The 2017 MLB Draft is just weeks away, which means this is just one of thousands of mock drafts that will be released all over the internet in the coming weeks. Things seems to be settling down in regards to the top of the draft board but there is still a ton of uncertainty all across the draft board, which is typical at this point in the year. Here are my projected picks for the 2017 MLB Draft as of now.
1. Minnesota Twins: Brendon McKay LHP/1B, Louisville
The Twins have gone back and forth on a set of players, namely prep pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene, Vanderbilt right hander Kyle Wright and Brendon McKay from Louisville. While many might see McKay as a hitter, his real future in the major leagues likely comes on the mound, where he features a solid 89-94 mph fastball, a plus curveball, a developing change up and plus command. He doesn’t feature Greene’s upside but he has a higher floor, likely profiling as a very reliable #3 starter.
2. Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene SS/RHP, Notre Dame High School(CA)
With McKay gone, the Reds would pounce on Hunter Greene, both players which the Reds would like to take. Like McKay, Greene’s future lies on the mound where he features a plus-plus 95-102 mph fastball, above average mid-high 80’s slider and athleticism that many scouts search for in pitchers now. Greene has some of the most electric stuff of any pitcher in the last few years and if he can develop his change up to be an average or better pitch, he could be a very special talent.
3. San Diego Padres: Royce Lewis SS/OF, JSerra High School(CA)
Lewis represents an obvious fit for the Padres, being a local SoCal product. Lewis likely transitions to center field at the next level but it won’t matter much. Lewis features a beautiful swing with good raw power, runs well and has the instincts to be a solid defender in the outfield. With makeup reviews off the charts, it’s hard to envision this type of talent falling outside of the top 5 picks.
4. Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Wright RHP, Vanderbilt
Kyle Wright may be the best pick for high upside and moderate risk in this draft. Tampa Bay likely goes best available player and Wright makes perfect sense here for a team that excels at developing pitching. Wright has 4 average or better pitches along with the ability to command those pitches. This will add to an already impressive group of pitchers the Rays have at the MLB and minor league level.
5. Atlanta Braves: Austin Beck OF, North Davidson High School(NC)
The Braves could very well go prep pitcher here but Beck has been talked about going this high and Atlanta likes the toolsy and raw outfielder. Beck has the best bat speed in the class along with natural raw power but offers some uncertainty in other areas to make him going top 5 a bit of a reach. That won’t stop the Braves, who love his raw athletic ability, power potential and his demeanor on the field.
6. Oakland Athletics: J.B. Bukauskas RHP, North Carolina
Oakland loves themselves some college players and Bukauskas fits the mold. Proven college performer? Check. Undersized? Check. Much like A’s ace Sonny Gray, Bukauskas is undersized but it doesn’t show when he’s on the mound. He throws firm 93-97 mph fastballs along with a bat missing slider, although he lacks the change up that scouts want to see and many are turned off by his violent delivery. This won’t faze the A’s, who make too much sense for this type of pitcher.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks: MacKenzie Gore LHP, Whiteville High School(NC)
Every draft year, a player unexpectedly falls and in 2017, MacKenzie Gore will be that player. Gore is a monstrous talent, throwing plus fastballs and curveballs from a lean and tall left handed frame. Add in an average change up and slider along with his projectable body and there’s potential for a frontline starter. The Braves and Padres are possible landing spots for Gore as well but the Diamondbacks will reap the benefits here by adding their new number 1 prospect.
8. Philadelphia Phillies: Pavin Smith, 1B Virginia
Smith may be the most polished bat in this class, not unlike his teammate from 2016, Matt Thaiss, who was selected 16th overall by the Angels last year. Smith has an advanced approach, a good hit tool and will be a decent defender at first base. His average-ish in game power is holding back his potential but his high floor and approach means he could be up as quickly as 2019, when the Phillies may be good once again.
9. Milwaukee Brewers: Jordon Adell OF, Ballard High School(Louisville)
Jordon Adell would be the latest addition to an organization full of toolsy outfielders(Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips). Adell has a ferocious swing and plus power that many scouts dream on but there is a lot of risk, namely a very mature current body and swing and miss issues. This is the type of high risk/high reward pick the Brewers have never been shy to make and if they hit on Adell, they have the makings of a future superstar.
