Updated: Feb 12
You know, it is hard to find something more exciting in the fantasy baseball world than a player who puts it all together and has an amazing season. In 2019, we witnessed the long-awaited arrivals of several former top prospects such as Lucas Giolito and Jorge Soler. Beyond that, many other players exceeded expectations and put their names in everyone's draft plans for 2020. Now, a player having a great season one year has no direct implications on their success for the next year. Remember Mark Trumbo in 2016 with his 47-homer season? Or better yet, Eduardo Núñez when he had 40 stolen bases and batted .288 also in 2016? Yeah, they didn't fair too well trying to repeat those performances. Maybe it was just 2016, but there are times when breakouts fall short and are never repeated.
In this article, I am going to highlight four pitchers and four batters from the 2019 season who exceeded expectations. Then, I will state whether we can expect the breakout to continue into 2020, or if we should approach with caution. As we get closer and closer to Opening Day, fantasy baseball research will intensify. I want to help you all be as prepared as possible for your drafts! With that being said, lets see which 2019 breakout players we should believe and which ones we should just ignore. Let's go!
(1) Ketel Marte 2B,CF: ADP 44 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: .329/97/32/92/10 in 628 plate appearances
As a prospect for the Mariners in 2011, Marte was recognized for his plate discipline, his speed and his contact skills. It was rookie ball, but he demonstrated a 10.3% BB and a 13.9% K in 252 plate appearances, an early indication of his offensive talent. As the years went on, Marte failed to make many strides in the organization. In his first two years playing at the Major League level, Marte had a .271/80/3/50/19 line in 713 total plate appearances. As a result of his below average play, he was traded to the Diamondbacks late in 2016.
In his first season with the Diamondbacks organization, AAA, Marte had 36 extra base hits with a .338 batting average in 338 plate appearances. The average and the hits were the highest marks of his career in any season, minimum 200 plate appearances. Additionally, his 7.4% BB and 10.1% K represented his maintained plate discipline skills, with his K% being the the lowest of any season in his career, minimum 200 plate appearances. In sum, Marte had arguably the best offensive season of his career in 2017 and it all finally come together in 2019.
Well what exactly fueled his 2019 breakout? To start, his 41.9% hard hit and 34.8% fly ball rates where the highest of his MLB career. Beyond that, his xBA was top 15 in baseball, while his xSLG and xwOBA were top 40 marks, per Statcast. Marte was not a different hitter in 2019, he still walked at a good rate(8.4%) and limited his strikeouts(13.7%) like always with decent contact and speed, he simply learned how to hit with some launch and more power. In short, he evolved. Per Statcast, his 11.5 degree launch angle was the highest of his career by 4.3 degrees. That is a player making intentional strides to add more loft to their swing, and for Marte it helped guide him to a top 40 batter status in 2020. Moreover, his 27.9 sprint speed was top 100 in baseball, so we can expect the speed to stay for now with Marte only being 26. In all, you can absolutely trust Marte heading into the 2020 season, and it would be realistic to speculate if he has even hit his ceiling yet. At his current ADP, he's worth every penny of his price tag.
(2) Mike Minor SP: ADP 173 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: 3.59 ERA, 200:68 K:BB in 208.1 innings pitched
Don't Believe It!
Mike Minor has had a long, rather serviceable MLB career. Coming into the league as a top pitching prospect, he made his MLB debut in 2010 for the Braves. He pitched in only 40.2 innings in his first season, to the tune of a 5.98 ERA, but also a 3.65 xFIP. In 2015, Minor suffered from a torn labrum that ultimately caused him to miss both his 2015 and 2016 seasons before finding a real home with the Rangers in 2018.
Last season, in his first 117 innings pitched, he earned an ERA of 2.54. Moreover, his 114 strikeouts during that time were good for top 25 in baseball, with him also having two complete games and pitching through the 8th inning three times(min. 50 innings pitched). In short, if there were an American League Cy Young Award for the first half of the season, Minor would've arguably been the front runner last season. However, the underlying stats tell the story of a pitcher who managed to overachieve for an entire season.
