by Max Smith, Max Brill, Cam Cain, Jack Gioffre, Parker Marcon, Matthew Kikkert, Connor Stemme and Clayton Myers
Though it no longer arbitrarily decides home-field advantage for the World Series, it’s hard not to love the All-Star Game. From newcomers off to a hot start to future Cooperstown residents making their last go around, everybody gets their time to shine during the Midsummer Classic.
While MLB’s All-Star Game usually selects its participants based on overall performance, name recognition and some potentially biased fan bases (looking at you, Kansas City and Chicago), we at M-SABR figured we would take our own crack at the All-Star Game. All of our selections are based off a single advanced statistic of our choosing. Over this series of articles, our main goal is further our readers’ understanding of various Sabermetric stats by assembling these prestigious hypothetical All-Star teams and analyzing in depth why the given honorees excelled in the statistic at hand.
With that, welcome back to M-Sabermetric All-Stars!
One of the most exciting developments in baseball in recent seasons has been the introduction of Statcast. Since its high-tech cameras and tracking systems were installed in all 30 MLB ballparks in 2015, casual baseball fans and sabermetricians alike have caught a glimpse of the immense analytical potential the system offers.
From fun and flashy stats such as batter exit velocity or maximum sprint speed, to brand new ways to analyze defensive abilities, like Outs Above Average or Route Efficiency, Statcast has expanded baseball’s statistical horizon, and we at M-SABR have taken note. The first article ever to be published on MSABR.com was actually an analytical ode and fascinating deep dive into Statcast’s Barrels statistic by our founder Billy Stampfl.
Keep that stat in mind by the way, since Barrels are one of the most powerful tools that Statcast has introduced us to in recent years. Defined by a combination of launch angle and exit velocity that generally results in at least a .500 average and .1500 slugging percentage, a Barrel is the ultimate indicator of a batted ball that was positively crushed. Here is a helpful visualization of the concept:
Put in words, the graphic indicates that the Barrel zone begins at an exit velocity of 98 mph between a 26 and 30-degree launch angle, though the required launch angle range widens the harder the ball is hit, reaching an extreme of approximately 5 to 55 degrees for any ball hit at 120 mph.
While any one Barrel might result in a majestic home run, the skill we are looking for in this Volume of M-Sabermetric All-Stars is the ability to produce those Barrels consistently. Baseball Savant, the go-to website for Statcast leaderboards, sorts its rankings by Barrels/PA, a simple stat that divides a player’s total number of Barrels by his plate appearances, indicating the percentage of plate appearances in which the player barrels up the ball. So while it is commonly confusingly written, a score of 10 Barrels/PA simply means that the player at hand produced a Barrel in 10 percent of his plate appearances.
Having identified Barrels/PA as our statistic of choice, our team went about diving deeper into the 2017 positional leaders, trying to identify other stats that might explain or be explained by a player’s ability to produce Barrels regularly.
Without further ado, our Barrels/PA All-Stars:
C – Gary Sánchez, New York Yankees, 8.0 Brls/PA, .278/.345/.531, 5.8 fWAR/162
This past season, Gary Sanchez finished first among catchers in Barrels/PA at 8.0. To analyze which stats are impacted by Barrels or which stats possibly indicate a high Barrel/PA rate, we can take a look at traditional power hitting measures. First of all, Sanchez led the league in both home runs and RBIs among catchers in 2017. His 33 home runs were the most by a catcher since 2002 when Hall of Famer Mike Piazza hit an identical 33 longballs. This incredible power display was assuredly boosted by his ability to make consistently hard contact while barreling the ball.
In addition, his 90 RBIs led the league. However, this is most likely a byproduct of his high home run total rather than stemming from Barrels/PA and is widely considered an overrated, circumstantial statistic among sabermetricians anyways. Another key indicator of his Barrels/PA was his home run to fly ball ratio, which was second among catchers at 25.4% (trailing only Wilson Contreras), but still substantially higher than the average of 13.5% among all catchers. This exemplifies Sanchez’s power and his ability to hit the ball out of the park on a large percentage of his fly balls, indicating his exceptionally high exit velocity and Barrels/PA. For further reference on his power, look no further than his home run derby clips, where he crushed two balls 474 feet and one 483 feet, defeating The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton—now his teammate, just not on this roster.
