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Biggest Brl/BBE% Gainers - Statcast Review for Fantasy Baseball Hitters

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Often when it comes to fantasy baseball, we get overloaded with statistics and it becomes hard to sort out what's useful from what's misleading. Many experts can write pages about why they swear by certain stats as being the most predictive for future success or accurate in reflecting who had a good season.

While the best approach is always to never rely too heavily on one stat in particular but use a multitude of them to put together an honest portrait of a player, for my money, a hitter's barrel rate is one of the most important stats for a fantasy manager's toolbelt. It may be a little "old school baseball," but, when I was playing, I always knew that if I was finding the barrel consistently, good things were going to happen. Now, there are a lot of things that can dictate whether or not a hitter is able to square the ball up and hit it on the barrel. A hitter consistently finding the barrel can mean his bat path is perfect, his eyes are locked in, or his timing is right on.

However, make no mistake about it, hitting the ball on the barrel consistently is a challenging skill at any level. Only the best hitters are the ones that can do it regularly, and when you notice somebody beginning to do it more consistently, it's usually time to take notice. Good things are bound to happen when hitters start feeling that utter weightlessness of squaring a ball up perfectly. With that out of the way, we can dive into the actionable info.

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:

 

Honorable Mentions

Before we get into the guys that made the list, I wanted to highlight a few high-barrel-rate hitters that didn't qualify because they didn't have enough at-bats in 2020 to use for comparison sake.

Patrick Wisdom16.2% barrel rate, 95th percentile. Wisdom also had a .214 expected batting average (xBA) and a .191 xBA in the second half of the season, so I wouldn't be buying into this too much. Yes, he hits the ball hard, pulls it 53% of the time, and hit a line drive or fly ball almost 60% of the time, but his barrel rate and exit velocity both fell in the second half and his swinging strike rate went up. I don't think this is sustainable.

Riley Adams: 13.6% barrel rate. Adams didn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the percentiles, but Adams was an interesting prospect for Toronto before being traded to Washington. He had some strikeout issues in Triple-A last year, but he has always posted decent slugging rates. His OPS in the second half with Washington was .887 and his swinging strike rate (SwStr%) dropped to 9.3%. With Keibert Ruiz also in town, Adams likely will be a back-up, but he could be worth a pick in Draft Champions formats and is a solid dynasty investment, who is currently being drafted at pick 704. Yes, drafts go that high.

Alex Kirilloff12.8% barrel rate, 87th-percentile. Don't forget about Kirilloff just because he got hurt. The rookie had raised his Pull% by 14% in the second half of the season and raised his average launch angle from 6.4-degrees in the first half to 14.6-degrees. He only had eight home runs in 2021, but I think a power spike is on the way for 2022, and he's great value at his current cost of pick 173.

Mitch Haniger12.6% barrel rate, 86th-percentile. Haniger was tremendous in 2021 with a .253/.318/.485 triple slash, notching 39 HRs, 110 runs, and 100 RBI. His exit velocities were only in the 60th-percentile, but he hit the ball harder in the second half and also raised his launch angle 4.6-degrees, hitting the ball in the air 8% more than in the first half. As a result, he went from 65th-percentile on balls in the air hit over 100 mph to 78th-percentile, which is a noticeable improvement, and was part of the reason why he had just one fewer home run in the second half despite 60 fewer at-bats. I'm not sure how his current ADP is outside of the top-100.

LaMonte Wade Jr.10.6% barrel rate, 76th-percentile. Don't write Lamonte Wade Jr. off as some one-year-wonder. Despite the fact that his HR/PA rates fell in the second half of the 2021 season, his barrel rate actually went up 5%. He maintained the same launch angle and saw his FB/LD rate go up by 11%. The issue is just that he was hitting more line drives than fly balls. If he maintains his spot in the middle of the order for the Giants, he could be a strong value with people still not sure whether or not to believe in him, which is why he's being drafted at pick 302 right now.

