2021 Review — Hitter HR/FB Declines That Were FAKE!

Last week, I listed and discussed the hitters whose HR/FB rate surges weren’t real. In other words, hitters who enjoyed HR/FB spikes that my xHR/FB rate equation didn’t believe in, or match. Today, we’ll now look at those hitters whose HR/FB rates declines, but their xHR/FB rates were significantly higher, possibly signifying some bad fortune. That could potentially result in these hitters being undervalued, or at least being underprojected for home runs.

xHR/FB Rate Underperformers

How many of you were burned by Keston Hiura last season?! I was actually one of them. I never imagined I would own him as I assumed he would be overvalued. But somehow, whether it was due to the timing of his nomination during my local league auction or just a more pessimistic group of competitors, I bought him for what I considered an undervalued price. Maaaaaaybe my leaguemates had better insight than I did! Hiura ended up striking out more than ever, while his power output completely disappeared, en route to a .250 wOBA and a return to Triple-A. But his xHR/FB rate suggests that his power actually didn’t go completely missing. In fact, his xHR/FB rate was only just below his 2020 mark and not too far below his 2019 debut mark. His power was still there, but it didn’t matter all that much given so infrequent contact.

While I would expect his power output to rebound if given the chance, the “if given the chance” part is the big question. He has been awful defensively at second base and the Brewers now have Kolten Wong starting there. Hiura played some first, but the offensive bar is much higher there and they went out and got a decent enough platoon in Rowdy Tellez and Mike Brosseau. The NL implementing the DH would be Hiura’s best path to playing time. I would be willing to take another chance here, but the strikeouts are going to be the biggest determinant on whether he earns a huge profit or flops again.

Speaking of Rowdy Tellez, he sits second on this list, which could make it difficult for Hiura to steal away playing time. Tellez’s HR/FB rate collapsed below 20% for the first time all the way down to the low teens. And while his xHR/FB rate did finish at a career low, it was only just below his 2020 mark and still in the high teens. That he was able to hold onto most of his strikeout rate gains he first made in 2020 is a great sign. I hate owning platoon bats, but if his HR/FB rate rebounds like xHR/FB rate suggests it should, and he maintains his improved strikeout rate, this is what a sleeper-gone-good looks like.

After a spectacular 2019 debut and strong follow-up during the short 2020 season, Kyle Lewis ended up missing most of the 2021 season due to a knee injury. While he was n the field, his home run power plummeted. But xHR/FB rate suggests those results were a fluke. In fact, his xHR/FB rate was actually a bit higher than he posted in 2020! There are a lot of question marks here, obviously, given the serious nature of the injury he’ll be returning from and even the position he’ll play. But it’s possible your leaguemates have forgotten about him and he ends up lasting until dollar days in your shallow mixed auction. At that price, there’s significant upside.

Just reading the name Matt Carpenter may have put you to sleep, as he’s a free agent and may very well fail to latch onto his team and perhaps even be forced into retirement. But xHR/FB rate suggests that his power didn’t actually go anywhere, after his actual HR/FB rate slipped into mid-single digits for the first time since 2014. While there are several red flags here, don’t totally ignore him if he finds himself with some playing time, thinking his power is totally gone.

And yet again, we find teammates back-to-back on my list, as Tommy Edman is yet another Cardinals hitter whose xHR/FB rate suggests his actual HR/FB rate decline wasn’t deserved. His three season xHR/FB rates have remained remarkably stable, and if his actual HR/FB rate finished in the low teens in 2021, those marks would have been consistent as well. Instead, Edman ended up significantly underperforming, making him look more like a steals only guy. However, if he recorded that xHR/FB rate, he would have knocked 20 homers to go with those 30 steals, which would have added many dollars to his end of season value.

Victor Robles was another massive disappointment, and one I had to endure on the same team as Hiura! No wonder why I didn’t win the league. According to xHR/FB rate, he should have hit seven homers, instead of the two he actually hit. That would would pushed him into double digits over a full season, combined with a possible 20 steals. Sure, his .203 average was a killer, but given his big line drive rate, he was probably deserving of a higher BABIP than .271. Despite another poor offensive season, I’m actually encouraged by the rebound in his strikeout rate and the career high walk rate. Don’t forget he’s still only 24, so continued growth should be expected. His playing time is clearly less secure now and he might have to open the season at the bottom of the lineup. But given a likely dirt cheap cost, I think he’ll be worth the risk with Edman-like upside.

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