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Barrel Rate and Contact Rate, Who Can Do Both?

Hitting is, at the same time, completely simple and enormously complex. Hitting in the Major Leagues is arguably the most challenging thing to do in all of sports.

I don't think I need to explain myself for saying that hitting is complex. I can't do it, probably neither can you. The reason I say it's simple is that the goal of hitting is very simple.  You want to hit the ball often and hit the ball hard.

We measure how Major League hitters are doing at this task every day. The two main ways of doing this are contact rate and barrel rate. Contact rate is the percent of the time a hitter makes contact (fair or foul) when they swing. Barrel rate is a little harder to define, but it is the percent of total batted balls (in play) that are hit at 97+ mph at an optimal angle range (this angle range widens as the velocity climbs). Due to the nature of it, these two statistics are correlated. You need to swing awful hard to achieve a barrel, and the harder hitters swing, the less frequently they make contact. Here's proof.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

The Barrel - Contact Correlation

What you see there is every hitter (150+ PA's) plotted by their contact rate (y-axis) and barrel rate (x-axis). The trend line shows the relationship. As hitters make contact more frequently, they also barrel the ball at lower rates. The reason for this is twofold

  1. You have less control of the bat when moving it quickly
  2. A harder swing gets the bat through the strike zone quicker, making it less likely to be timed up with when the ball is arriving

The mark of an elite hitter is to have a high contact rate and barrel rate. Very few hitters can do this. You can hover over the dots above to see which hitter they all represent. The names furthest closet to the very top right of the plot would be the best hitters. In this case, those names are Max Muncy, Yordan Alvarez, Ronald Acuna, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Ramirez, among others. You can download the data yourself and check it out by clicking "Get the data" in the visual.

 

Finding Capable Hitters

What I wanted to do is to look at each player at a more granular level and see the kind of contact rate and barrel rate duos they've been able to post this year. The way I went about this is as follows.

For each qualified hitter (more than 500 pitches seen, that's around 100 PA's), I looked at each span of 50 plate appearances they've had and retrieved their contact rate and barrel rate for that span of 50 plate appearances, and then converted those stats into percentiles. Note that for a hitter with 300 plate appearances, I did not just look at plate appearance numbers 0-50, 50-100, 100-150, etc. I looked at every single span of 50. That means I looked at PA's 1-50, and then 2-51, and then 3-52, all the way up their most recent plate appearance.

Here's a data visualization of Mookie Betts to help us understand what we're doing here. Remember we're looking at percentiles here, not actual values.

 


To interpret this, for Betts' first 50 appearances, he had a contact rate of 81.5% (which is 73rd percentile which is where it's plotted) and a barrel rate of 5.6%, which 33rd percentile. Betts' best span of 50 PA's numbered 236-286, where he posted an 87% contact rate and a 12% barrel rate, good for 92nd and 72nd percentiles respectively. This is displayed above 236 on the x-axis on that plot.

Now that we understand the process a bit, we'll move on.

 

90th Percentile or Better

I wanted to find which hitters (if any) have had stretches where they found themselves in the 90th percentile or better (meaning that 90% or more of the league's hitters were beneath them) in both categories.

Turns out that seven hitters have accomplished this feat. They are, in order of how many 50-PA segments they achieved it in: Max Muncy (25), Jake Cronenworth (24), Kyle Tucker (11), Paul Goldschmidt (6), Ronald Acuna (6), Matt Olson (1), Pete Alonso (1).

The standouts are Muncy and Cronenworth, here are both of their graphs:

 

Muncy has been barreling the ball at an elite level all season long, but it had come with a putrid contact rate early on in the season. You can see that from about plate appearance number 140 to number 230, he was doing nearly impossible things with a top-of-the-league barrel rate along with a top-of-the-league contact rate.

Cronenworth's graph looks much different:

 

Early on he looked like a slap hitter that makes a ton of contact but doesn't hit for much power. Then in late May and June, he really started barreling the ball, achieving a top 10 percent barrel rate for a good stretch there. Recently his barrel rate has fallen to zero, as his last barrel was on June 25th.

Tucker is third place there, although only being above the 90th percentile in both for a very brief time. It's still quite impressive to even have the skills to do this, however, so I would be investing heavily into all of these players.

 

85th Percentile or Better

If we open up the criteria a bit, here are all of the names that have had 50 plate appearance samples being in the top 15% of all hitters in both contact rate and barrel rate (alphabetical):

Andrew McCutchen, Andrew Vaughn, Brandon Belt, Carlos Correa, Cedric Mullins II, Chad Pinder, Freddie Freeman, Garrett Cooper, Jake Cronenworth, Jesse Winker, Jorge Polanco, Jose Ramirez, Josh Donaldson, Kyle Tucker, Luis Urias, Manny Machado, Mark Canha, Matt Olson, Max Muncy, Mitch Haniger, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Pavin Smith, Pete Alonso, Ronald Acuna Jr., Travis Shaw, Ty France, Will Smith, Yermin Mercedes, Yordan Alvarez

The names that I think are the best values (in terms of how much I believe in them & how much they cost currently): Vaughn, Belt, Cooper, Donaldson, Urias, France

I think Vaughn is in for a really great second half, and I would be looking to acquire him everywhere. Cooper and Belt are guys that might be available on waivers and should provide a nice floor for you even while I think their ceilings may be a bit limited. Donaldson might be tougher to pull the trigger on given his injury and playing time issues, but he's a good guy to have on your team if you can get him cheap enough. And then we have Urias and France, both of whom are bursting with upside as highly-touted prospects that have shown really great signs this year. Go check your waiver wire!

For these types of post, I like to share my data at the very end. Unfortunately, I can't do that in this case because my resulting dataset was 67,545 rows long. If you have any questions or requests for data reports, as always please reach out to me on Twitter!



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