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Who Had the Best Day in 2019?

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Who had the most and best barreled balls in a single game in 2019? Hint: it was a Paul.

MLB: MAR 29 Cardinals at Brewers Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The opening series of the year against Milwaukee in 2019 was crazy.

On Opening Day, Kolton Wong had two home runs including his best barreled ball of the season. Harrison Bader also had a homer, which was his best of 2019. Still, the Cardinals lost to the Brewers 5-4.

Game two featured comparable pyrotechnics at the plate. This time the action was supplied by new Cardinal Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt went 4-5 with three homers, a single and a walk. His out was a hard-hit line-drive to deep center. It was also the best day from a Cardinal batter all season.

How did I reach this conclusion? What makes for the best day of the season?

There are a lot of ways that I could measure this. Most home runs in a game. Sexiest looking box score. Most times reached base. Home runs and other hits might count the same in a player’s box score, but they are not created equal in terms of contact. A ball hit off the end of the bat that barely sneaks over the corner fence is just not as appealing as a screamer launched into the second deck, even if they result in the same number of runs.

That’s why it made sense (and easy research) to measure the best day by a Cardinal in 2019 by the number of barreled balls. A barrel is a ball hit within a certain high range of exit velocity and within a specific launch angle. While barrels do not always result in home runs or extra-base (those pesky defenders can sometimes be in just the right spot), historically, they produce at least a batting average of .500 and a slug% of 1.500. The graphic below illustrates what a barrel looks like.

In 2019, two players produced three barrels in one game, both of them named Paul.

Paul DeJong’s game is worthy of more than a passing mention. On July 24, 2019, against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, DeJong smashed 3 HR’s and hit a double, going 4-4 with 4 runs scored and 5 runs batted in in a 14-8 win. It’s a great day by any measure and an argument could be made that it was the best day of the season by a Cardinal batter. After all, DeJong’s non-homer was a double and he didn’t make an out.

However, the quality of his contact was simply not as good as what we’ll see from Goldschmidt on March 29. DeJong barreled three balls this game, all leaving the park. Exit velocities on these pitches were an excellent 106.1 and 103.8, and a pretty good 99.4. The double, however, was weakly hit. It left the bat at 76.9 mph and had an xBA of just .050. In other words, the contact counts as a double in the box score but 95% of the time, that ball is an out.

Contrast that with Goldschmidt’s 4-5 day against the Brewers in March. Here, Goldy produced three barreled balls – all home runs and all of them over 105 mph – 105.0, 105.8, 106.4. Though DeJong and Goldschmidt both produced three barrels, Goldschmidt’s were hit simply hit harder and are therefore better. (Logic!) Here’s the video of each barrel in successively embedded Tweets.

Barrel 1: 105 mph HR

Barrel 2: 105.8 mph HR

Barrel 3: 106.4 mph HR

It’s not really the small differences in exit velocity on homers that give Goldy the edge. It’s the “other” contact that makes the difference. Interestingly, none of the home runs embedded above are the hardest hit ball Goldschmidt had on March 29. 2019. In the fourth inning, Goldy lined out to deep center on a ball that left the bat at a crazy high 107.3 mph. That’s in the upper range of exit velocities on the season and his lineout had a .660 xBA (expected batting average.)

Ol’ Abner was at work again.

If my understanding of barrels is accurate, Goldschmildt’s 107.3 mph, 16 degree liner was within percentage points of counting as a barrel. 17 degrees or 108 mph would have been enough to qualify, even though the contact resulted in an out.

Goldschmidt’s single that game was also well struck, coming in at 104.9 mph. Goldy’s weakest contact of the day was hit harder than three of DeJong’s batted balls on July 24. Oh, and he drew a walk, too. That can’t be ignored.

So, DeJong had three homers and a double, which should have been an out. Goldschmidt had three homers, a single, a walk, and an out that should have been a hit, and he came as close as a player could possibly come to the rare four-barrel day. It was the best day by a Cardinal batter in 2019.

Search used: Barrels by a Cardinals batter in 2019 grouped by game and date.
Video: Baseball Savant & MLB.