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Surprising Batted Ball Distance Laggards

Yesterday I discussed the leaders in average home run plus fly ball distance, some of which were surprises and validated the player’s early power surge. Instead of simply looking at the laggards today, which include such obvious names as Juan Pierre and Skip Schumaker, I’m just going to cherry pick some of the surprising names toward the bottom of the ranking list.

Rank Name Distance HR/FB
191 Josh Hamilton 268.24 9.3%
200 Matt Kemp 266.30 2.7%
205 Ian Kinsler 264.63 13.0%
211 Ben Zobrist 263.31 6.8%
215 Andre Ethier 262.24 6.7%
220 Justin Morneau 261.65 4.0%
227 Nick Swisher 258.57 13.5%
228 Paul Konerko 258.38 8.0%

As a reminder, the league average distance is around 275-280 feet.

As if there weren’t enough metrics to confirm that Josh Hamilton is truly struggling right now, here’s another. Since 2007, Hamilton’s average distance has typically been between 290 and 300 feet, so it is clear that he’s simply not hitting the ball as hard. Yesterday, news came out that Hamilton has been playing with an illness for the last 10-14 days. That may have very well been affecting his power at the plate, but of course he wasn’t exactly lighting it up before this purported illness. He’s likely to come out of this funk at some point, but given the red flags in some of the advanced metrics last year that were clouded by his career best HR/FB ratio, combined with the switch to a much less forgiving ballpark, I’d have to be given an opportunity to buy really low if I were to acquire him.

Nope, Matt Kemp hasn’t had any bad luck with balls not going over the fence, he’s simply not hitting them far enough. Last year he led all of baseball with a 313 foot average distance, so this is quite the decline. The offseason shoulder surgery he is returning from seems like the obvious culprit. His power is likely to progressively return, but who knows when that will be. Like Hamilton, unless I can buy him real low, I’m just staying away. At least he has five steals already, after stealing just nine bases last year in about three times the plate appearances.

If you were to look solely at Ian Kinsler‘s historical home run totals, you would almost surely believe he was a power hittin’ second baseman. But that’s really not the case. His power is derived from his excellent contact rate and a ton of fly balls. His HR/FB rate is actually right around the league average. That’s of course decent considering his position, but his power really isn’t as good as it appears on the surface. In fact, Kinsler’s average distance has always sat around this mark, which makes me question how he even managed a league average HR/FB rate to begin with. But he has always done it, so if you’re an owner looking at his distance, there’s no reason to panic.

Ben Zobrist‘s power has been pretty inconsistent through his career. His distance over the past three years has been right around 278 feet, which includes his 2010 season when his HR/FB rate was just 6.0%. If we had this distance data then, we would have confidently been able to forecast his HR/FB rate rebound the following season. The fear now with this current decline in distance is another sub-10% HR/FB rate could be on its way. Unfortunately, I don’t pretend to have the answer.

Andre Ethier‘s power rebounded last year, but it’s MIA once again this season. His average distance has really bounced around since 2007 ranging from a low of 278 feet to a high of 303 feet. His fly ball rate is at a career high, so if he can manage to increase his distance and hit more of those fly balls over the wall, that could be very good for his rest of season home run output.

Last year, Justin Morneau gave us a glimmer of hope that his power was on the mend and maybe this year it would take another leap toward a full recovery. Well, that hasn’t happened. Injuries and a concussion have clearly taken a toll on his performance and he may never be the same hitter he once was, which is unfortunate.

Nick Swisher‘s batted ball distance is a complete mismatch with his above average HR/FB rate. He dealt with shoulder soreness at the end of April and into early May, so it’s possible that has been the culprit behind his distance outage.

On yesterday’s episode of The Sleeper and the Bust, we took our first Twitter question that asked us about Paul Konerko. At the time, I hadn’t looked at the distance data, and now that’s yet another mark against him. Aging veterans are some of the hardest to project, especially if they get off to a slow start. You can never be sure if it’s just a standard slow start like any hitter could experience, or if it’s signaling the beginning of the end. I would still consider trying to buy low on him in AL-Only leagues, but he may very well be barely worth above replacement level in shallow mixed leagues for the rest of the season.