 

Barrel Risers

Below is a table of the top-20 hitters who improved their barrel rate most in 2021. However, as with any rate metric, we need to keep in mind how many events there were so we're not working with too small a sample size. For the purpose of this article, I only included players who had 300 batted ball events in 2021. I also dug into a few of the most intriguing names on this list to try and make sense of how this information should impact our fantasy decisions.

 

Shohei Ohtani, OF/P Los Angeles Angels

2021 Barrel Rate: 22.3%
Barrel Rate Increase: 11.6%

We'll start off with an easy one since you certainly don't need me to tell you that Shohei Ohtani is good at baseball. There are just a few things I'd like to point out aside from his ridiculous increase in barrel rate. For starters, don't buy into people selling concerns about his batting average. His .303 BABIP from this season is far more in line with his history since he posted a .350 number in 2018 and .354 number in 2019 but a .229 mark in 2019. He also had an xBA of .267. Yes, his strikeout rate will likely be up around 30%, but that's the nature of power hitters, and if you can get a .260 average from Ohtani while also getting all that power that makes him elite.

And, yes, the power is here to stay. His exit velocities have been in the top 4% of the league in his three full seasons, but he recaptured some of the slugging and hard contact rates that he was showing in 2018 before his arm injuries. He also made a few key changes this year that we love to see from power hitters. For starters, his pull rate was 46.6%, which was a career-high, and his fly-ball rate was 34.6%, which was also a career-high. In fact, his next-best fly ball rate year was the 24% mark he put up in his rookie season, so this was a marked difference that was backed up by his 16.6-degree launch angle, which was also, you guessed it, a career-high. To top it off, he raised his first swing percentage back up, but kept his chase rate at the levels it was at prior to 2020 even though pitchers were throwing him pitches outside of the zone more. Hence his walk rate being a career-high.

So we have a player who has always hit the ball hard and is being aggressive in the zone but is now hitting the ball with more lift to the pull side. It's no wonder that 57% of his home runs were considered "no doubters" by Statcast.  He's a first-round hitter and it's not even a question.

 

Josh Donaldson, 3B - Minnesota Twins

2021 Barrel Rate: 17.4%
Barrel Rate Increase: 10.5%

Now we'll move to a more surprising name on this list. There seems to be a prevailing thought that, at 36-years-old, Josh Donaldson's years of fantasy relevance are behind him. I wouldn't be so sure of that. Despite battling injury in 2018 and 2020, Donaldson played in 135 games this year and 155 games in 2019. He's also been in the top 5% of the league in terms of barrel rate in 4 of his last 5 fully healthy seasons. The only year he missed was when he was in the top 10%.

Like Ohtani, Donaldson raised his fly ball rate in 2021, back to levels he was getting regularly in 2016 and 2017, when he was hitting 30+ home runs for Toronto. He also was more aggressive, raising his swing rate by 6%, which allowed him to make more contact in the zone and cut down on his SwStr% overall. As a result, his strikeout rate dropped to 21%, which was his best performance in that area since 2016. In fact, Donaldson may have actually been unlucky that season. His .268 BABIP is thirty points below his career average, and Statcast has Donaldson with a .267 xBA and 31 expected home runs. Now, he hasn't had an average that high since 2017, but we're also talking about him making changes to his profile that reflect the hitter he was back then, so we shouldn't be surprised if he's pushing a .260 average in the future.

The only question for Donaldson remains health. However, we should note that he played 92 games at third base for Minnesota last year. That's 68% of his overall appearances. Now that Nelson Cruz is no longer in Minnesota (for now) and Jose Miranda is tearing the cover off the ball, it wouldn't be a surprise if Donaldson spent more time at DH and less time at 3B. That would likely be a good thing for his health, which would make him a safer bet in drafts where we could look to draft a .250-.260 hitter with 30+ home run upside who is currently going at pick 224 in drafts.

