A Glance At Dodgers Hitter Fly Ball Distance

Via Dustin Nosler
Via Dustin Nosler

Now that we’re a couple of months into the season, it’s worth looking into position player fly ball distance. This distance, available on baseballheatmaps, is the average distance of home runs and fly balls hit by a particular player. This information can be taken as general shorthand for power (hitting the ball further means more power), and it’s a bit more discrete than looking at something like just line drive rate on its own.

The following is a list of Dodger position player’s fly ball distances  in 2013 and 2014. The table is sorted by the difference in batted ball distance between the two years for each player, so the players on top have gained the most distance and the players on the bottom have lost the most distance. Players with fewer than 100 plate appearances are excluded due to sample size. Data was taken after Sunday’s game in Colorado.

Player 2013 Fly Ball Distance 2014 Fly Ball Distance Difference
Yasiel Puig 289.86 308.37 +18.51
Justin Turner 283.82 293.00 +9.18
Adrian Gonzalez 287.77 291.12 +3.35
Matt Kemp 284.77 286.52 +1.75
Juan Uribe 280.11 280.28 +0.17
Dee Gordon 250.37
Drew Butera 281.17
Andre Ethier 276.39 275.44 -0.95
Carl Crawford 278.60 274.48 -4.12
Hanley Ramirez 309.03 294.11 -14.92

On top of the list: oh my goodness, Yasiel Puig. Puig has added 18 feet of fly ball distance this season. His power last year was impressive, but this year he’s seventh in all of baseball in average distance (at the top right now is… Mike Morse, at 323.42 feet).

Justin Turner is in a surprising position, not only in terms of gain but also in terms of average distance, which is third among all Dodger regulars. The gain could be an impact of changing parks, since we know how Citi Field can swallow fly balls. Turner has shown himself to be a capable fill-in while Uribe is on the disabled list. These data helps to support this impression.

Matt Kemp was well ahead of last year’s numbers in early May, but his recent slump has brought him closer to to neutral gains. When Kemp was at his peak (2011 and early 2012), his fly ball distances averaged between 305 and 315 feet, so he’s still well behind where he was in the past.

Most other players are pretty close to last year’s numbers as well. The only player with a significant distance loss is Hanley Ramirez, who is about 15 feet behind where he was last year. It isn’t particularly surprising that Hanley has lost a lot of distance; his other power numbers are down and expecting him to match last year’s ridiculous numbers is asking too much. Still, it’s a bit discouraging to see additional data backing up Hanley’s “slump.”

Another reason why these data are useful is that power statistics take a very long time to stabilize. The ratio of a position player’s home runs to fly balls (HR/FB ratio) is extremely variable. However, fly ball distance correlates to HR/FB ratio with a large sample, so the average distance can be used as a “test” to see how valid an increase or decrease in HR/FB ratio is. Fly ball distance isn’t immune to small sample size issues, either, but at least it’s another set of data to look at.

Below is a calculation of a player’s “expected” HR/FB ratio given their fly ball distances using the fit equation from this post. It shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but it can be used to look for tendencies or large departures from what would be considered “normal.”

Player 2013 HR/FB 2013 expected HR/FB 2014 HR/FB 2014 expected HR/FB
Yasiel Puig 21.8%  13.0%
(-8.8%)
19.3% 18.7%
(-0.6%)
Justin Turner 3.8% 11.1%
(+7.3%)
9.7% 13.9%
(+4.2%)
Adrian Gonzalez 11.4%  12.3%
(+0.9%)
16.0% 13.3%
(-2.7%)
Matt Kemp 9.1%  11.4%
(+2.3%)
 13.2%  11.9%
(-1.3%)
Juan Uribe 10.5%  9.9%
(-0.6%)
9.5% 10.0%
(+0.5%)
Dee Gordon 5.3% 2.8% 0.1%
(-2.7%)
Drew Butera 0.0% 6.5% 10.3%
(+3.8%)
Andre Ethier 8.4%  8.7%
(-0.3%)
8.3% 8.5%
(+0.2%)
Carl Crawford 5.4%  9.5%
(+4.1%)
10.0% 8.2%
(-1.8%)
Hanley Ramirez 21.1%  18.9%
(-2.2%)
15.6% 14.3%
(-1.3%)

Puig’s HR/FB ratio was actually higher in 2013 than it is this year (both are much higher than the league average rate of around 10%), but this year he’s actually “earned” his ratio with corresponding fly ball distances. Turner’s expected HR/FB ratio is significantly lower this year than what would be expected given his fly ball distances thus far. Drew Butera has been “unlucky” by this measurement as well.

The biggest HR/FB over-performer on the Dodgers (other than Dee Gordon) is Adrian Gonzalez, meaning that he has hit more home runs than expected given his fly ball distance. Carl Crawford, after being significantly below his expected HR/FB ratio last year, is significantly above his expected ratio this season. Overall, the magnitudes of the departures from the expected values are less than what they were last year, demonstrating how variable these data can be.

So, what do all of these numbers mean? It’s yet another way to show that Yasiel Puig is somehow getting even better, and it gives us some extra hope for Turner and Butera. The news is less great for other players, mainly Hanley Ramirez. Overall, most players have average fly ball distances similar to what they had in the past, which is probably good news as the weather warms up.

About Daniel Brim

Daniel Brim
Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.