Top Gainers in Fly Ball Rate - What to Expect in 2017

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The baseball universe is really coming into its own when it comes to advanced data metrics that we can parse through, with hard-hit rates, exit velocities, spray charts and batted-ball outcomes all becoming accessible tools to throw in the toolkit before we go digging for answers.

Today's piece continues the series where we explore some notable gainers in categories that are largely associated with power. We've looked at hard-hit rate, and now we'll check in with fly-ball rates before investigating those who increased their pull rates. Then we'll tie it all together with a nice little piece at the end combining all three. Some player profiles will briefly bring in the other metrics for context, but there's always more to explore.

We're including players here that have accrued at least 200 PAs in both 2015 and 2016 to have something actionable to utilize, but we'll omit names that are only relevant in 50-team leagues in order to address viable options.

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Top Fly-Ball Rate Gainers in 2016

Player Name 2016 FB% 2015 FB% Difference
James McCann 40.60% 27.00% 13.60%
Jorge Soler 43.30% 29.80% 13.50%
Corey Dickerson 45.00% 32.10% 12.90%
Enrique Hernandez 42.10% 30.40% 11.70%
Robinson Cano 36.10% 25.30% 10.80%
Anthony Rendon 43.80% 33.30% 10.50%
Jason Heyward 33.30% 23.50% 9.80%
Salvador Perez 47.10% 37.40% 9.70%
Jung Ho Kang 37.30% 27.60% 9.70%
Brett Lawrie 42.40% 32.70% 9.70%
Pedro Alvarez 36.40% 26.90% 9.50%
Jonathan Lucroy 38.70% 29.40% 9.30%
Jason Kipnis 37.40% 28.10% 9.30%
Xander Bogaerts 34.90% 25.80% 9.10%
Justin Smoak 42.20% 33.60% 8.60%
Kevin Kiermaier 37.60% 29.30% 8.30%
Yasmany Tomas 31.40% 23.20% 8.20%
Brandon Belt 46.00% 37.90% 8.10%
Nick Markakis 35.10% 27.00% 8.10%
Wilmer Flores 45.00% 37.10% 7.90%



What to Expect From These Fly-Ball Rate Gainers?

Jorge Soler +13.5%

Soler had issues with contact in 2015 (30% strikeout rate) but managed to post a decent .262 average thanks to a meaty 27.8% line-drive rate. However, this meant fewer fly balls, as he only turned in a 29.8% fly-ball mark en route to 10 homers in 404 plate appearances. He turned up the power in 2016 with a sweet 43.3% FB rate that yielded 12 homers in only 264 PAs. Yup, two additional homers in 140 fewer PAs. That’s what fly balls do! Of course, it came with an average drop to .238 with the same troubling strikeout rate (25%). I can’t back Soler as a great buy in ’17, especially considering he’s currently 5-for-41 in Spring Training for KC, but the power is certainly there.

Corey Dickerson +12.9%

Dickerson’s contact rate plummeted in Tampa Bay, which led to a 59-point drop in average, but his monstrous 45% FB rate allowed him to smack 24 homers. He should have some more firepower in the tank assuming he’s now a bit more comfortable in the AL and doesn’t have to fight through a thumb sprain, let alone that he lost 25 pounds. I’m not one for the “best shape of his life” narratives, but quantifiable measures like that are solid. Hopefully one doesn’t have to play him against southpaws – he has a career 2.02 GB/FB rate against them versus a 0.83 mark against righties that has yielded only six homers in 310 PAs (57 HRs in 1163 PAs against RHP).

Robinson Cano +10.8%

This was Cano’s biggest jump in metrics between 2015 and 2016, as his hard-hit and pull rates didn’t fluctuate by more than 3%. Hitting a ton of fly balls is one to way to nearly double your home run total, as he shot up to 39 from 21 despite only logging 39 additional PAs. 2016’s total was nearly triple his mark from 2014, as the keystone stud finally made good on his huge deal from Seattle. We hadn’t seen Cano post a fly ball rate north of 30% in any of his prior four seasons, but 2016 was closest to his wonderful 2010 in the Bronx (36.5% FB rate). Yes, Cano has shown this before, but it’d still be a leap to expect a replication of this in 2017 – even if we can feel safer about him not slipping to 2014/15 levels now.

Anthony Rendon +10.5%

Rendon bounced back in a big way in 2016 despite it not feeling supremely flashy. His 20 homers and 12 steals came with very healthy counting stats and a .270 average. The fact that he boosted flies by double digits while maintaining a similar line-drive rate meant it came at the expense of grounders, yet his BABIP still held close to his career .311 rate (.304). Without any crazy HR/FB spike and an improved strikeout rate (-1.6%), Rendon showed a lot of encouraging signs as he now enters his prime age-27 season. With durability woes shadowing him, he has now played in at least 153 games in two of his past three seasons and should be a nice 90/20/80/10/.270 play yet again in 2017.