In those first 117 innings, Minor had a 4.47 xFIP and remarkably a 4.47 SIERA. Woah. So his ERA was almost two runs lower than his xFIP and SIERA, indicating Minor gave up a lot of batted balls that should've been hits, but went for outs. Then after the All-Star Game, Minor's luck began to fall short. In 82.2 innings to finish off the season, Minor pitched to a 4.90 ERA, a 4.91 xFIP, and 4.66 ERA. In addition, his fly ball rate increased to 42.6%, his F-Strike% decreased to 59.3% and his SwStr% decreased to just 10.7%. In all, Mike Minor regressed in the second-half of the 2019 season and ultimately became the pitcher we can expect going forward. At 32, Minor is not getting any younger, so the time for improvement isn't long. However, given his generous ADP and pedigree, he will make for a solid SP4-SP5 in 2020 on fantasy squads. Just don't expect anything close to that sparkling 2.54 ERA from last season's first half, or even his still generous overall ERA of 3.59.
(3) Rafael Devers 3B: ADP 23 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: .311/129/32/115/8 in 702 plate appearances
Signed by the Red Sox at just 16-years-old in 2013 as an international free agent, Devers' breakout 2019 season was what many expected to see all along. In his rookie season, at just 17-years-old, he had a 16.4% BB and 15.6% K with a .337/26/3/21/4 line in 128 plate appearances. He was 17. Rookie ball or not, that is stunningly good. Fast-forward to 2019, and Devers has seemed to put it all together at the ripe age of 22.
Aside from his sparkling batting average, he earned a .361 OBP, a .377 wOBA and also, a .555 SLG mark, one that was top 30 among all batters last season(min. 250 plate appearances). Moreover, his 47.5% hard hit rate, per statcast, was a career high, indicating Devers has simply learned how to hit with more power. As a result of his increased power, he laced a career high 90 extra base hits 2019, with his 54 doubles being only behind Nicholas Castellanos, and his 359 total bases led the MLB.
Digging even deeper, we find some mouth-watering stats. To be specific, Devers' 252 hard hit balls, or balls hit at 95+ mph, led the Majors, and his average exit velocity of 92.1 ranked 16th among all qualified hitters. Ready for more? His xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA were all at or above the 78th percentile in the league, with his sprint speed being slightly above average(27.1), and his outs above average was in the 92nd percentile. Just to clarify, outs above average is a defensive statistic that attempts to measure how many outs a fielder makes based on where the ball is hit and what the fielder had to do to get the ball to make the out. In short, it measures a fielder's skill in getting outs. So as a whole, in Rafael Devers, we have a 23-year-old who is coming off a career season in which he led the MLB in several major offensive categories while having high marks in other categories. To put the icing on the cake, he is one of the better defensive third basemen in the league. Looking at the bigger picture, we see a guy who is well-worth his current ADP and who is quickly becoming one of the better, more reliable, two-way players in the game today. Buy! Buy! Buy!
(4) Max Fried SP: ADP 144 per NFBC
2019 State Line: 4.02 ERA, 173:47 K:BB in 165.2 innings pitched
The man with the plan, Max Fried finally got his chance in 2019. Fried began his professional career in the Padres system but was traded to the Braves in late 2014. In the first 59.2 innings pitched of his MLB career, between 2017 and 2018, Fried had a 3.38 ERA with a 66:32 K:BB, and a 3.95 SIERA. Then last season, he pitched the most innings of his career while also starting 30+ games for the first time. Can we expect the production to continue? You bet we can. In fact, all Fried did in 2019 was raise his ceiling.
