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Statcast 101: Barrels, Launch Angle, and Sweet Spot Percentage
What is statcast, how is it used, and why barrel percentage, launch angle, and sweet spot percentage matter.
Statcast data has changed the game and the way we evaluate players, well at least some people. The baseball community is pretty split on what matters when it comes to evaluating players as you’ll often hear a wide variety of opinions from just watching a Major League broadcast on television.
Looking for an edge is something we all do, whether it be in life, fantasy baseball, or actual MLB organizations. Finding and creating new metrics is constantly happening in the game we love, so seeing what matters and what doesn’t, especially when it comes to advanced metrics is important.
When doing offseason research, Fangraphs and Baseball Savant should both be go-to resources for you. But what if you find a metric on there that you just are not sure what it means? This article series will help answer those questions for you as we dive into statcast and other advanced metrics that you can use to analyze a player for fantasy baseball.
Statcast Data and What It Means
We often hear someone refer to a player’s statcast page and say it is full of red or full of blue. Here is what they mean when they refer to the statcast page or bubbles.
In the picture above, you can see that Ronald Acuña Jr. ranks exceptionally well in every hitting category. When a player ranks well in a category, you will see color and a percentile. If a player ranks highly, that data set will be red. As a player fades toward the 50th percentile, that color will fade to neutral and eventually blue. A slider will be blue on the far extreme if a player ranks poorly in a category.
It is easy to look at a statcast profile like Acuña’s full of red and automatically assume that the player is good. Duh, Ronald Acuña Jr. is good, more like the best player in baseball good. The same can be said for a player with a lot of blue in his profile. While it is likely true, it is worth understanding what each stat means and how it correlates to actual stats that matter for Fantasy Baseball.
Here is a player profile that is not so red. This player has a 2024 ADP near 100 largely due to speed and stolen bases.
When you first get to a player’s profile on Baseball Savant, you will find a nice picture of the player with the player’s position, whether they bat/throw right or left, the player’s height, weight, and age. If you move to the middle of the page, you will see MLB percentile rankings. This list shows several different statcast numbers and their percentile rankings among hitters or pitchers. Finally, to the far right of the page, you’ll see a hitter’s spray chart on just batted balls that became hits.
If you scroll down on the player’s profile page, you will find a player’s stats for both the current/previous season and the player’s career. Then you see the statcast data. This is ranked on the sliders at the very top of the page. This view gives you a nice overlook at how a player may have improved or regressed each season.
Right below the statistics is a nice chart. The default view is the percentage of each pitch type a player saw in a season. The pitch types are broken down by fastball, breaking ball, and offspeed. The pitch tracking section below the chart shows how a player performed based on pitch type.
This chart is handy for a lot of things. If you can click into the drop-down box labeled “PITCH %,” you can change the input to a variety of statistics, including all statcast data. In most cases, I switch “PITCH GROUP” to “ALL PITCHES,” which provides an excellent overview of how a player has performed. You can look at a player’s performance over the season, month, or game. If you are a visual person like me, you will likely find this page section very useful.
This is all great, but how did we get here? How is this tracked? Well, I am glad you asked. This is a Hawkeye camera if you have ever seen one of these things at the ballpark. There are 12 of these around the ballpark to track everything that happens during a baseball game.
Starting in 2015, MLB began using statcast and tracking every little detail of the game. It began using TrackMan, but in 2020, they switched to Hawkeye which is shown above.
The possibilities here are endless, and every year, Hawkeye software gets a little better and is able to track more. The newest iteration in 2023 is bat speed for all players, which has a large correlation in power metrics.
Before we get too into the weeds with Hawkeye, let’s talk about a couple of metrics, what they mean, and how to use them.
A barrel is a batted ball with similar hit types in exit velocity and a launch angle that has led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. The batted ball requires an exit velocity of 98 miles per hour to be barreled. As the exit velocity increases, the launch angle classified as a barrel also increases, as you can see in the chart above. The launch angle range grows two to three degrees for every one mph increase on the batted ball. Once a batted ball reaches 116 mph exit velocity, a barrel is assigned if the launch angle is between eight and 50 degrees.