10. Los Angeles Angels: RHP Alex Faedo, Florida
This is the type of value pick Billy Eppler and company are likely seeking at the 10th spot. Faedo was a consensus top 5 pick before the 2017 season but a slight regression with his stuff has bumped him back a bit but there are the makings of a mid rotation starter here. Faedo has a plus fastball and slider, relying on those 2 pitches heavily, and has the makings of an average change up and potential above average command. Many believe the Angels will take the best available player at 10 and Faedo very well may be that player.
11. Chicago White Sox: Nick Pratto 1B, Huntington Beach HS(CA)
There isn’t much certainty surrounding what the White Sox may do at #11, which means a variety of different players may be selected here. With a heavy rebuild coming for the White Sox, that may mean selecting someone who can grow into a star 4-5 years down the road. Pratto is a gifted defensive first baseman who is one of the best hitters in the class, even with his down spring in consideration. The White Sox could go a number of ways here but Pratto has a high ceiling and high enough floor that he makes sense here.
12. Pittsburgh Pirates: Jeren Kendall OF, Vanderbilt
The Pirates are always about their value picks and selecting high upside, whether that’s on the mound or in the field. Kendall is a very logical pick here, especially given the success of outfielders the Pirates have brought into the organization(Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Austin Meadows). Kendall has swing and miss issues that worry scouts but he’s a plus defensive center fielder who can really run and has 15-20 home run potential. This is the type of pick that either looks fantastic down the road or looks like a dud.
13. Miami Marlins: Shane Baz RHP, Concordia HS(TX)
Baz has flown up draft boards after putting in a monster spring and has made an argument to be called the best prep pitcher in this draft. The Marlins have never been shy to go for upside early on in drafts and Baz has the type of body, pitch repertoire and potential to be a very solid pick at 13. He may very well go top 10 but if not, the Marlins make a ton of sense.
14. Kansas City Royals: D.L. Hall LHP, Valdosta HS(GA)
Hall is a high upside lefty with a plus fastball/curveball combination that would add to a depleted Royals system. While there are worries about his command and lack of a 3rd pitch, he has good arm action and enough athletic ability to overcome these issues and could be a #4 starter down the road.
15. Houston Astros: Keston Hiura 2B/DH, UC Irvine
The Astros are somewhat benefitting with a down 2016 season as they’re in a perfect position to grab a big talent in the middle of the first round. With a current organization that looks downright terrifying(in a good way), the Astros can grab arguably the best hitter in the class with Hiura. While he may have Tommy John surgery to repair his injured elbow, he is the type of guy who can fly through the minor league system once he’s healthy and may stick in a corner outfield spot.
16. New York Yankees: Griffin Canning RHP, UCLA
The Yankees organization has had the biggest transformation by far in the last calendar year. After a huge 2016 trade deadline that netted them prospects galore, they have started red hot in 2017 and now have the benefit to draft in the middle of the first round. The club selected a UCLA arm in James Kaprelian in the 2015 and they may go for another UCLA arm in Canning. While he doesn’t have the same upside as Kaprelian, Canning has a solid 4 pitch mix and solid control, which leads many to think he can stick as an innings eating #4 arm.
17. Seattle Mariners: David Peterson LHP, Oregon
A quick rising pitcher among draft leader boards, Peterson makes too much sense value wise and geographically for the Mariners at 17. With a solid fastball/slider mix and big frame, he can eat innings at the end of the rotation and may be able to do it quicker than most in this draft class. General manager Jerry Dipoto generally targets higher floor players in the first round but Peterson may be more than that.
18. Detroit Tigers: Sam Carlson RHP, Burnsville HS(MN)
Carlson would be the first Minnesota prep arm selected in the 1st round and for good reason. Carlson’s stuff has ticked up this year, which has in turn led to 3 above average pitches that he can command. The lack of track record worries some scouts but the Tigers have been known to take risks and this might be a wise one at #18.
