Flying High

As a whole, Elvis Andrus’s 2015 season was quite unremarkable. In his seventh year in the bigs, he set career lows in batting average and OBP while finishing with his second-worst wRC+ season of his career. He also stole his second-fewest amount of bases while scoring fewer runs than ever before.

One thing that he can hang his hat on, though, was his power output. Andrus finished 2015 with the second-highest ISO of his career, setting a new career high for home runs in the process. Now, he still only hit seven, but we’re talking about the player who hit zero in 674 PA in 2010. Elvis Andrus hitting seven home runs in a season is like Barry Bonds hitting 85, or Ben Revere hitting three.

Reaching seven home runs was actually quite an extraordinary feat for Andrus, not because of the total itself but because of how it compared to his 2014 season. Andrus hit just two home runs that year, which tied him for second-fewest in the MLB among qualified batters. By hitting seven the next year, he more than tripled his previous total. Only three hitters who qualified both years achieved the same feat:

Player 2014 HR 2015 HR
Adam Eaton 1 14
Matt Carpenter 8 28
Elvis Andrus 2 7

What’s even more impressive is that two of those players, Carpenter and Andrus, had fewer plate appearances in 2015 than 2014. So how did they manage to do it?

I’ve been focusing on Andrus, so let’s continue with him. His HR/FB% went up a little in 2015, but it was only 1% higher than his career average and lower than his output in two of his previous seasons. Since that clearly wasn’t the change, it must’ve been something else. Looking at his batted-ball breakdown, something shows up.

Andrus finished 2015 with a 31.8 FB%, the highest of his career. This was an increase of 10.9% from 2014, which represented the largest increase in FB% of any player between the past two years:

Rank Player 2014 FB% 2015 FB% FB% Change
1 Elvis Andrus 20.9% 31.8% 10.9%
2 Todd Frazier 37.1% 47.7% 10.6%
3 Jay Bruce 34.0% 44.2% 10.2%
4 Adam Eaton 20.2% 27.3% 7.1%
4 Jose Bautista 41.7% 48.8% 7.1%
6 Albert Pujols 35.4% 42.2% 6.8%
7 Daniel Murphy 29.4% 36.0% 6.6%
8 Matt Carpenter 35.2% 41.7% 6.5%
9 Gerardo Parra 23.9% 29.4% 5.5%
9 Jose Altuve 29.7% 35.2% 5.5%

Eaton and Carpenter also both make this list, explaining their power outburst (at least partially). Some of these players aren’t very surprising, only making this list because their 2014 FB% was much lower than their career norm and they were simply regressing to where they should be (see: Pujols, Albert). Others, like Altuve, are only just beginning to explore their power potential.

Regardless of the reasoning, the most important question that comes from this list is whether or not those on it can duplicate their performance. Without looking at individual swings and searching for differences, I decided the easiest way to determine this was by looking at historical data. Since batted-ball data became available in 2002, there have been 19 different qualified players to increase their FB% by 10% or more between consecutive seasons, and then play another qualified season the following year:

Player / Years Year 1 FB% Year 2 FB% Year 3 FB% Y2-Y1 FB% Y3-Y2 FB% Percent Regression
Hideki Matsui 2003-05 23.8% 39.9% 36.3% 16.1% -3.6% 22.36%
Grady Sizemore 2005-07 31.0% 46.9% 46.6% 15.9% -0.3% 1.89%
Bill Hall 2005-07 34.5% 47.9% 41.3% 13.4% -6.6% 49.25%
Aaron Hill 2009-11 41.0% 54.2% 42.0% 13.2% -12.2% 92.42%
Carlos Beltran 2003-05 32.7% 45.9% 37.0% 13.2% -8.9% 67.42%
Jhonny Peralta 2009-11 30.6% 43.4% 44.2% 12.8% 0.8% -6.25%
Derrek Lee 2008-10 33.7% 45.7% 37.6% 12.0% -8.1% 67.50%
Mark Kotsay 2003-05 29.1% 40.8% 35.5% 11.7% -5.3% 45.30%
Jason Kendall 2006-08 25.9% 37.6% 36.6% 11.7% -1.0% 8.55%
Mike Trout 2013-15 35.6% 47.2% 38.4% 11.6% -8.8% 75.86%
Brad Wilkerson 2003-05 36.0% 47.5% 45.0% 11.5% -2.5% 21.74%
Daniel Murphy 2012-14 24.9% 36.3% 29.4% 11.4% -6.9% 60.53%
Derek Jeter 2003-05 21.5% 32.7% 20.7% 11.2% -12.0% 107.14%
Garrett Atkins 2005-07 30.2% 41.1% 44.1% 10.9% 3.0% -27.52%
Adrian Gonzalez 2006-08 33.3% 43.7% 36.6% 10.4% -7.1% 68.27%
Brian Roberts 2003-05 28.7% 39.0% 37.3% 10.3% -1.76% 16.50
Brandon Crawford 2013-15 31.8% 42.0% 33.5% 10.2% -8.5% 83.33%
Bobby Abreu 2003-05 26.7% 36.8% 28.9% 10.1% -7.9% 78.22%
Lance Berkman 2005-06 31.7% 41.8% 37.6% 10.1% -4.2% 41.58%

Only twice did the player make even further gains in their FB%, and the average regression among all 19 of the players was 46.01% toward their first-year numbers. With this in mind, it’s difficult to envision players like Andrus and Frazier repeating their performances from last season. And even if that means we won’t be seeing a double-digit home-run season for Elvis Andrus anytime soon, I think that we’ll be all right without one.

I tweet about disappointing sports teams @briansreiff

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ozzy Osborne
8 years ago

If that little bloke can send seven baseballs flying high again, I’ll bite the head off his bat.

8 years ago

I simply think you are focusing on the negative here to much, when you should be focusing on the positive aspect of your own list. Yes, in terms of fly ball percentage Year 3 compared to Year 2 is lower overall, BUT in all cases that was only because of such a big jump between year 1 and year 2, as you alluded. That is the NEGATIVE way of looking at your list.

Here is the POSITIVE aspect of you list: In ALL cases except for 1, Derek Jeter (21.5 vs. 20.7), Year 3 fly ball percentage is still way higher than year 1, and that is not a regression, its a sustainable improvement. Your list contains 19 guys, and 18 out of 19, or 94.7% have a sustainable improvement, albeit at a slightly lower level than year 2.

Finally, and I keep harping on this with other Fangraphs writers as well, but believe it or not, power and slugging are not the end all be all. As a player, you should only go for power numbers (HRs, slugging) IF it doesn’t crater the rest of your stats, if its truly a new skill that adds to your existing abilities on offense without taking away anything from the rest of those stats.

You brought up Matt Carpenter. Matt Carpenter is a case in point. He went for HRs, it took 1 1/2 years to figure it out at the MLB level, and in the meantime, all of his other stats tanked, including his production numbers – total hits, BA, OBP, Runs, RBI, etc. This is because his strikeouts skyrocketed, and his overall contact rate plummeted. Carpenter was better off as a singles and doubles hitter because he had the potential to get 200 hits a year or close to it.

Offensive Production is declining (R + RBI) because of a poor mentality at the plate, going for homers, decreases total hits and contact outs, and tanks batting average and on base figures, while ramping up the K’s. Overall MLB PA’s are down because of it.