Why is this important? In 2023, barreled balls had a .742 batting average! On top of that, barrels also produced a 2.493 slugging percentage and a 1.291 wOBA. Barrel rate has an extremely high correlation with home run rate ISO(isolated power equals slugging percentage minus batting average). Barrel rate is also the most predictive power metric.
A player with a 15 percent barrel rate or higher is considered elite when looking at a hitter’s profile. Anything between ten and 15 percent is considered good, while six to nine percent is average. Last season, 85.8 percent of home runs were barrels. On the flip side, 50.2 percent of all barrels were home runs. Very strong correlation there.
If you want to project a player’s future power output, look no further than barrel percentage. It is the strongest predictive statcast measure when forecasting future home runs. If you look on the Baseball Savant leaderboard, a barrel is classified as “Brls/BBE %.” You can also search by barrels per plate appearance, which I find helpful.
I have attached the 2023 leaderboard for barrel rate below. It should not be a surprise to see all your typical power hitters show up here on the list. I included all players with a 15 percent rate or higher.
Launch angle is the angle which a batted ball leaves a player’s bat. A player’s average launch angle is calculated by dividing the sum of all launch angles by all batted balls. The launch angle revolution has taken the league by storm, with players trying to achieve optimal launch angles. What is the optimal launch angle? Ideally, somewhere close to 15 degrees.
Average launch angle is not an excellent tool for evaluating a hitter. A hitter’s launch angle can tell us about a hitter’s tendencies, though. If the player has a high launch angle, they may be a fly ball hitter. On the flip side, if a player has a low launch angle, like Tim Anderson, they are likely to be a groundball-heavy hitter. Anderson had a two-degree launch angle, which led to a 61 percent ground ball rate.
Meanwhile, Isaac Paredes had a 22.2-degree launch angle, which largely came from a 15 percent pop-up rate and a 28.5 percent fly ball rate.
Average launch angle does not paint a great picture, because if a player has a batted ball with a negative 30-degree launched ground ball and a 60-degree launched pop-up, that averages out to 15 degrees and it looks optimal, even though both individual results were bad. This is why the standard deviation of launch angle, or launch angle tightness, is better at painting a picture of a hitters success.
The lower the a standard deviation of launch angle, the better. It means that hitter is consistent in batted ball types or launch angle. Take Aaron Hicks for example. Hicks had an average launch angle of 12 degrees which is a strong number, but his standard deviation of launch angle of 33.6 degrees was the worst in baseball among hitters with 200 batted ball events in 2023.
Meanwhile, Freddie Freeman had an average launch angle of 15.1 degrees and a standard deviation of launch angle of 22.8 degrees, one of the lowest in baseball. His batted ball distribution was very good.
One reason average launch angle is not always a telling stat is that it is just an average. A player could have a high ground ball and fly ball percentage, which leads to a solid launch angle. Looking at standard deviation of launch angle and ground ball, fly ball, and line drives are useful if looking at average launch angle.
While average launch angle may not always paint the best picture, this next stat will. Let’s take a look at the sweet spot percentage.
Sweet Spot Percentage
The “sweet spot” is classified as a batted ball hit between an eight and 32-degree launch angle. A hitter’s sweet spot percentage is how often that player produces a batted ball event with a launch angle between that eight and 32-degree threshold. Why does sweet spot percentage matter? Check this out.
Last year, batted balls hit in the “sweet spot” produced a .598 batting average, a 1.103 slugging percentage, and a .704 wOBA. These numbers may not be as strong as barrels, but this blows many other stats out of the window.
Freddie Freeman led the league in sweet spot percentage at 46.6 percent. This might speak to why Freeman ranked so well in standard deviation of launch angle and consistently puts up great performances year over year.
Sweet spot percentage is extremely underrated, it appears. The metrics stood up to the test, and sweet spot percentage ranks highly well in batted ball results. This is a stat that is worth diving into a little deeper because the correlation is very good compared to many.
You can use sweet spot percentage to find out how consistently a player’s batted balls are launched at an ideal angle. The more a player finds the sweet spot, the more likely they are to hit for average and power.