19. San Francisco Giants: Adam Haseley OF, Virginia
Haseley has leapt up draft boards after a big spring and is viewed by some as the best college outfielder. Haseley will likely be a plus contact hitter at the next level and play above average defense in left or right field, giving him a solid floor. His issues are the lack of standout tools, including limited in game power. The Giants have scored on taking high floor players such as Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik and Haseley could end up fitting that mold, that is if he falls this far.
20. New York Mets: Trevor Rogers LHP, Carlsbad HS(NM)
There are many mocks out there that believe Rogers could sneak his way into the top 10 but there are likely too many talented pitchers ahead of him to make that happen. That’s no knock on him. Rogers is a 6’6″ lefty who throws a deceptive 89-93 mph fastball with 2 secondaries that could be average in the future. His frame and potential for growth are reasons why he could go higher than this but if he doesn’t, the Mets would likely want to take a chance on him.
21. Baltimore Orioles: Bubba Thompson OF, McGill-Toolin Catholic High School(AL)
Thompson seems like the kind of player who will fall in the later round of the first round but should be selected higher. While he’s a bit raw as a toolsy 2 sport high school outfielder, he profiles as an above average defender with plus speed and some feel for barreling up baseballs. The Orioles farm system has been lacking in recent years and Thompson would be the exact type of high upside selection they need in the system.
22. Toronto Blue Jays: Nate Pearson RHP, Central Florida JC
This is the first somewhat controversial pick as Pearson has injury history, lack of secondary pitches and some scouts projecting him for a relief role. With that said, Pearson is a 6’6″ right hander who sits 92-95 mph with his fastball and pounds the strike zone. There’s obvious risk with in this package but with Toronto picking later in the first round, Pearson is the type of pitcher they can take a risk on.
23. Los Angeles Dodgers: Logan Warmoth SS, North Carolina
Warmoth isn’t a prototypical 1st round Dodgers pick but he makes plenty of sense at #22. Warmoth may move to 2nd base but even if he does, he’ll provide solid contact skills with a good eye at the plate and a little bit of pop. He’s likely a quick riser in the system and can be one of the quickest in this draft class to reach the majors.
24. Boston Red Sox: Heliot Ramos OF, Leadership Christian Academy, Puerto Rico
The Red Sox are always big on upside and international talent so they acquire both with the same draft pick. Ramos is extremely toolsy with plus raw power and speed but he’s flawed in other areas of his game. Dave Dombrowski, President of Baseball Operations, tends to lean towards upside picks and Ramos represents one of the highest upside players in this draft class, albeit with a lot of risk.
25. Washington Nationals: Luke Heimlich LHP, Oregon State
A monster spring for Heimlich and his Oregon State squad has boosted him into first round consideration. While his upside is lower than some listed around him, he’s a polished pitcher with a low 90’s fastball with the ability to command that pitch and his other secondary pitches. For a team looking to draft a high floor pitcher with the chance to move quickly through your system, Heimlich is your guy.
26. Texas Rangers: Jake Burger 3B, Missouri State
Burger has some of the best raw power in this draft class, power he has been able to translate into in game power. He could stick at 3rd base but there’s a good chance he moves over to first base. Burger is a bit of a polarizing player who some scouts see as an everyday third baseman with power while others see a 1st baseman who may struggle to be more than a platoon bat at the next level. He’s likely a first rounder but there’s an outside chance he slides into the next round.
27. Chicago Cubs: Nick Allen SS, Francis Parker HS(CA)
Like Burger, Allen is a polarizing player but it’s due to his small figure, being listed at 5’8″. Allen is a fantastic defensive shortstop with above average contact abilities and he has off the charts makeup. He won’t hit more than 5-8 home runs annually at the next level and some scouts think his size makes him a long shot to be an everyday starter but there are the makings of a solid utility player at the very least. The Cubs might look past his size and draft a potential everyday shortstop.
28. Toronto Blue Jays: Drew Waters OF, Etowah High School(GA)
Waters looks like one of those players who doesn’t excel at one thing but does a solid-average job of most aspects of baseball. Waters may stick in center field, runs well and has some potential to hit for average and some power. A switch hitter, he features more power from the left side but more swing and miss, while he’ll make more contact from the right side. The Jays pick once again and land a potential everyday center fielder.
