Hardy & Gordon: HR/FB Decliners

On Saturday, I checked in on some surprising HR/FB ratio surgers and attempted to determine what we can expect from these hitters next season. Today I’ll look at the opposite end, those hitters whose HR/FB ratio have experienced a large decline. Will they be bargains in next year’s drafts or money traps?

J.J. Hardy
2012 HR/FB: 9.7%
2011 HR/FB: 15.7%

After a two year drought, Hardy returned to his home run hitting ways last season after moving to the cozy confines of Camden Yards. Having posted low teen HR/FB ratios each season from 2006-2008 and now fully healthy again, it seemed like this was no fluke. But after swatting 30 bombs last season, he hasn’t yet reached even 20 home runs this year in 34 more at-bats. In 2011, Hardy’s fly balls and home runs traveled an average distance of 288 feet. Based strictly on this distance, this seemed too low to match up with a nearly 16% HR/FB ratio to begin with. This season, that distance has dropped to 281 feet. So the drop in HR/FB ratio is supported by a decline in average distance, but obviously seven feet should not have caused this steep of a decline. That brings me back to my previous comment that last year’s HR/FB ratio itself seemed flukey.

Hardy’s ESPN Home Run Tracker data is also quite unimpressive. Though his average standard distance and speed off bat have dipped slightly from last year, his distance was already well below the league average. This year, his speed off bat is as well. In addition, his “Just Enough” home runs represent about 31% of his total, which is just above the average. Sometimes when a hitter’s home run power declines, it’s because he’s missing those shots that barely clear the fence, which could simply be a matter of a gust of wind or a millimeter difference in where he makes contact with the ball. This is not the case for Hardy. I think this season’s HR/FB ratio is much closer to Hardy’s current true talent level than last year’s. I might bump next year’s projection up to an 11% mark, which is about where his career average sits, but no higher than that.

Alex Gordon
2012 HR/FB: 7.7%
2011 HR/FB: 12.6%

After teasing us with some intriguing skills in previous seasons, and obviously garnering great hype when he first debuted, Gordon finally had his full breakout last year. Though the home run power was still a bit below what we eventually hoped from him, he was a doubles machine and finally reached the .200 ISO mark. This year, Gordon has posted a career worst HR/FB ratio, just after setting a career high mark. The doubles haven’t stopped coming though, which is a good sign. Last year, his average fly ball plus home run distance was 290 feet. That is just barely above what Hardy did, but this distance better matches up with the HR/FB ratio. This year, that distance has declined to 284 feet, a similar drop to what Hardy has experienced. Gordon’s distance is nearly identical to hardy’s, yet his HR/FB ratio is much lower. Just based on this data alone, it would appear that he has been a bit unlucky.

His Home Run Tracker data from last year was fantastic. His homers averaged well over 400 feet at a speed off bat above the league average. This year, both those numbers are down, agreeing with the above data that Gordon has legitimately been hitting for less power this year. Even more discouraging is that a whopping 7 of his 11 total home runs have been of the “Just Enough” variety and 3 of those would have been home runs in 6 or fewer ballparks. Gordon has been a very frustrating player to try to project. He’ll already be 29 next season (woah, even I didn’t realize he’s that old!), but he might have one more power spike left in him. Since he’s still under 30 and his doubles rate remains excellent, I fully expect a power rebound next year to somewhere between a 10%-11% HR/FB ratio projection.

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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.

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Dave in gb
Dave in gb

For Hardy, he’s played most of the season with either back or wrist problems. I agree bumping to 11% because when he’s healthy, I doubt 9% is his true level.