Next Monday, a new AL Rookie of the Year will be crowned, and it won’t be Jaime Barria. Though he made 26 starts in his first major league season, giving the Angels 129.1 innings of much-needed solid pitching, Barria did not grab many headlines. He made only moderate waves in fantasy circles. In CBS leagues, which tend to run deep, Barria’s ownership and activation rates peaked in early September, when he was rostered in 55 percent of leagues and started in 36 percent.
Even though the Angels’ righty finished with 10 wins and a 3.41 ERA, he ranked just 73rd among starting pitchers in Roto value (per ESPN’s Player Rater). Barria’s ERA was slimmed down by an 82.1 percent strand rate and .271 BABIP, so fantasy owners can’t be blamed for thinking he was not truly a top-75 starter. Pitchers with an 18.3 percent strikeout rate tend to not draw much interest in fantasy, and Barria did not overcome his relative lack of Ks with an avoidance of walks or homers. His walk rate was 8.8 percent, and he finished with a 1.18 HR/9. Suspicions about Barria’s value were validated by SIERA, FIP and xFIP, all of which exceeded 4.50.
Through his first seven starts, Barria was genuinely compelling from a fantasy perspective. Five of those starts produced games scores above 55, three were quality starts and he emerged from his June 1 outing against the Rangers with a 2.48 ERA. While he was getting plenty of LOB% (87.6 percent) and BABIP (.248) help, Barria’s 20.4 percent strikeout rate and 6.1 percent walk rate were intriguing for a 21-year-old who had been in the California League just over a year earlier. A 37.4 percent O-Swing% kept his walk rate low, while a 12.4 percent swinging strike showed the potential for an even higher strikeout rate.
Soon after that initial run, Barria’s control faltered and swings and misses were harder to come by. He had a more difficult time getting strikes on his four-seamer and changeup in particular, and hitters offered at his four-seamer far less often. According to Brooks Baseball, Barria’s four-seam fastball drew a swing rate of 50.4 percent through his first seven starts, but just 39.5 percent thereafter. Correspondingly, the swinging strike rate on his four-seamer went from 6.7 percent for his first seven starts to 3.3 percent over his final 19 starts. Over that latter span, Barria lasted six innings only twice.
Yet he was not a total slouch over the final four months of the season, as he was getting more called strikes and still getting whiffs on his slider and changeup. He finished with a 10.4 percent SwStr%, which is the seventh-highest this decade for a pitcher who was 22-years-old or younger with at least 120 innings. It’s important to remember that a double-digit whiff rate isn’t what it used to be, and Barria’s rate was 2.8 percent (not percentage points) below the major league average. Then again, a pitcher no older than 22 (with a minimum of 120 innings) has exceeded the major league average SwStr% by at least 5.0 percent only 10 times since 2010. Barria kept some good company by being within plus or minus 5.0 percent, as Madison Bumgarner (0.0 percent in 2012), Lance McCullers (-1.0 percent in 2015) and Taijuan Walker (1.0 percent in 2015) are a part of this group. German Marquez — one of this season’s best young breakout pitchers — only mustered a SwStr% last season that was 13.3 percent lower than the major league average.
Even in May, when Barria was on his best run of the season, his four-seam fastball was not especially effective. His -0.1 pitch value for that month was far more encouraging than his -7.9 full-season mark, but Barria won’t necessarily need to replicate the limited success he had with his four-seamer in May in order to be a viable fantasy pitcher. He got a lot of mileage out of his slider, compiling the ninth-highest slider pitch value in the majors despite throwing only 129.1 innings. Both Marquez and Kyle Gibson were valuable fantasy pitchers in 2018 despite ranking near the bottom of the pitch value rankings for four-seam fastballs. It helped that both had effective sliders.
It may be that Barria’s fastball lost effectiveness because it also lost velocity over the latter half of the season. This would not necessarily be concerning, given that he was dealing with the rigors of the major leagues for the first time as well as his heaviest workload as a professional (by 5.2 innings). However, Barria’s velocity dip began in July — a little early to be attributed to fatigue.
Barria still needs at least one more good pitch, and probably two more. While Marquez and Gibson succeeded without an effective four-seamer, both pitchers had two good pitches in addition to their sliders. Barria’s four-seamer and sinker were well below-average in terms of pitch value, and his only other offering, his changeup, was slightly below-average (-0.6 wCH, -0.19 wCH/C, .342 wOBA allowed).
While not much stands out from Barria’s rookie season, he deserves to be included on late-round sleeper lists, even in 12-team mixed leagues. He has already demonstrated the ability to get swinging strikes, and as a 22-year-old, he could develop into a strikeout pitcher with genuine fantasy appeal. Any news during the offseason about Barria either developing new pitches, working on his existing ones or cutting back on his fastball usage will be worth following. Even if he does shake up his arsenal, we can’t be confident that Barria will be even as good as he was in 2018. Taking into account what the pitching options are like once the first 60 starters are gone, there is still little reason to not take a chance on him, given the possibility of yet another breakout.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.