May 6, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Early Season Hitters’ HR:FB Ratio Edition

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Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers, OF

It’s never too early to look at advanced metrics! Actually, it can be. Advanced metrics are best applied when we have data to look at. Using a sample size of just 25 games won’t tell you a whole lot about a player’s season, but putting those numbers in the context of a player’s career could be revealing as long as we have some data to work with.

Some regulars(25 to be exact!) have yet to hit a homer this year. We’ll at least mention all ove their names. Some guys have already ridiculously outperformed their career averages and will crash and burn from here on out.

At least one guy might be historically good and is currently walking with giants. Sure, some of them were fantastically bloated by PEDs and actually played for the Giants, but he’s still historically good right now in this week’s Leaders and Laggards…

1. Matt Kemp 54.5%
2. Bryan LaHair 36.8%
3. Carlos Gonzalez 35.0%
4. Josh Hamilton 34.6%
5. Derek Jeter 33.3%
6. Curtis Granderson 32.1%
7. Alex Avila 30.8%
8. Mike Napoli 30.4%
9. David Freese 28.6%
10. Matt Weiters 28.0%

Matt Kemp is hitting home runs on over 50% of the fly balls he hits. That number will come down as the season wears on and he makes a few more fly balls, but over 50%! For over a month of baseball! That’s Barry Bonds level stuff. Sadly, sites like FanGraphs didn’t exist in 2001. We don’t have data on Bonds’ HR:FB ratios, but the best number he posted in 2002 was 39.4%. Kemp is elite and he’s locked in. He’s a strong bet to be the fantasy MVP this year. Those who were smart and/or lucky enough to draft him should be ecstatic.

Bryan LaHair’s start to the 2012 season is what happens when a guy with big league power finally gets a shot at every day playing time at the major league level…and gets incredibly lucky on balls hit in the air. The problem is that we don’t have much data on LaHair at the major league level, so it’s impossible to know if he’s really this good(unlikely) or just getting his big flies caught in a gust of wind(more likely). LaHair is hitting a ton of balls in the air right now(0.74 GB:FB ratio) and fantasy GMs should be encouraged by that number. LaHair has little to no value if he’s putting the ball on the ground. He needs to put the ball in the air to take advantage of his prodigious power. He’s also locked into to a starting job on a team in which no one cares if he spends the year putting up garbage stats.

CarGo was CarStopped during the first few weeks of the season. Carlos Gonzalez started hitting and now finds himself on this list. CarGo has HR:FB ratios in the right around 20% for the last two seasons and that likely where he’ll end up at. He’s had a fast start and he will likely regress towards his career average, but he’ll still put up elite numbers while doing so. Anyone who dealt CarGo after the second week needs to retire from fantasy baseball.

Josh Hamilton has realized that he’s headed for a monster contract this off-season, but he needs to put up elite numbers to get there. He’s well on his way and it even looks like he’s not going to be headed to the DL after every little bump or bruise. Hamilton was actually a little unlucky on fly balls last year with a 16.4% HR:FB ratio. He’ll likely regress from a HR:FB ratio in the mid-30’s, but there’s no reason to believe that Hamilton won’t end up in the mid-20’s.

33.3% is almost three times Derek Jeter’s 12.6% career average. Part of the reason this number is so high is because Jeter has a GB:FB ratio over 4.00. He’s hitting everything on the ground, but he happened to put a couple baseballs over the fences the few times he’s put the ball in the air. There’s a very good chance that Jeter hits five or fewer homers the rest of the season after hitting five in the first month.

Curtis Granderson was built to hit in New Yankee Stadium. Granderson owns a 44.4% HR:FB ratio at home so far this year and a 10.0% HR:FB ratio on the road. A trend is a trend is a trend. Granderson putting up huge power numbers in New Yankee is a trend.

Alex Avila is an intriguing case. He’s outperforming his career averages and will regress, but he’s also only 25 years old with 1 ½ seasons of full-time work under his belt. He could be due for one of those ridiculous outlier, career year, fantasy league winning seasons that players randomly put up. It would be a little more believable if he were putting up a high HR:FB ratio with a low GB:FB ratio, but he’s not. He’s currently rocking a 1.62 GB:FB ratio, but that comes with a 30.6 LD %. He’s not necessarily a sell-high, but there could be a case made for it.

Mike Napoli was on a lot of pre-season bust lists and for good reason. His .344 BABIP in the 2011 season was a number that was ripe for regression, but that didn’t mean he’s going to stop hitting home runs. Napoli’s power is legit and he’s producing, but the underlying metrics indicate that there could be trouble ahead. Napoli is currently walking around with a 0.31 BB:K ratio. That’s way off last year’s 0.68 and more than slightly off his 0.43 career average. Numbers like that tend to catch up to hitters in the long run.

David Freese is on this list? Alarm bells should be ringing for Freese owners. It’s time to start making trade offers to teams that have lost Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis or Ryan Zimmerman. Freese hits a ton of ground balls(1.48 GB:FB ratio) and he’s been really lucky when he does put balls in the air. This could be his high water mark for the season.