1B – Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 9.7 Brls/PA, .259/.352/.651, 5.5 fWAR/162
Few players broke onto the scene in 2017 with more power or fanfare than Phillies left fielder Rhys Hoskins. By setting an MLB record as the fastest player to ever reach 10 career home runs, doing so in just 17 games and putting up a 158 wRC+ in 50 games overall, Hoskins became the talk of Philadelphia and established himself as a seemingly surefire future MLB star.
Wait…what’s that? There was another rookie first baseman/outfielder that actually outproduced Hoskins and earned himself a starting position on the M-SABR Barrels All-Star team? Enter Oakland’s Matt Olson.
In a mere 216 plate appearances, nearly identical to Hoskins’ 212, Olson mashed 24 home runs to Hoskins’ 18, put up a .651 slugging percentage that trailed only JD Martinez amongst hitters with 200 PA, and most importantly established himself as a Statcast darling. His 9.7 Barrels/PA were not only top amongst first basemen, but his 49.6% of batted balls above 95 mph, 483 ft max home run distance, and 98.1 mph average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives also place him in the top 5 in all of baseball.
At only 23 years old, Olson was one of the more productive players in the league throughout the second half, and while he already secured a spot on our prestigious roster, don’t be surprised to see Olson make some actual All-Star games in future seasons.
2B – Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs, 7.7 Brls/PA, .253/.328/.514, 2.5 fWAR/162
At only 23, Happ is yet another young player with exceptional power. The rookie led all second basemen with 7.7 Barrels/PA. Happ was consistently able to make solid contact all year. 39.8% of his batted balls were hit above 95 mph, a number that puts him in the top 20% of all major leaguers. This allowed Happ to have the highest HR/FB% among second basemen by a significant amount. This statistic shows in his 24 home runs despite not playing a full season. Additionally, Happ was consistently able to avoid weak contact. His infield fly ball rate of 3.2% was the third lowest among second basemen.
Instead of making weak contact, Happ opted to not make contact at all. Happ made contact on only 67.3% of his swings. On swings outside the strike zone, that number drops to 49.7%, the 10th lowest in the majors. His 31.2 K% is tops among major league second basemen. Players often sell out for power, and Happ is no exception.
SS – Chad Pinder, Oakland Athletics, 7.1 Brls/PA, .238/.292/.457, 0.6 fWAR/162
In a league in which MVP caliber shortstops such as Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor garner most of the attention from the fans, the young middle infielder that earns a spot on our All-Star team is Chad Pinder. In a season in which the A’s traded away their best pitcher Sonny Gray, Pinder seemed to be one of the few bright spots for the young, up-and-coming Oakland Athletics, who actually led all teams with three Barrels All-Stars. Even though Pinder’s playing time was limited to 87 games this past season, the Virginia Tech product showed glimpses of being able to make an impact in a Major League Baseball game.
Pinder, in a relatively small sample size, crushed the ball this last season. When you extrapolate his raw numbers over the course of a 162 game season, Pinder is a potential American League All-Star, though Correa and Lindor might limit him to M-Sabermetric All-Star status for a while.
Pinder crushed 15 home runs in his 282 at-bats last season which is no small task considering Oakland Coliseum is generally a pitcher’s park. The ability to barrel a ball at a positive launch angle with a velocity around 100 miles per hour is an ability that cannot be taught. Pinder has some shown flashes, but he is just scratching the surface.
The flaws in his game seem to be due to inexperience. This past season Pinder struck out in 29.8% of his at-bats and rarely walks (5.8 BB%). The ability to get on base is a difficult task and should be highlighted with any player. However, Oakland will be hoping this trend wanes as Pinder matures at the plate. Pinder will have to be more selective during his at-bats as time goes on and continue to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. Don’t get too caught up in the big names of the game, because this kid is on the rise.