 

Tyler O'Neill, OF - St. Louis Cardinals

2021 Barrel Rate: 17.9%
Barrel Rate Increase: 9.7%

The Tyler O'Neill breakout that so many were hoping for finally came in 2021. Playing a full season for the first time in his career, O'Neill hit .286 with 34 home runs, 89 runs, 80 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. All while striking out over 31% of the time. It was an impressive season, but something about the swing-and-miss in his game has always had me questioning his reliability. I began writing this piece thinking that I would find a few things that made me question O'Neill's ability to repeat this next year, but I found nothing at all.

Yes, his 31.3% strikeout rate was 6th-worst among qualified batters in Major League Baseball. Among the others in the top 10, only Ohtani, O'Neill, and Javier Baez had an average above .250. Can O'Neill truly be in their company as effective free swingers? Well, his strikeout rate is actually a 4% improvement from his last full season in 2019, and his SwStr% was also 4% improved from 2019. His O-Swing% was the second-best of his career, his O-Contact% was the best of his career, and both his Zone Swing% and Zone Contact% were the best of his career. So even though he was striking out a lot, he wasn't chasing pitches he couldn't hit too often and was more aggressive and effective on pitches in the zone. That sounds like a recipe for maximizing effectiveness to me.

In fact, the more you look at O'Neill's numbers, the more you realize that the 50-game sample in the COVID-shortened 2020 season was a fluke. His BABIP was .189 despite a career .338 mark. His groundball rate was a career-high. His line-drive rate was a career-low. His pull rate was a career-high, as was his "topped" contact rate, meaning the number of pitches he got on top of, all of which suggests being out in front and rolling over on groundballs. Considering O'Neill saw a 9% jump in contact to center field in 2021, it seems clear to me that he had a renewed focus on driving the ball up the middle to keep his weight back. As a result, that prodigious power followed and O'Neill finished in the top 3% in barrel rate and xSLG, while his .279 xBA was a career-best by over sixty points.

O'Neill also regained his early career effectiveness against offspeed pitches, hitting .304 with a .457 slugging percentage, while continuing to crush fastballs. He also made clear gains against breaking balls and while his .234 batting average leaves much to be desired, it's a tremendous jump from his .193 mark in 2020 and .173 mark in 2019.

At the end of the day, O'Neill appears to be evolving as a hitter and solidifying an approach that is more aggressive in the zone and focused on staying back on the ball. His decrease in pull rate and focus on the middle of the field likely contributed to the bump in average but could also be keeping him from reaching his true power potential. He could easily become a 40+ home run back and sacrifice some batting average if he gets more pull-happy, but I'm sure fantasy managers won't mind a 35 HR/ 15 SB bat who can also hit .270. Despite my earlier concerns, that seems to be who Tyler O'Neill truly is, which is why he is currently being taken with pick 52.

 

Mitch Garver, C - Minnesota Twins

2021 Barrel Rate: 17.4%
Barrel Rate Increase: 9.1%

Plain and simple: injuries derailed Mitch Garver's season in 2021. Garver only played 68 games for the Twins in 2021 thanks to a long stint on the injured list after taking a foul ball to the groin that required surgery. Garver missed two months and then, after coming back, landed on the IL with both rib and lower back injuries. However, before that, Garver had been tearing the cover off of the ball. In May (Garver played only one game in June), Garver hit .281 with a 1.017 OPS, four home runs, and eight RBIs.

On the season, Garver hit the ball in the air (FB/LD) 8% more than any season in the last three years, had the lowest groundball rate of his career, and had the highest barrel rate and average exit velocity rates of his career. In fact, Garver was 97th-percentile in exit velocity on balls in the air during the first half of the season, and his HR/PA rate was 93rd-percentile. Remember that this is a guy who hit 31 home runs in 2019, so it was nice to see his xSLG spike back up towards those highs.

