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 SchwarberAs 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.

Franmil ReyesNestled 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 CrawfordBelieve 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 WisdomStill 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.

Thinking Ahead

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.

 

  1. scoboticus says:
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    Hi Blair! I’ve been looking at Barrel rate leaders on Statcast and guess who is 2nd among second basemen? 37 year old Jed Lowrie (7.3). If I look at Hard Hit%, he’s still 2nd. Where does he appear on your rankings of second basemen?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      You got me! I haven’t included positions in my sheet because I personally don’t care about it, but you went and found my weakness! Lowrie is at 119 overall for me, sandwiched in between Josh Naylor and Tyrone Taylor. There’s definitely an “efficient frontier” there, where most of the hitters are indiscernible from each other. But just quickly looking, I’ve got Jorge Polanco a bit above him, and I guess Joey Wendle is the next 2B on the board. But, not a *ton* of difference between them in their hitting prowess. It *is* interesting to note that Lowrie is *ahead* of Trea Turner, which got me checking into the details, and of course, it’s easy to see that Treat Urner *destroys* LHP (1.100 OPS) and is just OK vs RHP. And by the Player Rater, Turner is getting most of his surplus value from SB, so it just validates that I’m searching for power, which is often the Razzball way lol.

      • Michael Stovik says:
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        “My sheet”? Where can I find that? I love this kind of work. Thank you.

        • everywhereblair

          everywhereblair says:
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          Gotcha — yeah it’s my personal work and it borrows heavily from multiple proprietary sites that I’m not allowed to distribute on Razzball. But I have it geared to try and solve the problem of “can we better understand variance,” so I’m just looking at players regardless of position (i.e. my player index column is 600 hitter names and their teams).

          Maybe next year when my process is more refined I’ll have a version that I can share with people, or next time I’m in a fill-in spot I’ll post the top 100 or something. Either way, it’s a complete mess right now because I’m in research mode and it’s written in a way that basically only I understand it lol. Gotta get the dashboard running so it’s available for the masses.

          • Michael Stovik says:
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            Thanks. That would be great. Messy desk great mind!

  2. scoboticus says:
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    Speaking of Franmil, dude is raking today!

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      I’m not gonna say that he read my article and got inspired, but…

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      Indeed!

  3. Harley Earl says:
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    Hey Blair,

    How about breaking Rowdy Tellez since the All-Star break? Is he for real or is this just small sample flukey doo-doo?

    • Harley Earl says:
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      Breaking “down” Rowdy Tellez

      • everywhereblair

        everywhereblair says:
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        Better than Breaking Bad Rowdy Tellez!

        I mean, I think the 4% K rate and 5% swinging strike rate shows how much he wants to stick. He’s got a 20% line drive rate which is bolstering his BA, but the guy’s as low as it gets on the speed scale, so if he doesn’t keep hitting line drives at HR at a ridiculous pace, he’ll be back to earth ASAP. Barrel rate is OK but not thrilling. So, his history says more that he’ll come back to earth, but until pitchers figure him out again — and there’s gonna be a ton of pitcher turnover — he’s worth rostering in most formats for redraft but I wouldn’t call him a keeper or dynasty kinda guy until we get more data.

  4. Axel says:
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    In a redraft, assuming Rizzo and Bryant get dealt would you drop Ke’Bryan for Wisdom?

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Yeah 100% I would

  5. steve stevenson says:
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    Blair, this is awesome, as is your other work for Razzball. But this comment is not about bats but rather how Blake Snell eats butt, in a non-fun way. Discuss…

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      HAHA

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Blake Fairweather Darwin Snell, born of parents in these United States of TexMex flavors, has hereby been deemed a “butt eater” by the Razzbois and their nearest brethren. Any attempt to dispel this rumor will be met with strict force-watching of Mean Girls for one week straight. Proclaimed on this day, July 29th, 2021. So say we all!

  6. Coolwhip says:
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    Good stuff here beer buddy, real smooth

    • Yes says:
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      Smooth…like ice? Coolwhip to the touch and it isn’t very nice

      • everywhereblair

        everywhereblair says:
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        I’ll allow iced beer. I don’t judge here.

        • Yes says:
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          You got your ice in my beer…

          You got your beer in my ice…

          *heavenly sounding background noise*

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      I miss that beer SO MUCH.

      I helped can for like an hour and got $100+ worth of “unsellable” cans of the beer. Best day of my life.

  7. Ralph says:
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    Good morning Blair, drop Touissaint, Gilbert or McClanahan for Heaney, Cobb, Sandoval or Megil? QS and Ks per inning very important thanks man!

    • Ralph says:
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      There’s also Ynoa available.

      • everywhereblair

        everywhereblair says:
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        Hey Ralph! Toussaint for Sandoval is the obvious choice I see there. Megill’s gonna have IP trouble once the Mets get healthy.

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