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

Piggy backing on my research into previous season breakouts published on The Hardball Times, I identified and discussed 12 such men from 2017 as we pondered 2018 performance. Not surprisingly, I discovered that last season’s breakouts made for terrible investments. Of course, this was as a group in aggregate. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every prior season breakout will bust. But as a group, they don’t make for good draft day targets.

I listed and discussed 12 2017 breakouts and made a call on whether to BUY or whether they would BUST. Though I didn’t specifically provide benchmarks on a minimum dollar loss to be considered a bust, I think you will end up agreeing with my classifications. A batter was still allowed to earn less this year and be considered a successful call as a BUY.

2017 Breakouts…2018 Busts?
Player Name 2017 EOS $$ Val 2018 EOS $$ Val Gain/Loss Pod Pre-Season Verdict
Aaron Judge $40.50 $16.40 -$24.10 BUY
Marcell Ozuna $31.70 $16.80 -$14.90 BUST
Tommy Pham $24.30 $21.80 -$2.50 BUY
Domingo Santana $20.90 -$19.90 -$40.80 BUST
Whit Merrifield $20.40 $32.00 $11.60 BUY
Travis Shaw $18.50 $14.30 -$4.20 BUST
Avisail Garcia $16.70 -$4.20 -$20.90 BUST
Eddie Rosario $16.40 $22.40 $6.00 BUY
Scooter Gennett $16.10 $26.10 $10.00 BUST
Chris Taylor $14.80 $10.00 -$4.80 BUY
Justin Smoak $14.40 $6.70 -$7.70 BUY
Marwin Gonzalez $14.00 $1.20 -$12.80 BUST

Man, that seems like quite the success rate if I do say so myself. Out of 12 calls, I hit on eight of them. Even more impressive is that four of my five BUY calls were correct, which is even tougher given the awful track record of previous season breakouts. Yeah yeah, you might quibble with me taking the win for Chris Taylor, who lost $4.80 of value, but I wouldn’t classify that as a BUST per se, just a regression from 2017. Nearly $5 really isn’t that much. And if you take away credit for Taylor, then heck, I should tally a win for Travis Shaw, who lost $4.20, nearly the same amount, but I didn’t consider BUST-worthy.

So perhaps surprisingly, 2017’s biggest earner amongst breakouts finished in the middle of the pack in dollar value in the group. Aaron Judge missed a month and a half with a fractured wrist, which not only cut his playing time and counting stats, but was almost certainly behind his meager .300 wOBA over the final two weeks of the season after his return from the injury. The good news is that he still maintained a monstrous HR/FB rate near 30% and not only sustained that inflated 2017 BABIP, but upped it further. I expect a rebound in FB%, which should boost his AB/HR rate. I’m buying in 2019, but do realize there’s serious batting average downside here that many might be overlooking.

Marcell Ozuna was a pretty easy call for me as his 2017 BABIP was so obviously unsustainable and his underlying power skill failed to support a HR/FB rate above 20%. He probably has another 2017 in him (at least on the power side, doubtful on the BABIP side), but I’m paying for 2018 and hoping for a big rebound, rather than expecting one.

Whit Merrifield was one of just three hitters who actually gained value after last year’s breakout. A hefty BABIP fueled by an insane line drive rate contributed to a .300+ average and allowed him to run wild on the bases.

Scooter Gennett posted the second largest value gain and I was completely wrong about him. Even though he predictably couldn’t hold his 2017 HR/FB gains, his BABIP rose to even higher heights and he improved his strikeout rate. Overall though, his 2017 fantasy stats look awfully similar to his 2018, with him basically trading four homers for 15 points in average. I have no idea how that translates to $10 more in value in 2018, as the two lines appear worth within a couple of bucks of each other.

Eddie Rosario was the third gainer, even though his HR/FB rate slid back to his lower 2016 level and his BABIP remained stable. They key here was a fly ball rate that surged above 40% to a career high, which offset some of that HR/FB rate regression. But like Gennett above, his line looks like a near mirror image of what he posted in 2017, so it’s weird that he earned $6 more.

Domingo Santana was this season’s biggest boom to bust, but it was fairly easy to see ahead of time. We already knew after the Brewers’ offseason spending spree that they had two many outfield/first base candidates and all of them couldn’t play full-time of course. Someone was going to be the odd man out or no one was going to reach 600 plate appearances. Santana ended up being the former as his bat never got going and he even found himself in the minors for more than 200 plate appearances. Two lessons here — power hitters with sub-30% fly ball rates are ultra risky as a decline in HR/FB rate could render them worthless in the category, and when a guy suddenly steals 15 bases out of nowhere, it’s not prudent to figure a repeat. Still willing to take a cheap flyer if he somehow ends up with an every day job heading into the season.

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Obviously, the smart money is on the previous year breakouts failing to come close to that earnings level the following year. But, you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water. Deeper dives into each breakout could result in optimism of a repeat. I look forward to analyzing 2018’s breakout and deciding whether you should BUY or they are going to BUST.





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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Looking forward to your BUY/BUST list for 2019. When do you plan on penning that?