Are These Fantasy Baseball Breakouts For Real?
There are a number of players that Fantasy owners have picked up and enjoyed their success, but are wondering if this is just a hot stretch or something to buy into going forward. Let’s dive into a number of these fantasy baseball breakouts and I will tell you if I think it is for real or not!
Fantasy Baseball Breakout or Short Term Treat?
Tommy La Stella has been nothing more than an injury fill-in in the deepest of fantasy baseball leagues to this point in his career. Suddenly he is batting .299 with a .373 OBP, and his 11 home runs are more than he had in his previous five seasons put together. Those in points leagues have to be loving the fact that he has an 8.4 percent walk rate and just a 6.5 percent strikeout rate. He also has a career-high 44.4 percent hard-hit rate with a 33.6 percent flyball rate. However, according to statcast, he is lifting the ball more. He has a 13.8-degree launch angle, the second-highest of his career. His 7.3 percent barrel rate is by far the highest of his career. His 87.4 MPH exit velocity is on par with his career norm. His exit velocity and hard-hit rate are not impressive, but his .491 xSLG and .377 xwOBA are both toward the top of the league. The power pace is not for real, but La Stella very well could hit 20-25 homers this season with an impressive batting average due to his vastly improved plate discipline. I would ride it out with La Stella.
Derek Dietrich has hit 12 homers this season and brought his average up to .250. While he has never shown a power outburst like this, he has shown some power potential in years past. He currently has a 38.2 percent hard-hit rate and a 52 percent flyball rate, which has led to a very high 28.2 HR/FB rate. He has a career-high 19.5-degree launch angle, along with an 87.5 MPH average exit velocity. The exit velo doesn’t jump out at you, but it is a career high. He has been squaring the ball up really well, evident by his 15.8 percent barrel rate. In fact, that is the 21st highest rate in MLB.
Dietrich seems like a natural sell high candidate, as he has never had success like this before and is in a position to lose his job if/when Scooter Gennett returns. He is hitting the ball harder, lifting it more and is in a better ballpark than in previous seasons. We have seen more proven hitters in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna all benefit from leaving Miami, so perhaps Dietrich is blossoming in a much hitter-friendly environment. There is a legitimate concern that he will lose playing time when Gennett returns, but as for his actual performance so far, I do not think a ton of regression is coming his way. Plus, I do not think you would be able to get much for him in a trade. I picked him up off the waiver wire in a few leagues and will continue to enjoy his success and suggest you do the same.
Michael Chavis has played extremely well since getting called up, batting .287 with a .385 OBP, nine homers, 24 RBI and two stolen bases. He has a 38.6 percent hard-hit rate and a 40 percent flyball rate. Despite that, his HR/FB rate of 32.1 percent is high. He has a 91.8 MPH average exit velocity, a 14-degree launch angle, and a 20-percent barrel rate. What does that mean? Well, most of the time he is hitting the ball, he is hitting it very hard. He also is lifting the ball, which explains the power. I expect the HR/FB rate to decrease, but not enough to derail his power.
Now, there is one big negative with Chavis. He is a free swinger. He chases pitches out of the zone 31.3 percent of the time, has a 16.8 percent swinging strike rate and has struck out in 26.5 percent of his at-bats. Due to that, I do not believe his .287 average will maintain all season. Chavis is legit and I am excited for him going forward, but in redraft fantasy baseball leagues, I would be shopping him now just to see what I could get. If someone was willing to give me a more proven talent, I would definitely consider.
C.J. Cron is a player that made me look smart last year. Not to toot my own horn, but I did think Cron was a useful corner infielder who would hit 30 homers. He came through for me and is playing even better this year. His numbers are not that off from last year, as he is hitting .256 with a .322 OBP, both of which are just a few points off from last years mark. But, there are reasons to believe he could improve. His walk rate is up nearly a full percentage point, but more importantly, his strikeout rate is down over four percentage points at 21.3 percent. His ISO is up from .240 last year to .263 this year. Additionally, his BABIP is a career-low .257, while it has never been below .293. The power is legit with Cron, and given that he has cut down the strikeouts and should have some BABIP regression come his way, he should hit for a higher average going forward. [Editor’s Note: This article was submitted prior to Cron going 5-for-6 last night. Looks like Cron appreciated the praise.]
Jorge Polanco has never been much of a power hitter, but his approach has completely changed this season. He has a 21-degree launch angle, which is by far a career high. He is also hitting the ball harder, as he has a career-high 87.7 MPH average exit velocity, as well as a 41.2 percent hard-hit rate on Fangraphs. He has a slugging percentage of .596 and an expected slugging percentage of .539. Given all this, I believe the power is for real. He may slow a bit, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot keep hitting homers at close to this pace. However, he does have a .372 BABIP, which I think will come down a bit, therefore lowering his .339 average. I think he is more of a .290-.300 hitter, but still, there is a lot to like with Polanco right now.
Mike Soroka has been an absolute stud. He has a 1.01 ERA, a 2.88 FIP, 3.68 xFIP to go along with a 22.8 percent strikeout rate and a 7.8 percent walk rate. He’s gotten batters to swing at 32.3 percent of pitches outside the zone and has a 10.4 percent swinging strike rate. Another great sign is he has a 29.4 percent hard-hit rate, with just a 22.6 percent flyball rate and a 56.5 percent groundball rate. There are many reasons to feel good about Soroka right now.
The unfortunate part is, regression should be hitting. He has just a .203 BABIP, with an 87.2 percent strand rate and a 3.8 percent HR/FB rate. If he qualified that would be the third lowest BABIP, the fifth highest strand rate, and tied for the lowest HR/FB rate. Soroka is good, but he is not best pitcher in history good. Those numbers should regress and he should pitch more to a mid-three ERA. There is still plenty to be excited about but he will not maintain this current pace.
Hunter Pence is enjoying a bounce-back year with a .305 average, .359 OBP, nine homers, and 30 RBI. He has a ridiculously high 56.5 percent hard-hit rate and a 35.3 percent flyball rate. He has a .539 xSLG, with a 9.2 barrel rate. While he has played extremely well, what is most strange is he has hit .317 with seven homers on the road, compared to .289 and two homers at home. Pence is one of those players no one is going to give up much for, so I would just ride it out while it lasts. Ultimately, I find it hard to believe he could keep this pace up, but would just be enjoying it while it last.
All stats entering Wednesday, May 22nd.
For more great fantasy baseball analysis, follow Michael on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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