We’re Half Way There?! Which Breakouts are Legit?

Focusing the microscope on this year's "pop-up stars"

Hasn’t it been glorious to have baseball back in our lives?  I’m still coming to terms with the fact that the season seems to have just started, but we’re now roughly half way through the season.  In this iteration of Is It Legit, we’ll take a look at hitters who were drafted in the middle or later rounds and have delivered All-Star caliber first-half performances, and update our outlook on them for the rest of the season.

 

Cavan Biggio

 

Cavan Biggio is following up last year’s breakthrough into the majors with an even stronger campaign thus far in 2020, posting a 150 wRC+, up from 114 in 2019.  After a slow start, Biggio has caught fire at the plate in the last couple weeks, and he is giving fantasy baseball GMs everything they could have asked out of him, flashing with power and speed out of the leadoff spot for the Blue Jays.  Baseball Savant doesn’t include plate discipline stats in the box at the top of its player pages, but if it did Biggio’s would be blood red: He currently ranks first in baseball in chase rate (a miniscule 14.0%) and second in swing rate, trailing only the Wizard of Plate Discipline himself, Carlos Santana.  Biggio patient approach sometimes verged on passivity in 2019, as he struck out a concerning 28.6% of the time even with his sharp eye at the plate.  This season he has cut his swinging strike rate down and has brought his strikeout rate all the way down to 18.8%.  While he does pull the ball at a 50% clip, Biggio has also gone to the opposite field about a quarter of the time, keeping defenses honest and showing an ability to take what the opposing pitcher is giving him.  Biggio doesn’t blow you away with his barrel percentage (6.7%) or hard hit rate, so it’s reasonable to expect his home run pace to taper off somewhat—Biggio seems like a 20-25 homer per full season kind of guy, as opposed to the 30+ homer pace he’s on right now.  Overall, his fly ball lean and pull tendencies should help him continue to put up respectable power numbers while also registering good counting stats and steals totals, all while giving you a big boost in OBP leagues.

Verdict: Legit.  Prospect growth isn’t (usually) linear, but Biggio looks like the exception to the rule thus far in that he’s incrementally refining his approach and riding it to higher levels of success.  He’s in the midst of what will likely be the hottest streak of the season, but even once he cools down it should still be to a level that endears him to your fantasy team.

 

Brandon Lowe

 

Brandon Lowe is another player who’s taken a big step forward in his second season in the majors and is in the AL MVP conversation right now.  Last year, Lowe emerged as a power-hitting second baseman albeit one with some severe contact issues.  With a ghastly 34.6% strikeout rate and equally concerning reach and swinging strike rates, further regression in that category could threaten to thwart his outstanding power skills.  Fortunately, Lowe has brought his strikeout rate all the way down to 22.1%, which has been driven by a significant drop in reach rate, from 34.1% to 25.7%, as well as improved swinging strike and swing rates.  Lowe has made this plate discipline growth while boosting his power output, boosting his barrels per plate appearance impressively to third in baseball at 14.2%.  Playing virtually every day and hitting in the upper third of the Rays lineup, Lowe should continue to put up excellent power numbers and counting stats, while hitting for a good average.

Verdict: Legit.  Showing an ability to make plate discipline improvements without sacrificing power, Lowe should continue to be a huge boon to your fantasy team going forward.

 

Luke Voit

 

Luke Voit is proving that he deserves to be a regular fixture in the Yankees’ lineup even when injured sluggers return.  Hitting five home runs in his last four games, Voit is carrying the Yankees while DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge all miss time.  Voit’s biggest improvement has been a significant increase in fly ball rate, up to 46.0% from 34.7% last year.  This new launch angle has allowed Voit to maximize his prodigious power and has helped him boost his barrel percentage to 22%, which is the 98th percentile of Major League Baseball, and hit 10 homers in 21 games.  Voit has also performed well against every type of pitch and against both righties and lefties, showing that he is a dangerous hitter regardless of matchup or approach used against him.

Verdict: Legit.  It’s great to see Voit back at the height of his powers after a sports hernia scuttled his second half of 2019.  He should continue to hit homers at a dizzying rate, and should be in the running for home run leader in baseball by season’s end.

 

Dansby Swanson

 

With the injuries to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson finds himself hitting atop the Braves lineup.  Swanson is also in the middle of the best season of his career, with a 125 wRC+ through 28 games, and he is once again putting up a nice barrel rate, with his 10.0% barrels per batted ball event coming in at above league average.  Otherwise though, most of Swanson’s underlying stats are actually below where he was at the end of last season, when he put up just a 92 wRC+.

Comparing 2019 Swanson to 2020

As you can see, Swanson’s plate discipline and power skills are down this season compared to last year, according to these “under the hood” stats.  He’s not really hitting the ball in the air enough to give you a shot at those “errant gust of wind” homers that can help boost your totals.  Swanson has essentially done all his damage against fastballs this season, and has struggled against breaking and off-speed stuff.  He’s also currently seeing an increase in line drive percentage compared to previous seasons, which is helping buoy his BABIP to a seemingly-unsustainable .429 (since 2017, Swanson’s other yearly BABIPs have been .292, .290 and .300, respectively).  Swanson’s strikeout rate currently sits at bloated 27.7% and his walk rate at a meager 3.4%, and his swinging strike rate is the highest of his career.  When coupled with his strong results, all of this paints a picture of a player who is in a hot streak combined with having some good fortune.

Verdict: Not Legit.  The specter of regression hangs over Swanson’s success so far.  The returns of Acuna and Albies will likely push him down to the bottom half of the lineup.  This is probably the height of his value—anybody in your league need a shortstop?

 

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

Brian Holcomb

Charlotte-based outdoor educator and Philly sports fan whose Pitcher List involvement stems from a decades-long fascination with baseball statistics, trading cards, and debates about player valuation. When not thinking about fantasy baseball, can regularly be found exploring the trails, rivers and rocks of North Carolina.

3 responses to “We’re Half Way There?! Which Breakouts are Legit?”

  1. Avatar King Donko of Punchstania says:

    Anything on Kyle Lewis?

    • Avatar Brian Holcomb says:

      I love what Lewis is doing this year. He’s really refined his plate approach–he’s chasing way less and there’s less swing-and-miss to his game right now. He’s also performing well against all pitch types. I’d like to see him boost that launch angle for more homers, but his line drive stroke should give him a high batting average floor (though the .444 BABIP seems unsustainable). Definitely one of the best players who was available on most waiver wires to start the year, along with my guy Jake Cronenworth!

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