Why We Missed: Breakout Hitters

Note: For my next few articles, I’m going to examine the hitters and pitchers who underperformed and overperformed in 2019. Each article may spawn off others since some areas may need to be explored in more detail. After performing horribly in 2019, I need to take take a hard look at why I missed last season and what I can do to improve.

I’m going to start with the one player class every owner hopes to hit on, breakout hitters. A couple of these cheaply acquired star hitters can help carry a team. It could be a prospect turned uber-prospect (e.g. Pete Alonso) or just a hitter displaying new skills (e.g. Ketel Marte). I’m going to dig into the reason these breakouts were not draft-day targets and look for any common themes.

To get the test subjects, I ran our auction calculator for end-of-season production and then compared the auction dollars to the values created from their ADP. I didn’t want to just use the difference in ranks because the gap from #1 to #15 could be over $10 but the difference between #250 to #300 might just be $1. Using this method, I found 62 hitters who outperformed their value by $10 or more.

From these players, I tried to spot which traits may have kept them undervalued. In all, I found 15. Of those, three categories – PEDs, DH, and injuries – showed up only five total times and I removed them from the final analysis.

I’m a little surprised the injury category had so few players (3% of total). It’s tough to know without doing a deep dive if this is because fantasy managers ignored their injury history and assumed great health or if injured players don’t get healthy and outperform their production. It’s a topic I may dig into on a later date.

The overall table is clunky and that’s being kind. I’ve split it into two parts and put it at the end of the article. Also, it can be found in its entirety at this link. The information as been publicly available for a couple of days since I wanted to have the data correct. I was trying to prevent a poo in, poo out situation. In all, I found five distinct groups.

Group 1: 2018 Disappointments. (31%)

Travis d’Arnaud, Avisaíl García, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez, Yuli Gurriel, Kolten Wong, Brett Gardner, Jason Heyward, Ketel Marte, Jorge Soler, Cody Bellinger, Josh Bell, Yoán Moncada, Kole Calhoun, Elvis Andrus, Max Kepler, Jose Abreu, Starlin Castro, Miguel Sanó

These players are the bounceback group. While some dealt with injuries (Elvis Andrus) other just fell out of favor (Jason Heyward). A simple key is that about a third of all breakouts were just known hitters (re)meeting previous expectations. No sexy reason to buy-in except regression.

Group 2: New team. (25%)

Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Meadows, Hanser Alberto, J.D. Davis, Danny Santana, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, Pedro Severino, Eric Sogard, Tom Murphy, James McCann, Freddy Galvis, Eduardo Escobar, Omar Narváez

This grouping caught my eye compiling the data because some players may have just needed a new environment. The new team could have unlocked a hidden skill or just gave the player an everyday role. The new team must have targeted the player for a reason. Owners should not be afraid to roster below-average to average hitters in a new environment. They may get that next big sleeper.

Group 3: Unknown Role and Talent (26%)

Pete Alonso, Yordan Alvarez, Tommy Edman, Oscar Mercado, Christian Walker, Hunter Dozier, Kevin Newman, Jeff McNeil, Renato Núñez, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Pillar, Roberto Pérez, Howie Kendrick, Mark Canha, Joc Pederson, Leury García

The first two names, Alonso and Alvarez, are the breakouts most owners desire, that power-hitting rookie. Both were dirt cheap to start the year with Kyle Tucker getting way more love. Alonso was a known option and was a late draft pick. Alvarez was an unknown going into the year but became a huge mid-season free-agent target. Finding these hitters is not impossible as several are on my Voit-Muncy list.

Group 4: Old guys. (6%)

Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Gordon, Carlos Santana, Nelson Cruz

These four and several of the disappointments had an average age of over 35-year-old. Through some comments I’ve heard over the years, I know some fantasy owners just won’t roster a hitter over 35-years-old. I assume a projection’s aging adjustment correctly evaluates the player’s talent and therefore had several shares of Choo and Santana this past season. I might be wrong in doing so. Maybe the key is to not to roster a 35-year-old in the first 15 rounds and then gamble late? Maybe it’s certain positions to shy away from. It’s a topic I’ll definitely explore on a later date.

Hard stop.

Of all the breakouts which happened, 88% were either old, on a new team, rebounding, or with an unknown future. Check all the preseason lists for breakouts and few will meet these requirements. Instead, most lists will contain hitters from the final 12%. Experts hoping average to great hitters over performing.

Group 5. Average to above-average hitters over performing (i.e. breaking out). (12%)

Average: Eloy Jiménez, Marcus Semien, Mitch Garver, Trey Mancini, Nick Ahmed, Jorge Polanco,

Above-average: Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Rendon, Jonathan Villar, Tim Anderson

Just four good hitters (3%) crushed their preseason cost. Simply, the breakouts aren’t going to happen early in a draft. Don’t expect stars to provide a ton of value and possibly it’s best to not aim for the upside and instead, try to limit the downside early on in drafts.

