So… just what are the Jays up to?

The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales to a 3-year, $33 million deal, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal November 11th and made official by the club November 18th. Despite seemingly rushing out for this signing, the Jays have been otherwise quiet in free agency this off-season. What gives? And specifically, why was Morales a priority?

Dave provided an in-depth analysis of how Kendrys might perform in his most recent post “On Kendrys Morales“.

I’d like to look at this from a different perspective: what does Kendrys have over other free agents that appeals to the Jays’ front office (hint: not speed or defensive ability), and how might they apply this to other possible acquisitions?

Many Jays fans are aware of Kendrys’ power. We can confirm this with specific Statcast data from the past two seasons (summarized from Baseball Savant):

Exit Velocity Launch Angle 
2015 2016 Trend 2015 2016 Trend
Average 93.01 93.92  Up 10.90 12.27 Up
Median 96.00 96.20 Up 11.14 12.53 Up
Standard Deviation 12.49 12.67 Up 23.21 23.22 Up
Max 113.40 115.60 Up 66.43 82.89  Up
3rd Quartile 102.55 103.30 Up 27.15 28.28 Up
2nd Quartile 96.00 96.20 Up 11.14 12.53 Up
1st Quartile 84.75 87.55 Up -4.37 -2.00 Up
Min 42.90 41.90  Down -71.51 -73.99 Down
Total count 451 395
Btw 20-40 Degrees 26.8% 26.8% Down

Based on these figures, 75% of Kendrys’ batted balls had an exit velocity above 87.55 mph in 2016. Furthermore, 50% of his batted balls were at a launch angle of 12.53 degrees or higher. Somehow, Kendrys’ average exit velocity and average launch angle have managed to increase from 2015 to 2016. The last row of the table, “Btw 20-40 Degrees”  is significant because this is typically the launch angle range in which Kendrys hits his home runs. Truly, that should be one of the metrics that matters most for him when combined with exit velocity, because the main reason he was brought to Toronto is, presumably, to hit home runs.

What’s amazing is how consistent he was in both years: 26.8% of his batted balls were within his home run launch angle. Kendrys’ lowest-exit-velocity home run in the last two years (it occurred in 2015) was at a speed of 94.3 mph (with a launch angle of approximately 29 degrees). Basic probability tells us that since Kendrys hits 50% of batted balls above his minimum home run exit velocity, and 26.8% of batted balls within his home run launch angle, 13.4% of his batted balls should have home run potential. That’s huge.

If we plot Kendrys’ batted-balls for 2015 and 2016 in terms of exit velocity and launch angle, we can see that while both years looked relatively consistent, 2016’s plot looks slightly less clustered. This is probably a good depiction of the increases in standard deviations of both exit velocity and launch angle. It can also be explained by the smaller batted-ball count compared to 2015 (a smaller count means fewer data points, which means more blank space in the plot and the appearance of more scattered data). Maybe, if you were to sign Morales with the knowledge that he’d be playing 81 games at the Rogers Centre, you’d want him to be trending generally upward in exit velocity and launch angle: shift all data points slightly upwards and to the right, and some of those ground-outs and line-outs could become singles, some of those doubles could become home runs, and most importantly, some of those fly-outs could become home runs as well.

2015-bbo 2016-bbo

But I suspect that there’s more to it than that. Statcast’s new “barrel” metric takes the exit velocity and launch angle analysis to the next level in order to measure “well-struck balls where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage”. It would then stand to reason that players with more barrels are better hitters, or vice-versa, that better hitters should produce more barrels.

Let’s have a look at the top-25 (ish) players for 2015 and 2016 in terms of barrels:

2015 2016
Player Barrels Rank Player Barrels Rank
J.D. Martinez 68 1 Miguel Cabrera 72 1
Mike Trout 68 1 Nelson Cruz 68 2
Josh Donaldson 62 3 Mark Trumbo 68 2
Chris Davis 61 4 Khris Davis 65 4
Jose Bautista 60 5 David Ortiz 63 5
Nelson Cruz 55 6 Kris Bryant 58 6
Yoenis Cespedes 55 6 Mike Trout 57 7
David Ortiz 53 8 Evan Longoria 57 7
Paul Goldschmidt 52 9 Chris Carter 56 9
Bryce Harper 48 10 Edwin Encarnacion 55 10
Edwin Encarnacion 46 11 Freddie Freeman 54 11
Giancarlo Stanton 45 12 Josh Donaldson 53 12
Kendrys Morales 44 13 Chris Davis 53 12
Kris Bryant 42 14 Mike Napoli 52 14
Carlos Gonzalez 41 15 Matt Kemp 50 15
Jose Abreu 41 15 Justin Upton 48 16
Nolan Arenado 41 15 Anthony Rizzo 48 16
Alex Rodriguez 40 18 Manny Machado 47 18
Manny Machado 40 18 George Springer 47 18
Todd Frazier 40 18 Kendrys Morales 46 20
Andrew McCutchen 39 21 Carlos Santana 46 20
Lucas Duda 39 21 Brandon Belt 45 22
Matt Carpenter 39 21 Albert Pujols 45 22
Adam Jones 38 24 Kyle Seager 44 24
Anthony Rizzo 38 24 Adam Duvall 44 24
Joey Votto 38 24
Justin Upton 38 24
Ryan Braun 38 24