29. Texas Rangers: Matt Sauer RHP Ernest Righetti High School(CA)
One of the best arms in this class, Sauer has some serious upside with frontline stuff. Coming from a 6’4″ frame, Sauer sits 91-94 mph on his fastball and touches 96-97 while throwing sharp, bat missing sliders. He falls this far because many scouts think he has a bullpen profile with poor arm action and a change up that isn’t existent so far. If a team thinks he can stick as a starter, he may go higher than this.
30. Chicago Cubs: Tanner Houck RHP, Missouri
There is a lot of debate about what Houck is at the next level. Some nights, he’s throwing 92-96 mph sinking fastballs with the ability to command it along with his secondaries. Other nights, Houck shows fringe secondary pitches and is basically a one pitch guy, leading many to think he’s a reliever. The Cubs have done well with pitchers with good stuff but poor command and Houck has to be awfully tempting at the end of the first round.
Competitive Balance Round A
31. Tampa Bay Rays: Alex Lange RHP, LSU
You’re seeing a trend now with the big stuff pitchers with relief potential being selected. Lange was once a consensus top 10 pick but is believed to be slipping down draft boards as the draft gets closer. Lange has a power 92-96 mph fastball with a hammer curve ball that misses bats and has a big frame to maintain his stuff late into games. Lange’s issues are a high effort delivery and command issues that lead many to think he’s a reliever. The Rays are probably jumping at the opportunity to grab 2 college starters with good stuff in Kyle Wright and Alex Lange with their first 2 picks.
32. Cincinnati Reds: Blaine Enlow RHP, Saint Amont HS(LA)
After selecting the highest upside arm in Hunter Greene, the Reds would be thrilled to grab Enlow, who has serious upside but needs to fill into his frame more. Enlow owns one of the best breaking balls in this class, a filthy over the top curveball, and throws in the 88-93 mph range. A slight velocity drop this spring has him dropping a bit but with an uptick in velocity, he quickly has 2 plus pitches along with strike throwing ability.
33. Oakland Athletics: Evan White 1B, Kentucky
White may be a perfect fit for the A’s, who love their college players and especially those that are a bit quirky. White is a phenomenal defensive 1st baseman who doesn’t have a ton of power, especially for his position. A rare right handed batting-left handed throwing player, White’s profile is tough to predict going forward but there’s enough here to get him picked near the first round.
34. Milwaukee Brewers: Brian Miller OF, North Carolina
Miller is quite a bit different than the Brewers first round pick, Jordon Adell, but he makes sense as a safer pick at 35. Miller should stick in center field thanks to his good speed, he has a good eye at the plate and is a smart baseball player. His ceiling is limited but he offers the high floor teams covet after selecting high risk players.
35. Minnesota Twins: Hans Crouse RHP, Dana Hills HS(CA)
Crouse is one of the most fun players in the draft thanks to his quirky delivery and fiery persona. The So Cal right hander has an electric 92-96 mph fastball that misses plenty of bats but there is worry about his high effort delivery and curveball that is about an average pitch at present. The Twins can afford to mess around a bit in this area with another pick 2 picks later and Crouse has loads of potential that the Twins would love to take a chance on.
36. Miami Marlins: Seth Romero LHP, Houston
On talent alone, Romero is a top 10 player in this draft but his character issues got him booted off the University of Houston squad. Romero has a plus 92-95 mph fastball and sharp low-mid 80’s slider along with a solid change up, all 3 of which pitches he shows he can command. Draft day will be interesting for Romero in a somewhat weaker depth class and the Marlins might have no problem taking the talented, albeit controversial, left hander.
Hitters have been told for years and decades one thing: Don’t try hitting fly balls. Hitting a hard line drive or a ground ball right back up the middle is considered a success, said hitting coaches and people around baseball. It might be time to start reconsidering what the old adage has told us. In the year 2017, the rise of the fly ball hitters has skyrocketed and there may be some old myths about hitting debunked going forward. In the 2016 season, hitters were dropping bombs and fly balls at historic rates, thanks to a new influx of fly ball hitters. There are 3 main leaders of this so called fly ball hitting generation: J.D. Martinez, Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner. Those aren’t the only 3 hitters of this movement but they’re the prime examples that are showing what can happen with swing revamps and a different approach at the plate. Each of those 3 players ended up fixing certain aspects of their swings but they all came to the same ending conclusion: fly balls are a good thing.