3B – Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 10.5 Brls/PA, .209/.333/.537, 3.2 fWAR/162
In the new-found era of homers and strikeouts, few players are more emblematic of various league-wide trends than 6’5, 235 lb dinger-machine Joey Gallo. While his .209 batting average and 36.8 strikeout percentage (K%) make Gallo the poster boy of free-swinging sluggers, anybody still struggling with the concept of Barreling need not look further than this video:
As for Statcast stats, it’s not just Barrels that Gallo excels in, though. His average exit velocity of 92.5 mph trailed only Aaron Judge and Nelson Cruz, and stats in which Gallo ranked in the top 10 in all of MLB include farthest home run distance (490 ft), maximum exit velocity (117.3 mph), average batted ball distance (222 ft) and percent of batted ball events over 95 mph (49%). Moreover, when assessing Barrels on a per batted ball basis—an alternative to the per plate appearance approach that this article is focused on (and one that factors out his whopping 196 strikeouts)—Gallo moves up to second in MLB, joining Judge amongst the only two players whose Barrels/BBE exceeds 20%.
So while the holes in his swing (MLB-worst 59.1 Contact percentage among qualified hitters) and his all-or-nothing approach prevent Gallo from reaching the elite level of value of his Barrel leaderboard contemporaries such as Judge, Stanton or JD Martinez, the immense power he generates makes him an above average every day player (121 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR) and leaves him firmly entrenched as our Barrels/PA All-Star team third baseman.
LF – Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics, 10.3 Brls/PA, .247/.336/.528, 2.4 fWAR/162
Khris Davis has quietly been mashing in Oakland, hitting 85 home runs in the last two years, only one behind league-leader Giancarlo Stanton (86). Despite receiving relatively little attention for his success at the plate, Davis led all left fielders in Barrels/PA during the 2017 season, landing him right here on our All-Star team. His Brls/PA certainly explain his power surge, as he sat 5th in the majors in 2017 with 10.3. Davis also was top 5 in the league for average exit velocity, which correlates with him barreling up the ball consistently. In 2015 Davis hit only 27 home runs, yet his Brls/PA was still in the top 15 of the MLB. His tendencies to hit the ball extremely hard and get the barrel on it are indicative of the longball display he put together in 2016 and 2017, and likely to garner him a big payday in the next two years.
Like many of the players on this list, Davis sacrifices a significant part of his game in order to swing for the fences every at-bat. While he may be a world-class power hitter, Davis’ K% of 29.9% last season was good for 5th in the MLB, a category that no hitter wants to find themselves in. Many hitters in the modern game are trading strikeouts for power, and Khris Davis is no exception. In addition, Davis posted the worst defensive runs above average rating of 2017, an astonishingly bad -20.8, 1.5 points lower than the next lowest qualified hitter. Looking at Davis’ gaudy home run numbers will leave a meaningful impression, but so will the depressingly bad defensive metrics. For a team such as the A’s, who focus on players with analytical talent (high OBP, low K%, good defense, good contracts), it was odd for them to sign Davis to a deal in order to avoid arbitration just a few weeks ago. Yet our team is thrilled to have Davis and his big bat patrolling left field.
CF – Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 8.3 Brls/PA, .306/.442/.629, 9.8 fWAR/162
Any all-star team would be incomplete without the best player in baseball. Mike Trout is in his seventh season and has the highest WAR by far over any of the players over the span of his career. Trout was 14th overall in Barrels/PA but was the starting center fielder. The underlying stats like exit velocity and average distance place him in the top 75 and top 35, respectively, but are not top 10 stats like many of the other players on the list. In the three years Barrels/PA has been tracked, Mike Trout finished 5th, 13th and 14th overall. Trout is a power hitter who hit 33 home runs last season putting him tied for 21st. He also was top 15 in HR/FB with a 23.2%. Almost a quarter of the time Trout hit a flyball, it was going to be a home run, an impressive feat. Trout was also in the top 15 in flyball percentage at 44.9% leading to more chances for home runs. Trout’s contact numbers also helped his Barrels/PA as only 19.0% of his balls in play were considered softly hit, compared to an impressive 38.3% hard contact percentage. Trout makes medium or hard contact with the ball over 80% of the time showing that he is simply a great hitter and does not need to hit the ball quite as fast as Judge or as far as Joey Gallo. Trout may not have the same peripheral stats to back up his selection on the Barrels/PA All-Star team, but he is an all-time great hitter who never fails to make solid contact with the ball, while actually walking more than he strikes out, a feat nearly unheard of on this roster.
