Gotta Be the Ball – HR/FB Ratio

Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and Scott Kingery??? @gjewett of Fantasy Alarm tweeted on Monday that these three players were the only ones with 130 PAs, OBP over .380, and a .660 or higher slugging percentage.  Scott Kingery has been hot of late since becoming an every day player since Odubel Herrera was placed on “administrative leave”.  This fact made me wonder why did Kingery break out and was his break out similar to those of some other break outs.

First I looked at what was different in Kingery’s peripherals.  His BABIP and ISO are at levels that are incredibly above his numbers from a year ago.  His BABIP of .420 is historically unsustainable as I covered in my article from last week.  This number will very likely regress as the season progresses.  The ISO of .320 ranks him 16th in the league based on players with at least 100 plate appearances, just behind Mike Trout.

Is he hitting the ball harder? Is his plate discipline better? Is he hitting more line drives or fly balls?  When looking at his numbers from 2018 to 2019 there are few, if any, major differences except one.

Line Drive % Fly Ball % O-Contact % Z-Contact% HR/FB %
2018 24.2 40.8 61.8 81.5 6
2019 24.7 36 56.5 81.6 25

Kingery’s HR/FB ratio is at a rate that is four times what it was last year.  There is little in his peripherals to explain this increase.  Did he just get stronger?  Did he change his swing enough to produce the increased distance? He’s hitting 10% less fly balls and making contact in the zone at the same rate.  Let’s look at some other break out players and compare.

Ketel Marte is another player who is far exceeding expectations this year.  His ISO of .279 ranks him 33rd in those with 100 PAs.  His BABIP is below the league average at .283.  The BABIP is in line with his career average, but the ISO is over 100 points higher than his career .152.  Let’s look at his peripherals and see if there is anything that stands out.

Line Drive % Fly Ball % O-Contact% Z-Contact% HR/FB %
2018 19.7 29 77.5 90.4 10.9
2019 20.2 38 71.7 91.2 21.7

Again, there isn’t much change from year to year although his fly ball % is up a bit.  His HR/FB ratio has doubled and along with the increase in fly balls, this has increased his HR production.  What’s different for Marte this year?

One more player to look at is Max Kepler.  His ISO ranks him 29th this year and his BABIP of .266 is near his career average of .258.  He has hit 17 HRs in 270 ABs compared to last year’s 20 HRs in 611 ABs.  He’s another who’s numbers are not far off of last year’s.  His LD, FB, O-Contact, and Z-Contact percentages are in line with last year’s and to no one’s surprise, his HR/FB ratio has nearly doubled from 9.9 to 18.3%.

The only conclusion I can come up with here is “it’s the ball”.  For some reason, certain players are benefiting from the differences in the ball this year over others.  You would expect this to be true across the board and for the most part it is as we have seen prolific HR numbers in both the majors and minors who are using the same ball for the first time this year.  The problem is, there are other players who have not increased their HR/FB ratios.

    • Mike Trout has a HR/FB% of 23.8 this year compared to 24.5 in 2018.
    • AL HR leader and recent NY Yankee acquisition Edwin Encarnacion has a rate that is slightly higher but still in line with his numbers from 2016-2018.  He’s up to 22.8 in 2019 after seasons of 21.5, 21.3 and 19.5.
    • Christian Yelich’s 35% rate last year was only the second such season with a HR/FB ratio over 35% since 2016 and he is following that up with the third such season as he’s at 35.1% in 2019.  A continued torrid pace, but no increase over last year.

One would expect that if the juiced ball were the sole reason for the increase in HR and HR/FB ratios achieved by the break out stars of 2019, you would see at least some increase in these numbers in all players.

Using this information in a way to identify players who you may want to target in a trade, I looked at players with low fly ball rates but high HR/FB ratios.  As players continue to try to hit more fly balls or increase their launch angles, these players have room to grow.

FB% HR/FB %
Tommy Pham 20.6 25
Garrett Cooper 18.5 35.3
Shohei Otani 17.7 47.1

Garrett Cooper is owned in only 28% of Yahoo leagues.  He is definitely someone who should be looked at this week to add from the waiver wire.  Pham and Otani are widely owned, but they can be trade targets if their owners are willing to deal.  Kingery’s ownership is at 59% which is way too low at this point and he too should be added while the iron is hot, but don’t expect him to continue at this pace.  Kepler is available in 20% and Marte in 14% of leagues.  They should both be owned in 100% regardless of size so if you’re in one of those leagues, snag them up.

Stats as of 6/17 and courtesy of Fangraphs.

 

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Andy Spiteri

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Playing fantasy sports since 1991 when you got your stats in the mail on Thursdays...Husband and father of two. I put people to sleep for a living. Mets, NY Rangers and Eagles/Jets (a product of being born in NYC but living in Bucks County PA for 20 years) fan. Home league baseball auction is top 5 day of the year!