Are 2018’s Breakouts This Season’s Busts? — A Review

Heading into the season, I published my first piece on previous season breakouts with a verdict on whether I believe the hitter is for real and will repeat or come close, or will be a bust in the following season. I discussed seven hitters in the inaugural edition, all of whom earned at least $13.90 more than in 2017. Let’s find out how my calls did.

As a reminder, I calculated what a 20% decline in 2019 dollar value versus 2018 would be and that was my baseline. If I think the hitter could earn at least that value, I deemed him REAL, otherwise, he was labeled BUST.

2018 Breakouts
Name Verdict 2018 EOS $$* 20% Decline Baseline 2019 EOS $$* Diff Correct Call?
Trevor Story REAL $35.10 $28.08 $30.70 $2.62 X
Christian Yelich BUST $44.30 $35.44 $42.90 $7.46
Javier Baez BUST $34.50 $27.60 $17.70 ($9.90) X
Jesus Aguilar BUST $21.10 $16.88 ($10.60) ($27.48) X
Jose Peraza BUST $15.60 $12.48 ($14.70) ($27.18) X
Stephen Piscotty REAL $14.40 $11.52 ($7.90) ($19.42)
Alex Bregman REAL $28.10 $22.48 $32.30 $9.82 X
*Using the default FanGraphs Auction Calculator settings

Though it’s easy to make a blanket statement that all of the previous season’s breakouts are likely to be next season’s busts, I actually called three of the seven as real. Of those three, I hit on two of them, while hitting on an additional three bust calls, for a total of five correct calls out of seven. Not bad, not bad at all.

For Trevor Story, I was worried about a potentially dramatic dip in stolen bases, since he went from just 15 in his first two seasons to 27 in 2018. Would he run as often again? I was betting no, but still thought he was for real. Turns out, he did steal more than 20 bases again and nearly perfectly matched his 2018 numbers. But the increase in home run power leaguewide made his numbers a little less valuable. I’m still not going to pay for more than teen steals, as one of these years he’s going to slow down the running game. But he’s a lock everywhere else.

Ya know, I said that Christian Yelich’s 2018 power breakout was fully supported by his underlying skills, but I highly doubted he would be able to repeat said skills. Oops. Though he did sustain a HR/FB above 30%, the real key here was a complete batted ball distribution transformation — he finally got his FB% into the 30% range! Now it’s league average, which is truly amazing when you remember that he failed to get out of the high teens after his first three years. I’m also shocked seeing he stole 30 bases, I seriously had no idea. Is he getting drafted first over Mike Trout now in early mocks or real drafts?

Javier Baez was a popular bust call after a breakout 2018 thanks to terrible plate discipline. My concerns stemmed from a BABIP that was due for a precipitous decline (which didn’t happen), a stolen base drop thanks to a poor success rate (which did happen), and the general worry that pitchers figure him out and give him nothing good to hit because of the aforementioned poor discipline (that didn’t happen, as his Zone% and F-Strike% were near identical to 2018). Really, the only thing that changed here in his results was the drop in steals. But, he also missed time to injury, which hurt all his counting stats. I don’t expect the steals to return, and am less worried about his BABIP potential given he’s now done it four straight seasons. So feel free to pay for a repeat.

I liked Jesus Aguilar’s skills and would have bet he repeated from a pure baseball performance standpoint. But I worried that a slump would open the door for Eric Thames to steal time and Aguilar wouldn’t get another shot to start. That basically happened and then he was shipped off to Tampa. Aguilar’s HR/FB rate inexplicably collapsed, so there was no chance for him to contribute when you play the position that typically brings the most power. I’m guessing his chances for every day playing time are over.

There were so many warning signs with Jose Peraza. First, his 2018 HR/FB rate spike wasn’t supported by his underlying skills. Sure enough, it fell right back to pre-2018 levels. Next, his FB% spiked, which isn’t what you want to see from a low power speedster. Oddly, his FB% jumped even higher, which is a disaster for someone like Peraza. Predictably, his BABIP fell to the lowest mark of his career, and he couldn’t take advantage of those flies with his measly single digit HR/FB rate. Oh, and when he did manage to reach bases, which wasn’t often, he decided he wasn’t even going to contribute in the one category we thought was safe — steals. There’s nothing here.

There was nothing obvious that pointed to Stephen Piscotty’s 2018 as being a major fluke, and my feeling was that while he might decline a bit, he still should be able to contribute enough to hit that 20% off baseline. While his home run power did decline, the real issue here was injuries — he missed over two months with various maladies, making it impossible for him to reach double digits in earnings. With a wobbly batting average and no speed, there’s still not much intrigue here.

Was there anyone who felt like Alex Bregman’s 2018 wasn’t for real? I’m glad I didn’t embarrass myself and call him a fluke! I salivated over his low strikeout/high contact profile that came with plenty of power. In fact, I wrote something in his original blurb that in hindsight turned out to be strong foreshadowing:

That means there’s a whoooooole lot of room for growth and 40 homers wouldn’t be crazy. In fact, according to my projections, just a 19% HR/FB rate would result in 40 dingers.

Sure enough, he finished with an 18.6% HR/FB rate and 41 homers. The steals have dried up, and I don’t see any reason for him to start stealing again, so don’t bet on it. But everything else is safe and awesome. And hey, he even has some BABIP upside as he has posted sub-.300 marks the last two years. He could add a .300 batting average to his resume in 2020 with ease.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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I’d call that a great success- thanks for the recap