with last year. It would be nice to see who overperformed–perhaps a sign of an anomaly year?–and who underperformed most compared to their hist avgs–perhaps a sign of an uncharacteristically bad year, or injury? Maybe that could be part 3 of this series?

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    • JW says:

      Presumably there will be perfect correlation.

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    • stonepie says:

      the article linked in this one goes into that. you can pull up 2013 and 2012’s batted ball distance’s and see who is likely to gain some distance back, and who could be losing some next year.

      chase headley is a good example. went from 304 feet in 2012 down to 282 last year. according to the article linked in this one, he stands to gain a substantial amount back. With headley’s thumb issues last year harboring his power, he looks like a good bet for a rebound.

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  3. MDL says:

    Before August, [Ike Davis’] distance sat at just 275.7 feet. But oddly, his distance actually dropped further to just 265.6 feet over the last month, even though his ISO was a more normal .232.

    The table lists his 2013 distance at 275.7 feet, not 265.6, so I think the difference between 2012 and 2013 is more like -36.2 feet.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Looks like the data in my spreadsheet wasn’t completely updated, crap. Davis’ season distance was actually around 272 feet.

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  4. TheUncool says:

    Sure hope Davis regains at least some of his power. Kinda depending on him (in platoon w/ Mark Reynolds) for the forseeable future in this one new, relatively deep, salary dynasty league. Yeah, depending on him is probably never a good thing, but it’s tough when you get to draft 20th out of 20 (in a 20-round draft for a 40-man roster) and have to take real-life contracts for drafted players to count against your $110M cap.

    At least this league uses OPS instead of AVG… :-p and I’m only paying Davis (and Reynolds) peanuts (from auction). Still, to think I just barely missed on taking either Encarnacion or the other Davis — they were both taken just ahead of my pick… :-/

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