Going Deep: Using HROpp% and Exit Velocity to Identify Breakouts

In my last article, I developed a metric called HROpp% to measure the percentage of a hitter’s balls in play hit at the launch angles most conducive to hitting home runs. Afterward, I got a lot of questions about who I would identify as a sleeper or breakout based on this statistic.

For a list of all hitters’ HROpp% going back to 2015 (min. 50 BBEs), please go here, though I do not recommend using it in isolation to assess hitters. Accordingly, I’m taking this opportunity to show how I used HROpp% in connection with Statcast metrics to identify some of my favorite breakouts for this season.

As a lawyer, I occasionally deal with statutes and regulations. If they’re drafted in a reasonable manner, they invariably begin or end with a definitions section. Here’s mine for today’s exercise:

  1. BBE – Short for Batted Ball Event. All fair balls are BBEs, as well as foul balls that result in an out or an error.
  2. HROpp% – Short for Home Run Opportunity Percentage. The percentage of a hitter’s batted balls between 22-36°. These are the balls most likely to yield home runs.
  3. LA – Short for launch angle. A hitter’s average launch angle on his balls in play.
  4. Exit Velocity on FB/LD – The average velocity at which a hitter’s fly balls and line drives travel.
  5. Hard Hit% – The percentage of a hitter’s batted balls that travel at least 95 mph.
  6. Barrel – A batted ball with an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and a launch angle between 26-30°. Barrels also include some hits over 98 mph that fall outside of that range, because, for every extra mph, the range of launch angles expands.

My framework for identifying sleepers and breakouts in terms of power production is a hitter with above average HROpp%, Exit Velocity on FB/LD, Hard Hit% and Barrel% (short for Brls/PA%). I care about these metrics because I want to know how often hitters elevate at the best launch angle for home runs, how hard they hit the balls they elevate, how often they hit the ball “hard” and how frequently they can combine the very best launch angles with well-struck balls. For players with at least 50 BBEs, the averages for those metrics are as follows:

HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
17.35% 92.03 mph 34.87% 4.30%

I will identify five hitters that best all of those numbers and represent great draft day value.

 

Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees)

 

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to be a Yankee fan. When your favorite team isn’t out buying superstars like James Paxton, it’s taking advantage of other teams by discovering latent talent in guys like Luke Voit.

But I digress.

Of course, small samples can produce random variance such as a bloated HR/PA%, so any initial skepticism is understandable. While I acknowledge that Voit, for instance, isn’t likely to maintain a 9.32 HR/PA% (first among all hitters!), it doesn’t mean that he won’t be among the league leaders next year.

For a longer discussion of Voit’s potential, check out Nick Gerli’s fantastic article here. I, however, will be sticking to my legislative criteria:

Name NFBC ADP HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
Luke Voit 184.95 15 161 26.00% 96.5 mph 54.0% 12.4%

Since January 1, Luke Voit has basically been a late-round flyer in NFBC drafts. That’s a mistake. Among all players with at least 50 BBEs, Voit has the highest Barrel%, third highest Hard Hit%, 29th best exit velocity on FB/LD and third best HROpp%. In other words, he not only elevates at the best angles for power, but also absolutely crushes the ball frequently, particularly on his FB/LD. He hits the ball over 95 mph more than half the time. That’s nuts.

A little more context is necessary. Only Matt Carpenter and Brandon Belt hit the ball between 22-36° more often. Voit hit the ball “hard” more frequently than J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis, and Giancarlo Stanton. He hit his FB/LD harder than Franmil ReyesMiguel SanoMike Trout, and Paul Goldschmidt. And he barreled the ball with greater frequency than any other hitter in the league.

His draft day discount comes as a result of an elevated strikeout rate and BABIP that portend batting average regression, as well as a small sample of work. There’s more to say on that subject, and it’s beyond the scope of this article (plus Nick Gerli covered it excellently). Still, Khris Davis will go in the fourth round of most drafts, in spite of his below-average .247 AVG, because drafters expect huge returns in power. But remember this if nothing else: by most of my criteria, Voit projects as the better power hitter of the two.

 

Max Muncy (1B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers)

 

You could argue Max Muncy already broke out, what with his monster 2018 that saw him hit a whopping 35 homers, but it’s not exactly reflected in his draft price. Let’s break down Muncy’s season to see his true value.

Name NFBC ADP HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
Max Muncy 110.33 35 481 23.68% 95.0 mph 45.9% 9.4%

Like Voit, the metrics support Muncy’s breakout. He’s not as strong as Voit because he doesn’t hit his FB/LD as hard (79th overall for those with 50 BBEs), but he still surprisingly hits them harder than Marcell OzunaNolan Arenado, and Matt Carpenter. He also hits the ball hard (39th overall) more often than Wil MyersEugenio Suarez, and Bryce Harper. Besides, only 11 players in the league bested his Barrel Rate (one of whom was Voit).

