Growing up, every little leaguer was taught by their coach to "put the barrel on the ball". When it happened, the coach might have exclaimed "way to barrel it up, Michael!" That's why when Statcast unveiled a slew of new metrics, including "Barrels", it instantly became one of the most misunderstood metrics that we use. While a ball that is squared up on the barrel of the bat will often result in a statistical Barrel, every ball that is hit on the barrel of a bat does not necessarily end up being classified as a statistical Barrel. A statistical Barrel is defined as the following, per MLB.com:
"To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification."
So right now you might be wondering if you need an advanced degree in physics to ever fully understand this stuff. I mean really, what does launch angle actually mean?
"Launch Angle represents the vertical angle at which the ball leaves a player's bat after being struck. Average Launch Angle (aLA) is calculated by dividing the sum of all Launch Angles by all Batted Ball Events. As a guideline, here are the Launch Angles for different types of contact:
Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
Line drive: 10-25 degrees
Fly ball: 25-50 degrees
Pop up: Greater than 50 degrees"
Confused yet? No? Good, because it gets slightly more complicated when they add this:
"For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands. Every additional mph over 100 increases the range another two to three degrees until an exit velocity of 116 mph is reached. At that threshold, the Barreled designation is assigned to any ball with a launch angle between eight and 50 degrees. "
In other words, the harder the ball is hit, the wider the range of acceptable launch angle, meaning the harder the ball is hit, the less important the optimal angle becomes because the higher exit velocity compensates for a ball hit too high or too low.
So what's exit velocity? Once again, straight from MLB.com, here is their definition:
"Exit Velocity measures the speed of the baseball as it comes off the bat, immediately after a batter makes contact. This is tracked for all Batted Ball Events -- outs, hits and errors. Attaining a high Exit Velocity is one of a hitter's primary goals. A hard-hit ball won't always have a positive result, but the defense has less time to react, so the batter's chances of reaching base are higher."
So what's the most important stat? Barrels, launch angle or exit velocity?
The answer is simply "yes". While launch angle exit velocity combine to create the barrel metrics, each statistic can have standalone value, as well. The question is less about which stat is the most important and more about how each stat can be useful. When used in conjunction with other metrics, they become invaluable tools. Here are a few applications I like to use for these statistics:
-Using Barrels Per BBE (batted ball event) to find emerging power outbreaks. This is primarily because Barrels/BBE has seen correlations with HR/FB rate ranging between 0.66 and 0.76 over the last 3 seasons. To find value in potential breakout power stars, I like to look at players with a solid Barrel/BBE metric, who are also improving their contact rates. More contact means more batted ball events and with a good Barrels/BBE metrics, eventually that will lead to more home runs.
-Using Average Exit Velocity to help support changes in a player's BABIP. There's no silver bullet statistics that will perfectly predict BABIP. In fact, exit velocity alone had nearly no correlation to BABIP. This shouldn't be totally surprising since BABIP encompasses some aspects that are within a player's control (exit velocity, hard hit rate, batted ball profile), while other things that are outside a player's control (opposing defense, positioning, and luck). However, we do know the harder a ball is hit, the less time a fielder has to react. This can and does have a small impact and can cause a slight impact in the long term.
-Supporting a player's homerun totals by leveraging Average Exit Velocity on homeruns. This comes in handy alongside pull%, park factors, average home run distance and just enough / no doubt labels to paint the picture of a hitter that either deserved to hit the number of homeruns he hit or was fortunate. Since hitting the ball hard requires skill, the higher the average exit velocity, the more likely it is that the player will be able to repeat his performance.
-Pairing Launch Angle changes with a player's Batted Ball Profile, Hard Hit Rate and Average Exit Velocity to identify if changes in plate approach will be sustainable. In other words, if a player starts hitting more flyballs because his launch angle changes, will that change be a positive thing that leads to more power (with higher exit velocity) or a negative thing that leads to more flyouts (with lower exit velocity).
These are just a few ways to start using Statcast in your own analysis today. The opportunities are seemingly endless and I'm continuing to look at the datasets differently every year because new metrics are constantly being released or altered to give us a better picture of the players. If you'd like to hear more about this topic, catch the Fantistics show on SiriusXM on Sunday March 10th from 10AM-1PM ET as Lou Blasi and I breakdown the players below and begin applying some of these principles: