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A Year In xISO

For the type of baseball fan I’ve become — one who follows the sport as a whole rather than focuses on a particular team — 2016 was the season of Statcast. Even for those who watch the hometown team’s broadcast on a nightly basis, exit velocity and launch angle have probably become familiar terms. While Statcast was around last season, it seems fans and commentators alike have really embraced it in 2016.

Personally, I commend MLB for democratizing Statcast data, at least partially, especially when they are under no apparent obligation to do so. I’ve enjoyed the Statcast Podcast this season, but most of all, I’ve benefited from the tools available at Baseball Savant. For it is that tool which has allowed me to explore xISO. I first introduced an attempt to incorporate exit velocity into a player’s expected isolated slugging (xISO). I subsequently updated the model and discussed some notable first half players. Alex Chamberlain was kind enough to include my version of xISO in the RotoGraphs x-stats Omnibus, and I’ve been maintaining a daily updated xISO resource ever since.

Happily for science, all of my 2016 first half “Overperformers” saw ISO declines in the second half, while most of my first half “Underperformers” saw large drops in second half playing time. Rather than focus on individuals, though, let’s try to estimate the predictive value of xISO in 2016.

Yuck. This plot shows how well first-half ISO predicted second-half ISO, compared to how well first-half xISO predicted the same, for 2016 first AND second-half qualified hitters. Both of these are calculated using the model as it was at the All-Star break. There are two takeaways: First-half ISO was a pretty bad predictor of second-half ISO, and first-half xISO was also a pretty bad predictor of second-half ISO. Mercifully though, first-half xISO was a bit better than ISO at predicting future ISO. This is consistent with the findings in my first article, and a basic requirement I set out to satisfy.

Now, an interesting thing happened recently. After weeks of hinting, Mike Petriello unveiled “Barrels”. Put simply, Barrels are meant to be a classification of the best kind of batted balls. Shortly thereafter, Baseball Savant began tabulating total Barrels, Barrels per batted ball (Brls/BBE), and Barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA). In a way, this is similar to Andrew Perpetua’s approach to using granular batted-ball data to track expected outcomes for each batted ball, except that the Statcast folks have taken only a slice of launch angles and exit velocities to report as Barrels.

By definition, these angles and velocities are those for which the expected slugging percentage is over 1.500, so it would appear that this stat could be a direct replacement for my xISO. Not so fast! First of all, because ISO is on a per at-bat (AB) basis, we definitely need to calculate Brls/AB from Brls/PA. This is not so hard if we export a quick FanGraphs leaderboard. Let’s check how well Brls/AB works in a single-predictor linear model for ISO:

Not too bad. The plot reports both R-squared and adjusted R-squared, for comparison with multiple regression models. I won’t show it, but this is almost exactly the coefficient of determination that my original xISO achieves with the same training data. I still notice a hint of nonlinearity, and I bet we can do better.

Hey now, that’s nice. In terms of adjusted R-squared, we’ve picked up about 0.06, which is not insignificant. The correlation plot also looks better to my eye. So what did I do? As is my way, I added a second-order term, and sprinkled in FB% and GB% as predictors. The latter two are perhaps controversial inclusions. FB% and/or GB% might be suspected to be strongly correlated with Brls/AB, introducing some undesired multicollinearity. While I won’t show the plots, it doesn’t actually turn out to be a big problem in this case. Both FB% and GB% have Pearson correlation coefficients close to 0.5 with Brls/AB (negative correlation in the case of GB%). Here’s the functional form of the multiple regression model plotted above, which was trained on all 2016 qualified hitters:

To be honest, there is something about my first model that I liked better. This version, using Barrels, feels like a bit of a half-measure between Andrew Perpetua’s bucketed approach and my previous philosophy of using only average exit-velocity values and batted-ball mix. My original intent was to create a metric that could be easily calculated from readily available resources, so in that sense, I’m still succeeding. Going forward, I will be calculating both versions on my spreadsheet. I’m excited to see which version serves the community better heading into 2017!

As always, I’m happy to entertain comments, questions, or criticisms.