Add those numbers to his nearly unparalleled HROpp% (15th overall). Stir it all up and you’ve got yourself a 35 homer stew. As an aside, Muncy led the league in HROpp% in 2015. Had the Dodgers realized, maybe they wouldn’t have waited so long to give him the opportunity to break out.

Perhaps people are afraid of Muncy’s strikeout rate and the fact that the Dodgers like to bench their stars and put them on the injured list seemingly just to mess with fantasy enthusiasts. The various projections still have him with about 100 more PAs than 2018. But…with 100 more PAs…they all give him between 23-29 HRs? That ain’t right. Look at the insane numbers above and tell me with a straight face that Muncy won’t repeat 35 homers with an additional 100 PAs. Somehow, Victor Robles is going before Muncy in drafts. I’ll leave it to you to find Robles on the Statcast leaderboard and come to your own conclusions…

 

Welington Castillo (C, Chicago White Sox)

 

This one might surprise a few people, as Welington Castillo hasn’t had much of a fantasy-relevant career. But remember what he did in 2017? He smacked 20 homers in just 365 PAs thanks to his great 6.8 Barrel% (second among catchers to only Gary Sanchez). He was still quite good in 2018, however, despite a season partially lost to a PED suspension.

Name NFBC ADP HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
Welington Castillo 235.27 6 181 20.97% 93.2 mph 46.0% 6.6%

There’s not a whole lot of drop off in his skills from his monster 2017. His exit velocity on FB/LD, Hard Hit% and Barrel% were all extremely similar to 2017. You should also take comfort in his ability to consistently elevate. Beef Welington’s HROpp% has been well above average for four straight seasons.

While his exit velocity on FB/LD and Barrel Rate are very good, they are not elite (though his Hard Hit% was elite at 37th overall). That said, he doesn’t need to be the strongest hitter in the league to represent a draft day value. Instead, he just needs to best the other catchers. Here’s how he sizes up to the guy going first among all catchers in NFBC drafts:

Name NFBC ADP HR PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
J.T. Realmuto 54.41 21 531 19.89% 92.4 mph 40.8% 6.4%

Let me be clear: J.T. Realmuto is an excellent player and, like Castillo, meets my criteria for making this list. He just has nowhere to go but down, whereas Castillo will be a steal on draft day. That’s why only the latter has made my “breakouts” list.

Significantly, Castillo elevates at the best launch angles for HRs more frequently than Realmuto, hits his FB/LD harder, hits the ball hard more often, and, accordingly, barrels the ball more. I’m not saying Realmuto won’t return value at the 54th pick in the draft, but Castillo certainly will at the 235th! You should use these numbers to compare him to other catchers, too. For example, Castillo is so much stronger than Wilson Contreras and his HROpp% is far better. Suffice it to say, he’ll be a target of mine in drafts this season.

 

Kendrys Morales (DH, Toronto Blue Jays)

 

A couple years ago Kendrys Morales was hyped as a breakout candidate because he was moving from Kauffman Stadium to the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre, but he never delivered on that promise. Going into his age 35 season, Morales still has a lot left to offer:

Name NFBC ADP HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
Kendrys Morales 517.07 21 471 20.74% 95.3 mph 52.6% 8.3%

If you liked what I had to say about Muncy, you should like Morales just as much, if not more. Based on these stats, he’s probably *owed* a higher Barrel Rate than Muncy. And, like Voit, he also hits over half his balls over 95 mph. Yet, in NFBC drafts he’s a complete afterthought.

In my mind, he simply got unlucky in 2018, as he maintained his highest FB% and HROpp% since 2015 even though the results (as reflected by his HR total) weren’t really there. With the seventh-best Hard Hit Rate in the league, great exit velocity on FB/LD, and an excellent Barrel Rate, I expect Morales to finally return the value he’s been teasing for years. My only concern is playing time, but hopefully he hits a bunch of homers right out of the gate and the Blue Jays have no choice but to keep him in the lineup.

 

Franchy Cordero (OF, San Diego Padres)

 

People are really sleeping on Franchy Cordero this season, favoring his nominally (ha-ha) similar teammate, Franmil Reyes. Should they be? Let’s take a closer look.

Name NFBC ADP HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%
Franchy Cordero 387.11 7 154 22.35% 97.0 mph 49.4% 7.1%
Franmil Reyes 221.46 16 285 14.36% 96.3 mph 47.5% 7.4%

Of course, any discussion of these two is accompanied by a small sample size disclaimer. But Cordero’s equally small 2017 sample is extremely similar to 2018: 97.2 mph on FB/LD, 38.8 Hard Hit%, and the same 7.1 Barrel%. The power’s for real, and arguably better than Reyes’s.

