Welcome to the second installment of the Fastball Barrel Board. To get familiar with how the Fastball Barrel Board works, along with some hitters who smoke fastballs, refer to this piece.
At its essence, the fastball barrel board shows the percentage increase or decrease on fastballs from 2018 to a combined 2019/2020. We combined the last two years to ensure that our samples were stabilized and to be more predictive. For your reference, click on the picture below to go straight to the Fastball Barrel Board.
Now, let’s get to three guys who have seen a severely declining barrel rate on fastballs.
Ramon Laureano (OF – OAK)
Laureano burst onto the scene in 2018, hitting five homers and stealing seven homers in just 48 games. His 131 wRC+ set the stage for his breakout 2019 season, where he slashed .288/.340/.521 with 13 steals. However, there were some warning signs that his first 160+ games in the majors were setting us up for disappointment.
Laureano saw a seven percent decrease from his barrel rate on fastballs from 2018 to 2019/2020 combined, which led to a league-average barrel rate on fastballs. While Laureano’s 2018 sample was small, we can still take a peak behind the curtain to understand what has changed since then. At its most fundamental level, we can see that Laureano’s average exit velocity on fastballs has fallen significantly.
|Average Exit Velocity||92.4 MPH||90.3 MPH||87.6 MPH|
This is clearly a disturbing trend. Yes, he did have a shin injury in 2019, but that occurred at the end of July and didn’t factor much into this decline. Diving deeper into zonal analysis, we can see where Laureano absolutely murdered fastballs in 2018, based on average exit velocity.
We see a lot of dark red on the left graph (2018), but not as much in 2019/20. Specifically, he had his highest exit velocity on pitches in the middle part of the strike zone in 2018, but cooled off in that department in 2019/20. He actually saw more pitches in those areas the past two years. Laureano hasn’t done as much damage on them as he did in his rookie year, and that could be due to his passivity in the zone.
Heading over to the Data Monster, we can see that Laureano has always been someone who may be too passive in the zone, given those low percentiles we see in in-zone swing rate.
Connecting all the dots, there’s a big red flag in Laureano’s profile. He surprisingly crushed fastballs in pitcher’s counts in 2018, but fell back to earth the past two years. For example, his average exit velocity on pitches in 0-2 counts was over 101 MPH. In 2019/2020, that average fell to 88 MPH. It seems that Laureano simply fell back to earth, rather than see a loss in skill. This conclusion is also discerned through the Data Monster, as Laureano’s expected wOBA in 2019 and 2019 based on pitch type/count/location was substantially lower than his actual wOBA.
Moving forward, if he stays too passive in the zone, we can expect a dip in batting average. By being too passive in the zone, he’s depriving himself of those hard hits that could raise his average. He saw about 55% fastballs from 2018-2020, which is on the high end of the normal range for hitters. Based on his poor performance against secondary pitches in 2020, slugging .254 on breaking balls and .348 on offspeed pitches, we can expect the percentage of fastballs he sees to decrease, meaning that we should be expecting a batting average around .250 for 2021 with 25 homers at the most. However, the counting stat upside is through the roof if he hits leadoff.
Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL)
Tyler O’Neill, power masher? More like fastball whiffer. After bursting onto the scene in 2018 with a 29% barrel rate (17 total barrels), he disappeared into the abyss with the largest decrease on barreled fastballs from 2018 to 2019/20. While the main cause of the decrease is his exit velocity, he has more optimally aligned his average launch angle.
|Average Exit Velocity||92.1 MPH||89.1 MPH||88 MPH|
|Launch Angle||22.3 degrees||19.3 degrees||15.1 degrees|
And that’s about where the good news ends. Barrels typically start in the 10-14 degree range, so dropping his flyball rate from 48% in 2018 to 41% in 2020 should help him barrel the ball more often. However, he hit ground balls at a 43% rate in 2020, leaving only 15.5% as line drives. In the (queue siren) shortened 2020 season, these metrics are not very predictive. However, they are indicative of O’Neill not having a solid approach at the plate. In fact, he was quoted (from beat reporter Derrick Goold’s question) recently as saying that he knows he needs to focus more on the offensive side of the ball this year and raise his average.
Well, he won’t be able to raise that average without significantly cutting down on his swings and misses.
The Data Monster shows us that he ranks in the bottom of the league in swings and misses. The silver lining is that his expected whiff rate (in terms of actual swings and misses, not percentiles) is about half his actual whiff rate. Unfortunately, that still ranks him at the bottom of the league. We also know that he not only swings and misses a lot, he also just swings a lot. In general, this is a bad, bad combination. Just like Kevin Cash and the third time through the order.
Based on these metrics, we shouldn’t be surprised that he hasn’t found consistent playing time in St. Louis. He saw fastballs 50% of the time in 2020, a 4 percentage point decrease from 2019. That offset was more than made up in the breaking balls that he saw, which he fares even worse against. I’m expecting O’Neill to see fastballs at a 50% rate again, and despite his best efforts, this may just be who he is. Per FanGraphs, his hit tool will max out at 40 on the 80-grade scale, which is below league average. Further, for all of the stereotype as a guy who crushes baseballs, his max exit velocity was 107 MPH in 2020, ranking 259th in all of baseball (minimum 50 batted barrel events). Based on initial research, it’s easy to spot why the Cardinals are handing the full-time center field job to Harrison Bader. If nothing else, this research has turned me into a #BaderBro.
Yasmani Grandal ( C – CWS)
Grandal has experienced a counterintuitive change with his exit velocity, but his ever-increasing launch angle is the reason behind his declining barrel rate. Maybe this has been under the radar, but it seems like Grandal was part of the launch angle revolution – sure enough, Grandal became a believer in launch angle in 2018.
|Average Exit Velocity||89 MPH||90.7 MPH||90.3 MPH|
|Launch Angle||14.2 degrees||14.3 degrees||15.6 degrees|
Grandal’s launch angle during his best barrel rate season (2016) was an optimal 12.3 degrees. We can see now that Grandal doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to have this high of a launch angle, and his new approach has not yielded as much success as he would like.
If he continues in this approach, we can expect 25-30 homers with a .230 average. Ironically, this resembles his 2016 season almost exactly. The good news is that we can rely on Grandal’s safe floor, based on his consistent plate discipline metrics.
High percentiles on whiffs are a good thing. For example, David Fletcher is a straight 99 percentile across the board. Grandal has always done well at making contact (65 percentile or better, from the above), and also has a significant influence on each pitch when he chooses to swing. He is typically passive at the plate, which is evidenced by his career 14% walk rate. This drives his value up in OBP leagues, and gets him on the basepaths enough in standard Roto leagues to score plenty of runs in a dangerous White Sox lineup.
Finally, Grandal has had an 8% decrease in fastballs thrown to him since 2016’s breakout season. We can expect that number to continue to come down, given that he did not hit secondary pitches well at all in 2020. While he did have a rough short season, I’m expecting him to bounce back and finish as a top-five catcher, simply given his consistency and approach at the plate.
You may be wondering, what are our next steps? For one, we want you, the reader, to go through the Fastball Barrel Board and ask us questions. We want to drive interaction and engagement with our tools, and we want you to be able to better analyze players as you go through your own draft preparation. While we’re answering questions, we will also be making other barrel boards for breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Finally, if you prefer to hear more about the Fastball Barrel Board in audio form on recent podcasts – we recorded on Benched With Bubba as well as the Bases Loaded Podcast.