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Fantasy Baseball Hitter Values: Poor Barrels and Good Home Runs

Why O'Neill can boost production with Red Sox
Eric Samulski and Scott Pianowski discuss Tyler O'Neill's fantasy potential with the Boston Red Sox, explaining why playing in Fenway Park could help boost his production.

We often tell ourselves certain narratives when it comes to fantasy baseball because it makes it easier to feel confident in a decision. Pitchers who strike batters out or have better raw stuff are more likely to provide better fantasy value than those who don’t miss bats. Hitters who can barrel the ball more will produce more meaningful results. Oftentimes, these narratives are true, so we don’t push back on them too much, but there are always exceptions. Today we’re going to look at one of those exceptions.

There has been plenty of talk this offseason about the value of pulled fly balls, and I even got in on the fun by examining hitters who might benefit from pulling the ball more. The premise behind all of those articles is sound and trying to find hitters who frequently pull and lift the ball will likely lead you to many hitters who make meaningful contact and produce fantasy goodness. However, some hitters understand their skillset or their environment enough to do damage despite the lack of hard-hit baseballs. Today we’re going to talk about those hitters.

Below, I’ve put together a leaderboard of hitters who hit the most home runs despite poor barrel rates. I created a leaderboard on FanGraphs that included each hitter’s barrels, barrel rates, and home run totals (among other stats like pull rate and max exit velocity, etc.). Then I divided their home runs by their barrels to see who has the highest rate of barreled balls that go for home runs. Typically, barrels turn into home runs at a 60% clip, so we want to focus on hitters who far outproduce that number.

Let’s say this is the Isaac Paredes Leaderboard since we know he’s the poster child for having mediocre barrel rates but strong home run totals. Now, there are reasons for hitters to be able to put up good home run totals without barreling the ball much. It can be due to a favorable home park, a pull-heavy approach or a launch angle that produces few barrels but maybe hides solid raw power. Whatever it is, we want to examine which hitters we may be missing when we just look for barrels and whether their approach can sustain that kind of home run rate going forward.

Before we get into the hitters with low barrel totals over a full season, I wanted to post the leaderboard for hitters with at least 100 plate appearances who most out-produce the 60% rate of barrels into home runs. Some of these guys only had a small sample size (Nick Senzel, Bo Naylor) or didn’t hit enough overall home runs to warrant a deeper dive (Jeff McNeil, Nico Hoerner), but I figured that they were names worth having in your heads.

NameTeamBarrelsHRHR / Brls
Jeff McNeilNYM710143%
TJ FriedlCIN1318139%
Isaac ParedesTBR2331135%
Nick SenzelCIN1113118%
Adam FrazierBAL1113118%
Nico HoernerCHC99100%
Cody BellingerCHC2626100%
Whit MerrifieldPHI1111100%
J.P. CrawfordSEA201995%
Ha-Seong KimSDP181794%
Jake FraleyCIN161593.80%
Jose SiriTBR272592.50%
Elehuris MonteroCOL121191.70%
Bo NaylorCLE121191.70%
Justin TurnerBOS262388.50%
Hunter RenfroeKCR232086.90%
Alex BregmanHOU292586.20%
Wilmer FloresSFG272385.20%
Tyrone TaylorMIL121083.30%
JJ BledayOAK121083.30%

Now, for the main draw of this article. Below is the leaderboard we’ll dive into in more detail. While some of the names are the same as above, I wanted this list to just include hitters who had really low barrel totals and also produced fantasy-relevant home run numbers. Since the MLB average barrel rate is 8.1%, I only looked at hitters with barrel rates below 7% who also had a relatively above-average home run rate to see if their profile could sustain that kind of power output despite the poor barrels.

