2021 Review: Hitter Pull FB% Surgers

Today, we’re sticking with hitter pull fly ball percentage (PFB) and reviewing those that increased their marks most versus 2020. Often, you will see a hitter start pulling his flies more frequently in an effort to up his power. Let’s see if the increased PFB had that effect for these surgers.

Tiny sample, but 11 of the 15 hitters on this list increased their HR/FB rates. As a reminder, PFB is not the only factor driving HR/FB rate, as my xHR/FB rate equation tells us, but often it signals a conscious change in approach. Unlike something like exit velocity, PFB is more about batter strategy and more easily changeable. This is as opposed to exit velocity, in which a batter doesn’t wake up one day and decide to hit the ball with greater exit velocity, then go ahead and do it. That’s why we should take notice of these changes as it could explain a big increase in HR/FB rate.

Danny Jansen appears atop our list, but mostly because of his down 2020, which was way out of line with his previous two seasons. It’s hard for me to turn my optimism around as the overall skills here are pretty solid. What Jansen has suffered from has mainly been a BABIP problem, which is odd considering his penchant for hitting line drives. The Blue Jays have way too many catchers, so his playing time outlook is murky. But man, I’m still willing to take a chance here in deeper leagues if I knew there weren’t so many alternatives.

Shohei Ohtani’s HR/FB in 2021 wasn’t much higher than it was in 2018 and 2019, when he posted much lower PFB marks, so clearly he doesn’t need to pull his flies to launch them over the wall. That’s because his barrel rate is so high, he simply crushes his flies, so it doesn’t matter all that much if they go to the pull side or another part of the park.

Like Jansen above, Kolten Wong appears here because of an out of character super low 2020 PFB. Wong’s 2021 mark brings him right back to where he had typically been throughout his career, and surge enough, his HR/FB rate rebounded.

Buy low alert: Michael Conforto. His PFB rebounded after a down 2020, but his HR/FB rate was his lowest since 2016. However, his xHR/FB rate was well above his actual mark, suggesting this down year was mostly a fluke.

I was hoping to find a clear PFB trend for Ketel Marte to explain his HR/FB rate breakout in 2019 and recovery in 2021, but there really isn’t one. He posted his highest career PFB back in 2017, but that only resulted in a 7.9% HR/FB rate. His newfound power is explained the good old fashioned way — a spike in barrel rate and average distance. Simply put, he’s hitting the ball harder and further! What’s interesting to point out is he posted nearly the same xHR/FB rate (just over 20%) in 2021 as he did back in 2019, so he may actually be able to return to the high teen HR/FB rate level in 2022 if he hasn’t lost his newfound barrel ability.

It’s bizarre to see Franmil Reyes’s 2020 PFB so low and it was clearly a fluke based on his short history. You now know one of the primary reasons he posted a sub-20% HR/FB rate that season, and given his PFB over his other seasons, it’s unlikely that’ll happen again.

As discussed in the PFB leaders article, Jose Altuve has completely transformed himself into a power hitter. His PFB first jumped above 30% in 2019, dropped back a bit in 2020, then surged even higher in 2021 to a new career high. However, because his other metrics haven’t improved any, he hasn’t actually boosted his HR/FB rate at all. Aside from his peak mark in 2019, he’s been in the low-to-mid teens in four of five seasons since 2016, excluding 2019. All this pulling the ball has also affected his BABIP, and without the steals, has taken a bite out of his fantasy value.

I purposely chose to end with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. because everything came together for him during his eagerly anticipated monster breakout. While his PFB more than doubled from a low mark in 2020, it was only marginally higher than during his 2019. Nearly every other variable in my xHR/FB rate equation improved though, which allowed him to push his HR/FB rate above 20% for the first time.

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