Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Checking In On 2020 Breakout Candidates – Infielders

Image: Twitter

Through Sunday’s games, most teams are now at or near the halfway point of their seasons. While it’s true that sample sizes are still relatively small, we are now to the point where it is worth at least looking at some stats, even if they shouldn’t yet be taken at full face value. As I noted previously when analyzing some hitters off to strong starts, seeing players continue positive trends from 2019 in the early goings this year is a promising sign. As such, all of these infielders I previously identified as breakout candidates showed positive trends last year. Let’s take a look at these five hitters and see how they’ve performed so far in 2020.

Jason Castro

SeasonPATriple SlashwOBAxwOBAwRC+

Castro is an interesting case in that he still seems to be a perfect breakout candidate. His StatCast metrics from 2019 were impressive, and his 2020 StatCast numbers are actually even more impressive. His barrel rate, average exit velocity, hard hit rate, and xwOBACON are all up from his already impressive 2019 numbers, though he could be at least partially hindered by a 24.7 degree average launch angle. Still, in the small sample size thus far, he’s continued to show the signs that made him a breakout candidate to begin with, and with teammate Max Stassi recently heading to the IL, Castro will likely play more often.

Rowdy Tellez

SeasonPATriple SlashwOBAxwOBAwRC+

Tellez has put up a slash line, wOBA, and wRC+ almost identical to his 2019 numbers thus far. His barrel rate, average exit velocity, and xwOBACON have taken steps in the wrong direction, though he’s cut his strikeout rate from 28.4% to 15.1%. That’s led to Tellez posting an xwOBA that is even better than his 2019 number. If he can maintain the drop in strikeout rate while regaining his quality of contact from 2019, he could still be in line for a breakout. His biggest obstacle at this point will likely be playing time, as the Blue Jays just acquired Daniel Vogelbach, who has a similar skillset, from Seattle.

Brandon Lowe

SeasonPATriple SlashwOBAxwOBAwRC+

Lowe has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations thus far in 2020, ranking as one of the best hitters in the major leagues. Not only has he been able to maintain his 2019 success, he’s actually taken significant steps forward. His barrel rate has jumped from great to downright elite, ranking in the 99th percentile in 2020. While his exit velocity and hard hit rates are slightly down from last year and are more good than great, he’s also been able to drop his strikeout rate from 34.6% to 22.1% and raise his walk rate from 7.6% to 10.6%. He’s not giving up quality of contact in exchange for making more contact, as his xwOBACON is up from last year as well. Possibly the most notable improvement for Lowe has been against LHP, having put up a 1.382 OPS with 4 of his 9 HR coming against LHP in 2020, though the sample remains small at 35 PA. Still, this is huge for a player that put up just a .674 OPS against same-sided pitchers in 2019. Simply put, Lowe has more than lived up to his breakout candidacy and looks to be a great hitter for years to come.

Dansby Swanson

SeasonPATriple SlashwOBAxwOBAwRC+

Swanson has finally begun to live up to some of the prospect hype that came with being a #1 overall draft pick. Thus far in 2020, he’s raised his slash line and wOBA to be more in line with his underlying metrics from last year, though he has done so in an interesting way. His barrel rate has remained about the same, but his exit velocity and hard hit rates have trended slightly in the wrong direction. He’s also increased his K% and decreased his BB%, the opposite of what you’d expect from a hitter showing signs of a breakout. Still, he’s showed positive signs with an xwOBA still slightly above his actual number, and an xwOBACON of .486 that dwarfs his .429 number from last year. Enough positive signs are there to believe Swanson can maintain at least most of this breakout, a welcome sight for a Braves team in the thick of a playoff hunt.

Yandy Diaz

SeasonPATriple SlashwOBAxwOBAwRC+

A quick glance at Diaz’s batting average and OBP would lead you to believe he’s had a huge year so far, but the rest of the numbers are far less encouraging. Diaz has always been a StatCast darling, posting huge hard hit rates but often hitting too many ground balls, especially prior to 2019. That has gone away in 2020 thus far, as he has only barreled one ball so far, dropped his exit velocity into the 42nd percentile, and dropped his hard hit rate into the 20th percentile. That seems to be due to a change in approach, as Diaz has drastically reduced his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate. He’s been willing to give up quality of contact for quantity of contact, and it has worked out fairly well with the exception of the power department. To truly call this a breakout season for Diaz, he will likely need to return to hitting the ball hard while minimizing regression in strikeout rate.

Kyle Berger

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