Fantasy owners have to do something they havenâ€™t done in a long, long time now that players have stopped injecting horse tranquilizers into themselves to gain an edge. They actually have to search for sources of power. Gone are the days that a formerly skinny outfielder could show up in Spring Training looking like Tarzan (from vitamins, of course *wink) and then proceed to bash thirty homers and bring glory to those smart enough to snag him in the late round of a fantasy draft.
One way to search for sources of tapped and untapped power is to look at HR:FB ratios.
HR:FB ratio has a formula thatâ€™s simple enough to follow. It simply divides the number of homers a player hits by the total number of fly balls a player hits. Its a good way to see if a player simply got lucky on a few big flies or if a player suffered through an unlucky power outage.
HR:FB ratio is a useful stat to evaluate players with a major league track record. The more data a fantasy players can look at the better. Itâ€™s not nearly as helpful to look at a rookie or a guy who got a September cup of coffee as it is to look at a ballplayer with several seasons at the big league level. Hitters tend to hit towards their career averages. Itâ€™s much easier to evaluate once a player establishes an average after a few seasons in the big leagues.
GB:FB ratios also need to be taken into consideration when evaluating HR:FB numbers. Itâ€™s absolutely possible to maintain a career average in HR:FB ratio and still hit fewer homers and itâ€™s absolutely possible to hit more homers and maintain a below career average HR:FB ratio. How? Simple. Hit fewer fly balls or hit more fly balls. GB:FB ratios need to be taken into account because itâ€™s a stat that tells us what a player did on every ball hit in play. There will likely be an impact on a playersâ€™ power numbers if there is a sudden spike or dip in the number of balls hit in the air.
Park factors are also an important variable to consider when looking at HR:FB. HR:FB ratios tend to skew lower for hitters stuck in pitchersâ€™ parks like Petco and Metco and slightly higher in hittersâ€™ park like New Yankee and New Comiskey.
Letâ€™s take a look at Dan Uggla. Uggla had what most would qualify as a disappointing year, but he actually set a career high in 2011 with a 18.6% HR:FB ratio. His career average is at 15.9%, but thatâ€™s skewed slightly by playing his early years in Pro Player Stadium. His 0.95 GB:FB ratio in 2011 wasnâ€™t that far off from his 0.84 career average. Uggla got off to a rough start in 2011, but produced the numbers that fantasy GMs should have expected over the full season.
Now letâ€™s go in depth on a player that exceeded fantasy owners expectations. Howie Kendrick posted a career high HR:FB ratio of 16.5%. Thatâ€™s almost double his 8.8% career average. Kendrickâ€™s numbers were buoyed by a torrid April (24.0%) and August (37.5%). Kendrick posted these numbers despite playing to his career average (1.89) with a 1.94 GB:FB ratio. He continued to put a lot of balls on the ground, but he was really lucky when he was able to put balls into the air. The power was likely an aberration and fantasy owners shouldnâ€™t expect it to continue.
Nelson Cruz is essentially a metronome when it comes to his batted ball data. Sadly, his injury history is as erratic as a three-year old playing piano. Heâ€™s posted HR:FB ratios of 21.2%, 15.2% and 18.7% over the last three years with GB:FB ratios just under 1.00.Â Cruz isÂ about as safe as it gets when it comes to knowing what heâ€™ll do at the plate. If only we could say the same for his hamstrings, groin and various other injuries.
The problem is that HR:FB isnâ€™t a â€œbig pictureâ€ stat like wOBA or OPS. Itâ€™s a small picture stat. It gives you a piece of the puzzle, not a complete image. HR:FB ratios can give additional insights into a hittersâ€™ past when looked at with park factors and GB:FB rates. It can be a useful tool, but it needs the support of other numbers to be viewed correctly.