If you want to know how Martinez feels about his new swing and approach, just ask him how he feels about hitting fly balls. Here’s an excerpt from an article from Fangraphs earlier this year by the phenomenal Travis Sawchik:
“In the cage, I talk about it all the time. I’m not trying to hit a f*cking line drive or a freaking ground ball. I’m trying to hit the ball in the air. I feel like the ball in the air is my strength and has a chance to go anywhere in the park. So why am I trying to hit a ground ball? That’s what I believe in.”
Martinez was essentially floundering in the major leagues with Houston from 2011-2013, when he slugged .387 and was worth -1.1 Wins Above Replacement(WAR) across 252 games. Martinez decided a change was needed and ended up going to California after the 2013 season to work with hitting consultant Craig Wallenbrock. Notice the term used was consultant, not hitting coach. This is because Wallenbrock is by name a hitting consultant, who also had 13 years of scouting experience in baseball. Wallenbrock is a firm believer of keeping your hands back as long as possible while your hips load, creating a rubber band effect that creates as much power as possible. The hands are important for any hitter’s swing but when you take the noise out of your hands by allowing them to stay back, you create opportunity for your lower body and upper body to be in fluidity, creating optimal strength. Many coaches at the lower levels and even higher levels believe in bringing your hands and hips forward at the same time, keeping the forward momentum in unison. That may not necessarily be the best way to create torque and power and new school coaches are preaching keeping your hands back as long as possible. After not making the Opening Day roster for the Astros in 2014, the Detroit Tigers swooped in and signed J.D. Martinez and made one of the best acquisitions in their franchise history.
Here is Martinez back in his pre Tigers days, hitting with the Astros AA affiliate:
Here is Martinez with the Tigers, after his swing revamp.
There is a complete night and day difference between these 2 videos. In his minor league/Astros Days, Martinez had no leg kick, no rubber band effect between his hands and hips, had no bat path geared for doing damage and essentially created no torque in his swing. With the Tigers, Martinez has the effective rubber band effect and uses a leg kick as a timing mechanism, creating the ultimate power and timing to do serious damage. The numbers don’t lie.
Martinez from 2011-2013: 33.3% Fly Ball(FB) rate, 45.8% Ground Ball(GB) rate, 34.8% pull rate, 29.2% hard hit rate, .387 SLG%, -1.1 WAR, 87 wRC+
Martinez from 2014-2016: 39.2% FB rate, 38.6% GB rate, 42% pull rate, 42.4% hard hit rate, .540 SLG%, 10.9 WAR, 143 wRC+
In the Travis Sawchik article linked above, Martinez makes it well known that he is trying to do one thing: hit the crud out of the ball in the air and in most cases, pull that baseball with authority. He has done just that since 2014.
Josh Donaldson and J.D. Martinez are basically 1A and 1B for leaders of the fly ball movement. We can essentially call them the alternate captains. Josh Donaldson’s story about his rise to stardom is pretty well known, as he was a floundering catcher in the Cubs and A’s farm systems, then made a transition to 3rd base, then transitioned into elite MVP caliber player. Eno Sarris, another phenomenal writer at Fangraphs who does many player feature stories, documented Donaldson’s swing changes and philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from his article:
“Honestly I never really think about my hands,” laughed Donaldson as we talked before a game against the Athletics. “It more has to do with angles with your legs, your spine, your shoulders. I wouldn’t consider myself a guy who has a handsy swing, that’s more of the old-school kind of thing, or guys that slap the ball around. I use more of my entire body.”
Now we’re talking. J.D. Martinez was a little more straight forward with his thought process, talking about straight up hitting the crud out of the baseball and putting it in the air. Donaldson, meanwhile, is getting into the anatomical aspect of the human body, talking about putting certain body parts in certain spots to create the best angles for success with a swing. It may sound like he’s over thinking; that’s not the case. He simply knows his swing better than most players. Donaldson, like Martinez, sought an outside source from the main MLB community to try to fix his swing when he was a fringe AAA/MLB player. He resorted to Bobby Tewksbary, who runs his own hitting company, that does 1 on 1 instructions and is preaches a very much different style of hitting than most hitting coaches do.
