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Advanced statistics have taught us a lot in the couple of decades since they came into fashion in baseball, and the new-age visual tracking data has only increased our knowledge. But sometimes, the best purpose they can serve is to confirm what we've always known.
Take home runs, for instance. In order to hit a home run, you need to hit the ball in the air, and you need to hit it relatively hard. If you can do those two things consistently, you will probably end up with a lot of home runs when the end of the season rolls around. This isn't rocket science, and it isn't particularly hard to grasp; and the data backs it up.
Specifically, there is a strong relationship with hard-hit average (available at FanGraphs.com), and the ratio of your balls hit into the air that go out of the park (HR/FB ratio, to simplify). If you hit the ball hard consistently, your flyballs will tend to leave the park at a higher rate. This is simple stuff, but now that we have a way of tracking this and know roughly what to expect, we can also start to look for players who stand out.
The following chart shows the relationship between HR/FB rate and hard-hit rate for every player in baseball who qualifies for the batting title:
Most players fall within a pretty narrow range on either side of the line, but we can clearly make out some outliers, and those are the guys I want to look at today. Here are the five players outperforming their expected HR/FB ratio (based on their Hard-hit rate), and what that might mean for them and their Fantasy value moving forward.
Souza won't continue to hit 30 percent of his flyballs out of the park. We can just get that out of the way now. Since 2011, only two players have even managed a rate above 25.0 percent, and both Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Davis have consistently been among the league leaders in hard-hit rate as well. They are two very good examples of this principle in action. Souza... well, he isn't.
However, he certainly has power. He had a HR/FB ratio of 20.5 percent last season, well above average, and he did that in spite of a 33.8 hard-hit average. One explanation for this discrepancy is something we'll see come up a bit throughout this column; he hits his fly balls hard. Nearly as hard as anyone in baseball, actually. Souza ranks a solid 79th (out of 319 players with at least batted balls) in average exit velocity overall, but jumps all the way up to eighth when you track only line drives and fly balls.
Still, Souza has a lot of room to regress here. He pulls the majority of his balls and hits the ball hard when he puts it in the air, so it is fair to assume he will sport a higher-than-expected HR/FB rate, but you're still looking at something more like 20 percent than where he is now. That would cost Souza roughly one-third of the homers he has hit so far, making a 30-homer pace look a lot less sustainable than it currently does. With his inability to make consistent contact also leaving Souza with a low ceiling for batting average, regression is going to hit hard, and potentially leave him on the outside looking in when it comes to Fantasy relevance.
Springer looks like he is finally putting it all together this season. He is hitting a career-high .281, with a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio fueled by a legitimate improvement in his approach at the plate. Springer is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone, and making more contact on pitches of all sorts, lowering his swinging strike rate to 12.9 percent. And, after homering just 16 times in 102 games last season, Springer has already clubbed 14 of them, putting him on pace for his first 30-homer season.
However, he also appears to have sacrificed some power for his new-found plate discipline. His HR/FB ratio this season actually isn't far from his career rate of 23.5 percent, but his hard-hit rate is down to a career-low level, and good for just 111th in baseball. A player with a hard-hit rate of 31.5 percent would, all other things being equal, be expected to hit a home run on about 12 percent of his fly balls, and Springer is doubling that up right now.
Of course, "all other things" are rarely equal, and they may not be in this instance. For one thing, Springer plays in a great park for a pull-happy power hitter, and if you dig into the exit velocity data from StatCast, you see that he typically hits the ball much harder when he puts it in the air. He has 78 batted balls with a launch angle of at least 10 degrees -- anything greater than 10 degrees is typically considered a line drive or flyball -- and he has an average exit velocity of 94.4 MPH on these balls, and a median rate of 97.0 MPH.
Furthermore, 32 of those batted balls have been hit over 100 MPH; 14 of them have gone over the fence. That may be a bit more than you would expect for a typical hitter (average rate of 30.7 percent for such balls across the whole league), but it isn't enough to totally discount Springer's power.
Frazier is having a weird season, even beyond this HR/FB ratio stuff. He is walking nearly twice as often as he did last season, which has helped him actually increase his on-base percentage, despite a .217 batting average. Between that and his power (.286) ISO, Frazier still sports a solid .818 OPS, despite that .187 BABIP. Once that BABIP normalizes, Frazier is poised for a huge breakout, right?
Well, that's not necessarily true. Yes, a BABIP below .200 is disastrously low, and should improve moving forward. However, Frazier sports a paltry 14.3 percent line drive rate (career 19.8 percent) and an infield flyball rate of 25.0 percent (career 13.2 percent), two factors that would typically conspire to drive BABIP down.
One thing Frazier does have going for him as a high average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives -- 95.1 percent, good for 66th among all batters. He has become even more pull-happy and plays in a home park in US Cellular Field that boosts right-handed power, so Frazier may be able to sustain a higher-than-expected home run rate. Still, he's on a 50-homer pace, so there's no question Frazier is due some regression.
This makes it easy to doubt Mazara's power, except for the fact that every one of his home runs has gone at least 408 feet, and he leads baseball in average home run distance. Mazara has been absolutely destroying the balls he has put out, so you can't exactly argue he's been getting lucky. He has made his homers count.
However, he does rank just 191st in average batted-ball exit velocity at 88.8 MPH, which backs up the low hard-hit average. And it's not like Mazara has been crushing fly balls all over the field either; he actually ranks just 213th in exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, just behind Darwin Barney and Caleb Joseph -- hardly impressive company. When you break it down even more with StatCast data, Mazara has hit 54 balls with a launch angle of at least 20 degrees, and only 11 of those have been hit at or above 100 MPH.
Mazara hasn't been getting cheated when he does connect, but he is on a nearly 30-homer pace, and there just doesn't seem to be much to back this up. He averaged 19 homers per-150 games in the minors, and that might be a more realistic expectation moving forward.
This is hardly an indictment of Trumbo's season, because he still ranks 25th in hard-hit average, 10th in average homer distance and third in average batted-ball exit velocity. So, while he certainly rates out as an outlier here, and will likely see his HR/FB rate regress moving forward, we can hardly call Trumbo a fraud in the power category. Even with some regression, he should be squarely in the 20 percent neighborhood, meaning you can safely expect another 15-20 homers from him through September.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should expect Trumbo to sustain an OPS in the mid-.900's moving forward. He's enjoying a bit of BABIP luck that should drive his batting average down to the .260 range before long, and should settle in closer to an .800 OPS. He's a solid Fantasy option, but you might be best off selling high on him if someone is buying his 40-plus homer pace.