I know there is a ton of information to digest especially since most of it goes against some owners’ core beliefs. I’m still processing the data myself. For now, it’s a good baseline discussion with the bust hitters being the next group to go under the microscope.



Breakout Hitters (Table 1)
PlayerName Outperformed ADP Rookie 2nd year Disappointment in 2018 Unknown Role Position filled with suspect talent Position filled with average or better player
Danny Santana $29.8 x x
DJ LeMahieu $27.6 x x
Rafael Devers $26.8 x x
Ketel Marte $25.2 x
Jorge Soler $24.7 x
Marcus Semien $23.7
Peter Alonso $23.3 x x x
Christian Vazquez $22.6 x x x
Mitch Garver $22.3 x
Cody Bellinger $21.2 x
Bryan Reynolds $21.1 x x x
Josh Bell $20.3 x
Trey Mancini $20.2
Giovanny Urshela $18.3 x x
James McCann $18.2 x
Carlos Santana $17.8
Yuli Gurriel $17.7 x x
Christian Walker $17.3 x x x
Eduardo Escobar $17.0
Hunter Dozier $16.6 x x x
Anthony Rendon $16.3
Austin Meadows $16.0 x x
Jonathan Villar $15.9
Kevin Newman $15.7 x x x
Jeff McNeil $15.6 x x x
Yordan Alvarez $15.0 x x x
Jorge Polanco $14.5
Kolten Wong $14.3 x x
Kevin Pillar $14.3 x x
Travis d’Arnaud $14.0 x x x
Hanser Alberto $13.7 x x x
Roberto Perez $13.5 x x
Howie Kendrick $13.3 x x
Renato Nunez $13.3 x x x
Xander Bogaerts $13.2
J.D. Davis $13.2 x x x
Nelson Cruz $13.1
Yoan Moncada $13.0 x
Brett Gardner $12.9 x x x
Tommy Edman $12.9 x x x
Nick Ahmed $12.8
Mark Canha $12.8 x x
Pedro Severino $12.7 x x
Joc Pederson $12.2 x x
Mike Yastrzemski $12.2 x x x
Kole Calhoun $11.9 x
Shin-Soo Choo $11.8
Elvis Andrus $11.5 x
Leury Garcia $11.5 x
Omar Narvaez $11.3 x
Max Kepler $11.3 x
Oscar Mercado $11.2 x x x
Jose Abreu $11.0 x
Avisail Garcia $10.9 x x x
Tim Anderson $10.8
Eloy Jimenez $10.8 x x
Eric Sogard $10.7 x x x
Starlin Castro $10.6 x
Jason Heyward $10.2 x x
Freddy Galvis $10.2
Alex Gordon $10.1
Tom Murphy $10.0 x x
Miguel Sano $10.0 x
Total 6 9 19 32 20 13
Percentage 10% 15% 31% 52% 32% 21%



Breakout Hitters (Table 2)
PlayerName New Team No belief in previous breakout Below average (AAAA) Average player Above average Over 30
Danny Santana x x
DJ LeMahieu x x
Rafael Devers x
Ketel Marte x x
Jorge Soler x
Marcus Semien x x
Peter Alonso x
Christian Vazquez x
Mitch Garver x x
Cody Bellinger x
Bryan Reynolds x
Josh Bell x
Trey Mancini x
Giovanny Urshela x x
James McCann x x
Carlos Santana x 33
Yuli Gurriel x 35
Christian Walker x
Eduardo Escobar x x
Hunter Dozier x
Anthony Rendon x
Austin Meadows x x
Jonathan Villar x x
Kevin Newman x
Jeff McNeil x x
Yordan Alvarez x
Jorge Polanco x x
Kolten Wong x
Kevin Pillar x
Travis d’Arnaud x x
Hanser Alberto x x
Roberto Perez x
Howie Kendrick x 35
Renato Nunez x
Xander Bogaerts x
J.D. Davis x x
Nelson Cruz x x 38
Yoan Moncada x
Brett Gardner x 35
Tommy Edman x
Nick Ahmed x
Mark Canha x x
Pedro Severino x x
Joc Pederson x
Mike Yastrzemski x x
Kole Calhoun x 31
Shin-Soo Choo x 36
Elvis Andrus x
Leury Garcia x x
Omar Narvaez x x x
Max Kepler x x
Oscar Mercado x
Jose Abreu x 32
Avisail Garcia x x x
Tim Anderson x
Eloy Jimenez x
Eric Sogard x x 33
Starlin Castro x
Jason Heyward x
Freddy Galvis x x
Alex Gordon x 35
Tom Murphy x x
Miguel Sano x
Total 16 11 27 28 7 10
Percentage 26% 18% 44% 45% 11% 16%

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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3 years ago

so my 14teamer included (some were keepers) Yoan, Xander, Belly, Garver, Yordan, Kepler, Joc; plus established stars of Trout and Arenado
yeah i won each hitting roto category. probably wont ever draft/trade that well again