These two lists aren’t shocking; these are the best hitters in the game and you’d think that most of these guys belong up there. What’s kind of surprising is that Kendrys Morales in the top-20 in both years and has been consistent with the number of barrels produced. (Because Statcast data is not available prior to 2015 for exit velocity and launch angle at the time of this writing, I can’t comment on earlier seasons.) What makes this interesting is that the Kendrys is not far off Edwin in this metric, and the Jays just signed him for likely half of what Edwin would command in terms of average annual value (AAV) and one or two fewer years.

This brings another interesting thought to mind: who else would the Jays pursue based on this metric?

We can see above that Edwin is ranked 11th and 10th in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and that Jose Bautista was ranked 5th in 2015 (he dropped to 97th in 2016 after producing only 26 barrels). Aside from Edwin, the only free agent on the above 2016 list is Mike Napoli (ranked 14th with 52 barrels). Napoli, however, only produced 21 barrels in 2015 (ranked 100th) while playing for the Rangers. Although Napoli has been associated with the Blue Jays through various rumours, it’s unlikely that they would prioritize him solely based on his improvement in one category from 2015 to 2016. It certainly adds fuel to the fire though.

Other Shapiro-era (non-pitcher) personnel moves of note were:

  • Extending Justin Smoak prior to the 2016 season (27 barrels in 2015, 22 barrels in 2016)
  • Re-signing Darwin Barney prior to the 2016 season (3 barrels in 2016)
  • Trading for Melvin Upton Jr. on July 26, 2016 (8 barrels in 2015, 20 barrels in 2016 – 16 of which occurred prior to his trade to Toronto)
  • Trading for Dioner Navarro on August 26, 2016 (6 barrels in 2015, 2 barrels in 2016 – both with the White Sox)

Although these moves were primarily to shore-up positional backups, it’s possible that barrels played a small part in why these players were selected (okay, that might be a reach; three of them were already Jays and had a good fit with the team, and the Upton acquisition might have been due to a mere glance into the opposing dugout). But I’m not ready to fully discount this theory yet… Smoak did receive a two-year extension before 2016, after all.

How might the barrels metric, specifically, apply to the Jays’ current positional needs? Here’s a list of available free agents by the Jays’ position needs (as of this date), with their 2015 and 2016 barrels, sorted most-to-least in 2016:

Catcher 2015 2016
Wilson Ramos 22 28
Matt Wieters 10 22
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 16 16
Chris Iannetta 12 12
Nick Hundley 9 11
Alex Avila 10 7
Kurt Suzuki 3 7
A.J. Ellis 8 4
Geovany Soto 9 4
Dioner Navarro 6 2
A.J. Pierzynski 11 2
Ryan Hanigan 1
Jeff Mathis 1

 

First Base 2015 2016
Mike Napoli 21 52
Brandon Moss 35 35
Ryan Howard 37 33
Mitch Moreland 34 33
Adam Lind 25 25
Logan Morrison 23 20
Steve Pearce 12 18
Mark Reynolds 23 17
Dae-Ho Lee 15
Chris Johnson 9 8
James Loney 3 5

 

Outfield 2015 2016
Mark Trumbo 33 68
Yoenis Cespedes 55 36
Ian Desmond 26 34
Michael Saunders 1 27
Jose Bautista 60 26
Colby Rasmus 28 20
Dexter Fowler 18 20
Carlos Gomez 17 18
Rickie Weeks Jr. 2 16
Franklin Gutierrez 20 16
Matt Joyce 6 15
Coco Crisp 1 12
Angel Pagan 2 11
Jeff Francoeur 10 10
Rajai Davis 7 10
Ryan Raburn 11 9
Michael Bourn 5 9
Alejandro de Aza 6 8
Chris Coghlan 17 7
Nolan Reimold 7 6
Peter Bourjos 5 6
Marlon Byrd 28 5
Jon Jay 2 3
Drew Stubbs 4 3
Gregor Blanco 6 3
Austin Jackson 12 2
Sam Fuld 1

Bautista or Saunders, anyone?

While barrels are an interesting new stat, they may not factor into decision-making at all, especially at the catcher position. They’re most interesting at first base and in the outfield, since they might help weigh a decision between Napoli, Moss or Pearce at first base; or Fowler, Bautista or Saunders in the outfield; or worse, Matt Joyce, Rajai Davis or Chris Coghlan in the outfield. Still, it makes you wonder about Smoak…

UPDATE: Add Chris Carter to the list of above first-basemen that might be worth considering. He was non-tendered by the Brewers in order to make room for Eric Thames.

Adam

Adam likes baseball and uses Instagram mainly for the Joe Biden memes.