by Micah Greenhill

Roll Out the Barrel (Rates)

Like many Reds fans this year, I haven’t gone to as many games as I usually do. The perfect storm of having a last-place team, Phil Castellini’s Opening Day comments and being a new father has kept me away from the ballpark this summer. I did venture to Great American Ball Park on Independence Day as part of an ongoing family tradition.

I’m always impressed by the fan experience at the ballpark. Say what you will about the team on the field, but a day at the riverfront watching baseball is a very underrated experience. Every year, it seems like they’ve made some kind of advancement that enhances the overall experience. One of the newer additions to the ballpark is the inclusion of advanced metrics in the player stats. In addition to the traditional slash line, it’s fun seeing stats like wOBA and walk rate on the big screen.

During my July 4th experience, I was shocked at how poor the barrel rate stats were for some Reds hitters. They seemed to consistently underperform, compared to the first-place New York Mets, their opponents that game. It made me curious where the Reds stood in respect of all other Major League clubs.

Based on this thought, I decided to dive into the data to determine how the Reds, as a team, were performing against this barrel rate metric. As a reminder, a barreled ball is a batted ball with an exit velocity and launch angle that yields a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. It requires an exit velocity of at least 98 miles per hour. Barreled balls are solid predictive stats when measuring hitter performances.

With that explanation out of the way, let’s roll out the barrel (rates)!

Initial Analysis

First, let’s establish some context. Below is a chart detailing tiers for barrel rate percentages for an individual hitter, defined as the percentage of barrels per batted ball.

Obviously, the higher the percentage of barreled balls, the better, with elite hitters barreling balls 15% or more. For additional context, MLB team average for barrel rate is 7.8%. AL All-Star Aaron Judge has an incredible barrel rate of 24.8%. I only include that stat because I’m a huge Aaron Judge fan, and I’m still mad that we picked Phillip Ervin over him in the draft.

As a team, the Red’s barrel rate is 6.4%, well below league average. While this would be considered the low end of average for an individual hitter, it’s incredibly subpar for a team, with the Reds currently ranked 24th in MLB. As a result of such poor collective contact quality, the Reds have struggled offensively, posting a team batting average of .240, slugging percentage of .380, and ISO of .140. All are below league average. Other advanced metrics don’t paint a better picture. As a whole, Reds hitters have a wRC+ of 89.

Reds Individual Hitters

It’s not all bad news on the barrel rate front, as the Reds have a few hitters with solid results. For example, Brandon Drury leads the team with an 12.0% barrel rate. Also, in spite of his slow start to the season, Joey Votto is just behind Drury with a solid 11.5%.

Votto’s numbers, specifically, are an encouraging sign for Reds fans. After a horrific April, in which his barrel rate was only 4.8%, he dramatically improved during the month of May, barreling at a rate of 20%. He’s come back down to earth a bit since then, but is still solidly above average, settling in at just over 12% from June-July.

Unfortunately, the Reds lack any hitters in the elite tier and have far too many in the poor tier.

 

Take a look at the 2022 leaderboard for the Reds:

Yikes, that’s lousy. 68% of the team has achieved poor tier barrel rates for the season, albeit some of them have done so in a small sample size. With a looming trade deadline and the possible departures of Donovan Solano, Tommy Pham, Tyler Naquin and Drury, there’s a strong possibility that things will only get worse in the second half of the season.

Think about it this way: There’s a universe where 38-year-old Joey Votto is the Reds’ only above average hitter in terms of barrel rate.

This is a lost season, however. I’m honestly not worried about how many games the Reds might lose after the trade deadline. What’s most concerning here is the lack of barreled balls from the young hitters who should make up the core of the next good Reds team, namely Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India and possibly Nick Senzel. While Stephenson has posted solid on-the-field results, and Nick Senzel seems to be improving as of late, if these hitters cannot consistently perform at an above average level, a contending team is even further away than we realize.

While India and Senzel specifically have shown month-to-month growth in barrel rate, they’re still well below average.

In terms of barrel-rate, India and Senzel’s best months are just slightly better than Votto’s worst month.

Fortunately, we’ll have the rest of the season to see if they can continue to develop and become the players that the Reds need them to be. The advantage of a losing season is that we can afford to let players work through a slump, even if it means more losses start to pile up.

Gotta love these small blessings, right?

Conclusion

When I watched the Reds on July 4th, I was not treated to a master-class hitting excellence. The team struggled to make solid contact, and combined with a terrible bullpen, could not bring home the win on the holiday.

The team’s offensive struggles during that game are an example of their struggles over the course of the entire season. As a fan sitting on my couch, I can only hope that the young Reds stars can start consistently generating solid contact. The speed at which a new competitive team is put on the field will be dramatically impacted by their development.

So Reds, won’t you roll out the barrel, because I’m not having a barrel of fun?

Micah is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up watching games at Cinergy Field with his family. A recent MBA graduate, Micah has always had a passion for data analytics and uses his understanding of big data to better understand and appreciate what is happening on the baseball diamond and in the front office. When he's not watching baseball, you can find Micah and his wife frequenting different restaurants and coffee shops in the area. For questions and inquiries, please reach out to micahgreenhill@gmail.com.