Garver had fixed the swing-and-miss issues that plagued his short 2020 season, lowering his SwStr% to 2019 levels while raising his overall contact% by nearly 8% and being as aggressive in the zone, in particular on first pitches, as he had been in 2019. In fact, when looking under the hood, I believe Garver could have had a better overall 2021 than his 2019 season had he not been beset by injuries. Let other people get turned off by his low season-long totals, but I think you could draft Garver and be looking at a catcher who hits .260 with 25+ home runs, which is a rarity at the position. That's tremendous value on his current 225 ADP, as long as he can stay healthy.

 

Avisail Garcia, OF - Miami Marlins

2021 Barrel Rate: 12.2%
Barrel Rate Increase: 8.4%

Avisail Garcia doesn't get enough credit. I don't know if people assumed his 2019 was just some Rays' voodoo magic or they bought too much into his 2020 short-season struggles, but Garcia went under-drafted in 2021 and was on a lot of waiver wires for too long. He came close to putting together his second 20 HR/ 10 SB season in the last two full campaigns and did so while getting a little BABIP unlucky. Garcia has a career .326 BABIP but registered a .291 mark in 2021. It's part of the reason his xBA was .278 despite finishing at .262 and why his xSLG was .515 while his final slugging percentage was .490.

Garcia's barrel rate in 2021 is closer to his 2018 mark of 11.6% and 2019 mark of 11.7%, so it's no surprise to see him hitting the ball well. He also was 79th-percentile in average exit velocity on balls in the air, after finishing in the 34th-percentile in 2020. However, Garcia was 91st-percentile in the 2nd half of 2021, which would be a career-best. Part of that could be because his launch angle in the 2nd half rose two degrees, while his groundball rate fell slightly.

Even if we don't believe the slight change in launch angle and average exit velocity in the air are harbingers of a change, we should be viewing Garcia as close to the hitter he was in 2019. That hitter batted .282 with 20 HR despite being only 50th-percentile in HR/PA. If you give him a HR/PA that's an average of his 2018 and 2021, Garcia would have hit 28 home runs in 2019. With seemingly guaranteed at-bats in the middle of the order for Miami, Garcia could be looking at another season with a .270-.280 batting average 27+ HR, and 8+ stolen bases, which makes him tremendous value where he's currently being drafted at pick 187.

 

Joey Votto, 1B - Cincinnati Reds

2021 Barrel Rate: 17.2%
Barrel Rate Increase: 8.1%

Reports of Joey Votto's demise in fantasy were greatly over-exaggerated. The veteran returned to peak production, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 99 runs while slugging .563 with a .297 ISO. The reasons for that return to form have been covered a lot, but let's review the keys. Votto was more aggressive, raising his overall Swing% to a rate he hadn't reached since 2010. His O-Swing was also the highest it's been since 2011 and his SwStr% was the highest of his career since his rookie season. All of which indicates Votto's overall aggressive approach and also why we saw a dip in his batting average.

With that aggressive approach also came a conscious change in launch angle. Votto raised his launch angle three degrees and openly discussed trying to hit for more power. In fact, Votto's 21.9-degree average launch angle in the second half of 2021, would be almost a seven-degree increase from 2020.

Yet, the metrics suggest it worked. Votto was in the 100th-percentile in the rate of barrels over 100 mph and hit the ball in the air (FB/LD) 70.3% of the time in the second half of 2021 while dropping his groundball rate to 23%. Oh yeah, he also hit .274/.400/.657 in the second half with 25 home runs after hitting .257/.347/.463 with 11 home runs in the first half.

