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Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball: Barrels

Last time, we looked at how exit velocity (or EV) is only one piece of the fantasy analysis puzzle. Baseball broadcasts will commonly cite Launch Angle (LA) to complement their EV figures, but it is given in terms of degrees. Am I evaluating a baseball player or trying to find the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle? Let's simplify things a bit to see how these numbers can actually benefit our analysis.

LA is basically a fancy way of saying things that the fantasy community has used for years. They don't do a good job of publicizing it, but LA is actually fairly simple to understand. Here is the batted ball type produced by the various degree measurements:

Batted Ball Type Launch Angle
Ground ball Less than 10 degrees
Line drive 10-25 degrees
Fly ball 25-50 degrees
Pop-up More than 50 degrees

 

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What is a Barrel?

Most batters want to live in the 10-50 degree range, as grounders rarely produce power while pop-ups rarely produce anything other than easy outs. Well-struck balls in this range of launch angles are the batted balls that fantasy owners are most interested in. A Statcast stat called "Barrels" filters out everything else, allowing us to evaluate who is hitting most of these high-value batted balls.

A Barrel is defined as "a ball with a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that averages at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." It should be noted that the numbers above are only a minimum threshold. In this respect, the stat is like a Quality Start. It is possible to register a QS with an ERA of 4.50, but the actual average ERA of all MLB Quality Starts falls well below 4.50.

The range of EVs and LAs that combine to form Barrels is called the Barrel Zone. This means that higher EVs can compensate for less ideal LAs to produce the .500/1.500 minimum. Batted balls must have an EV of at least 98 mph and fall within the 10-50 degree LA range in order to be classified as Barrels. We care about fantasy production, not the intricacies of a mathematical relationship. You don't need to worry about the math.

With this in mind, Jorge Soler led baseball in Barrels last year with 70. He was followed by a three-way tie at 66 (Ronald Acuna Jr., Pete Alonso, Mike Trout) and Nelson Cruz (65). This group passes the sniff test, as it includes the HR leader in each league and the best player in the game. Likewise, Billy Hamilton managed zero Barrels all year, living up to his reputation of weak contact. Still, we already knew this. What do Barrels add to the equation?

 

The Value of Barrels

They become more instructive when you stop looking at them as a counting stat and start examining them as a rate stat. By taking the number of Barrels and dividing by the total number of Batted Ball Events (BBE), we get a percentage that tells us how frequently a player's batted balls are Barrels.

Joey Gallo topped this list in 2019 with a 26.4% Brls/BBE figure, followed by Miguel Sano (21.2%), Aaron Judge (20.25%), Nelson Cruz (19.9%), and Gary Sanchez (19.1%). Guys like Sano and Judge didn't have the raw BBEs to crack the Barrels leaderboard, but the rate stat suggests that they could be intriguing values this year.

This data helped identify sleepers in every year of its existence. Chris Carter had an 18.7% Brls/BBE in limited 2015 playing time. He led the NL in homers the next year with 41, so he was a sleeper worth owning based on the prior year's Brls/BBE. Gary Sanchez ranked eighth in the league with a 15.8% Brls/BBE in 2016, foreshadowing his ascension to the top of the catcher rankings after a strong 2017. Gallo's 22.1% rate of Brls/BBE over 253 batted balls in 2017 suggested that his 41 HR were real, and he effectively repeated them the next season (40 HR). Likewise, Luke Voit's third-place finish in Brls/BBE in 2018 foreshadowed his .263/.378/.464 line with 21 HR in 510 PAs for the Yankees last year.

Like BABIP, Brls/BBE also seems prone to random fluctuation. Giancarlo Stanton's amazing 2015 (he hit 27 bombs in 318 PAs) was fueled by a 32.5 percent Brls/BBE, over 10 points higher than the league's second-best performance that year (Miguel Sano's 22.4% rate in limited time). A rate that high was almost certainly an outlier. Sure enough, he regressed to a still strong 17.3% Brls/BBE in 2016, 17.4% rate in 2017, and 15.1% in 2018 before missing most of last year due to injury.

 

Conclusion

Viewing Barrels as a rate stat can be beneficial, but important considerations like strikeout rate still aren't captured by the metric. That said, few metrics have proven to have the predictive power that Brls/BBE has shown in recent years. There are a few misses (Tyler O'Neill led baseball in Brls/BBE in 2018 but did nothing useful last year), but in general it's a stat you want to look at. Here are some other stats you can look at to become a more effective fantasy owner.

More Sabermetrics & Statcast for Fantasy Baseball