The Great Lenny Melnick has proven that if fantasy pundits will eventually be proven right when they keep pimping the same players as breakout candidates. Matt Weiters could finally be breaking out. Weiters is outperforming his 11.4% career HR:FB ratio by a wide, wide margin. There isn’t any metric fantasy GMs can point to and explain this away. He’s in the middle of a hot start. Weiters will likely cool and regress, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still have a career year even while regressing closer to his career average.

There are currently 25 players with a HR:FB ratio of 0.0. It’s still that early in the season.

11 of the 25 are guys that have never shown any power at the major league level(Michael Bourn, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Willie Bloomquist, Ruben Tejada, Erick Aybar, Marco Scutaro, Denard Span, Michael Brantley, Emilio Bonifacio and Ryan Sweeney). These guys aren’t really worth discussing because they’re not on fantasy rosters for their pop. Some of them(Carroll, Ellis and Tejada) probably shouldn’t be on fantasy rosters at all. Placido Polanco avoids being on this list because he actually showed pop at one point in his career, but probably should be on the waiver wire in most formats. He hasn’t been relevant in fantasy baseball since 2009.

Jose Reyes is also one of the 0.0 guys, but he’s stuck playing half his games in a ballpark that looks like an extreme pitchers’ park and he’s been a victim to a low(.256) BABIP. He’ll likely manage to poke a couple long flies over the fence when his BABIP starts to rise towards his .313 career average. He’s walking at an 11.5% clip and only striking out 8.0% of the time. He’s actually a reasonable buy low guy, if you can handle the injury risk.

Brent Morel is also a 0.0 guy and he’s doing his best to prove that he’s not a major league baseball player. It’s looking a lot like his homer barrage in late 2011 was a mirage. To say Morel is struggling at the plate is an insult to a guy who really is struggling at the plate. For example..

Albert Pujols is a 0.0% guy. The problem with Pujols is that he’s become less selective at the plate(5.3% walk rate this year and a 9.4% last year). He’s also swinging at a lot of pitches outside the zone(39.8% o-swing % this year and a 31.8% last year, both are his career highs). Albert is kind of a mess right now and it might not be a bad idea to deal him for anything close to full value. Bold prediction time. Pujols will not end the year at 0.0% much like…

Andrew McCutchen! McCutchen owns a 9.6% HR:FB ratio for his career and should end the year closer to that than the 0.0% he currently has. McCutchen does own a 1.73 GB:FB ratio. That’s a career high for McCutchen by a wide, wide margin. His high GB:FB ratio feeds right in to his .360 BABIP and his 0.0% HR:FB ratio. There’s a really good chance that McCutchen ends up more like a 10/30 guy than the 20/20 guy fantasy GMs wanted to pencil him in as.

Four of the 0.0 25 are simply too boring to discuss. We’re looking at you, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, Kurt Suzuki and Daniel Murphy. These guys will all likely homer at some point, but you really need to question your abilities as a fantasy GM if you’re counting on these guys for power. 

One guy is a victim of his home park. We’re looking directly at Yonder Alonso. How many years until he’ll be a free agent? When will he be free to go to a normal baseball stadium and contribute in fantasy baseball? Six years? Five? He’s actually played better at home than on road, but his road numbers are compiled in a whopping eight games. Let’s just call it a small sample size and move on.

Jimmy Rollins owners have every reason to be worried. Wait, we could have simply taken that phrase from 2010 or 2011 and pasted it here, couldn’t we? He’s only walking at a 5.3% clip and striking out at a 18.6% clip. One of those numbers is a career low and the other is a career high. He’s got five steals in six attempts, so it’s hard to declare him as breaking down, but isn’t this what the end of a career should look like?

Jeff Francoeur is one of the remaining names worth discussing. The problem with Ol’ Frenchy is his GB %. It’s crazy high. He’s hitting ground balls at a 55.3% clip. That would be a career high by a wide margin. He’s cut his K-rate down to 12.5%, but it looks like that adjustment is causing him to make a lot of contact(you know he’s not trying to walk) and he’s hitting a lot of those balls on the ground. He’s making contact with a lot of pitches outside the zone(78.1% o-contact rate). He’s a guy to package in a trade or simply toss into the waiver wire until he can re-adjust.

The last guy we’ll discuss is Alfonso Soriano. Fonzie would have been on the other list at this time last year. He started 2011 with a 29.4% HR:FB ratio and blasted 11 homers in April. Oddly enough, he’s finally putting balls on the ground. Soriano has a GB:FB ratio over 1.00 for the first time in his career. It’s feeding his high BABIP(.343), but killing his power numbers. He’ll start swinging for the fences again and go on another homer binge at some point. He lead the team with six homers in the spring. It’s not like he’s forgot how to hit in the gap between spring training and the start of the season. He’s actually a guy that fantasy GMs might want to stash until he goes on a homer binge. He could provide some mid or late season power.


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