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Power Sleepers - Noteworthy 2020 Barrel Leaders

As we've continued to progress in the MLB offseason, I've been looking at barrel rates from 2020 in the hopes of finding players whose breakouts during the shortened season were real or those who may still have breakouts looming. As I've mentioned previously, I'm a firm believer that finding the barrel regularly is an incredibly challenging skill, and when you notice somebody beginning to do it more consistently, it's usually time to take notice. However, understanding the larger context for any statistic will always give you more useful takeaways.

Below is a list of the top-15 hitters in 2020 in terms of barrels per batted ball event (Brl/BBE%). Essentially, the best hitters from last year in terms of making consistent barrel contact. After those 15 hitters, I've added a few additional hitters that I think are noteworthy in terms of their barrel rates.

Now it's important not to simply think that these hitters found the barrel a lot in 2020, so you should draft them really high in 2021. That obviously works for guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, and Matt Chapman (who I believe is being criminally under-valued at an ADP of 119), but there may be some caution in approaching the other hitters, which is why I'll also breakdown some things to consider with a few of the hitters on the list.

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Barrel Leaders from 2020

Player Barrel Rank Total Barrels Brl/BBE%
Miguel Sano 1 96 22.9
Bobby Dalbec 2 41 22
Fernando Tatis Jr. 3 164 19.5
C.J. Cron 4 26 19.2
DJ Stewart 5 52 19.2
Jorge Soler 6 90 18.9
Giancarlo Stanton 7 49 18.4
Juan Soto 8 126 18.3
Teoscar Hernandez 9 128 18
Matt Chapman 10 89 18
Brandon Lowe 11 137 17.5
Gary Sanchez 12 92 17.4
Bryce Harper 13 150 17.3
Brandon Belt 14 113 16.8
Matt Davidson 15 30 16.7
Jedd Gyorko 19 81 16
Nate Lowe 23 39 15.4
Wil Myers 28 142 14.8
Evan White 37 99 14.1
Randy Arozarena 38 43 14

All ADPs are from NFBC Draft Champions leagues from 12/28/2020 to 1/19/2021

 

Bobby Dalbec - 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox

ADP: 296

Even as a Red Sox fan I'm telling you not to get overly excited by Dalbec appearing this high on the list. Yes, he put up elite barrel rates and exit velocity in his 92 plate appearances, but we need to look at the bigger picture. First, starting with the good, he was 97th-percentile in barrel rate, 100th-percentile in average exit velocity on balls in the air, and homered eight times in 92 plate appearances, including five games in a row.

However, amidst all of that, he put together a .199 xBA and a 42.4% strikeout rate. Both of which are, well, not good.

taken from Baseball Savant (click to enlarge)

Now, 92 plate appearances is obviously a small sample size, but Dalbec has had strikeout issues in the minors as well. He had a 25.1% strikeout rate in AA last year, after a 37.1% strikeout rate the year before, and a 23.6% mark in AAA. However, it is important to note that in his entire minor league career, Dalbec only repeated a level once. That was at AA, where he improved his walk rate by 10.7% and decreased his strikeout rate by 12%, which shows that he is capable of making adjustments and likely will at the MLB level as well.

The bottom line is that Dalbec is always going to strikeout. He is also always going to hit for power. In my opinion, the .199 xBA is a bit misleading. He's a career .261 hitter in the minor leagues so, even if Major League pitchers are more able to consistently take advantage of his whiff issues, Dalbec should be able to approach a .230- .240 batting average at the MLB level while hitting 30+ home runs. That is always going to have value, especially at this ADP, but perhaps not quite the same value as some of the other names below him on this list.

 

C.J. Cron - 1B, Free Agent

ADP: 279

I wanted to single out Cron simply to tell you to keep an eye on where he signs. He was off to a strong start in 2020 while hitting in a pitching-friendly park in Detroit. I know it was only 13 games, but he was in the 97th-percentile in barrel rate and 98th-percentile in average exit velocity in the air. He was making good on the improvements he showed in 2019 and, the steadily consistent slugging he has provided since the middle of the 2018 season.

