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2019 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts, Trust or Bust?: Hitters

The 2019 season was full of breakout players across all positions. Whether it was veterans who seemingly came out of nowhere, high rated prospects getting their first real shot at the majors, and everything in between. Fantasy baseball breakouts can come in all forms. A hitter can swing more, swing less, change his launch angle, change his swing path, you name it. The ultimate question for fantasy baseball is, do we trust these players going forward? Or do we think there is regression coming, potentially making them a bust? Below are four breakout hitters from 2019, and whether or not we should trust them to continue producing at their breakout level.

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Trust or Bust 2019 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts: Hitters

Austin Meadows – OF – Tampa Bay Rays

2019 Overview

Austin Meadows was a fun player to own in 2019. He provided good to above-average stats across all five categories, and that was after missing nearly a month of the season with a right thumb sprain. It was the first season the world got to see what Meadows was capable of, as the former top prospect had suffered injury after injury that prevented him from showcasing his talent in the majors.

Meadows final line in 2019 included a .291 batting average, 83 runs scored, 33 home runs, 89 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. For those that cannot eyeball how counting stats translate to final fantasy rankings, these numbers firmly put Meadows inside the top 50 hitters on the year. Scouts and analysts alike have known for years that Meadows was capable of a season like this. The question is, can he continue this level of production going forward?

Plate Discipline

The newly turned 25-year-old showed solid plate discipline last season. He struck out 22.2 percent of the time, near league average, and walked 9.1 percent of the time, which was above league average. Meadows can attribute that walk percentage to showing a lot of patience at the plate, as his 42.2% swing percentage was towards the bottom portion of the league. When he did swing, he primarily swung at pitches in the zone, as can be seen by the chart provided by baseball savant below.

Austin Meadows Swing % by zone

 A called strike percentage of 19.7 percent, along with his high walk total, tells us that Meadows simply takes a lot of pitches. A 62.2 percent Z-Swing% further supports that, as it was a low percentage relative to the rest of the league.

Batted Ball Data

Meadows hit the ball hard in 2019, as his baseball savant profile is lit up in red. The most noticeable statistic in his profile was his xwOBA, sitting at .380 for the year, which put him in the 88th percentile among his league mates. He barreled the ball at an elite rate as well. His 12.5 percent barrel rate placed Meadows above the 85th percentile of the league. Meadows expected statistics firmly supported everything he did in 2019, as an xBA of .284, and an xSLG of .547 were among league highs.

Verdict: TRUST

Despite a league average strikeout rate, Meadows swinging strike rate of 8.9 percent was excellent. Swinging more often could further increase Meadows production, as he has proven to have a great aptitude for the strike zone and making good contact. It is hard to suggest a batter change anything after hitting .291, but the upside to become a .300-plus hitter is there. The only thing holding back Meadows is health, and that is a wager the fantasy community should be willing to make.

Josh Bell – 1B – Pittsburgh Pirates

2019 Overview

Finally. The potential of Josh Bell was released after two seasons of mediocrity. He hit .277 with 94 runs, 37 home runs, and 116 RBI. That home run total nearly matched his career total from the three seasons prior. His run and RBI totals were each over 20 more than any season prior.

Bell was much better the first half of the season compared to the last half though. He hit 18 of his 37 home runs in the first two months of the season. His batting average dropped significantly in the second half as well. That leads to the question, where did this 2019 season come from, and can we trust it?

Plate Discipline

Bell has always been a great plate discipline hitter. This was arguably why a player who is 6-foot-4, and weighs 240-pounds, struggled in the power department. He was too selective and too focused on making contact over power. In 2019, he showed he could do both. Bell had a career high 19.2 percent strikeout rate, but that was still below league average. He continued drawing walks at a solid 12.1 percent rate.

Like many other hitters, Bell also began swinging more, as his 48.1% was four percent higher than any year prior. Most impressive was the fact that Bell primarily swung more at balls in the strike zone compared to balls outside of it. His Z-Swing% grew to 77.8 percent, seven percent higher than any season prior. His O-Swing% of 30.2 percent was only 3.5 percent more than his previous high.

Batted Ball

Bell’s batted ball profile is something to behold. It belongs with the best of the best in terms of hard-hit balls, and expected statistics.

With an average exit velocity in the 96th percentile, hard-hit rate in the 90th percentile, barrel percentage in the 88th percentile, and xwOBA in the 91st percentile, Bell was elite across the board. Despite the perceived lesser second half, Bell still maintained a well above average xwOBA through most of the year.

