One of the great “What if?” arguments in baseball is fixated on how modern players would fare in prior eras of the sport. The Mets’ Adam Ottavino famously claimed he’d strike out Babe Ruth every time. Both sides of the argument have staunch supporters.
To be fair to the pro-old guys crowd, even Giancarlo Stanton would probably have found it difficult to hit homers off Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Pete Alexander in an era when the baseball was basically a lump of cowhide filled with mashed potatoes and it was routinely 400+ feet just to reach the power alleys. It was called the Deadball Era for a reason.
If you browsed fantasy baseball Twitter so far this season though, you’d think Rob Manfred had somehow discovered a long-lost silo of porridge-filled balls from 1908 based on the disbelief over how some fly balls are being crushed but still dying on the warning track for outs.
Performance on "Barrels" – April 2022 vs April '19/'21
Average down 11%
Slugging down 16%
Average distance down 6.5 feet pic.twitter.com/n61SNQdAcd
— Chris Black (@DownToBlack) April 29, 2022
While league-wide home run rates are down from the peak craziness of recent seasons, we’re still far from experiencing a relapse of the Deadball Era. Like with any other statistic we measure, there have been some hitters experiencing good fortune on fly balls while others have been ill-fated. Here are some of the biggest gaps between HR and xHR so far:
All stats via Baseball Savant thru 5/9/22
HR-xHR: The Good
Anthony Rizzo 1B NYY
No other hitter in baseball this year has experienced better fortune on fly balls than Anthony Rizzo. His gap between actual HR and xHR is nearly double that of the second-place hitter. Most of the good luck came in the Yankees’ April 26th game against Baltimore when Rizzo hit 3 HR with a combined xBA of only .190 and an average distance of merely 350 feet! That’s the advantage of being a lefty in Yankee Stadium.
If you’ve rostered Rizzo this year, congratulations! Those home runs are safely in the bank and can’t be taken away. While his home park should continue to help Rizzo turn some otherwise harmless fly balls into fantasy-friendly home runs, without an unlikely continuance of extreme fly ball fortune we’re likely not witnessing Rizzo’s career year in power. If your team is short on HR and you’re looking at trade targets, don’t let the HR leaderboard steer you towards an offer for Rizzo. While he’s a valuable fantasy player hitting high in the Yankees lineup and should produce a well-rounded 5-category season, he’s not suddenly going to be someone’s 40-HR savior, and even a return to the 30-HR threshold may prove elusive by season’s end.
Cody Bellinger OF LAD
Cody Bellinger was one of the more divisive fantasy hitters during draft season. Truthers saw tremendous value in a potential bounce-back season at a steeply discounted cost. The haters looked at his putrid spring training and further tinkering of his swing as evidence that he could not be trusted to produce in 2022. At various points this season both camps have tried taking victory laps, and it supports the haters’ side a bit more that even Bellinger’s modest 4 HR have come with a bit of luck attached.
Bellinger is actually making hard contact, currently sporting career-high marks in hard-hit rate (49.2%) and barrel rate (12.7%). The glaring issue is that he’s not making enough contact to take advantage and he’s hitting the ball on the ground more than ever. There are seeds of hope that the rebound can still happen, but the 30.1% K rate and 32.7% chase rate will need to come down. If those numbers begin trending in a better direction Bellinger could become a worthy trade target.
HR-xHR: The Bad
Ronald Acuña Jr. OF ATL
Juan Soto OF WAS
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto are joined together because they are both true superstars of the game and there is zero concern they can’t contribute monster fantasy seasons as long as they are healthy. Anyone rostering these two won’t be considering benching, waiving, trading, or otherwise removing them from their starting lineups. A little flyball luck here and there will determine whether they end up closer to 30 HR than 40 HR, but it’s interesting at least to note that both are flashing game power greater than their actual results. Enjoy the ride.
Trey Mancini 1B/OF BAL
Trey Mancini becomes the first player to be featured in xStats Weekly twice, and both times for being on the unlucky side of results versus metrics. Since appearing in the first article on xStats underperformers, Mancini has raised his AVG from .237 to .280 but that particular rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats and Mancini’s HR total still lags behind expectations. The fence change in Baltimore will get all the blame and will continue to impact not only Mancini but all Orioles’ hitters; however, Mancini’s underlying skills remain strong and regression is expected.
Like two weeks ago, Mancini is a solid bet to produce a worthy fantasy season as a CI or OF and is an underrated trade target for those looking to stabilize a weak spot on their offense. If he’s already on your roster, patience appears likely to be rewarded, rather than moving on to the next big thing like Juan Yepez.
Photos by All-Pro Reels (https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeglo/) and Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)
re:Mancini — Baltimore has the double whammy of the modified walls, as well. Staggeringly, it is suddenly the most pitcher friendly park, by xWOBA-wOBA.