True story: I wrote the majority of my dissertation in a brewery. A Scottish brewer worked there — had even gone to college for a degree in brewing in the old country — and down the way there was a distillery that made whiskey. When the distillery was done aging whiskey in the barrels, the brewery purchased them to age their stout, creating the famed “Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.” At 13% alcohol and with a taste profile that changed as it warmed up, it was a beautiful creation. Inspiring. So inspiring that I could write 400 pages. Type, type, type. Lesson is, I couldn’t have had that beer without barrels. Barrels cause good things to happen, but do people aspire to be coopers anymore? Nah, not really. But nowadays, the barrel masters are more commonly found in baseball, where batters connect squarely on the barrel of the bat. And, just like barrels bring you good beer, barrels in hitting bring you good batters.
A couple of you know that I’m in full-on research mode recently, and I’ve been tearing down not only my own systems, but the systems of other people. I do this because A) I want to get better at spreadsheets and coding, and B) I really want to do well in DFS Wars, a DFS competition that my fellow co-editor MattTruss placed 7th in this year. So, I went in search of edges among all the data that I have at my fingertips, and, well, I found an interesting correlation.
The correlation between ISO and barrel rate for batters against RHP is 0.72 (at least in 2021) .
Yeah, I went in search of ISO.
Why ISO Matters
I should mention: what I’m talking about here, actually isn’t a new discovery. In fact, it’s been reported before by former Razzball writer Dan Richards over at PitcherList (Link). Here’s what Dan wrote in early 2019:
Beginning with Brls/BBE%, we see the r^2 to both HR/FB% and ISO is very high. It’s higher than any result we’ve had yet. As you’ll see in a minute, it is our best single metric to predict how well a hitter can muscle his fly balls out of the park, or whether his HR/FB% will regress.
Dan’s work followed that of Al Melchior, who published in 2018 on Fangraphs (Link) his longitudinal findings about the relationship between statcast metrics and power metrics. He also concluded that barrels were highly correlated to ISO, although he worried,
It may seem obvious that there would have been a strong positive relationship between exit velocity on flyballs and line drives and measures of power production (i.e., HR/FB, ISO). Yet there is reason to question that relationship, as there is evidence to suggest the ball may have been de-juiced in 2018 (or at the very least, that it took a higher frequency of hard contact to produce a given level of power production). Even with the possibility that batters were hitting a de-juiced ball this past season, differences in exit velocity on airborne balls (and by extension, differences in barrel rate) made a substantial difference in how much extra-base power was generated.
What’s that? A de-juiced ball? Sounds like 2021!
Carlos Marcano expanded upon this earlier this year in his article detailing his Q/QB system (Link), where he combined several metrics to look at the quality of swings and at-bats. Carlos’s Q and Q/B system hovered near an r² of .50 between ISO and his metrics. In other words, there was a pretty good relationship between the ways batters performed consistent swings and having a higher ISO.
Of course, these authors are looking at real-life baseball. What’s that? I only know fantasy baseball. Fantasy baseball has a market that we all need to deal with: the waiver wire, or a dynasty team, or a DFS squad, or whatever. The thing about succeeding in fantasy sports isn’t necessarily about getting the top players correctly projected — they’re actually very easy to do, as Rudy and Grey will tell you. The trick about winning in fantasy is getting the lower rostered players right. This is why Grey spends the whole offseason writing about sleepers. How many of you are benefitting from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. right now? Remember how Grey asked you to draft him everywhere in the off-season? Vladdy’s third overall on the Player Rater right now…and he’s third overall on my new hitter rankings using the ISO/barrels correlation as a base. Confirmation bias acknowledged!
Translating to Fantasy Baseball
Fantasy sports have game theory and markets as a primary concern for player success. Don’t know what that means? I’ll translate again: “cheaper” players (i.e. sleepers) help you win. What I found in my research were a number of players that are easily acquirable now for redraft playoff runs, as well as dynasty targets for the next few years. The cool part about incorporating barrels into the equation is that barrels are actually one of the more “sticky” stats that are “projectable” on a year-over-year basis (with Dan Richards finding a .64 r² for the 2015-2018 data set). Here are some of the batters that I’d like to highlight for your fantasy teams going into the playoff run and the dynasty acquisition period:
Kyle Schwarber: As much as we think Jon Heyman is a “yes man” reporter for MLB, he’s well-connected, and he’s indicating the Yankees are making a move for Schwarber this year. Schwarbs is nursing a hamstring injury and will be back soon-ish, but he ranks 5th overall on my new rankings because he has the best ISO against righties in MLB this year, coupled with a top 25 wOBA and a top 15 barrel rate. He’s affordable right now, and showing signs that next year will be just as successful as this year.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 28, 2021
Franmil Reyes: Nestled below Kyle Schwarber, we’ve got the Franimal. You saw Franimal get a mention on my previous rankings, and under the new calculation, he’s even higher. Franimal has the 8th best ISO against righties and 10th best barrel rate overall. He missed time with an injury earlier this year, so many players have overlooked him. He’s way down on the Player Rater because of that missed time, although he has a ridiculous $24/Game value, which puts him right next to Manny Machado, Cedric Mullins, Freddie Freeman, and Tim Anderson. Time to adopt a Franimal!
Brandon Crawford: Believe it or not, Crawford isn’t rostered in 100% of leagues. Of course, his previous career numbers weren’t thrilling for fantasy managers. But this year, he’s slugging over .500, and he’s top 25 in MLB in ISO, wOBA, and barrels vs righties. He’s coming off the IL very soon, and he’s playing for a contract, so we could see a huge finish to the season for Crawford.
Patrick Wisdom: Still available in about 50% of leagues! He’s 25th overall in $/G on the Player Rater, and he’s got the 4th best ISO vs righties (and a solid top 50 ISO vs Lefties). To top it off, he’s got the 12th best barrel rate in MLB this year, which means that he’s likely to be a steal for redraft teams and is a great power target for teams in 2022.
One more calculation that I want to investigate is to look at the BABIP/Line Drive% relationship to ISO. The calculation for ISO is very simple: Slugging minus Batting Average. However, even the most rookie fantasy baseballer knows that batting average is somewhat arbitrary. We all hear, “Willi Castro’s .330 batting average isn’t sustainable because of his .440 BABIP. Castro’s getting lucky!” But the thing is, is that BABIP isn’t all luck. High BABIPs are actually correlated to line drive% and sprint speed. So, batters who run fast and make solid line drive-style contact are actually normal with a high BABIP instead of being “lucky.” So, next steps are to incorporate Line Drive% into the calculations to help weed out unnatural variations in the batting average calculation that would affect the ISO calculation.
What ch’all think? Drop down into the comments about your favorite batters for the rest of the season, and let’s get everybody on the path to the fantasy championships.