Despite his mediocre 4.02 ERA, he had a 3.32 xFIP and 3.83 SIERA, indicating Fried had to deal with circumstances such as softly hit ground or fly balls that were perfectly put into play and should have been outs, but went for the occasional run batted-in and thus inflated his ERA. Furthermore, his BABIP, or his batting average on balls put into play against, was a whopping .336, top ten in the MLB( min. 100 innings pitched), helping explain his xFIP and SIERA. Now, when we look at his post-All-Star Game stats, we see a 3.63 ERA, a 3.12 xFIP and a 3.58 SIERA, all while still dealing with an inflated BABIP(.324). In short, we saw the player we were supposed to see all season, and the player we should see moving forward.
A significant reason why Fried is able to limit damage is his amazing ability to induce ground balls regularly. Specifically, since his arrival to the Majors in 2017, Fried has never had a ground ball rate below 50%, with his mark in 2019 being 53.6%, a top ten mark in baseball(min. 100 innings pitched). More than that, his fly ball rate has never surpassed 22.2% in the MLB. Limiting fly balls and putting an emphasis on ground balls is a recipe for success, and Fried has all the ingredients to make it work. What's more is what exactly allows him to create ground ball so successfully, and that is the use of his fantastic curveball and fastball.
For the season, Fried rarely used his slider(16% of pitches), sinker(3%) or changeup(2%), he relied almost entirely on his fastball/curveball combo. As one can se above, his ability to create ground balls using those two pitches remained fairly consistent the entire season. His fastball tops out at 94-95 mph and has great sinking action to it, which leads to a lot of the ground balls, while his curveball has a devastating bite to it, fooling the best of hitters, or causing them to just ground out. In all, Max Fried finally got his chance to shine in 2019 and he did not disappoint. At his current ADP, he's as solid a pick as they come. What's better is Fried has the talent and skill set to make his xFIP look a lot more like his ERA for a full season. Behind the Braves' terrific offense, and defense, Fried may be just touching his fantasy potential at the ripe age of 26.
(5) Hunter Dozier 3B: ADP 183 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: .279/75/26/84/2 in 586 plate appearances
Don't Believe It!
Hunter Dozier was a man on a mission to begin the 2019 campaign. However, his 2019 season become one that was ultimately a story of two halves. To many, his offensive emergence to begin the season was a welcome sight. For Dozier was a former top prospect and the Royals' eighth overall selection in the 2013 MLB draft. The expectations were always high, and too see them finally come into fruition was exciting.
To be specific, Dozier batted .282/.367/.532 in 286 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break. Moreover, his hard hit rate of 48.1% was top 30 in all of baseball(min. 130 plate appearances). It is important to mention that Dozier missed about three weeks in June with thorax tightness on the right side, decreasing his overall chances for production. Nonetheless he still hit 32 extra base hits with a .282/31/13/45/1 line. In regards to his plate discipline, he earned a 11.5% BB and 22.4% K, not elite but definitely serviceable. More than that, his 28.9% O-Swing, 41.9% Swing, 94.8% Z-Contact and 9.6% SwStr all pointed towards a player who improved his power and his approach at the plate. In short, Hunter Dozier became a new, better batter. Unfortunately, it didn't last very long.
From the beginning of August to the end of the season, Dozier had a 5.5% BB and an unappealing 30.9% K. What's more is his hard hit rate decreased to 39.9%, while his O-Swing%, Swing% and SwStr% both increased by over 3%, and his Z-Contact ultimately decreased as well. A telling stat that could explain Dozier's overall decreased production is his decreased effectiveness versus sliders and sinkers. Per Brooks Baseball, in the first half, Dozier hit .450 vs. sinkers in 40 at-bats and hit .377 vs. sliders in 61 at-bats. Along with that, he managed to hit his 13 home runs off of five different pitches. Fast-forward to post-break and Dozier hit just .237 vs. sinkers in 38 at-bats and .240 vs. sliders in 50 at-bats, with seven of his ten home runs coming off the fastball. After the break, Dozier seemed to lose his patience and improved plate discipline that helped him breakout in the first place. Going into 2020, Dozier will need to find consistency and that improved plate discipline to have a starting spot in any fantasy lineup. Unfortunately, when it comes to draft day, you have to go with who you know will produce. In 2020, it would be wiser to let the next guy bet on Dozier, while you wait and snag the likes of a player like Brian Anderson at his 245 ADP.
