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Power Breakouts with Fly Ball Surgers

Hitters that increased their fly balls and pulled it more in 2021.

Sometimes I feel like we move on too quickly in our culture. Fried chicken sandwiches, for instance, are really having a moment, but I ask you what’s wrong with a good turkey and cheddar? It’s a standby for a reason. Perhaps the turkey sandwich of hitting approaches is hitting more fly balls, and hitting them harder. It isn’t going to go viral or win any SABR awards, but the good old “elevate and celebrate” approach can still do wonders for a player’s power output, as it did for Robbie Grossman in 2019, when he broke out with the second-highest home run total of his career despite only 192 plate appearances in the season. He continued that approach to his two best seasons in 2020 and 2021.

Players make adjustments, or maybe things simply “click” at random intervals during the season. Either way, these players made huge strides in their fly-ball and pull rates from the first half to the second half last year and may be undervalued in the power department for 2022. To sort this list, we’re looking at players who improved both percentages significantly, while tallying 150 PA in both the first half of the season and the second.

 

Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles

 

 

Only three players increased their pull rate from the first half to the second more than Santander. This is more about Santander getting back to his previous level than a whole new one. The first half saw Santander’s lowest walk rate and power numbers of his career but afterward was able to turn it around with his highest SLG and brought his plate discipline back into line with his career averages. Santander hit 12 of his 18 home runs from June 1 onward.

A left ankle sprain in the early season may have set him back significantly, and his season ended after 438 plate appearances (a career high) after being shut down for the season with a knee injury in September. As it stands, a projection of 25 home runs with a stretch of 30—if he plays a full season’s worth of plate appearances with a decent batting average—is on the table. In the shortened 2020 season, Santander was hitting nearly half his fly balls in the air, with a 38% pull rate. If he can sustain his fly-ball and pull rates from the second half of 2021, he’d be joining home-run-or-bust hitters like Rhys Hoskins and Joey Gallo.

 

Hunter Renfroe, OF, Brewers

 

 

Like Santander’s second half, Hunter Renfroe was both hitting the ball in the air and pulling it in nearly half of his batted balls. Renfroe’s overall fly-ball rate was the second-lowest of his career in 2021, and his pull rate was the lowest, even with the second-half surge.

Also similar to Santander, this isn’t as much of a wholesale change in approach as much as it should be a reassurance to the Brewers that Renfroe is going to mash the ball, especially in hitter-friendly Miller Park. Renfroe hasn’t hit fewer than 25 home runs in any season in which he’s played at least 400 PA, and the early season blip in his batted balls should be behind him to start 2022.

 

Amed Rosario, SS, Guardians

 

 

Rosario’s adjustments aren’t quite as eye-popping as Santander or Renfroe’s double-digit increases on their fly-ball rates, but he was one of just 16 players to increase their fly-ball and pull rates each by 5% or more in the second half of 2021.

Rosario has typically posted fairly consistent pull numbers (32% for his career), but the 34% fly-ball rate he posted in the second half would be a significant change from his previous career high (29%).

The back-of-the-baseball-card numbers also reflected this change and possibly portends there’s more consistent power on the way from the shortstop:

 

If you believe the old axiom that “doubles turn into home runs,” there may be more to Rosario’s power output than he even showed in the second half. His previous career high in home runs came in 2019, when he hit 15 of them, but wasn’t hitting as many in the air as he did in the second half of 2021, all while maintaining similar pull rates.

It’s not hard to see 20 home runs out of Rosario along with 15 steals and a pretty good batting average (.272 for his career). Fantasy baseball shortstops are deep, but that kind of projection will play in just about any league. If you want to wait for a shortstop, Rosario could be a solid contributor (161 current ADP) or worth a flier on the bench.

If you’re looking for power breakouts in 2022, these players could Robbie Grossman their way into a power surge or simply bounce back to their previous levels after a rough start to 2021. None of the players here are going to smack 50 bombs (if they d0 I called it and you have to give me credit), but we can’t all be fried chicken.

Photos by Frank Jansky & Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)

Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts is a contributor to Pitcher List and writes mostly about the Brewers at Sausage Racing Form. His work has been featured on Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, and October. He's still getting used to the DH in the national league.

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