Jason Heyward +9.8%

Here’s a cautionary tale of just assuming that fly balls result in good things, or even line drives. While Heyward – who averaged roughly 35% on his fly-ball rate between 2011-14 – brought his horrible 23.5% rate from 2015 back up to 33.3%, he simply made terrible contact. His 27.1% soft-contact rate was atrocious and led the league for qualified hitters, edging out feared hitter Jose Iglesias by 0.6%. And even in his gross 2015, he still only posted an average exit velocity over 0.5 MPH below league average in three out of the 28 recorded weeks. That number soared to 16 in 2016. He was consistently awful when generating contact, let alone whiffing entirely, so I’m not buying here.

Salvador Perez +9.7%

Remember when Salvy came up and was nearly a .300 hitter with roughly 12 homers? Neither do I! The soon-to-be 27-year-old backstop became one of baseball’s most extreme fly-ball hitters, with his 47.1% rate coming in fourth place out of qualified hitters between Brian Dozier and Evan Longoria. Those in points leagues will want to note that the power jump came with a 7% rise in strikeout rate, but we all have to make sacrifices (usually). While Perez may not post a FB% that flirts in the league lead in 2017, his profile is becoming pretty clear as he enters his prime seasons. He should be a nice target for 20 homers and a .250 average here. It isn’t as though he was going to beat out many grounders anyway.

Jung Ho Kang +9.7%

Legal woes aside because this is strictly fantasy-related, Kang profiles as a hitter you want in 2017. How long it takes him to see the field due to requiring extended Spring Training is a hurdle, but he showed off the power in ’16 after a well-rounded rookie season in ’15. His average dropped 32 points to .255 but he blasted 21 homers in only 370 PAs (compared to 15 HRs in 467 PAs in ’15) with an astounding 23.3% HR/FB rate. That’s what happens when you smash more flies alongside a 5% jump in hard-hit rate.

Jonathan Lucroy +9.3%

Lucroy has the type of swing that can utilize the entire field for a high average, but 2016 saw him incorporate some more pull into his swing to give him a career-high 24 homers to go with the .292 average. While his 15.8% HR/FB rate was 4.1% higher than any previous mark, he showed some other marks that indicated more of an uppercut swing. Namely, his soft contact rose 6.5% and his zone-contact rate dropped 5.3% as his swing plane changed a bit, yet obviously the ramifications were A-OK. He should take a step back in either the power or average mark in ’17, a choice that should be easily noticed early by checking in on his fly-ball rate and the like. Regardless, he should be a top-three C yet again one way or another.

Jason Kipnis + 9.3%

Not too shocking considering his 23 homers were a few leaps and bounds ahead of the nine he hit in 2015 and the six from ’14, but it’s still good to see the rates harken back to the ceiling he flashed in 2012-13. Remember how he hit 17 homers and 84 RBI alongside 86 runs, 30 steals and a .284 average? While the speed went down, the bat came back to life with serious power. His 13.1% HR/FB rate from ‘16 wasn’t far off from the 12.4% rate in ’13, as well as the 21.2% K rate (21.7% in ’13) meaning this version of Kipnis has some real viability. Of course, starting the season on the DL with a shoulder injury is not what you want to see from someone who has a nice swing, just look at his teammate Michael Brantley, but at the very least his 2016 should not be written off as a blip.

Xander Bogaerts +9.1%

What a strange 2016 Bogie had. The young upstart Bostonian lit the world on fire in the first half but collapsed after the All-Star break. He only had a 31.5% fly-ball rate through the first half, but that mark jumped to 39.2% in the second half as he seemingly sold out a bit for power to keep his bat afloat amidst a 76-point slip in average. Either one would still be up from the 25.8% clip from 2015, but we’d obviously take the fewer flies if the all-around value would return. At the ripe age of 24, Bogaerts should have a good chance at reorienting himself with a healthy, but not overkill, approach to power in pull-happy Fenway Park.

Kevin Kiermaier +8.3%

Kiermaier is the type who could really flourish in 2017, but he could also just get wrecked by an extreme approach if pitchers can find some weak points to exploit. We’ve discussed him in terms of pulling the ball nearly half of the time, but 2016 saw him begin to really try to lift the ball (37.6%). As a result, his BABIP dropped from .306 to .278 – though he kept his strikeout rate steady at about 18%. With 30 steals possible out of his legs, the 15-18 homer potential from his power-hungry bat makes him a solid flier in drafts. He still posted a 20.6% line-drive rate, roughly the league average, with most of the flies coming out of 2015’s ground-ball budget. He may only hit .250, but the profile backs some untapped power as the premier defender enters his age-27 season. If only he can stay healthy...

Yasmany Tomas +8.2%

You thought we’d get through one of these without mentioning Tomas? Nonsense! Partly thanks to under-performing in 2015 and likely over-performing a bit in 2016, the gains are putting him on many maps. Sadly, his 31.4% fly-ball rate is still below the league-average mark of 34.6%, but perhaps the other gains in hard-hit and pull rates, as well as playing in hitter-friend Chase Field, can help him keep that HR/FB efficiency high. His 25% clip in that category from ’16 will likely still slip a bit, but if he can hover around 20% then a 25-homer campaign should be mighty doable for Arizona’s 26-year-old slugger.


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