Three Breakout Candidates To Buy In 2020
Fantasy baseball players and writers spend a lot of hours pouring over stat lines and depth charts looking for a leg up on the competition. There are a couple of things that go into a breakout season and one is a player's skill level while another is playing time. Every year it seems that we get more data that can help us identify a player's true skill level, in some instances playing time is even more important for fantasy. Below I will try to identify players going outside of the top 100 hitters in NFBC drafts to decipher their skill level and playing time, in order to identify breakout candidates
Brandon Lowe 2B TB (NFBC 196)
First, we will talk about Lowe’s skills. Brandon Lowe played in just 82 games and had 327 plate appearances in 2019, but while he was on the field he played excellently. He hit .270/.336/.514 with 17 home runs and 5 stolen bases, and a .448WOBA, good for a 125 wRC+. Although the sample was small and his performance was excellent, Lowe showed a few flaws. Lowe posted a 34.6% K rate, likely due to a high 19.1% SwStr%, with a below league average 7.6% walk rate. While Lowe swings and misses too much, when he does make contact it is blistering contact. When comparing hitters with at least 150 batted ball events Lowe falls in the top 20 in both Barrels per PA, with 9.2%, and barrels per batted ball, with a 16.3% mark. Lowe also finds himself in the top 50 players in baseball both maximum and average exit velocity, as well as savants hard hit% (minimum 150 BBE). Despite Lowe’s hard-hit data his poor plate discipline is dragging his xstats down to, a .242 xBA, .448 xSLG, and a .343 xwOBA, all below his produced stats, suggesting regression. Given the small sample size and the fact that Lowe had shown a much better approach in the minors, regularly posting above 10% walk rates and sub 24% K rates, Lowe has a chance at a breakout in 2020.
Next, let’s look at the playing time that Lowe could carve out in Tampa Bay. While Lowe’s skills suggest those of a full-time player, his splits are concerning. In 2019 he posted a .242/.265/.409 slash line with a 52.9% K rate(!) against lefties. Even though the sample was small, just 68 plate appearances, a 77 wRC+ against left-handed pitching is concerning. Against right-handed pitching Lowe fared much better, batting .278/.355/.543, good for a 138 wRC+. With his splits and the Rays propensity to platoon everyone, it is understandable why fantasy managers playing in high stakes contests have shied away from Lowe. However, some playing time hope comes from Lowe’s defense. Over just 82 games Lowe produced 5 Defensive Runs Saved and a 4.2 UZR/150. Lowe’s defense has the chance to keep him on the field for full-time at-bats in 2020, making him a risk worth taking at his ADP, given his great batted ball metrics and playing time that will be somewhere between full time and a large side of the platoon.
Willie Calhoun OF TEX (NFBC ADP 170)
On December 11th, 2019 Nomar Mazara was traded from the Texas Ranger to the Chicago White Sox. This should open up an everyday spot in left field for Willie Calhoun. This will be the first time in his career that Calhoun is looking at everyday playing time, so what can we as fantasy owners expect. On his way through the minors, Calhoun always had a very contact-oriented swing, posting sub 15% K rates at every stop. While still in the Dodgers system in 2017 and 2018 Calhoun started to tap into some power, posting 27 and 23 home runs respectively before being traded to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade. Once he got to the majors in his K rate spiked to 21% between 2017 and 2018, while the power dried up and he produced only 3 home runs in 145 PAs.
With just a glance at his 40 game rolling average graph, you can see Calhoun’s progressive change in approach. In 2019 Calhoun was also able to reduce his K% to 15.7%, all the while tailoring his swing towards more loft and power. With the improvements in his K rate and change in approach, Calhoun turned himself into an above-average major league hitter. Entering 2020 Calhoun has the potential to be a 30+ home run hitter with a palatable average and above average runs and RBIs hitting in the middle of the Rangers lineup.
JD Davis 3B/OF NYM (NFBC ADP 176)
JD Davis came up in the Astros organization as a power-hitting third baseman, but when he reached the big leagues he found himself blocked by one of the best third baseman in baseball, Alex Bregman. After the 2018 season, he was traded to the Mets, presumably to be roster depth. However, with a myriad of injuries Davis appeared in 140 games. Batting .307/.369./527 with 22 home runs. However, projection systems don’t seem to buy his production as sustainable. Steamer projects Davis to take a step backward in every facet of his game, projecting him for a .264/.329/.461 slash with just 21 home runs in only 118 games played. However, I believe that Davis’ production is here to stay.
Davis was near the top of the league in nearly every batted ball quality metric. Davis produced a 90th percentile or better performance in average exit velocity (91.4MPH), xBA (.308), xSLG (.548), xwOBA (.383), and hard-hit % (47.7%). While statcast data is not in itself predictive it can help us ascertain a player's talent level. In 2019 Davis consistently hit the ball as hard as anyone, there is nothing in his profile to suggest that will change. Coming into 2019 it appears that he is going to have every day playing time as the left fielder for the Mets. Based on the batted ball metrics, Davis’ floor is likely a .260 Hitter with 20+ home runs, with the ceiling to be an elite power hitter. With every day playing time and very real power JD Davis is a must buy at his current ADP.