RF – Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 12.8 Brls/PA, .284/.422/.627, 8.6 fWAR/162
44.2% strikeout rate, .179/.263/.345 triple-slash, and 5.3 Brls/PA. Those were Aaron Judge’s numbers through 95 plate appearances in 2016. Judge followed up this abysmal 2016 showing by absolutely destroying baseballs in 2017 to the tune of .284/.422/.627. He had 12.8 Brls/PA, the second-highest mark ever posted in the history of Statcast, and his average exit velocity was 94.5 MPH. Judge hit 175 of his batted balls, or 51.8%, over 95 MPH. Hitting it hard produces barrels, which explains why Judge was the 2017 leader in barrels and Brls/PA.
One look at Judge explains his dominance. The Yankees RF stands at an imposing 6’7” and weighs in at 282 pounds. When he wasn’t striking out (30.7 K%) or walking (18.7 BB%), he flat-out crushed the ball. Judge hit a league-leading eight homers over 450 feet, including this bomb that landed about 30 rows back of the fence at Yankee Stadium.
Judge, much like the aforementioned Joey Gallo, does not make a lot of contact, but when he does, the ball goes far. His whiff rate of 32.4% was fourth-worst among qualified hitters in baseball. Unlike Gallo, however, Judge was not inhibited in the slightest by his swing-and-miss tendencies. Judge is the M-SABR All-Star team’s right field representative for Brls/PA, and he should be a fixture in this lineup for the foreseeable future, especially considering he is only 26 years old.
DH – Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners, 9.3 Brls/PA, .288/.375/.549, 4.0 fWAR/162
The DH on our M-SABR Brls/PA All-Star team goes to the best DH in not only the American League but all of MLB, Nelson Cruz—it was a rough year for NL DH’s. He was able to amass a 3.8 fWAR last year leading all DHs. Nelson Cruz has been one of the most productive hitters in the majors over the course of his career leading to 5 All-Star appearances and 3 Top 10 MVP finishes.
A major factor in his consistent productivity is the ability to barrel the ball. In 2017, Nelson Cruz was able to barrel the ball one in every 9.3 plate appearances good for a tie for 9th in the majors. Cruz also led all DHs with a 40.8 fly ball percentage, meaning he gave himself a large number of opportunities for extra bases. Matched with his second in MLB 92.7 MPH average exit velocity, Cruz was able to put up a 146 wRC+ in 2017. Cruz’s consistency with making solid contact is marked by his hard-hit percentage which ranked 14th in the majors last year at 40.7 percent. Cruz also showed his consistency with an exit velocity of over 95 miles per hour on 45.2 percent of his batted balls.
Year to year Cruz has been consistently placing in the top ten in Brls/PA each of the past three years making him a likely candidate to maintain his solid numbers and stay on our roster.
Putting the Team on the Field
Having introduced you to the team, we know curious readers must be wondering how this team might fare over the course of a season, and even more generally speaking how Barrels/PA might or might not translate to predicted team performance.
To calculate a record for our Barrels/PA All-Star team, we started by calculating a 162-game WAR for each player, assuming they will be in the starting lineup every day. This was found by extrapolating the player’s 2017 fWAR to a 162 game basis. Now any team hoping to win any games obviously needs a pitching staff, but in our case, we wanted to normalize its value. So the next step was finding the average fWAR of an MLB pitching staff over the 2017 season, which was discovered to be a solid 14.9, comparable to that of the San Francisco Giants. Combining our starting Barrels/PA lineup WAR/162 of 42.4 and the average pitching staff, our total team WAR comes out to be 57.3. Using Fangraphs WAR totals, they recommend adding 48 wins to calculated WAR to predict a 162-game average record, placing our All-Star team’s final record at a cool 105-57.
Keep in mind that these somewhat rudimentary record projections serve as more of a point of reference as we continue to analyze new statistics and gauge their hypothetical effect on team performance. Regardless, our team projects to be a powerhouse, and with some of the names on this roster, the lineup really would be formidable. Barrels/PA is a fantastic stat, and the team it assembled certainly reflects that.
Stay tuned for future articles to see how our All-Star team fared in an OOTP season simulation and if they were able to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy. Also keep your eyes open for the future editions of M-Sabermetric All-Stars, as we deep dive into other advanced stats and examine how those teams might perform.
For further reading check out Volume I, the BABIP All-Stars. Also feel free to leave any suggested stats in the comments below!