We saw this change begin in 2020 when Votto had 11 home runs in only 54 games, but his batting average tanked. However, that was the result of a .235 BABIP for a career .342 BABIP hitter as opposed to Votto's swing being broken. It also often takes hitters months of game action for new approach changes to really take hold. As a result, I think second-half Joey Votto is not a fluke but closer to the real thing. Yes, Votto is 38 years old and his body could wear down at any time; however, this is a player who is as dedicated as any in the game, constantly adjusting both his mental and physical preparation for each season. If you extrapolate his second-half numbers, you get a .274 hitter with 50 HR, 118 RBI, and 94 runs scored. Even if he (very likely) falls short of that and simply hits 30+ home runs with an RBI total in the 90s, there is no reason that hitter should be going at pick 170 in drafts right now.

 

Luis Urias, 2B/SS/3B - Milwaukee Brewers

2021 Barrel Rate: 9.3%
Barrel Rate Increase: 8.0%

We hear the phrase "prospect growth isn't linear" often, but I'm not sure we really always believe it. We want the shiny new toy to be fun and shiny right away, which did not happen for Urias. One of the Padres' top prospects, Urias broke into the majors in 2018 at 21-year-old and struggled in only 12 games. In 2019, he wasn't much better in his 71 game sample, and then he struck out a career-high in the 2020 short season, his first in Milwaukee. However, he seemed to find his groove a bit in 2021, hitting .249 with 23 HR, 75 RBI, 77 Runs, and five SB.

When you look under the hood, you see that there are some clear approach changes for Urias that fueled this success. For starters, he, like Votto, was far more aggressive at the plate. Urias raised his overall Swing% by 6% and his zone swing rate 13% to a career-high rate. He also did this without raising his O-Swing% at all and while keeping his SwStr% to the same numbers he had in 2018 and 2019. As a result, his strikeout rate hovered around 20% while his walk rate rose to a career-high 11.1%.

He also made a drastic shift in his launch angle, raising it over four degrees to 14.2-degrees. As a result, his groundball rate was a career-low, his fly-ball rate was a career-high and his pull rate was also a career-high as he sold out for more power. Yet, what jumps out to me is the improvement he made within the season as well. Despite his barrel rate remaining relatively similar in both the 1st and 2nd half, he started to hit the ball much harder in the air as the season went on.

In the first half, Urias' average exit velocity on balls in the air was 92.3 mph, but it rose to 94.8 mph in the second half. That may not seem like a big jump, but it took him from the 32nd-percentile in the league to the 72nd-percentile. What's more, only 30% of his balls in the air (FB/LD) were hit over 100 mph in the first half, but 39.2% of them were hit over 100 mph in the second half. That's a jump from the 48th-percentile to the 81st-percentile.

These metrics helped explain a jump in HR/PA, even though his overall home runs totals remained similar since he had over 80 fewer at-bats in the second half. However, Urias did hit .266/.367/.483 in the second half after hitting .237/.328/.418 in the first half.  So the overall aggressive approach and conscious shift to hit the ball in the air more, leads to more consistent hard contact as the year went on.

That's all stuff we love to see from a 24-year-old who hasn't yet hit his prime and comes with triple-eligibility. Urias may never hit for an average much higher than .250, but he packs legitimate punch and plays in a hitter-friendly park, which makes him solid value at pick 180.



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Shane Lowry5 days ago

Leaning On Some Positive Florida Vibes
Ryo Hisatsune5 days ago

Heads To Palm Beach Gardens For Debut
Brendon Todd5 days ago

Takes Hot Putter To PGA National
Ben Griffin5 days ago

Loves The Bermuda Grass
Chris Kirk5 days ago

Looks To Defend Title At Cognizant Classic
PGA5 days ago

Alex Noren A Player To Watch At PGA National
Stephan Jaeger5 days ago

Closing In On First Tour Victory
Thorbjorn Olesen5 days ago

A Contender At PGA National
Ryan Fox5 days ago

In For A Tough Week At PGA National
Thomas Detry5 days ago

Trying To Shake Off Rough Event In Mexico
RANKINGS
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1B
2B
3B
SS
OF
SP
RP

RANKINGS

QB
RB
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TE
K
DEF

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