Both guys had fly-ball rates under 30%, but only one of them found the 22-36° launch angle band more often than the average hitter. And Cordero was well above average in that regard, ranking 27th overall in HROpp%. That’s not to say I don’t like both for this season, but unlike Reyes, Cordero’s currently penciled into the starting lineup by RosterResource, hits the ball slightly harder and gives himself more home run opportunities. Naturally, that 35.7% strikeout rate is scary, but I won’t flinch on draft day if he costs me nothing.

Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

Dan Richards

Dan is a lifelong New York Yankees and Giants fan. Though a young lawyer, Dan is better known for aggressively bothering his leaguemates about trades. You can follow him on Twitter @Fantasy_Esquire.

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Comments


duder

As someone who was (relatively) burned by Matt Olson last year, how does his amazing half season in ’17 compare with Voit/Muncy in ’18 using your breakout indicators (HRs PAs HROpp% Exit Velo on FB/LD Hard Hit% Barrel%)?

I *feel* like Voit and Muncy are similar and will end up disappointing a lot of folks by failing to eclipse 30 dingers next year, but am curious if they had better exit velo, barrel%, and HROppo% than he did in his crazy 2017 run.

Dan Richards

I, too, was burned by Matt Olson and share your concern. As for the comp, Olson ran a 9.7% Barrel Rate in his small 2017 sample, while Muncy was 9.4% in a MUCH larger sample in 2018, and Voit was at 12.4%. 3 points may not seem like much difference, but it is when half the league is sitting around 3% Barrel Rate total. And that’s just how much Voit’s 2018 bested Olson’s ridiculous 2017!

brandon

He falls just short of the cutoff with 45 BBEs in 2018, but I think an HROpp% analysis of Peter O’Brien could be interesting. He absolutely mashed after going to the Marlins (27 HRs in 283 PAs across AA/AAA/MLB)

Mark

There are so many things to comment on. James Paxton is a superstar?
You may be right about Muncy, Voit and Cordero here are some things to keep in mind.
Max Muncy is projected to hit .236 by Steamer and .241 by the Bat. Voit had a .365 BABIP and is projected to hit between .256 and .263. Cordero is talented but the Padres have a crowded outfield and the Padres website lists Cordero as a backup. With Myers in left and Margot in center, that leaves
Renfroe, Reyes and Cordero splitting at bats in right.

Mark

I forgot to add that Robles is going before Muncy because he steals bases (which are at a premium)
while adding double digit hrs and a batting average projected to be in the .270’s.

Dan Richards

1. Robles might barely hit 10 HRs. Assuming double digit HRs is generous. He’s looking like Mallex Smith but without the .300 avg, at least this year.

2. Paxton is irrelevant to the content of this article.

3. I acknowledge Voit’s BABIP and K% regression. Still, if you look at his peripherals (xStats and batted ball profile primarily), he looks like a high BABIP guy. I’ll take the over on the AVG projections. Anyway, it’s beyond the scope of the article, which focuses on power.

4. The only point you make that I agree with is about Cordero. He will have to fight for playing time. It’s why he’s so cheap. Otherwise, based on the stats I listed, he could be excellent. You disagree that he’s worth more than the 387th pick?

Mark

It ‘s a good column and I don’t dislike any of the players you mentioned, I’m just pointing out some red flags. You said Robles would be lucky to hit 10 homers but Steamer, The Bat, ATC and Zeile all project him for 12 or more. Personally, I would rather have 12 hrs/ 25 sb’s and .275 than Muncy’s .236 and 35 hrs. You think Robles is Mallex Smith? Smith hit 2 hrs in nearly 500 at bats. Robles hit 3 in 59 ab’s. It’s easier to find hrs than steals. 47 players hit 25 or more hrs last year and 15 stole 25 or more bases. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m encouraging everyone to take power hitters with low batting averages over players with double digit hrs and steals. If Muncy turns out to be better than Robles, please send me an email later in the season and point out that I was wrong.

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First of all I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question which
I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how
you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.
I’ve had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas
out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?
Many thanks!

Dan Richards

Hey thanks for reading i’m glad you enjoyed!

I start by looking for a topic, which sometimes just involves a standout hot streak or cold streak. Other times involves looking at leaderboards and seeing interesting names. Then, having read baseball articles for years before attempting to write, i have a general foundation of knowledge and i can interpret what i’m seeing to draw conclusions. Visuals are great to get a point across too (graphs, tables, etc.). Hope that’s helpful! Follow along on Twitter to get my latest @drichardsPL

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