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Hitter Statcast Review: Freddie Freeman, Shohei Ohtani, Willi Castro (2021)

Apr 15, 2021

Shohei Ohtani is healthy and is a top-five power hitter.

Every day that passes generates thousands of new rows of statcast data to analyze. For a data guy like me, it’s like Christmas every morning. Ain’t baseball great?

This is version two of this post series. Admittedly, last week’s post lacked some punch because we dealt with less than a week of games. While it is still very early, most teams have played ten or more games now, so we are getting there. We will cover the normal stuff in this post, and we’ll also throw in some different stuff and try to give you some actionable advice here to help improve your fantasy roster.

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Barrels

Probably the most well-known statcast statistic is the barrel. These are batted balls with exit velocities above 97.5 miles per hour at an optimal launch angle. The angle range is dependent on the exit velocity since the harder you hit the ball, the less the angle range matters because the ball is getting to its destination faster.

So far in 2021, barreled balls have generated a .757 batting average and a 2.494 slugging percentage. 88% of the league’s home runs have come on these types of batted balls. This is the best type of batted ball by far, so we want to dive in and see which hitters have had a propensity for hitting hitters.

Here are your barrels leaders as of April 13th (not including any games from the 14th):

That is your full list of players that have six or more barrels. You can see (and you can sort the above table) that Cruz, Buxton, and Soto actually have the highest barrel rates (barrels divided by balls put in play), but they have all missed some possible games due to postponements or minor injuries/sickness.

Some other notables that don’t show up on this chart:

With such a small set of data, this chart will probably look wildly different next week, and a few good games could rocket someone to the top of the list, but for now, that’s how the top and bottom of the leaderboard looks.

Barrels + Solid Contact

The Statcast algorithm classifies every batted ball into one of six categories. Category six is the barrels, which we just talked about. Batted balls that fall into category five (called “solid contact”) are also very well struck and get great results but are just not quite completely optimal in terms of velocity and angle. Solid contact so far in 2021 has resulted in a .445 batting average and an .867 slugging percentage. In previous years that slugging percentage has been above 1.000, so I would expect that number to come up as the season progresses.

A hitter can smoke a ball for extra bases (or even a home run in some cases) and have it not classified as a barrel because it just falls short of the required parameters. I want to dive into these “solid contact” numbers to spot a few more hitters that are striking the ball very well this year. Here’s the leaderboard, using barrels plus solid contact. I call it “optimal contact” here.

Some other interesting notes about guys that didn’t make this list:

  • Edwin Rios (4.3% barrel rate, 10.9% optimal contact rate) has been hitting the ball really well while in the lineup, but after Bellinger returns from the IL, his playing time will dip down significantly. Rios should probably be rostered in all leagues if he’s playing every day, but we will need some new developments for that to happen.
  • Bobby Dalbec (7.3% barrel rate, 9.1% optimal contact) has been brutal at the plate and has yet to homer, but when he’s making contact (not super often with a 32% strikeout rate), it’s great contact. Those who drafted him were expecting homers with a bad batting average, and it seems like those homers will come soon (but yeah, the batting average is going to be tragic).
  • Other names looking good early on by these metrics: Jed Lowrie, Kyle Seager, Nomar Mazara, Avisail Garcia, Ryan McMahon

Max Velocity

Maximum exit velocity can be a good indicator of guys that have added bat speed (and therefore power) to their game this year. First, let’s take a quick look at the overall leaders. There are the players with the highest maximum exit velocities so far this year:


It’s a good idea to check to see which player’s have already beaten their max exit velocity from last year, so let’s do that.

There’s not a ton more to say, but here are some notes:

  • Shohei Ohtani is healthy and is a top-five power hitter in Major League Baseball.
  • Willi Castro had a nice 2020 season, but there were some questions about the power output. The fact that he’s already scalded a ball at 115 miles per hour should provide some optimism about his home run total this year.
  • Interesting to see Tommy Edman here, this is another guy that has his fantasy value come from other categories than homers, but maybe he can add on to that part of his game this year as well.
  • Good news for Matt Olson as he looks to rebound from his awful 2020 season, he’s had a tough go of it early this year, but I would expect the homers to come soon

xwOBA vs. wOBA

We can see some major discrepancies between basic stats and the statcast expected stats with so little data. Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) quantifies a hitter’s full performance and puts it all into one number. Expected wOBA (xwoba) does this calculation and looks at batted ball metrics rather than results. We are looking for players with low wOBA but high xwOBA, as those are hitters that have been very unlucky with the results on their batted balls. These are players that you might want to see if you can buy low on. Here’s the leaderboard:

 Notes:

  • More reason to hold on to Bobby Dalbec provided that you understand that he will be a batting average crater for your team.
  • There is no reason to panic on the slow Braves starters (Freeman & Albies), as they both have really strong expected wOBA numbers.
  • Another positive note about Willi Castro here, I would be very interested in scooping Castro up off the waiver wire if he’s available.

So there’s your statcast update for the first two weeks of baseball. We’ll be back next week to refresh these numbers and add some more to this post! Thanks for reading!

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh

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