NameTeamBarrelsHRHR / BrlsBarrel%
TJ FriedlCIN1318139%3.2%
Isaac ParedesTBR2331135%5.9%
Cody BellingerCHC2626100%6.1%
J.P. CrawfordSEA201995%4.8%
Ha-Seong KimSDP181794%4.3%
Jake FraleyCIN161593.8%6%
Justin TurnerBOS262388.5%5.7%
Hunter RenfroeKCR232086.9%6.1%
Alex BregmanHOU292586.2%5.4%
Thairo EstradaSFG181477.8%4.8%
Carlos SantanaMIN302376.7%6.7%
Spencer SteerCIN302376.7%6.7%
Cedric MullinsBAL201575%6.5%
Alec BohmPHI272074.1%5.7%
Will SmithLAD261973.1%6.7%
Keibert RuizWSN271866.7%5.8%
Bryson StottPHI231565.2%4.7%
Tommy EdmanSTL201365%4.9%
Anthony RizzoNYY191263.2%6.9%
Orlando ArciaATL271762.9%6.9%

TJ Friedl - OF, Cincinnati Reds
In his first full season as a starter in Cincinnati, Friedl hit 18 home runs while also tallying 27 steals and a .279 average. Overall, that made him an incredibly fantasy-friendly player and one who seems locked into a full-time role as the team’s best defensive centerfielder, so can he produce the same numbers again? Well, Friedl may only have a 3.2% barrel rate, but he pulled the ball over 45% of the time and hit it in the air over 42% of the time while playing in a home ballpark that ranks first in all of baseball for left-handed home run power, according to Statcast Park Factors. That’s why 17 of Friedl’s 18 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives and 13 of his 18 home runs came at home. Three of his five road home runs also came at parks that were top 10 for left-handed pull power, so Friedl is certainly a product of his environment. However, that environment is not changing, so we shouldn’t expect him to either.

There’s a similar argument to be made about teammate Jake Fraley, who also hits left-handed and last season, 13 of his 15 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives. Fraley hits the ball harder than Friedl and also pulls it more, so he’s a better bet to outproduce when it comes to home runs, but he also likely won’t see as many at-bats. We may as well discuss their third teammate here, Spencer Steer, who hit 18 of his 23 home runs on pulled fly balls or line drives. Great American Ballpark may not be first when it comes to right-handed home run power, but it’s second, so Steer, who figures to be an everyday player in Cincinnati this year, should continue to hit more home runs than his barrel rate suggests, and I’m in disagreement with the projection systems that have him down for under 20 big flies.

Isaac Paredes - 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
You’ve read enough about Isaac Paredes by now to understand why he has so many home runs despite a poor barrel rate. All 31 of his home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives, and he’s geared his approach to this. However, his 93.7 mph exit velocity on pulled fly balls is well below any other hitter who hits as many pulled home runs as he does, and basically every other batted ball metric suggests that his 31 home run season was a career year that can’t be duplicated. Even with his approach, I think predicting 25 home runs is more likely.

Cody Bellinger - OF/1B, Chicago Cubs
Cody Bellinger would seem to be another poster boy for this since, well, I made him the cover image. However, despite many people talking about how Bellinger ran low barrel rates and had unsustainable power due to those low barrels, only 17 of his 26 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives. Then, there’s this tremendous thread from Sara Sanchez on Twitter that you should read which highlights that most of Bellinger’s home runs came early in the count or with no runners on. When Bellinger got behind in the count or was in a situation where he felt contact was paramount, he settled for contact over power and just looked to put the ball in play to drive in runs.

Kyle Bland then chipped in with this tweet:

Bellinger Tweet

So, essentially, Bellinger still has above-average power but only chooses to tap into that power in advantageous counts. Not only does it seem like he’s a good bet to outproduce the power his barrel rates suggest this season, but all the projection systems that seem to think he’ll hit .260 after hitting .300 last year are essentially saying this contact-centric approach won’t work again. Given that this seems like a conscious approach shift for Bellinger, I don’t see any reason to dock him that many points in batting average and think he’s being undervalued by projections.

J.P. Crawford - SS, Seattle Mariners
Crawford made some headlines after going to Driveline last offseason and then putting up a career-high 19 home runs in 2023. Turns out, that came with a clear approach shift. Crawford also had career-high strikeout, walk and pull rates, plus the second-highest flyball rate of his career. What that says to me, and Crawford has hinted to as much, is that Crawford was looking for pitches he could drive and then selling out to do damage when he got those pitches. As a result, 15 of Crawford’s 19 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives.

