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Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball: Pitcher Statcast

Statcast metrics such as Barrels and Brls/BBE are great ways to evaluate a batter's performance, so it is only natural to assume that the metrics would be predictive for pitchers as well. As much as batters want to hit a Barrel every time, pitchers want to avoid them at all costs. Yet there is evidence that pitchers do not have the same influence over Barrels as a batter does.

Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals finished with a league-leading 70 Barrels hit last year. Mike Leake led MLB pitchers by allowing 59, a significantly lower number than Soler's total. Neither performance was an outlier, so it seems to take fewer Barrels to lead pitchers in Barrels given up than it does to lead hitters in Barrels hit. This fits well with DIPS theory, which states that batters can do more to influence batted balls than pitchers can.

It's also not fantasy-relevant, as Mike Leake just isn't that appealing a fantasy option. The nest five names on the leaderboard consist of names with a wide range of fantasy viability: Rick Porcello (55), Merrill Kelly (53), Madison Bumgarner (53), Patrick Corbin (49), and Shane Bieber (48). There isn't a compelling reason to group these guys together for fantasy purposes. Are these numbers indicative of anything?

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How to Interpret Statcast Contact Quality Allowed

Bieber is by far the biggest name on the list above, so let's focus our analysis on him. He allowed his 48 Barrels in 554 batted ball events for a rate of Brls/BBE of 8.7% last season. Back in 2018, Bieber allowed 24 Barrels in 342 batted balls for a Brls/BBE of 7%. These metrics completely contradict the popular perception of him, as he was hit hard in 2018 (4.55 ERA despite 3.30 xFIP) before living up to his peripherals last season (3.28 ERA, 3.23 xFIP). His Statcast metrics failed to capture his fantasy line.

Using the Brls/BBE leaderboard might seem like a better bet than raw Barrel totals, but again we find a contradictory example within the top five. David Hess (13.2% Brls/BBE), Jeff Hoffman (12.9%), Erik Swanson (12.3%), and Derek Holland (12.2%) are all obvious fantasy avoids, but Josh Hader (12.6%) is the first RP off of the board in most drafts.

Hader had contributed obscene amounts of strikeouts, saves, and an ERA that starts with a 2 for two straight seasons now. His rate of Brls/BBE was slightly elevated in 2018 as well (10.6%), but there's no reason to think that it's predictive of a drop-off considering that Hader has already succeeded with it twice.

Maybe we need to simplify this and just use average airborne exit velocity? Unfortunately, the leaderboard in average airborne exit velocity is a total dumpster fire: Hess (96 mph), Chad Bettis (95.9 mph), Chad Green (95.6 mph), Felix Hernandez (95.5 mph), and Edwin Jackson (95.4 mph). We don't need Statcast to figure out that we really don't want to roster these guys, making it superfluous at best.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, Statcast metrics such as Barrels and average airborne exit velocity should probably just be ignored for pitcher analysis. These metrics are great for evaluating batters, but I can't get anything out of them for pitchers even with the benefit of hindsight.

That conclusion may make this seem like a worthless article, but it isn't. Seemingly every fantasy analyst uses contact quality to credit or penalize pitchers, either through the Statcast numbers above or an approximation such as the Hard% posted on FanGraphs. This type of analysis may explain a pitcher's performance after the fact, but it seems to have zero predictive value. Therefore, there may be a competitive advantage to be gained by ignoring this type of analysis completely. Check out this link if you want to learn about some more predictive metrics.

More Sabermetrics & Statcast for Fantasy Baseball