Using Barrel Rate to Find Value Hitters (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Baseball’s Statcast revolution has given us an absurd amount of data to analyze for fantasy purposes. Major League Baseball has made all of the data it collects public; you can go download a file with information about every single pitch thrown last season (732,473 pitches with 89 columns of data for every single one). The data categorizes every batted ball into one of six categories depending on the launch speed and launch angle. These categories are:
5: Solid Contact
Here is a visualization of these six categories directly from baseballsavant.mlb.com:
You could guess that a hitter would have the most success with balls that were classified as a “barrel”, which means the ball was hit at least 98 miles per hour at an angle in that red zone above. I went ahead and calculated the batting average for each hit classification from the 2019 season, and here are the results:
Barrel (6): .810
Solid Contact (5): .491
Flare/Burner (4): .661
Topped (3): .076
Hit Under (2): .202
Weak (1): .190
Here is how the home runs broke down last year:
Barrel (6): 81.7%
Solid Contact (5): 12.4%
Flare/Burner (4): .06%
Topped (3): 5.8%
Hit Under (2): 0%
Weak (1): 0%
The few home runs from categories four and three were either mislabeled or inside the park homers, so you can see that you are really looking for the barrels when looking for home runs.
So who were the leaders last year in barrel rate? Not a ton of these names will surprise you, but here is everyone with 200+ plate appearances that came in at or above 13%:
You see the league’s biggest (literally) sluggers at the top of the list, with Joey Gallo, Miguel Sano, Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz, and Gary Sanchez making up the top five. There are a few swing-for-the-fences catchers in there, but largely these are all guys that are well known and will not be super cheap in drafts this year.
One thing most of the players above have in common is a high strikeout rate. This makes intuitive sense, as you have to swing really hard to register a barrel (and probably be sitting on a certain pitch), and that lends itself to more swings and misses. If you play in a category league, you know that guys like Gallo and Sano are not first-round players because they can really hurt your team’s batting average. We can take this one step further by incorporating strikeout rate to identify some potential guys who can hit a lot of home runs this year without burying you in batting average.
To do this, I took the percentile rank — this means that when you see a 90% in a percentile column, that hitter is better than 90% of the rest of the hitters in the data in that category — for each of barrel rate and strikeout rate, and then averaged them.
The goal of hitting is to hit the ball very hard as often as possible; these hitters were the best at doing that last year. Some fantasy-relevant notables from the data:
- Howie Kendrick and Yandy Diaz had great seasons at the dish and should be very cheap in drafts this year. Neither of them approached the 500-plate appearance mark, which should knock down confidence on them repeating, but they are potentially nice infield values for your fantasy team.
- Anthony Rendon, Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Christian Yelich are all first-round caliber hitters, though I don’t think you needed advanced statistical analysis to tell you that.
- Josh Bell’s terrible second half may have had a lot to do with bad luck, as he continued to barrel the ball at a good rate and actually struck out less after the All-Star break. He could be a potential top-20 hitter that you can get well outside the top-20 picks.
- Edwin Encarnacion is not done yet.
- This bodes well for Ketel Marte and Marcus Semien not being one-season wonders.
- C.J. Cron could be a super steal, even in a Tigers uniform (and he will be on a one-year deal playing for another contract).
Some potential red flags from this data:
- If you draft Adalberto Mondesi or Jonathan Villar, you are probably doing so for the steals. But beware that the batting average and power could be lacking in a big way, as they do not grade out well here (8.2 Brl%, 29.8 K% for Mondesi, 6.8 Brl%, 24.6 K% for Villar).
- Paul Goldschmidt’s stock is reduced after a bad (by his standards) 2019, but he might still go too high this year. He registered an 11.3% barrel rate and a 24.3% strikeout rate.
- It may be time to give up on Andrew Benintendi breaking out as a fantasy player. His power potential seems pretty dreary with an 8.1% barrel rate.
- You may want to take a wait-and-see approach with Keston Hiura, who struck out at an alarming 30.7% rate last year and is ranked very highly among second basemen at this point.
Much analysis can be done with the Statcast data, so I encourage everybody to give it a look as we draw closer and closer to spring training. As always, if you want the full data or just have general questions or comments, you can find me on Twitter @JonPGH! Thanks for reading.