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Week 1 Statcast Review: Hitters (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Apr 8, 2021

Man, is it great to have April baseball back. It’s been a fun first week of games. Prior to Wednesday’s games, we had seen 22,346 pitches thrown, 176 home runs, and 1,409 strikeouts recorded. While we have a long way to go before we have a legitimate data sample, the richness of StatCast pitch-by-pitch data does give us a lot of opportunities to spot some interesting things even with just a handful of games played for the league’s players.

Yesterday we opened this 2021 series by looking at starting pitchers after their first starts. Today we will take a look at some early data on hitters to see who stands out after about a week of games.

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Max Launch Velocity

A great way to spot a power breakout is to catch guys that added swing speed. We can do this even with a very small sample size by looking at the maximum exit velocity. What we are looking for are hitters with a significant number of plate appearances last year that have already bested their hardest-hit ball from a year ago. This would be a decent indicator that they have added swing speed and could be expected to hit more homers. Here are the notables:

It’s interesting to see Carlos Correa already crushing his max velocity from 2020. Fantasy managers have been waiting for a huge season from him for a while now, and it has not developed yet. This could be a sign that he’s fully healthy and ready to go. Willi Castro is also a very interesting name to see hereafter his mini-breakout year in 2020 with the Tigers. He is a player that is widely available in fantasy and comes with a nice floor/ceiling combination even being in that weak Tigers lineup. The third name that sticks out to me is Edwin Rios, who has huge power and displayed it often in 2020. Right now, he does not have a starting spot, but if something would happen where he’s getting near everyday at-bats, he would be an awesome source of power in your league.

Barrel Rate

A barrel is defined as a ball hit at or above 95 miles per hour at an angle between eight and 50 degrees. These batted balls are the most successful, and most of the home runs hit are defined as barrels. Let’s take a look at who has barreled the bar most often here early on.

This is one where the small sample of data really does make a big difference here. There is no reason to believe that these players will continue to be near the top of the league in barrel rate just because they are right now, but it is still interesting to see here.

Nelson Cruz is just silly with six barrels on only 29 swings, Byron Buxton has also come out hot with three barrels and three homers on just 19 swings. The more surprising names there are Naquin, Canha, McMahon, and Lowe. All four of those guys have been viewed as high-upside bats in the past. I probably would not be rushing out to add Tyler Naquin just because of five good games, but if he can find himself in the everyday lineup, there should be some homers following in that small ballpark. It’s good to see McMahon starting hot, as he is a very exciting bat with that previous prospect pedigree playing half of his games in Coors Field.

Contact Rate

If you are looking for a batting average boost, the first thing to check is contact rate. This statistic is the rate at which a hitter puts the ball in play on his swings. Here are the early leaders:

This list is mostly guys that have always had high contact rates, so not much has changed at the top of the leaderboard. The interesting/surprising names right now are Aaron Judge and Ramon Laureano. These two previously had been high strikeout players, so maybe this is an early sign that their contact abilities have improved.

When we look at the bottom of the board, here are the players with the lowest contact rates so far:

Some typical names here like Soler, Sano, Hiura, and Moncada who have continued their swing-and-miss heavy ways. It’s discouraging to see the young guns like Taveras and Vaughn on the list, however. Those two were trendy late-round picks as high-upside players that could really contribute in fantasy this year. One week of games proves nothing, but it’s never a good sign to see this many whiffs. I would keep these two on your bench until we start seeing some more contact (or at least big time power when they are making contact).

There you have your early insights from the 2021 Statcast dataset. Check back every week for more!

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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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