Verdict: TRUST

Despite the second-half struggles, Bell came back around and had himself a solid month of August. He hit 8 home runs on the month, which was his second-highest monthly total. With how hard Bell hit the ball, and still maintained a solid strikeout to walk ratio, there is little reason to doubt the slugging first baseman.

Ramon Laureano – OF – Oakland Athletics

 2019 Overview

Laureano was not off to a good start in 2019, as he hit .234 in March in April. He only hit 3 home runs in 117 plate appearances and was dropped in many leagues. Then May came around and Laureano became a different player. Across 364 plate appearances post-April, Laureano hit .306, with 21 home runs, and 10 stolen bases.

If it wasn’t for a stress reaction in his right shin that put him on the disabled list in late July, causing him to miss all of August, those numbers could have been even better. Prior to his injury, Laureano was performing as well as any player. In the months of June and July, he hit .314 over 49 games, while hitting 15 home runs and stealing eight bases. If Laureano can come close to those numbers across an entire season, he quickly becomes a high draft pick in all fantasy leagues.

Plate Discipline

Laureano’s strikeout rate and walk rate across all on 2019 are nothing to get excited about, if you are looking at it across an entire season. The 25.6 strikeout percentage was an improvement over his 2019 total, but it is still well below average. A 5.6 walk percentage was equally as underwhelming. When you look at his rolling average across both categories, however, we can see that Laureano became much more patient after a bad stretch in June.

Further diving into his plate discipline metrics, Laureano shows below-average qualities across the board. A 12.8 percent swinging-strike rate and 33.8 percent O-Swing% are not good. But again, you can see an adjustment after the aforementioned June stretch of swinging at everything thrown at him.

Batted Ball Data

Laureano profiled as a solid hitter who makes hard contact, but also misses a lot of pitches, as shown by his profile below.

When the Athletics outfielder does make contact, he hits the ball hard. He hit 40.4 percent of batted balls over 95 mph and barreled 9.7 percent of those batted balls, solid numbers for both statistics. With an average exit velocity of 89.5 mph, and an average fly ball and line drive (FBLD) exit velocity of 93.3 mph, Laureano profiles as a 30-plus home run hitter on a consistent basis.

Laureano hits a lot of fly balls and line drives, with a 64.3 percent FBLD percentage, which ranked him among the league leaders. A 19.2 percent HR/FB rate was good, and he avoided hitting infield fly balls, with a solid 8 percent rate.

Verdict: TRUST

Laureano’s 2019 underlying numbers can be deceptive, as for the most part last season, he was a great player. As long as he is playing defense at the level he currently does, Laureano will always have a spot in the lineup. If he continues where he left off in the last half of 2019, he has the potential to return high-end value.

Tim Anderson – SS – Chicago White Sox

2019 Overview

Not many people would have projected Tim Anderson to win the batting title last season, but that is exactly what happened. The White Sox shortstop hit .335 across 518 plate appearances, bringing you home runs, steals, and bat flips along the way. He had an unbelievable 2nd half in regards to his batting average, as he hit .368 from August on. However, prior to 2019, Anderson had a career .258 batting average. Which should we believe?

Plate Discipline

Anderson swung at more pitches than he ever had before, with a 58.5 swing percentage being a career-high by four percent. The 45.2 percent O-Swing% Anderson generated was among the 10 highest in the league, which is not ideal. It is hard to argue with the approach though, as his batting average was mostly on par with his swing percentage.

Despite the increase in swings, Anderson struck out at a career low rate, sitting around league average with a 21 percent strikeout rate. When it comes to walks, Anderson simply just did not draw them. His 2.9 walk percentage put him among the 10 lowest percentages in the league.

Batted Ball Data

His batted ball profile is nothing to write home about, as he does not relatively hit the ball well.

He did provide an elite expected batting average, sitting in the 92nd percentile, but that was about it. He was below league average in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. He was well below average in barrel rate, sitting in the 23rd percentile.

Anderson was a heavy ground ball hitter, which limits most players’ upside. But with his speed, these statistics are not as important for most. He had a 9.5 infield hit percentage, which ranked him well above average.

Verdict: BUST

A .399 BABIP sticks out like a sore thumb. Particularly from a player who had .289 and .328 BABIP’s in the prior two seasons. The likelihood that Anderson maintains even a .300 average is unlikely. While his draft capital is not as high as you would expect from a defending batting title champion, there are a lot of players being drafted later that can outproduce him. The White Sox lineup is also getting much better. Nick Madrigal, a top prospect, will be up from the minors quickly, and he profiles as a lead off hitter. If Anderson doesn’t produce, he can quickly be moved down towards the bottom of a solid lineup. He is a good player, but do not trust this breakout season.

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