Tewksbary was interviewed on MLB Now, where he explains that his philosophy is all about creating the optimal bat path. To become a successful hitter, creating the best angle through your hand load is where it all starts. This is similar to what Craig Wallenbrock is teaching in some way, with both men preaching that keeping your hands back while the hips load forward is the best way to create a fluid bat path. Bringing the knob of your bat forward too early and trying to create your own bat plane takes a lot of power out of your swing, which leads to less impact when the bat meets the ball.
Josh Donaldson ate up all of this knowledge, completely revamping his swing and is now an absolute firm believer in hitting fly balls and trying to pull them with a meaning. Just like J.D. Martinez, the numbers don’t lie.
-Donaldson from 2010-2012: 38.2% FB rate, 40.8% GB rate, 39.7% pull rate, 25.6% hard hit rate, .386 SLG%, 84 wRC+, 1.2 WAR
-Donaldson from 2013-2016: 38.8% FB rate, 43.1% GB rate, 42.1% pull rate, 35.9% hard hit rate, .518 SLG%, 146 wRC+, 30.5 WAR
Donaldson started to make these swing changes prior to the 2012 season, when he finally got some real extended time in the major leagues for the first time. He held his own in 2012, then absolutely exploded into a perennial superstar after that. Donaldson, like Martinez, creates a buggy whip action with his hands loading back all the way until his big leg front leg kick reaches the ground. Donaldson creates the unique angle with his bat path by keeping his hands completely out of the equation, essentially just doing a simple load back and then absolutely unleashing force on the baseball. Donaldson has preached keeping his front elbow above the baseball, using shoulder plane to create a clean bath path and using the rubber band effect to create a maximum effort swing geared for hard contact. Here’s a perfect swing from Donaldson:
I’ll let Josh Donaldson do the rest of the talking in these two epic videos he had on MLB network.
Justin Turner, much like J.D. Martinez and Josh Donaldson, was a fringe MLB player when he was picked up off the scrap heap by the Dodgers. For 3 years with the New York Mets, Turner was a scrappy, hard nosed grinder who didn’t offer enough to stick at the big leagues long term.
-Turner from 2011-2013: 29.4% FB rate, 47.5% GB rate, 31.4% pull rate, 22% hard hit rate, .371 SLG%, 97 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
After the 2013 season, Justin Turner sought out Doug Latta, a hitting guru and former high school coach who does private lessons in Los Angeles. Thanks to advice from former MLB player Marlon Byrd, who worked with Latta, Turner was able to completely revamp his swing in one offseason. MLB beat writer Phil Rogers wrote a piece about the swing changes and how Byrd and Latta really helped Turner transform his swing. Said Turner about Byrd:
“He talks about gaining ground, catching the ball out in front rather than catching it deep, where I’d always been,” Turner said. “Trying to pick my foot up and put it down in the same place, stay back, back the ball up, and stay behind the ball. You’re still staying behind the ball, you’re still backing it up. You’re just moving your contact point out a little in front of you.”
Again, this is a similar principle to Martinez and Donaldson but it’s being described a bit differently. Essentially, Turner was starting his leg kick too late earlier in his career and wasn’t creating optimal power by keeping his forward momentum and hands back in unison. When Turner changed his leg kick and started keeping his hands back in a more simple manner, he created that same rubber band effect that Donaldson has preached, allowing Turner to tap into his natural strength. The Dodgers, thanks to a tip from then bench coach Tim Wallach, recommended the team signing Turner after the two of them attended an alumni game at Cal State Fullerton, as both played ball there. The signing proved to be one of the best in Dodgers history and the numbers speak for themselves.
