Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 13: Barrels For Pitchers

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Last time, we looked at Barrels, a stat combining exit velocity and launch angle to measure how often a batter makes quality hard contact. As much as batters want to hit a Barrel every time, pitchers want to avoid them at all costs. Yet there is some evidence that pitchers do not have the same influence over Barrels as a batter does. While Miguel Cabrera led all of baseball last year with 72 Barrels, Hector Santiago led all pitchers by coughing up 49. 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 is also not fantasy-relevant, as Hector Santiago is only a fantasy factor in the deepest of leagues. Second place went to Yordano Ventura, who sadly will not get the opportunity to prove that the 43 Barrels he allowed last year were a fluke. Third was James Shields (42 Barrels allowed), who seems like a lost cause even without considering Barrels. Fourth was a three way tie between Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Justin Verlander at 41 Barrels allowed each.

Apologies to the admittedly interesting Odorizzi, but the other two are expected to carry fantasy staffs this year. Let's focus our analysis on them.

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How to Interpret Batted Ball Statistics

As we previously learned, we have retroactive Barrels data for 2015 in addition to last year's numbers. Would 2015 data have been predictive during last year's draft season? Sadly, the answer is no. The leaderboard was populated exclusively by non-factors, including Colby Lewis (50 Barrels), Dan Haren (48), Taijuan Walker (45), Aaron Harang, and Edinson Volquez (44 each). Walker's owners were too early, but his price reflected that he was far from a sure thing already. If we switch to Brls/BBE instead of raw Barrels, we get another disappointing list with a small sample size caveat: Drew Smiley, Henry Owens, Evan Scribner, Fernando Salas, and Matt Cain. There is nothing remotely similar to Chris Carter's 2015 Brls/BBE leading to a HR title the next year.

So, I cheated a little by scrolling down the list until I came up with a name who disappointed in 2016. Both James Shields and Wei-Yen Chen allowed 38 Barrels in 2015 before falling apart completely last year. Neither was regarded as an ace, but they were seen as reasonable back end guys for fantasy purposes last year. I thought I had something until I saw Masahiro Tanaka's name with 36 Barrels allowed in 100 fewer batted ball events. He was fine last year, complicating my argument.

What about Archer and Verlander themselves? Neither struggled with Barrels in 2015, both posting a rate of 5.3 percent Brls/BBE. Verlander allowed 18 Barrels overall, while Archer gave up 24. In the case of Miguel Cabrera's discrepancy between 2015 and 2016, his elite track record allowed me to project 2016 as his baseline with confidence. Archer is relatively young, while Verlander reinvented himself to the point that his prior track record may no longer be applicable. With only two years of data, I can't predict which season was the fluke.

Ultimately, Brls/BBE has a long way to go before fantasy owners should use it for pitcher analysis. I think the performances of Archer and Verlander this year will go a long way toward determining how much we trust the stat in the future, as will the ability to establish a three-year baseline to compare players to. I've personally been avoiding both Verlander and Archer as a precaution in my drafts, but I can't definitively say that is the right call.

 

Conclusion

This concludes my 2016 series on using sabermetrics for fantasy baseball analysis. Hopefully, this series helped you understand some of the more abstract statistics utilized by fantasy writers on Rotoballer and elsewhere. If so, you are equipped to win your leagues in 2017!

 

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