If he lands in the right stadium or in the middle of the right lineup, he could be tremendous value in drafts.

 

Teoscar Hernandez - OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Brandon Belt - 1B, San Francisco Giants

ADP: 75 (Hernandez), 330 (Belt)

I covered both Hernandez and Belt in this article, so I'd encourage you to check out my thoughts on them there. Spoiler alert: I love one of them at their current ADPs and not so much the other.

 

Jedd Gyorko - 2B/3B, Free Agent

ADP: 588

Gyorko is another player who I'm watching closely in free agency, although primarily for deeper leagues. The utility man is only 32 years old and made a crazy jump in barrel rate last year after a down, and injury-shortened, 2019 season. He is often only discussed because of the pronunciation of his last name, but Gyorko hit .272 with 20 HR in 2017 and hit .262 in 2018 before a down 2019. Prior to last year, he seemed to settle in as a hitter who made consistent contact with a K% that hovered around 21% and a BB% around 10%. Nothing about him seemed overly special.

However, this past season, he all but abandoned using the opposite field, dropping his Oppo% from 25% to 18.5%. That's the highest Pull% and lowest Oppo% since 2016 when he hit 30 HRs for the Cardinals. In fact, in 2016, his Oppo% was actually higher, at 21.6%. While Gyorko continued to pull the ball around 45% last year, he also dropped his GB% to career-low levels. His HR/FB rate spiked, and his ISO jumped to .256, almost identical to the .253 number he had in, wait for it, 2016.

He was also drastically more patient in 2020, dropping his Z-Swing%, Swing%, and F-Strike% to career-low levels. Now, I'm not saying Gyorko is going to be a 30 HR hitter again, but he's clearly making swing change adjustments, and he smoked the ball last year. The last time his profile looked like this, he was a fantasy asset, so he's not a bad guy to keep an eye on during free agency considering he is basically free in drafts in every single format right now.

 

Nate Lowe - 1B, Texas Rangers

ADP: 292

Many great articles have been written on Rotoballer about Lowe and his 2021 prospects now that he finds himself in Texas. I'm very bullish on Lowe's prospects with a full-time job in that lineup and encourage you to read Bubba's thoughts and Sam's thoughts to see why a bunch of us are excited about Lowe this season.

 

Wil Myers - 1B/OF, San Diego Padres

ADP: 138

Remember when the Padres just wanted anybody to take Myers off of their hands? Well, the 30-year-old responded with a great season in 2020, finishing with a triple-slash of .288/.353/.606 while clubbing 15 HR and driving in 40 runs in 55 games. He experienced career-highs in most Stacast metrics: barrel rate, average exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, wOBA, and xwOBACON to highlight a strong overall profile.

The opposite of some of the other players on this list, Myers actually pulled the ball LESS in 2020, dropping his Pull% from 46.5% to 39.4% and raising his Oppo% from 21.6% to 27.5%. He also seemed to take a far more patient approach, lowering his overall Swing% two-percent, down to 41.8% (his lowest since 2016) and also dropping his First Pitch Swing% down 8.8% to 22%, the lowest mark of his career. While some of these percentages can often simply be standard variations between seasons, an 8.8% change marks a clear shift in approach for Myers, opting to be more selective early in the count. As a result of his increased patience and working to the opposite field, Myers seems to have been able to square the ball up more, leading to the barrel rate increase but also a higher LD% and FB% than in 2019.

In many ways, his approach and contact metrics resemble those from 2017, when he hit .243 with 30 HR and 80 RBI. I don't think Myers is a 20-SB player anymore, but his sprint speed is still an asset and his new approach could lead to a more consistent batting average, which means you might expect Myers to be a .260 hitter with 25+ HR and 15 SB potential in a strong San Diego lineup, all of which would make him a solid value at his current ADP. Of course, as is always the case with Myers, health will determine whether or not we see that value realized.

