Introducing Batter xHR/FB Rate, Version 4.0: Barrel LD% 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. Yesterday, we had some Barrel FB% fun, so today, let’s move along to Barrel LD%. While I’ve used Barrel FB% often in the past, I have never used Barrel LD%. It’s a good thing I investigated the metric, because it actually correlates slightly better year-to-year than Barrel FB%, though it correlates with HR/FB rate a bit less so.

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

Barrel LD%
Season Barrel LD%
2015 10.0%
2016 10.2%
2017 7.4%
2018 7.6%
2019 8.2%
2020 17.0%

That 2020 mark of 17.0% sticks out like a sore thumb. As I called out yesterday in the Barrel FB% post, word is that the Statcast classifications of fly ball versus line drive got mixed up, and the wacky 2020 marks for each support that. Interestingly, the mark plummeted in 2017 and then slowly rose from there, as opposed to Barrel FB% that increased each season since 2015 (excluding 2020). That’s odd. Makes you wonder if hitters’ swings have been adjusted to make better quality contact on fly balls, but which then hampers their line drive swings.

Now let’s check out the hitters with the highest recorded Barrel LD% 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 LD%
Player Season Barrel LD% HR/FB
Carlos Peguero 2015 50.0% 20.0%
Franklin Barreto 2019 50.0% 16.7%
Logan Forsythe 2020 50.0% 11.1%

Welllll that’s a fun list! You might remember the highest Barrel FB% (83.3%), so Barrel LD% marks are generally lower.

Carlos Peguero is a blast from the past. He spent parts of five seasons in the Majors (2015 was his final one), before ultimately landing in the KBO. Peguero was another masher who struck out a ton. Franklin Barreto is a former top prospect who hasn’t panned out, or even received an extended look. His Major League high PA in a season is just 76. But his 2019 line drive power display over a tiny sample is one reason why he keeps getting chances. Man, is there a more random name than Logan Forsythe? He barely played in 2020, so of course this means nothing, but I didn’t even realize he played at all!

Now let’s look at the highest and lowest recorded Barrel LD% 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 LD% >=200 FB+LD
Player Season Barrel LD% HR/FB
Aaron Judge 2017 34.8% 35.6%
Nelson Cruz 2016 32.7% 26.2%
Mike Trout 2015 31.8% 25.3%
Jose Bautista 2015 30.5% 18.4%

Now this is a list. And yes, this means that Aaron Judge posted the highest Barrel FB% and Barrel LD% in 2017. Woah, what a season. It’s good to see Mike Trout make an appearance. Jose Bautista was the original “swing change” beneficiary and we now know to pay attention when we hear of a hitter making such an adjustment during the offseason or Spring training.

Now let’s check out the leaders and laggards of 2020. I’ll set a minimum FB+LD total of 60. Remember that these rates are not entirely correct because of the classification error between fly balls and line drives.

2020 Barrel LD% Leaders >=60 FB+LD
Player Barrel LD% HR/FB
Keston Hiura 44.4% 26.0%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 43.2% 29.3%
Corey Seager 42.4% 21.7%
Eugenio Suarez 41.2% 24.2%
Eloy Jimenez 39.1% 31.1%
Brandon Lowe 38.6% 23.7%

Keston Hiura, power line drive machine! Swings and misses, and resulting strikeouts, are hampering Hiura’s production, while unsurprisingly, his BABIP plummeted from its ridiculous .400+ level during his 2019 debut. But man he owns power! Fernando Tatis Jr. ranked fifth in Barrel FB% in 2020 and now ranks second in Barrel LD%. Should we already create his HOF plaque? It was a power breakout season for Corey Seager, who has been solid, but fairly boring since his sizzling small sample 2015 debut. He’s at an age where you could believe the improvement is real, but that doesn’t automatically mean it is. If there’s any sort of “poor postseason” discount being applied to Brandon Lowe, I see no reason why you shouldn’t take full advantage. He still showed his typical power, but struck out more often against the naturally tougher playoff pitching.

2020 Barrel LD% Laggards >=60 FB+LD
Player Barrel LD% HR/FB
David Fletcher 1.8% 7.9%
Jurickson Profar 2.1% 14.9%
Raimel Tapia 2.5% 3.1%
Alex Bregman 2.6% 11.3%
Kevin Newman 2.6% 2.4%
Kolten Wong 2.6% 2.3%

Jurickson Profar still managed to post a league average HR/FB rate, despite the weak Barrel LD%. He enters 2021 without a starting job as the Padres decided to collect utility players. Alex Bregman is the biggest surprise on this list, but his Statcast metrics were pretty poor. He did manage to post above average pull rates, which helped, but it couldn’t have helped that much if his distance and exit velocity were disappointing. Still, entering his age 27 season, with strong plate discipline skills, and a fly ball tilt, I’m definitely buying if given a chance to at a discounted rate.

That concludes our Barrel LD% 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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I don’t understand where the difficulty in FB classification comes from. Should it not just be a function of exit velocity and launch angle? Is the EV / LA data itself inaccurate? If not, I wonder if using a custom classification system for LD and FB would be more consistent and reliable. Personally I have been using EV on balls between 18-38 degrees as a quick and dirty “EV on balls hit with ideal launch angle” metric for the past few years.