Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Breakout Candidates For 2020 – Infielders

Every year there are players that seemingly come out of nowhere to post a big season, or unexpectedly take the next step toward stardom. Using metrics such as xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average), wOBA, hard hit rate, barrel rate, and others, we can better identify players that may make that step in 2020. Using that methodology, as well as some traditional stats, here is one breakout candidate for 2020 for each infield position. All stats, unless otherwise noted, are pulled from the player’s Baseball Savant page.

Catcher

Jason Castro

xwOBA:.364

wOBA:.328

Hard hit %: 46.4%

Image:Baseball Savant

Jason Castro had the second highest xwOBA out of all catchers with at least 100 PA in 2019, directly behind teammate Mitch Garver. His final stat line lagged far behind Garver though, with Castro posting a .767 OPS to Garver’s .995. Garver deserves a separate article discussing his season and his 2020 projections, but that will be left for another time.

Ofnote, when looking at the 20 players most similar to Castro by hitting profile,per Baseball Savant, you see some very interesting names. His most similarplayer is Bryce Harper, which is a good sign, but there are two other namesthat really stick out as well. Those two are Brandon Lowe and Rowdy Tellez, bothof whom will be discussed later.

Castro’s StatCast metrics are all screaming for a breakout, with his 46.4% hard hit rate, 17.2% barrel rate, and 91.5 MPH exit velocity ranking above new teammate Mike Trout’s career numbers, and .498 xwOBACON being just below Trout’s career number.

Those numbers, combined with the fact that Castro won’t have to play second fiddle to Garver in 2020, lead to the belief that not only is Castro a breakout candidate, but perhaps the one with the most potential for improvement in 2020. With Castro recently signing with the Angels, it seems he will be tasked with a significant increase in playing time, and that bodes well for his breakout potential. Additionally, he will join the likes of Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and fellow new addition Anthony Rendon in an already improved lineup, and a potential breakout from Castro could make this a lineup feared by opposing pitchers from top to bottom.

Others to watch: Kevan Smith

First Base

Rowdy Tellez

xwOBA: .332

wOBA: .308

Hard hit %: 41.8%

Image: Baseball Savant

Rowdy Tellez burst onto the scene in 2018, posting a.314/.329/.614 slash in an admittedly small 73 PA sample, surprising given thefact that his Minor League numbers since moving up to AAA were unimpressive atbest. Tellez, however, did have a history of success in the lower Minors,including a .917 OPS in AA.

His small MLB sample in 2018 combined with his team’s lack ofcontender status led to him being given an extended look in 2019, getting 409PA. He struggled to an extent, posting just a .742 OPS.

The underlying numbers, however, paint a much different picture of Tellez’s 2019. His 13.2% barrel rate profiles well, as does his hard hit rate. While a .332 xwOBA doesn’t scream elite, it does signal a marked improvement over his actual 2019 wOBA of .308.

Tellez also began to show a marked improvement in September, with a .257/.346/.586 slash in 81 PA. Small sample size caveats apply as always, but that slash line would stand as a good guide for what Tellez could post in a potential breakout year.

Tellez is probably the least likely on this list to become a true star, but given the lineup around him, doesn’t really need to be. Withmost teams already having an established first baseman, Tellez seems to be thebest bet at the position for a breakout of sorts in 2020 (as well as honorable mention CJ Cron), albeit likely on a smaller scale.

Others to watch: CJ Cron

Second Base

Brandon Lowe

xwOBA: .343

wOBA: .348

Hard hit %: 46.2%

Rather than finding a true breakout candidate at second base, the approach at second base was more about finding players who may be able to sustain small-sample success throughout a full season. That led to one candidate standing above all the rest, Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe.

The first thing that immediately stands out about Lowe is his hard hit rate, which, at 46.2%, stands well above all of the others on this list. However, the most eye-popping of his numbers is his .501 xwOBACON. That means, when he makes contact with the ball, his xwOBA is an outlandish .501. For comparison, Mike Trout’s career xwOBACON is .510, so Lowe’s .501 is truly elite.

Like previously mentioned, Lowe differs from the rest of the players on the list in that he already was a very good player in 2019, albeit in only about half a season’s worth of playing time (324 PA). He posted an .850 OPS, good for 24% above league average.

Given his 2019 results, simply sustaining those for a full season would be somewhat of a breakout, though it seems there’s another level of production still to be unlocked. His elite hard hit rate, xwOBACON, and 16.3% barrel rate all seem to indicate that 2019 success can not only be sustained, but improved upon in 2020.

Others to watch: Cavan Biggio

Shortstop

Dansby Swanson

xwOBA: .347

wOBA: .317

Hard hit %: 41.6%

Image: Baseball Savant

In one aspect, it looks like Dansby Swanson’s breakout has already begun, with him raising his OPS from .699 in 2018 to .748 in 2019. However, when diving deeper, most of that can be attributed to a league-wide jump in OPS, as Swanson’s adjusted OPS+ was just 2 points better in 2019. There’s evidence that he actually did begin the first step of a breakout in 2019, though, and there may be an even larger breakout looming in 2020.

Swanson’s xwOBA indicates that his 2019 results weren’t nearly as good as he deserved, and his .480 xSLG indicates that there could be more power in his bat. A 10.1% barrel rate echoes that, as does the 41.6% hard hit rate.

Additionally, his xwOBA ranked 4th among all shortstops with atleast 100 PA last year. That, combined with his other StatCast metrics,indicates that Swanson could well put himself in the top tier of shortstops in 2020, especially when factoring in speed and defense.

Others to watch: Bo Bichette, Willy Adames

Third Base

Yandy Diaz

xwOBA: .358

wOBA: .342

Hard hit %: 44.8%

Image: Baseball Savant

Yandy Diaz is similar to Brandon Lowe in that both play for the Rays and both posted an OPS over .800 last year in about half a season worth of playing time. As strong of a breakout candidate as Lowe looks to be, Diaz may well be an even stronger candidate.

Diaz has always been a StatCast darling, dating back to his Cleveland days, but finally began to show the results in 2019. His improvement in 2019 came from an increase in launch angle, albeit still well below league average, as well as an increase in barrel rate. In 2019, 10.4% of his batted balls were barrels. That, combined with his still-high hard hit rate and great plate discipline (17.7% Ks, 10.4% BBs) led to him posting the best OPS of his young career.

As you can see above, Diaz’s exit velocity, xBA, hard hit %, xwOBA, and xSLG all rank near the top of the league. Another improvement in launch angle in 2020 would go a long way in making him a true star.

Others to watch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brian Anderson

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48

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