2022 Review: Hitter Barrel% Decliners

Yesterday, I listed and discussed seven hitters whose Statcast Barrel% surged the most versus 2021. Now let’s flip over to the hitters whose Barrel% marks declined most versus 2021. Were their HR/FB rates dragged down along with it? Will either marks rebound in 2023? Let’s dive in.

Barrel% Decliners
Name 2021 HR/FB 2022 HR/FB 2021 Barrel% 2022 Barrel% Barrel% Diff
Josh Donaldson 18.6% 11.5% 17.4% 9.8% -7.6%
Shohei Ohtani 32.9% 21.0% 22.3% 16.8% -5.5%
Javier Báez 28.2% 12.3% 13.4% 8.0% -5.4%
Ian Happ 24.3% 11.9% 11.2% 6.5% -4.7%
José Ramírez 17.0% 10.9% 11.1% 6.6% -4.5%
César Hernández 13.9% 0.7% 6.8% 2.4% -4.4%
Nelson Cruz 20.9% 10.6% 13.5% 9.3% -4.2%

Father time has arrived for Josh Donaldson, whose wOBA, ISO, HR/FB, and walk rate all hit career lows over a full season, while his SwStk% and strikeout rate jumped to career worsts. Everything moved in the wrong direction, which was eventually going to happen for the 36-year-old. Although his Barrel% was nearly cut in half versus 2021, it’s not a super fair comparison. That 2021 was easily a career best for him, at the tender age of 35, so of course he wasn’t going to match it. However, he did drop to his first single digit Barrel% over a full season since tracking, but I feel like it should have equated to a better than 11.5% HR/FB rate. Everything pointed down and it’s hard to believe any sort of rebound is coming at age 37. However, I think he still owns enough skills to start most days that he’s healthy and should still earn reasonable value in deep leagues, especially those that count OBP instead of batting average.

Well of course Shohei Ohtani wasn’t going to match his otherworldly 201 season when he also notched a 32.9% HR/FB rate and .335 ISO. His 2022 Barrel% was still elite and also the second highest of his short career. The only reason his HR/FB rate was merely 21% was because HR/FB rate was down across the league not named Aaron Judge. I think this is a much more sustainable level for him to stay on and I think he gets back into the mid-20% HR/FB rate range. My only question will continue to be how long he keeps running. If I were the Angels, I would be nervous every time he attempted a steal. And since he went just 11-for-20 last year, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep attempting steals.

Gosh, I’ve never been much of a Javier Báez fan, but surprisingly bought him in my local league auction last year because I thought the bidding stopped at a bargain price. So naturally, he ends up one of the season’s biggest busts, the one time I roster him. While moving to Detroit wasn’t very good for his offense — he posted just a 10% HR/FB rate there versus a 14.7% mark on the road, plus a meaningfully lower wOBA at home too — he wasn’t his normal self no matter where he played. He also failed to make up for it with speed, as he stole the fewest number of bases over a full season in his career. The good news is that Comerica Park is getting new outfield dimensions this season, with the center field wall moving in 10 feet, and the wall from center to right getting lowered. I don’t know how many extra home runs that might give him, but this is obviously good news. Combine these changes with coming off a terrible season, and you have the recipe for a potential draft day bargain.

Ian Happ’s power disappeared in 2022, as his Barrel% hit single digits for the first time, his HR/FB rate tumbled to a career low, and ISO fell below .200 for just the second time. It’s unfortunate that his performance slipped given that he recorded a career high PAs. A good year could have netted him his first 30-homer season. Hidden underneath is a career best strikeout rate, supported by a SwStk% that has improved every single season. He had no platoon splits, so if healthy, should get a chance to fully rebound. I think he’s a strong rebound candidate, especially if he could maintain even just most of his strikeout rate gain.

José Ramírez as a fantasy star might give most the perception that he’s a big power bat. He has hit as many as 39 home runs and 30+ twice, with ISO marks consistently in the mid-to-high .200 range. But he’s really not an elite power guy as historical HR/FB rates and middling Barrel% marks attest. This year’s Barrel%, while representing a sizeable decline from 2021, merely put him back to his pre-2020 days. Ramírez gets his power output from two variables — a high FB% (he posted the second highest FB% among qualified batters last season) and a low strikeout rate. So he simply puts a ton of balls in play in the air, and even just a league average rate of those leaving the park, will get him near 30 homers. The downside is if his strikeout rate ever jumps or FB% declines, there could be swift decline in his home run total.

A 0.7% HR/FB rate for César Hernández lost him a starting job and he had to settle for a minor league contract with the Tigers. For a guy to go from 21 homers to just one in nearly the same number of at-bats is crazy!

How many of you were expecting that this would be the year Nelson Cruz’s age finally catches up to him and his performance collapses? I’ve been thinking that for like five seasons already! Finally, it happened in 2022, at the age of 41. His Barrel% hit a career low since tracking, his HR/FB rate was cut in half to its lowest mark since a half season in 2007, and his ISO not only finished at a career low, but well below the league average! That’s as much of a collapse as it gets. Now joining the Padres in what could be his final season, it’s hard to bank on any sort of significant rebound, as his SwStk% hit its highest mark since 2009 and FB% hit a career low. He might be a worthy cheap gamble in NL-Only leagues, but that’s about it.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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1 year ago

Didn’t Happ make an effort to increase his contact rate to raise his BA? Might be a choice, not a regression to the mean thing. Also, Nelson supposedly had a vision problem last year. I dunno, maybe that’s what you say when you’re 40+ and you’re hanging on for dear life. But still. Late rd bargain basement tator factory might be too alluring for me to pass up.

1 year ago
Reply to  sbenton

Yeah, not sure you can say Happ’s “performance slipped” and that he did not have a “good year” based on power numbers alone. His wOBA increased over 2021 (.339 to .328) as did his wRC+ (120 to 105), and his 3.5 fWAR was easily a career high.