Last Tuesday, I compared the average home run and fly ball distances for qualified hitters with last season. Of the 10 hitters who enjoyed the largest distance surges, 8 of them had also experienced an increased HR/FB rate. Today, I check in on the other side of the coin — those hitters whose distance has declined the most. Whether an injury is to blame or some other explanation is behind the drop, it’s a bad sign for a hitter’s power and HR/FB rate.
|Name||2012 HR/FB||2013 HR/FB||2013 Distance||2012 Distance||Diff|
The success of the relationship between HR/FB and distance continues, as this time all 10 hitters have experienced a decline in HR/FB rate this year, all of which have been quite significant.
Carlos Ruiz was one of several catchers last year who enjoyed a sudden power surge. His HR/FB rate nearly doubled from his previous career high and he posted his first .200+ ISO. Whatever got into him last year has completely left his body (and no, this is not a thinly veiled reference to PEDs). Sometimes, there’s just no explanation for things in baseball and this appears to be one of those. Of course, Ruiz’ power hasn’t just reverted, but totally evaporated, as his ISO sits at a paltry .048. In fact, he just hit his first homer of the year last Tuesday. He missed time due to a hamstring injury, but that wouldn’t normally kill a hitter’s power. It’s clear last year was a fluke.
I was concerned about Matt Kemp coming off of shoulder surgery, whereas it seemed like the majority of fantasy owners completely ignored the risk. But, I didn’t expect his power to decline this much of course. He led all of baseball in distance in 2012, so Kemp’s newfound HR/FB rate level of above 20% looked completely legit. But injury after injury has destroyed his season and you have to wonder how he will recover next year with a full off-season to regain his shoulder strength.
I was always suspicious of David Freese‘s inflated HR/FB rate, but his 2012 distance suggested that it was no fluke. He homered yesterday, so his HR/FB rate is now a little higher. Freese opened the year on the disabled list due to a back injury, so you wonder how much that has affected his power at the plate. That’s the only possible explanation for such a drastic dip in distance. The problem here is that he hits way too many ground balls, so he needs to post a high HR/FB rate to have even a bit of positive value in the home run category. It’s just not the type of skill set I like to count on.
We all know about Ike Davis‘ struggles this year and his demotion to the minors. While he has performed much better since returning to the Mets, he has still just homered once. Of course, he did exactly the same thing last year when he struggled over the first two months before catching fire. His ISO was way down as well early on and then he hit 27 home runs over the final 4 months of the season. Though he will likely continue to sit against left-handers, I remain optimistic that the power will come.
Chase Headley is the second hitter so far who enjoyed a dramatic HR/FB rate and distance spike last season. While his HR/FB is still above his pre-2012 levels, it’s obviously not what his owners were looking for. No one expected a repeat of last year, but the thought was that some of the expected regression might be offset by the shorter fences at Petco Park. Headley opened the season on the DL due to a fractured thumb, so you wonder if that has affected his swing and power at all. If not, then it seems that last year was just your standard career year and a late season hot streak isn’t coming.
Josh Hamilton‘s average distance is actually below the league average. That’s hard to believe. In scrolling through his news page, he has dealt with ankle, back and wrist issues throughout the season. It’s just par for the course with Hamilton and you don’t know what else has bothered him. I thought last year’s big season made him overvalued in drafts this year, but his disappointing performance this year will likely make him undervalued next year. Perhaps the biggest concern is his inability to make respectable contact any longer. Until last year, he posted pretty good strikeout rates for a power hitter, but then he began to swing and miss at a significant rate and that has continued this year. His BABIP should certainly improve, but he’ll continue to be a far cry from what fantasy owners were expecting.
Paul Konerko is 37 years old and has battled back problems this year, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his power is in freefall. He’s been a model of consistency throughout his career, but all good things do eventually come to an end. His homer yesterday aside, I wouldn’t count on any sort of rebound these last two months. That average distance ranks 268th out of just 292 hitters! Sluggers like Alcides Escobar, Rajai Davis and Adeiny Hechavarria are outdistancing him. Sad.
You had to know that last year’s 20% HR/FB rate wasn’t going to be repeated by Billy Butler. That rate has dropped right back to where it has always sat, but the distance has plummeted. The reason he won’t even reach 20 homers this year, though, is because the fly ball rate drop he experienced last year has continued into this season. Suddenly, there isn’t a significant difference between he and James Loney.
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