Your Potential 2018 Fly Ball Revolution Beneficiaries — A Review

After just about a week of the season, I published a list of eight hitters whose early fly ball rates were significantly higher than their 2017 marks. I dubbed these guys as potential fly ball revolution participators. Let’s find out if they were able to maintain their FB% gains and whether it led to a home run surge.

Early 2018 FB% Surgers
Name 2017 FB% 2018 FB% Through Apr 4 2018 FB% After Apr 4 Diff – Pre Apr 4 vs Post Apr 4
Anthony Rendon 47.2% 65.0% 42.8% -22.2%
Marwin Gonzalez 36.2% 53.8% 35.3% -18.5%
Luis Valbuena 47.3% 64.7% 41.5% -23.2%
Nick Markakis 29.2% 44.4% 29.5% -14.9%
Joey Gallo 54.2% 68.8% 48.4% -20.4%
George Springer 33.8% 47.1% 34.1% -13.0%
Xander Bogaerts 30.5% 43.5% 35.1% -8.4%
Eduardo Nunez 29.1% 42.1% 31.9% -10.2%

If nothing else, this table does a pretty darn good job in convincing us that a reasonable sample size is needed before believing in a skill change. Every single one of the eight players saw their FB% plummet, seven of them by double digits. Amazingly, half of them actually posted a FB% that was lower than 2017 after April 4!

It was a tall task to expect Anthony Rendon to raise his FB% for a third straight season, as his 47.2% mark in 2017 was already well above the league average. And obviously there was little chance he was going to maintain the 65% FB% he posted during the first week of the season. Be aware that there’s hidden BABIP risk here given his high fly ball rate.

Marwin Gonzalez enjoyed a surprise breakout in 2017, so would it have been that much of a shocker if he transformed again in 2018? His 2017 FB% was a career high, so he would have become an entirely new player if he suddenly became a 50%+ fly ball guy. It’s a good thing he didn’t maintain a rate that high as he doesn’t have the power to take full advantage with just a league average HR/FB rate. Besides, his BABIP would likely plummet.

Luis Valbuena was a stealthy AL-Only OBP league asset, but after being released mid-season, his career may be over.

Nick Markakis’s fly ball rate regressed right back to his 2017 mark the rest of the season, however, he did push his HR/FB rate to the highest mark since 2012. A rebound in strikeout rate propped up his batting average and he was finally again a mixed league asset. Sadly, these aren’t the skills I want anywhere near my fantasy team.

Gosh, Joey Gallo’s 2017 fly ball rate already easily led the league among qualified hitters, did he really need to boost it even higher?! He did just that over this season’s first week, to a ridiculous near 69% mark. But that didn’t last very long and he ended up settling for a sub-50% rate the rest of the way, which was below his full season 2017 mark. Unless he could manage to cut down on his strikeout rate while also not giving up any power, I don’t see much more upside than this. A much better value in OBP leagues, so he’s likely to be undervalued there.

Just like Markakis, George Springer’s fly ball rate declined right back to what he posted in 2017 after a fly ball heavy first week. Though maintaining his vastly improved sub-20% strikeout rate was a great sign, his HR/FB rate fell to a career worst. For that reason, there’s upside in 2019 and he could come cheaper than he has in years…leading to profit potential.

Xander Bogaerts was one of the few whose rest of season FB% remained higher than his 2017 mark. When combined with a career best HR/FB rate, you’re left with the most homers in a season in his career. Intriguingly, his walk rate rose for a third straight season, so he’s still growing.

You don’t want Eduardo Nunez hitting fly balls more than 40% of the time, and after the first week, he returned right to his career average. Unfortunately, without homers and a sudden lack of speed, he was a massive disappointment, made all the more surprising given that Dustin Pedroia (who he was initially starting in place of) was only healthy enough to record 13 plate appearances.

***
Once again, this serves as a reminder to take a step back from early season performance and have confidence in the projections. Regression is like gravity and players generally succumb to it. It’s tempting to pick breakouts based on early skill changes that seemingly point to sustained growth in talent level, but the vast majority of the time, it’s just randomness you would never have even noticed if that week or two happened in July.



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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. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Bobby Ayala
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Though it didn’t turn up anything this time, I appreciate alerting us to early trends like this! More next year please!