-Turner from ’14-’16: 36% FB rate, 39% GB rate, 34.5% pull rate, 34.9% hard hit rate, .492 SLG%, 138 wRC+, 12.8 WAR
Here is video of the drastic swing change Turner made:
We see precisely what Turner and Byrd were discussing in regards to his leg kick. Turner gets a stronger leg kick, gets his foot down earlier, keeps his hands back and creates the optimal swing path to hit home runs. You can even see the potential with his Mets swing, as he already has a pretty clean bath path but the lack of the rubber band effect definitely sapped his potential, which finally showed up with the Dodgers.
The fly ball trend in the league
The 3 players mentioned above are the obvious leaders of this new generation but the fly ball increases are not just limited to them. The league as a whole is hitting way more fly balls and home runs than baseball has ever been accustomed to. If you go back 10 years, you can see the noticeable trend in fly balls and home runs.
2006: 1.08 ground ball/fly ball ratio, 7.8% Home Run/Fly Ball rate, 5,386 home runs
2016: 0.83 GB/FB ratio, 9.2% HR/FB rate, 5,610 home runs
The year 2000 was the most prolific home run year in baseball history, with 5,693 home runs. However, there were way more plate appearances in 2000, due to the extreme offensive environment. In 2000, there was a home run every 33.4 plate appearances. In 2016, there was a home run every 32.9 plate appearances. The stats don’t lie. The year 2016 was a home run hitting haven and it’s partially due to the influx of the fly ball hitting philosophy.
With fly balls being hit at a rapid rate and players seeing success with it, there are bound to be more players getting in on the action. Daniel Murphy, A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo, Mitch Haniger and Jason Castro are other examples of players who have made swing changes to try to lift the ball in the air more and have more success and all of them except for Castro have had success with doing so. Murphy himself could probably warrant a feature spot of his own, as he revamped his swing in the 2nd half of 2015, leading to a monstrous postseason and 2016 season. He had a career best FB%, hard hit rate, wRC+ and WAR in 2016 while posting a career low GB%, showing his changes to a fly ball hitter were extremely successful. With players doing all this damage on fly balls, how will the pitchers adjust back?
Just like hitters have always been told that fly balls are bad and that hitting the ball on the ground or on the line is correct, pitchers have also been told pitching down in the zone is the right approach. Leaving pitches up in the zone was a recipe for disaster for pitchers and keeping the ball down would avoid damage. This is not the case anymore as fly ball hitters have started to dominate the sport of baseball and have started to exploit pitchers with the deep ball. Most people would assume it is easy to hit the high fastball since it is left up in the zone and it’s easier to lift a ball rather than go down to get a baseball. The stats, however, don’t back up this theory right now. Below are heat maps from Fangraphs, which date back to the year 2007. I used the SLG/Pitch filter, which felt like an appropriate way of judging how much damage was done on low pitches compared to high pitches.
Again, the numbers don’t lie. Back in 2007, before the fly ball revolution, hitters were doing more of their damage up in the zone compared to low in the zone. Pitchers started to adjust and just got better as a whole, as velocity started to creep up to historic levels after that. Hitters in 2016, meanwhile, started to exploit pitcher who pitched lower in the zone, using the “new school” style of hitting by keeping a flat swing path through the zone and going down to get lower pitches with lots of success. Meanwhile, the pitchers who have utilized fastballs up in the zone are seeing success, while the pitchers going low aren’t seeing the success we saw back in 2007 when these maps became public.
Just like hitters started to adjust by hitting more fly balls and hitting low pitches with success, it’s now time for the pitchers to do their adjusting. Just like a single game of baseball, the timeline of a baseball season, or several seasons, is like a cat and mouse game. It won’t be surprising to see teams and pitchers start to pitch up in the zone, using these historic velocities with more success by pitching up. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays have already recognized this trend and have compiled a rotation of pitchers who throw hard and succeed by pitching up in the zone.
What the fly ball revolution means for baseball
With more and more success stories occurring each year by not-traditional standards, the future of baseball at all levels could change. Old school coaches who tell little league kids to not hit fly balls could have a change of heart. High school coaches, who are trying to win more games and send kids to the next level, may preach a different style of hitting the ball. More importantly for the future of the MLB, more fringe minor league players who may be struggling to reach the next level could decide to revamp their swings. The 3 prime examples, Martinez, Donaldson and Turner, were all mediocre MLB talents who turned into stars in a hurry, thanks to swing changes and hard work on their craft. If those 3 can do that, what is holding back the hundreds of minor league hitters who may never reach the major leagues? It’s not easy and not everybody can just flip the switch and start hitting home runs with success. But with examples of players being successful with this approach, there’s no doubt we will see more stories like this in the next few years. As hitters make adjustments with this fly ball revolution, the pitchers may be starting the high fastball revolution shortly thereafter. Your move, MLB pitchers.
