Introducing Batter xHR/FB Rate, Version 4.0: Barrel FB% Fun

*The 2021 Pod Projections are now available!*

Last week, I unveiled my newest xHR/FB rate equation, v4.0. Since, I have been diving into each of the components to better understand the context, what’s good, and what’s bad. Today, let’s move along to Barrel FB%. Barrels is my most favorite metric developed by the Statcast crew because it combines exit velocity (EV) with launch angle (LA). All I need to know is whether a ball was classified as a barrel or not and I will know whether there’s a good chance it went for a homer or stayed in the park. The rate is a percentage of those batted balls with the optimal combination of EV and LA, and it is far superior than just looking at average exit velocity and launch angle.

First, let’s review the Barrel FB% in my population set by year, which includes all batter seasons since 2015 with at least 10 fly balls plus line drives.

Barrel FB%
Season Barrel FB%
2015 13.4%
2016 16.7%
2017 19.5%
2018 20.9%
2019 22.6%
2020 13.7%

Since 2015, Barrel FB% has risen each and every season. Until 2020. I calculated these rates straight from the Statcast search page several times just to make sure I wasn’t making an error. I was baffled why the dramatic drop in 2020 occurred, but just accepted it without asking questions. Then a commenter on my first xHR/FB rate v4.0 article mentioned there was a known classification error between fly balls and line drives in 2020, which will be fixed in 2021. So that likely means many of the classifications got mixed up and the Barrel rates cannot be compared to themselves historically. That definitely affects the xHR/FB rates calculated for 2020, giving us even sketchier data than we already have considering the small sample size!

Now let’s check out the hitters with the highest recorded Barrel FB% marks in my entire population set, regardless of how small the sample size was. The lowest was obviously 0.0% and there were lots of hitters who posted such a mark, so I’m not going to list them all.

Highest Barrel FB%
Player Season Barrel FB% HR/FB
Jarrett Parker 2015 83.3% 66.7%
Edwin Rios 2019 83.3% 57.1%

Jarrett Parker posted this mammoth mark over 17 flies and liners during his 2015 debut. He played parts of three seasons after, but doesn’t look to have an MLB career at this point. I’m not sure why though as he posted a positive UZR/150 in the outfield and sported a career .331 wOBA, even playing the vast majority of his career with the Giants and their offensive-killing home park.

If Justin Turner hadn’t resigned with the Dodgers, it was looking like Edwin Rios would have been the favorite to open the season at the hot corner. It’s too bad, as he owns massive power, but has been brutal defensively at third over a small sample.

Now let’s look at the highest and lowest recorded Barrel FB% marks in my entire population set, but this time set a minimum number of FB+LD so the sample size is large enough to actually reveal meaningful information. We’ll go with 200+ FB+LD, which equates to around 500 AB.

Highest Barrel FB% >=200 FB+LD
Player Season Barrel FB% HR/FB
Aaron Judge 2017 50.0% 35.6%
Ben Revere 2015 0.0% 2.0%

It’s the same leader and laggard we found yesterday! It’s just crazy that half of Judge’s fly balls were barrels in 2017. Now I’m curious which batted balls by Revere actually went for a home run. I wonder if any were of the inside the park variety.

Now let’s check out the leaders and laggards of 2020. I’ll set a minimum FB+LD total of 60 and show you those who posted a Barrel FB% of at least 30%. Remember that these rates are not entirely correct because of the classification error between fly balls and line drives.

2020 Barrel FB% Leaders >=60 FB+LD
Player Barrel FB% HR/FB
Nelson Cruz 38.1% 41.0%
Marcell Ozuna 36.8% 26.5%
Nicholas Castellanos 36.1% 23.7%
Franmil Reyes 34.5% 18.4%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 33.3% 29.3%
Eloy Jimenez 33.3% 31.1%
Wil Myers 32.4% 27.8%
Ian Happ 32.0% 27.3%
Bryce Harper 31.7% 19.7%
Teoscar Hernandez 31.4% 32.7%
Jose Abreu 31.4% 32.8%

Are there really any surprises here? It’s just unbelievable that Nelson Cruz just keeps on mashing. He was 40 during his 2020 campaign and his HR/FB rate has risen each year since 2017. Nicholas Castellanos finally had that big HR/FB rate breakout that all his underlying metrics have been screaming for. It wasn’t just a Great American Ballpark thing either, as his Away HR/FB rate was 22.6%. Franmil Reyes and Bryce Harper are the only two names here that failed to post a HR/FB rate over 20%, despite a Barrel FB% over 30%. Their Std Dev of Dist FB+LD were closer to the league average compared to the rest of the list, and they pulled their flies significantly less often than the league. Both reasons are why they posted lower HR/FB rates than the rest of the list.

2020 Barrel FB% Laggards >=60 FB+LD
Player Barrel FB% HR/FB
David Fletcher 0.0% 7.9%
Hanser Alberto 0.0% 5.3%
Maikel Franco 0.0% 11.8%
Victor Robles 0.0% 7.7%
Anthony Rendon 0.0% 13.0%
J.P. Crawford 0.0% 3.7%
Ketel Marte 0.0% 3.8%
Kevin Newman 0.0% 2.4%
Donovan Solano 0.0% 5.5%
Kolten Wong 0.0% 2.3%

These were all the hitters that failed to barrel any of their fly balls in 2020. It’s pretty incredible that every single one of these hitters still managed to hit a home run. Remember again, the classification error, so a number of these probably did barrel some of their flies. That said, there are some surprises here.

Welp, looks like Maikel Franco’s career as a regular may be over. I was always intrigued by his strong strikeout rate, but his high pop-up rate killed his BABIP, resulting in a below average OBP. That offset whatever power he has displayed and led to an underwhelming offensive profile. Even with the potential error in classification, it’s still pretty shocking to find Anthony Rendon’s name here. He did post a slightly better than average Barrel LD%, but most of the rest of his metrics were around or worse than the league average. His power output has mostly come as a result of a strong strikeout rate and tons of fly balls, as opposed to big raw power.

Most assumed there would be some regression from Ketel Marte after his surprise 2019 breakout. But did anyone expect him to fall this low?! He also stole just one base, so he wasn’t helping fantasy owners in power or speed. It’s hard to figure out what to expect from him in 2021.

That concludes our Barrel FB% fun for today. Remember that if true, the classification error between fly balls and line drives first brought up in a comment in my original xHR/FB v4.0 article is screwing up the 2020 rates. It just adds to the difficulty in evaluating 2020 performance using the underlying metrics to forecast 2021.

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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The barrel formula uses EV as a requirement, so someone like Judge with a sky high Max EV will likely have a huge share of his fly balls be barrels even if he is not a super-sized version of peak Howie Kendrick or Joey Votto.