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Using fly ball rates to identify bounce back power hitters in 2016

Ray takes a look at several hitters who saw a decline in fly ball rates and home runs in 2015, but that could change in 2016.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, we saw more home runs hit for the first time since 2012. Last season, there were 4,909 home runs hit across major league baseball, a 17% jump from the 4,186 home runs hit in 2014. There has been some talk that a "juiced" baseball helped increase the number of balls landing in the seats, while others think that more and more players are still resorting to PEDs to improve their performance at the plate. We won't know which reason is correct until at least the middle of the 2016 season, and hopefully we don't get another PED scandal.

Continuing with my look at some offseason draft strategy, today I look at a few hitters who saw their power output drop in 2015, but with a few more fly balls, they could see their home run production jump in 2016. These players are familiar to all fantasy owners, and a few actually did hit for decent power in 2015, but also saw their fly ball rates drop from their career averages. So, with a return to their normal fly ball rates, these hitters could hit for more power in 2016.

Below is a table using data from FanGraphs, identifying five hitters who saw their fly ball rates drop below 31% last season:

Name

Team

HR

wRC+

FB%

HR/FB

Pull%

Cent%

Oppo%

Soft%

Med%

Hard%

Pedro Alvarez

Pirates

27

114

26.90%

32.50%

44.20%

36.50%

19.40%

18.40%

43.90%

37.70%

Jonathan Lucroy

Brewers

7

93

29.40%

7.60%

31.90%

37.30%

30.90%

14.70%

50.30%

35.00%

Hanley Ramirez

Red Sox

19

89

29.60%

19.20%

37.10%

39.50%

23.40%

24.30%

44.60%

31.10%

George Springer

Astros

16

129

30.10%

18.80%

34.20%

38.70%

27.10%

19.70%

47.20%

33.10%

Marcell Ozuna

Marlins

10

89

30.80%

9.30%

35.30%

35.00%

29.60%

17.70%

47.90%

34.50%

Pedro Alvarez, Free Agent

Alvarez is currently a free agent, but there is a likelihood he could end up signing with the Brewers or an American League team where he can DH on a regular basis. Both would be a boon to his fantasy value, as a move to Miller Park from PNC Park would be a positive, as he would be leaving one of the best pitchers parks in the game to one of the best hitters parks in the game.

Alvarez saw his fly ball rate drop from 39% in 2014 to just 27% last season,. When he makes contact, Alvarez usually hits the ball hard, and that is supported by his career hard hit rate of 37-38%. If he can improve his fly ball rate from below 28% to his career rate of 37%, Alvarez could easily return to the 30 home run club in 2016, with the potential for 35+, especially if he signs with the Brewers.

Marcell Ozuna, Marlins

Ozuna has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors this offseason, and there is still plenty of time in the offseason for him to be traded. Ozuna appears to be in the Marlins dog house, as he spent some time in AAA last season for reasons unknown to me.

In 2015, Ozuna struggled out of the gate, and saw his home run production drop from 23 in 2014 to just 15 in AAA and the big leagues. He hit just 10 home runs when he was up with the big league team, and he saw his fly ball rate drop from 34% in 2014 to 31% last season. His hard hit rate also dropped, from 38% in 2014 to 34% in 2015, so an increase in both his fly ball and hard hit rates and we could see him return to being a 20+ home run hitter in 2016.

That said, the Marlins are moving their fences in in 2016, so his home run total could increase even if his fly ball rate does not return to 2014 levels.

George Springer, Astros

Springer is one of my top targets for 2016, as he has the power and speed to put up a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season. Last season, he disappointed fantasy owners once again, as he missed significant time to the disabled list due to injury for the second season in a row.

When healthy, Spinger hit 16 home runs and stole 16 bases in just 102 games. But, while he was on pace to hit 25+ home runs, his fly ball rate took a nosedive from 39% in 2014 to 30% last season. In addition, his hard hit rate had a similar drop, so a return to hitting more fly balls and making harder contact could result in Springer's first 30 home run season in 2016.

His draft day value may be down due to his injury risk, but he has the skills to put up first round production which you can get in the third round of re-draft league drafts.

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Lucroy is another hitter who saw his performance at the plate drop as a result of injuries in 2015. Lucroy missed six weeks due to a fractured toe, then missed several weeks in September due to a concussion. His performance at the plate suffered as a result, but there is reason to think he will return to the hitter he was in 2014.

Last season, Lucroy's home run total dropped from 13 in 2014 to just 7 last season. Injuries were the main cause of the drop, but while his hard hit rate remained relatively the same, he didn't hit as many fly balls last season. Last year, he saw his fly ball rate drop from 36% to 29%, so a return to his career average should result in a return to double digit home runs as well.

One lingering concern is whether he can return to catching on an every day basis due to the concussion he suffered in September. This is something all fantasy owners should watch in spring training.

Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

While Springer and Lucroy dealt with injuries last season, they have nothing on Ramirez, as he is one player who always seems to be injured. And this has been going on for several years. That said, a move from left field, where he was a circus act, to first base/DH in 2016 will hopefully keep him healthy for his fantasy owners.

With good health hopefully comes more production from Hanley. While he did hit more home runs in 2015 than in 2014, Hanley saw his slugging percentage drop a bit, which was a direct result of a drop in his fly ball rate, which sank from just under 34% to just under 30% last season. A return to his career fly ball rate of around 36% should result in another 20-25 home run season in 2016, with a chance for a little more.