I am often asked what I use a hitter’s average fly ball and home run distance for. There are various ways the distance number could be used, such as identifying potential HR/FB rate surgers and decliners. This is a good method to uncover short-term breakouts and busts, but batted ball distance isn’t exactly a predictive statistic. It merely tells us what has already happened.
Similar to SIERA, my ERA estimator of choice, it is backwards looking and essentially suggests what the results should be given what the player has done. So the best way to utilize batted ball distance is as a validation tool. The HR/FB rate surgers and decliners list will only turn out correct if the hitter continues to hit balls a similar distance. That won’t necessarily be the case and of course we cannot be sure if it will be beforehand.
Instead, the distance mark helps me to determine if a surprise HR/FB performance is real. It doesn’t mean either the distance or HR/FB rate is sustainable, but that’s no different than any other stat we might be analyzing. So with that said, here are seven hitters whose surprising HR/FB rates are actually validated by their batted ball distances.
Brandon Hicks has become the everyday second baseman in San Francisco while Marco Scutaro remains on the disabled list and he has provided some surprising pop. The 28-year-old is with his fourth organization and has already set a career high in at-bats at the Major League level. His batted ball distance, along with a history of solid ISO marks in the minors, suggests his power output has been for real. Boosting his home run total even further is his extreme fly ball ways.
Jhonny Peralta is already just two homers short of his total from last season and four away from the year before that. His HR/FB rate sits at its highest mark since his first full season all the way back in 2005. While his distance tells us that he is currently deserving of his home run total, it’s hard to believe that the 33-year-old will keep this up and set a new career high in batted ball distance.
Who woulda thunk that Neil Walker would be tied for sixth in homers in the National League near the end of May? Walker has consistently posted batted ball distances in the 280s and has never posted a mark above 290 feet, so this would easily set a new career high. His HR/FB rate is certainly up, but it hasn’t surged to the point that raises anyone’s eyebrows. What’s really driving his home run outburst is a career low strikeout rate and a tie for a career high in fly ball rate. Basically, everything has come together for the 28-year-old. Whether it continues, I don’t know, but he’s still just 28-years-old, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if this is his career year.
Most figured that Domonic Brown was not going to repeat his 19.4% HR/FB rate from last season. His batted ball distance didn’t support such an inflated mark, but you had to assume that he would hold onto some of those gains. At the very least, he should be good for another double digit HR/FB rate. Well, that hasn’t happened yet this year and a small decline in fly ball rate hasn’t helped matters. His distance ranks just 188th out of 237, which fails to provide optimism that a power surge is on the horizon like last May.
What we thought we knew about Wil Myers was that he was going to strike out and he was going to flash lots of power. While he has continued to strike out, the power has disappeared. Myers ranks just behind Brown on the leaderboard and that’s pretty shocking. This is the same guy who has flashed massive power in the minors and hit 37 homers in 2012. All of his peripherals look normal, so it’s curious what is causing this power outage.
After going all of April without a dinger, David Wright finally hit his second home run of May earlier in the week. Wright’s batted ball distance has generally been in the 290-300 foot range, so a mark below 270 feet represents a significant drop. Aside from his power going MIA, he has lost all semblance of patience, as his walk rate has been cut in half, while his SwStk% is at the second highest mark of his career. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also been successful stealing just twice in five tries. Needless to say, there are red flags galore here, but without any clear explanation or rumblings of an injury, it’s hard to provide any actionable advice. As an owner myself, I’m holding and crossing my fingers.
If David Wright has been disappointing, then the slightly cheaper version of him has been even more so. Eric Hosmer has combined for a total of one homers plus steals. Hosmer’s batted ball distance had increased each season since his debut, and finished at 297 feet last year. So his current 263 foot mark is quite the free fall. It ranks just 204th on the leaderboard. Interestingly, his fly ball rate is at a career high, so if his HR/FB rate was normal, he had a chance to surprise us on the upside. Since he’s not even stealing bases, something that boosted his value as the rare corner man with speed, he may very well be a sell low option. I own him myself in one league and will have to consider making such a move.
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