Okay, let’s play a stupid game. Without looking, which Royals relievers finished 1st and 2nd in fWAR? If you guess Ian Kennedy and Scott Barlow, congrats! Now if you set the minimum innings to 70, who is first? It’s Scott Barlow. You are great at this game, reader!
On a WAR/80IP basis, Scott Barlow was the second best pitcher on the staff (though to be fair, WAR is an accrual stat so pitching a lot is good).
Among all relievers, Barlow actually finished ~30th in baseball in WAR thanks to a good strikeout rate (31% above league average) and an excellent home run rate (47% below league average). Even though the walks were an issue (41% above league average), his defensive independent numbers summed to an excellent 76 FIP- (in the upper 20% of relievers).
Even though the runs allowed number (4.22 ERA) doesn’t look great, he still managed a 90 ERA-, so he was 10% better than league average.
Barlow’s breaking balls were excellent this year, as he allowed just a .275 wOBA on them and had an even better .260 xwOBA. Hitters also whiffed (that is swung and missed) at 42% of those pitches.
That numbers puts him at 13th best in the league on breaking balls.
Barlow was particularly good in the zone and shadow areas of the zone, where pitchers tempt batters to swing (75% of pitches in the heart are swung at, 50% in the shadow are swung at) but still have to throw a good pitch (as opposed to the waste zone where a pitcher is purposefully throwing junk).
Barlow’s biggest play of the year (by win probability added) wasn’t sexy but it was crucial.
Unfortunately that doesn’t tell the whole story. If you just saw that play, you might assume Barlow came in with the bases loaded and got Santander to fly out...and you’d be wrong. Barlow actually came in at the beginning of the inning and allowed a double and a single (which scored a run) then got a swinging strikeout, walk, swinging strikeout, and another walk. That loaded the bases, but Barlow was able to work out of the jam he created.
Barlow’s best appearance (again via WPA) was a late-July game against the Cleveland in Kansas City. He entered the top of the 9th for a clean inning, getting Greg Allen and Francisco Lindor to groundout before strikeout on Oscar Mercado on a full count. The Royals didn’t score in the bottom of the 9th, so Barlow was asked to go another inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Carlos Santana and Mike Freeman sac bunted him over to second. Barlow then got Jose Ramirez to fly out and after an intentional walk to Jason Kipnis, Roberto Perez flyed out as well. Barlow ended up with a +.297 WPA (or nearly 30% win probability added).
We know Barlow had some ups and downs, and at times he seemed like the last guy you wanted to see come out of the bullpen, but other than bad stretch in late-June/early-July (where he allowed four runs to the Cardinals, four to the Yankees, and five to the Red Sox over two games) Barlow was mostly effective.
He’ll certainly be back next year in the bullpen and is likely to get multiple innings of work late in the game. He’s years away from arbitration eligibility, let alone free agency, so the Royals will have him for quite some time. At 27 years old next year, he still fits into the Royals long term plans but it wouldn’t be crazy to see if you could find a potential trade suitor.
Now enjoy Barlow getting some whiffs.