(6) Marcus Semien SS: ADP 83 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: .285/123/33/92/10 in 747 plate appearances
Mr. consistency himself, since being traded to Oakland in late 2014, Marcus Semien has failed to start in 155+ games just once, in 2017 when he had to undergo surgery for an ailing wrist. Last season, Semien was one of five players to start all 162 games while also leading the Majors with 747 plate appearances. Obviously Semien made the personal choice of eradicating the word "rest" from his vocabulary, and it led to a superb season, the best of his career. However, it is what Semien did at the plate that should have everyone trying to grab shares of him in 2020.
Behind his impressive stat line was a career high 41.9% hard hit rate matched with a .285/.369/.522 line, a .892 OPS and a .237 ISO. More than this, his .294 BABIP almost matching his batting average indicates Semien earned his hits and wasn't often hitting bloopers and soft contact to the opposing fielders, he was hitting with authority. Now, despite all his accomplishments with his bat, his dramatically improved plate discipline was a significant factor in his success. His 11.6% BB was top 50 in baseball and his 13.7% K ranked top 30; Semien had elite plate discipline in 2019(min 300 plate appearances).
Sold yet? Well let's make it even harder for you to look elsewhere at the shortstop position. His 43 doubles and seven triples were both top ten marks in baseball(min. 300 plate appearances). Furthermore, according to statcast, he almost doubled his barrel% from 2018, his exit velocity increased by two mph and peculiarly, his launch angle actually decreased by 0.6 degrees. His launch angle decreasing indicates that Semien didn't attempt to add loft to his swing to add more extra base hits, hit simply hit the ball harder and with better placement. Beyond all this, after the All-Star break, he was even better. No I am not exaggerating, here is his second half stat line: .304/62/19/44/5 in just 323 plate appearances, with a .396 OBP, a .318 ISO, a .417 wOBA and a .621 SLG. In short, Semien finally broke out in 2019 and will continue his productive ways in 2020. Additionally, his sprint speed was in the 76th percentile, so we can expect his speed to stay for now. In all, at his current ADP, Semien is arguably the steal of the mid-rounds, with superb plate discipline and elite power upside. Do not be surprised to see Semien finish as a top five shortstop, and a top 50 batter once again in 2020.
(7) Hansel Robles RP: ADP 173 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: 2.48 ERA, 75:16 K:BB in 72.2 innings pitched
Don't Believe It!
After almost a decade of playing in the Mets system, Robles was claimed off waivers by the Angels in the summer of 2018. From the start of the 2017 season to the time he was claimed, Robles mustered a 5.00 ERA and an unappealing 4.59 BB/9, highlighting why the Mets were willing to part ways with the hard-throwing righty. In his first 35.1 innings with the Angels, his 3.06 ERA, 4.47 xFIP, and 4.12 SIERA, along with his 0.51 HR/9 indicated that Robles definitely had some talent left in the tank to help out the Angels. As a result of his solid team debut, the Angels allowed Robles to save the final game of the 2018 season and in the off-season, seemingly decided to make Robles the primary closer.
In 2019, Robles earned a 2.48 ERA, a 3.89 xFIP and 3.54 SIERA, with 23 saves and two holds, all very serviceable marks for a relief pitcher. Beyond that, he had a solid 0.74 HR/9, an improved 1.98 BB/9, along with a 26.5% K and 5.7% BB. So what's not to like about Robles? Well quite simply, Ty Buttrey. Wait, so Robles is actually a rather good pitcher but it's simply the presence of Buttrey that should make you not believe in Robles? Precisely. This is an unorthodox take because I do believe that Robles' production in 2019 was real, but I do not believe he will repeat his 2019 value, or even improve off of it, because of Buttrey’s presence. You can agree to disagree but Buttrey will eventually be sharing save opportunities with Robles.