*On Episode 7 of OBP: The Official Baseball Podcast, co-host Jared Tims and myself talked about this exact topic so this article and the podcast go hand in hand. If you want to hear more about this topic, check out the podcast here.
Angels Baseball is not just a sport for me to watch. It’s a passion in my life. I’ve been in Anaheim my whole life so far(born in 94), so it hasn’t been too long. But one thing that makes me want to stay here forever is to watch this team. My first game was the first year I was born, in 94 when my parents decided to get me into baseball. Funny thing is that my mom was a lifelong Dodgers fan when she had season tickets behind home plate in the 70’s and 80’s. My dad was a Bay area boy growing up watching players like Will Clark. So you may ask how did a child whose parents are Dodger and Giant fans?
We live about 20 minutes away from the stadium so we would go to a few games a year during the lates 90’s. I got to see Chuck Finley while he was still a star for us and watching the beginning of the Salmon, Erstad, Anderson, Glaus era. Also got to watch Edmonds play and loved watching him in the outfield, who was later traded for Adam Kennedy. The 90’s are a bit of a distant memory for me, probably due to the fact that they just weren’t very good and the crowds were almost nonexistent. I was 6 when it hit the new century so I still wasn’t at the stage where I can remember everything that happened but I remember how the 2000 season was. An absolute killer lineup with 4 30+ hr guys and watching Erstad go bonkers with a .355 avg and 25 100 HR RBI line. As great as that offense was we had a terrible staff so those memories still don’t comeback too often. 2002 was obviously the year where I got really interested. What a magical year it was seeing us go from 6-14 to WS champs. I can distinctly remember where I was during that playoff run at my next door neighbors house full of red. My dad was rooting for the Giants at the time, but it changed over these last few years. I was so happy when we came backin game 6 and won in game 7, but I was 8 years old so I didn’t really get the significance of it. I wasn’t all too familiar with the infamous Donnie Moore game at the time, who Gene Autry was and all the painful years for Angels fans.
2004 is probably where I got serious about this team. We signed Vlad. The next 6 years were pretty incredible to watch him hit HR after HR off the dirt and continually change momentum with his swing. It honestly seemed like every game I would go to, Vlad was the hero. I have Vlad jerseys, shirts and pictures all over my room so it was tough for me to see him go. But now we have my favorite player Torii Hunter who continues to amaze me. I love his leadership, defense and his interviews. Great player to watch and excited to be able to see him play for 3 more years, atleast.
Going into the summer of 08, I knew my plan. I was at the stage where my parents were comfortable with me going to games with my friends alone. That’s where I went from big fan to diehard. I went to about 10 games that summer and haven’t looked back. Granted the end of that season wasn’t great, but it really hit me how incredible this team, organization, fans and stadium was. Signing Texiera was probably the most exciting thing that happened because I was truly aware of how good he was.
2009 was the year where I went from diehard to just flat out loving this team. I really got behind this team after the tragic death of Nick Adenhart and really enjoyed the year. I went to 33 games in all last year(3 playoff) and enjoyed every single game. I’m hoping this year will be just as successful as last year and hope to see a WS in SoCal.
Other things about myself:
Favorite All Time Angels Player: Torii Hunter
Top 5 Current Favorite Players: Hunter, Morales, Napoli, Santana, Kendrick
5 other Favorite Angels: Tim Salmon, Bobby Grich, Troy Glaus, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan
Favorite Regular Season game: 2004 I believe, the Angels beat the Royals 21-5. Jeff DaVannon hits for cycle, Jose Molina GS.
Favorite PS game: Game 2 ALDS 2009. Realized we would finally beat Boston.
Hope everyone enjoys my blog and let’s hope for a great 2010 season. Go Angels!