Now, he doesn’t hit the ball exceptionally hard, but a 110 mph max exit velocity isn’t anything to scoff at, and Seattle is a middle-of-the-pack park when it comes to left-handed power, so Crawford should still be able to make the most of his barreled baseball with this new approach. Some projections view him as a 12 home run bat because he only has one year of usable power, but I think he can certainly hit 15+ again while posting a solid batting average, which makes him a solid deep-league option.

Ha-Seong Kim - SS/3B/2B, San Diego Padres
Ha-Seong Kim is another player who made the most of middling power by pulling the ball with intent as 15 of Kim’s 17 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives. This was also something he did in Korea, and he has a 47% pull rate since coming over to the States, so this is certainly just a part of his game. He will run poor exit velocities and max exit velocities because he doesn’t drive the ball with authority, but his 14-degree launch angle makes it possible to put balls over the fence when he can turn on one. I noticed that his pull and fly ball rates decreased a bit as the season went on, and his home run total followed. He also had a career-high in plate appearances, so maybe he just wore down over time. As a result, even if you don’t think he’s getting to 17 home runs again, I wouldn’t knock him lower than 15. I think this is just who he is as a hitter.

Hunter Renfroe - OF, Kansas City Royals
It’s interesting to see Renfroe on this list because he has a career 10.7% barrel rate, so he’s not usually getting good results on poorly hit balls. Last year was the first time he had a barrel rate under 9.3% in his career. His max exit velocity was the same as it’s been, but his groundball rate was a career-high. At 32 years old, there’s a chance that he’s on the decline, but I think there’s just as good of a chance that we see Renfroe back as a double-digit barrel-rate hitter. It’s not ideal that his new park - Kauffman Stadium - ranks 30th for right-handed power, but Renfroe should still be able to produce power if he can maintain a full-time role.

Alex Bregman - 3B, Houston Astros
This is what Bregman does at this point. The veteran has hit 20 home runs in each of the last two seasons, was on pace to do so in 2021 before injury and has never sported a league-average barrel rate. He didn’t even have league-average barrel rates when he hit 31 and 41 home runs in 2018 and 2019. Last year, he hit 23 of his 25 home runs on pulled fly balls or line drives. He’s going to do it again.

Some quick thoughts on some of the others on this list:

Everybody is down on Cedric Mullins, and I get that his potential splits against left-handed pitchers is a bit of a concern, but his 2023 wasn’t as bad as people are making it out to be. He had his best max exit velocity ever and his second-best barrel rate. He also had a career-high walk rate; however, he also posted a career-high pull rate, fly ball rate, and launch angle. In fact, his launch angle rose almost 22 degrees and his infield fly ball rate spiked. This got worse in the second half of the year when he was playing through injury, so I’m not sure if it was a conscious choice by Mullins or the result of changing his swing to compensate for pain. Regardless, it didn’t work, so I don’t expect it to stick around, and I think there should be a modest bounceback season here.

Tommy Edman concerns me because of his offseason wrist surgery. We know wrist surgeries can sap power, and Edman didn’t have plus power to begin with, so I’m not sure we should be expecting him to outproduce his barrel rate when it comes to home runs in 2024. Bryson Stott is also somebody who worries me because his approach at the plate is too aggressive for my taste and he also only pulls the ball 33% of the time, which is the second-lowest on this list (Alec Bohm pulls it the least of anybody on this list). While Stott does pull enough to get to his power more often than others might, he also chases a lot of pitches in disadvantageous spots outside of the zone. More often than not, I don’t believe that’s a profile that leads to power unless you have the exit velocities of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr., which Stott does not.

I am, however, in on an Anthony Rizzo rebound. Last season, 11 of his 17 home runs were pulled fly balls or line drives, and his park is super advantageous to left-handed pull power, ranking fourth in all of baseball. I believe Rizzo was hampered after his concussion, so I almost want to throw out much of last year when analyzing him. He is allegedly coming into 2024 with a clean bill of health, or as clean as you can be in your mid-30s with a chronic back injury, so I think we’ll see another usable fantasy season as a great deeper-league CI target.