Buttrey pitched in just one third less innings than Robles in 2019, is almost three years younger and has the skills to be a decent closer at anytime. Well what will allow him to share the throne with Robles? To start, Buttrey is more efficient at producing ground balls, with a 45.7% rate in 2019. Moreover, Buttrey displayed a better ability to strike guys out with a 27.2% K. In all, both are good relief pitchers who are capable of saving games and both will be used to do just that. For those expecting Robles to be the surefire closer, pump the brakes because this is a situation to watch very closely heading into 2020. At Robles' current ADP, I am willing to take the risk, but not without another surefire closer already on the squad.
(8) Lance Lynn SP: ADP 134 per NFBC
2019 Stat Line: 3.67 ERA, 246:59 K:BB in 208.1 innings pitched
The man, the myth, the legend, Lance Lynn completely shattered any expectations the baseball world had for him heading into his 8th MLB season. Before his 2019 season, Lynn had never had 200+ strikeouts or less than 64 walks when pitching at least 150 innings. Well last season he broke both those thresholds and added in a 3.85 xFIP, a 3.83 SIERA, a 28.1% K and a 6.7% BB. Beyond that, the velocity for his fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball were all career highs.
Now despite all these positive stats, Lynn struggled in his first seven starts of the season, having a 5.75 ERA, 5.02 xFIP, and a 5.03 SIERA in 40.2 innings pitched. Additionally, during that time he also had a mediocre 36:16 K:BB. However, that means in his other 167.2 innings pitched, he had a magnificent 210:43 K:BB. Folks, that's an ace-like ratio. Well now that we mentioned the word "ace", let's get to the juicy stuff.
In 26 games started and 167.2 innings from May 10th to the end of the 2019 season, Lynn earned a 3.17 ERA, a 3.57 xFIP and 3.54 SIERA, vast improvements from his first seven starts. Furthermore, he earned a 11.27 K/9(top ten in baseball, min 125 innings pitched), a 2.31 BB/9(top 25 in baseball, min. 125 innings pitched), and a 0.97 HR/9(top ten in baseball, min 125 innings pitched). More than that, despite a whopping .311 BABIP(top eleven in all of baseball, min. 125 innings pitched), he still allowed just a .230 batting average against him, highlighting his ability to limit extra base hits, primarily home runs. Moreover, his SLG percentage allowed(.378), OBP allowed(.283) and wOBA allowed(.282) were all top 20 marks in baseball, of pitchers with at least 125 innings pitched. As one can see, Lynn became a different animal after allowing five runs on eight hits and walking five more vs Toronto on May 4th, 2019.
Want more? In 16 of his 33 starts in 2019, he pitched 7.0+ innings, a mark that was good for top three in all of baseball, just behind Justin Verlander and Jacob Degrom. Furthermore, his nine 10+ strikeout games were 6th overall in all of baseball. Ok, ok. I won't bring up anymore stats as long as YOU promise to target him in every draft. Heading into 2020, Lance Lynn is an absolute bargain at his current ADP and is primed to continue his successful ways. If he is available at an opportune time in your drafts, you grab him and you don't look back, he may just win you your league.
In this Fantasy Baseball article, I mentioned four pitchers and four batters who had breakout campaigns in 2019. I then stated whether we should believe in each breakout, or dismiss them as a fluke. Do you guys agree? What do you guys want to see broken down next? Let us know!
You can find us on Twitter: @FantasyLogician, @starks_industry, and @AintDunneYet
Thank you for reading everyone! You cannot always buy into a player's breakout season, you first have to know if it was legitimate or not. As a whole, I am honored to continue to provide you all with Fantasy Baseball knowledge as the season quickly approaches. Have a great day everyone and God bless!
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Written By: Micah S. Henry
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