 

Evan White - 1B, Seattle Mariners

ADP: 346

White struggled last year. There's no way you can argue against that when he put up a triple-slash of .176/.252/.346 to go along with a 41.6% strikeout rate. However, his presence on this list is an indicator that his contact wasn't actually the issue. In fact, when you look under the hood, you see that White had a solid 97 mph average exit velocity on balls in the air, a 112.8 mph max exit velocity, and a 95th-percentile Hard Hit%. So if he hit the ball hard when he made contact, that must mean he has trouble making contact, right?

taken from Baseball Savant (click to enlarge)

Right away, two major numbers stand as being deviations from the MLB-norm. For one, White's Zone Contact% is exceptionally low, and his Whiff% is tremendously high. Other than that, the rest of his numbers seem to indicate a season more in line with league averages (although I'd love to see him swing at more Meatballs). However, before we get worried about the swing-and-miss in his game, we should consider that White never had a K% above 23% in the minors (I'm not counting his four games at AAA in 2018). Since he's never been a big strikeout guy, that would suggest that 2020's clear swing-and-miss issues are more of an aberration than the norm we should expect going forward.

So if White settles in to become a 30% K% hitter, which is reasonable given his minor league track record, then we pair that with consistent hard contact and a power-friendly 13.7-degree launch angle, and I don't think it's unreasonable to project a .250-.260 hitter with 30 HR upside who is likely to hit in the middle of a young but potentially intriguing lineup. I'm excited by that at this price and would be actively trying to get White rounds before his current ADP just to be sure I can snag him.

 

Randy Arozarena - OF, Tampa Bay Rays

ADP: 58

And now we come to the playoff hero. Let's start by acknowledging that landing Arozarena from the Cardinals was another swindling for Tampa Bay. He is a 93rd-percentile Sprint Speed OF with good plate discipline and consistent hard contact ability. He has the tools to be a productive MLB starter and a solid fantasy asset, but I encourage people to not get too caught up in the playoff home run bonanza. Arozarena has never been a home run asset, and his profile does not project as one.

For starters, Arozarena has never hit more than 15 HR in a minor league season. His 9.2-degree launch angle is not in line with consistent home run production, and he has also had a higher GB% than FB% in every single level he played in the minors. Even last year in Tampa, he had a 34.9% FB% and a 46.5% GB%, numbers that are relatively consistent with his previous track record. I know that it's easy to say, "Well, he can change his approach and lift the ball more." It's not that easy and we saw that with his teammates Yandy Diaz last year. Some hitters aren't able to shift their approach all that drastically and, frankly, some shouldn't.

I don't believe Arozarena is a guy that needs to be drastically altering his launch angle and, as clearly indicated by years of minor league performance, he has an approach that has worked for him. A high GB% is not necessarily a bad thing for a player with Arozarena's speed and has not impacted him from compiling batting averages over .300 at every level except for his first taste of AA and AAA in 2017 and 2018, respectively. If he doesn't deviate too far from his past approach, it is likely going to mean fewer home runs since, obviously, his 46.7% HR/FB ratio was a fluke.

Where Arozarena will likely provide much of his fantasy value is in his plate discipline and contact metrics. He has only had a strikeout rate over 20% once in his entire minor league career and that was during his first experience in Double-A. In 2020, his 36.8% Whiff % and paltry 44.2% Chase Contact% are outliers from both his norms and the league average and suggest that his 28.9% strikeout rate is likely not going to stay that high going forward. If he is able to get that number down to around 20% then he can make even more use out of his all fields approach, speed, strong barrel control, and exit velocity. As a result, I don't see his .281 average from 2020 as that much of an outlier.

Ultimately, you can expect Arozarena to be a .270 hitter with 20/20 potential. That's a valuable player to have on your team, but this current price means that you're overpaying for the playoff home run barrage.



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