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Barreling to find fantasy baseball outliers

Aaron Judge sits atop the “Barrels” leaderboard all by himself (AP Photo).

“Barrel” is a relatively newer statistic created by Tom Tango that’s a way to classify batted ball events (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) that frequently lead to successful outcomes. For further detail, go here, but to put this simply, during the 2016 regular season, balls “Barreled” had a batting average of .822 and a 2.386 slugging percentage. That’s good and also intuitively makes sense, unlike the notion of pitchers having no influence on balls in play.

Like all stats, this one only tells part of the story, as there are outliers (Joey Votto’s average exit velocity last year (87.6 mph) ranked No. 197, but it’s safe to call him a decent hitter), and it doesn’t always translate in fantasy terms (speedsters unsurprisingly rank toward the bottom of this list), but it’s still a tool we can use to help identify hitters and pitchers (it works the same with them) whose numbers didn’t match their true on-field performance last season.

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It’s no surprise the top-five hitters in total Barrels were all sluggers (Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz), but those five all have high strikeout rates (20+ K%), so it’s best to divide Barrels by plate appearances to account for all possible outcomes. So let’s use Brls/PA to try to find some outliers on both extremes. To give reference, Judge led MLB last year with 12.7% Brls/PA while Jose Iglesias’ 1.0 Brls/PA ranked No. 283 (minimum 190 batted ball events).

HITTERS TO BUY

Randal Grichuk (#6) – There were already good reasons to like Grichuk as a sleeper as a regular in Toronto’s lineup, and ranking so highly here (one spot ahead of Freddie Freeman) gives all the more reason to get excited.

Matt Davidson (#10) – Here’s a true sleeper. Davidson is owned in less than 10% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s slated to play DH and hit cleanup in a home park that’s increased HR for RHB by 10 percent over the last three years. He’s hitting .339 with four homers, 18 RBI and a 1.065 OPS in spring and is 26 years old. Davidson ranked top-10 in Brls/PA last year and is practically free at draft tables.

Kyle Schwarber (#16) – And this was before he got shredded during the offseason. Schwarber posted a .244 BABIP (and 102 wRC+) despite the impressive batted ball profile here, so a major leap could be in store in 2018. Coincidentally, I have Gregory Polanco next to him in my OF rankings, and the latter graded extremely poorly here (#226), so this will be an interesting test case.

Logan Morrison (#24) – Further confirming last year’s performance was legit. Rarely will you find players in their prime coming off a season in which they hit 38 homers slated to hit in the middle of a lineup in a home park that increases run scoring with an ADP outside 250.

Jose Martinez (#30) – He doesn’t have a current spot in the starting lineup, but that just helps keep his price down. Playing time issues will sort itself out, especially once Martinez proves his bat is too good to keep on the bench. He’s a flier to target later in drafts.

HITTERS TO SELL

For obvious reasons, I’m throwing out SB guys here, but just for fun, I’d be remiss not to note that Ender Inciarte, Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton combined for 1,597 batted ball events and produced a total of six barrels (yes this means not all homers qualify as Barrels). Aaron Judge alone had 86.

Michael Brantley (#226) – It’s possible this is all health related, but we don’t really know what a truly 100 percent Brantley looks like these days.

Manuel Margot (#232) – His greatest fantasy appeal is with his legs, but this is still slightly discouraging to see from one of my favorite middle-round outfield targets.

DJ LeMahieu (#276) – He managed a .351 BABIP regardless, but this is a little surprising from someone drafted for batting average. His GB% (55.6) was No. 5 in MLB last year, but Christian Yelich was sixth, and he graded much higher in Brls/PA (#134). It’d be interesting if LeMahieu ever tried to become a launch angle convert.

Xander Bogaerts (#259) – Another big groundball hitter, but this can also be totally written off given Bogaerts’ hand injury. So I’d ignore this ranking.

Ian Desmond (#264) –Desmond graded well here in 2015, so his owners just have to hope last year was all health related, because he can’t afford a slow start with Ryan McMahon looming.

PITCHERS TO BUY

Alex Claudio (#1) – That’s 1 out of 228, as in the fewest Brls/PA among all pitchers with at least 190 BBEs. I wasn’t bullish on Claudio acting as Texas’ closer all year, but maybe I should reevaluate that.

Brandon McCarthy (#2) – Interesting McCarthy checks in as the best among starters since he hardly possesses overpowering stuff. Health is always a concern, and SunTrust Park boosted homers for LHB during its debut, but he’s a strong late flier who’s owned in just three percent of leagues.

James Paxton (#7) and Luis Castillo (#10) – This just confirms what we already know – both are the real deal, as they rank top-five among starters in this stat. Paxton and Castillo can be legit SP1s this year if health permits.

Tony Watson (#12) – His average exit velocity (82.6 mph) was lowest in baseball. Meanwhile, Sam Dyson, who was designated for assignment by the Rangers last season, is getting hit hard in spring, while Mark Melancon is still slowly recovering from forearm surgery. Watson is a deep sleeper for saves.

Others who grade strongly here include Jonathan Gray, Lance McCullers Jr., Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock.

PITCHERS TO SELL

Felix Hernandez (#221) – I like Hernandez as a boring old veteran, but this isn’t overly encouraging.

Matt Shoemaker (#216) – I’ve named him as a favorite sleeper of mine, but this reveals other issues than health to worry about.

Rick Porcello (#203) –  He also ranked poorly here when he won the Cy Young in 2016, which suggests Barrels would’ve predicted a big crash and that he was quite lucky during that magical campaign (of course his .269 BABIP did the same).

Masahiro Tanaka (#200) – And from a groundballer no less. Tanaka graded much better in this stat in 2016, so it’s likely just a blip.

Gerrit Cole (#174) – While this further confirms my stance calling Cole as a possible bust, it’s also not ideal news as a Giants fan since Madison Bumgarner tied with him.

It’s important to remember I used just a one-year sample, and I cherry picked the noteworthy outliers with whom to highlight, but for fun let’s check back at season’s end to see whether or not this provided any predictive value.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy BehrensDalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski

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