Finding Breakout Hitters

Quickly identifying legitimate breakout hitters is tough. Is the hot streak just that, a streak or is something more? With pitchers, it is easier to find the breakout’s cause. New pitch. Added velocity. Improved control. These traits can be seen in a single start after facing 25+ batters. A hitter has only about five plate appearances a game to display a new skill. It’s a different world with them. Today, I am going to try to find a simple process with a few key stats to focus on.

With hitters, their data contains so much noise, especially once the ball is put into play. To get rid of some of this noise, I started to find with the following stats:

  • Power: Hard%, HR/FB
  • Plate Discipline: BB%, K%, O-Swing%, Contact%
  • Batted Ball Distribution: Pull%, Flyball%

I went through the hitters (min 200 PA in 2016 and 2017) and ranked them by wRC+ compared to from their Steamer projections. I would have liked to use a projection system for everything but none contain batted ball or detailed plate discipline numbers. Then I spent too much time in the spreadsheet finding just a few smoking guns.

After looking at which players improved, they generally all displayed increased power production. Hitters don’t get stronger. Most are at least 24-years-old and have probably been lifting weights since before their voice changed. Most major leaguers don’t have a ton of power to gain.

On the other hand, the power will eventually fall off as hitters’ age into their 30’s. It can be a gradual decline or crash. It will happen and don’t be completely surprised when it occurs.

Behind the jumps, I found power was usually a change in a hitter’s batted ball distribution, especially a higher flyball rate. Some hitters, usually fly ball guys with below average power, can also see a jump in home runs if they begin pulling the ball. But others see a production spike by spreading the ball around (see Marwin Gonzalez). More on pull data in the future.

Increased plate discipline, on the other hand, doesn’t discriminate. If a hitter can strike out less and/or walk more they are likely to see an improvement to their on-base rate. Additionally, their power production may increase as they make better contact.

One trait some hitters execute is trading contact for power or giving up power for contact. This tradeoff is just that, a tradeoff. It doesn’t normally make the hitter more productive, it just changes the source of the production.

Overall, here are the rules.

  • K%-BB% (plate discipline) changes by +/- 4.5%.
  • Flyball rate (FB%) changes by +/- 3%.

If the above two items can’t explain the change move onto the following three points.

  • Pull% change (only) by +/- 5% this value can good or bad depending on the hitter’s other traits.
  • Raw power can start decline once a player reaches 30-years-old.
  • BABIP changed by +/- 30 points. (A change in plate discipline can cause this change)

I know this process isn’t perfect and it may miss some players but anything I was previously using wasn’t cutting it.

Using these rules, I worked my way down the hitters who have over and underachieved their projections to find where the first two rules don’t work (A full list of players are at the article’s end). Then I found the reason for their breakout.

Top 10 Breakouts without FB% increase or improved plate discipline:

  1. Scooter Gennett: High BABIP
  2. Jose Altuve: Really high BABIP
  3. Tyler Flowers: High BABIP
  4. Charlie Blackmon: High BABIP
  5. Michael Conforto: High BABIP
  6. Ezequiel Carrera: High BABIP
  7. Tim Beckham: High BABIP
  8. Travis Shaw: High BABIP and Pull Happy
  9. Jonathan Schoop: High BABIP
  10. Ryan Zimmerman: High BABIP

The first breakout who didn’t meet all four points was Jose Ramirez (+31 wRC+) but he just met the cutoffs at FB% (+2.6%), BABIP (+.017), and Pull% (+2.6%).

Now for the bottom ten

  1. Carlos Gonzalez: Low BABIP, Over 30
  2. Michael Saunders: Low BABIP
  3. Rougned Odor: Low BABIP
  4. J.J. Hardy: Low BABIP, Over 30
  5. Manny Machado: Low BABIP
  6. Maikel Franco: Low BABIP
  7. Trevor Story: Nothing (close on K%-BB% +3.7%)
  8. Hunter Pence: Over 30
  9. Jason Kipnis: Low BABIP
  10. Brandon Crawford: Low BABIP

Story (-29 wRC+) was the first player not to meet the cutoffs and the next was Jason Heyward at -16 wRC+

That’s a lot of players whose ups and downs ride upon their BABIP. I feel comfortable ignoring these players.

For now, I feel happy about the small number of findings but I have one major step left. I need to determine how sticky the changes are from the season’s first month and from season-to-season.

Hitter Raw Skill Changes Ranked By Change in wRC+
Name wRC+ K%-BB% FB% BABIP Pull% Age
Marwin Gonzalez 73 -8.7% 4.0% .048 4.0% 28
Zack Cozart 70 -5.5% 1.6% .072 1.6% 31
Justin Smoak 57 -11.5% 0.0% .032 0.0% 30
Lonnie Chisenhall 55 -2.9% 5.2% .020 5.2% 28
Jake Marisnick 53 4.3% 13.6% .014 13.6% 26
Aaron Altherr 48 -2.4% 15.7% .054 15.7% 26
Justin Turner 47 -11.4% 6.7% .042 6.7% 32
Scooter Gennett 47 3.8% 1.3% .035 1.3% 27
Aaron Hicks 46 -8.1% 1.4% .021 1.4% 27
Jose Altuve 46 1.9% 0.5% .062 0.5% 27
Tyler Flowers 45 -4.1% -6.4% .052 -6.4% 31
Alex Avila 43 -4.9% 13.5% .056 13.5% 30
Steven Souza Jr. 43 -11.1% -1.0% .021 -1.0% 28
Charlie Blackmon 43 2.1% -0.1% .049 -0.1% 31
Michael Conforto 42 -2.9% -6.9% .049 -6.9% 24
Ezequiel Carrera 42 -0.8% 1.3% .057 1.3% 30
Tim Beckham 40 -0.8% -7.7% .073 -7.7% 27
Mike Trout 39 -1.8% 4.9% .026 4.9% 25
Travis Shaw 38 -3.8% -9.7% .049 -9.7% 27
Gerardo Parra 37 -5.6% 1.4% .066 1.4% 30
J.D. Martinez 37 -2.5% 4.2% -.017 4.2% 29
Freddie Freeman 37 -5.4% 0.1% .008 0.1% 27
Jonathan Schoop 36 -2.3% 2.7% .040 2.7% 25
Michael Taylor 35 -1.6% 6.5% .044 6.5% 26
Whit Merrifield 35 -7.3% 14.0% .003 14.0% 28
Ryan Zimmerman 35 -2.9% -1.4% .031 -1.4% 32
George Springer 34 -1.1% 1.1% .021 1.1% 27
Carlos Correa 33 -2.5% 4.7% .037 4.7% 22
Anthony Rendon 33 -8.5% 4.3% -.006 4.3% 27
Didi Gregorius 32 -0.4% 0.9% .033 0.9% 27
Andrelton Simmons 31 0.7% 4.3% .032 4.3% 27
Logan Morrison 31 -3.4% 11.6% -.001 11.6% 29
Jose Ramirez 31 0.5% 2.6% .017 2.6% 24
Yonder Alonso 30 5.3% 11.6% -.005 11.6% 30
Corey Dickerson 28 -1.0% -7.4% .045 -7.4% 28
Eddie Rosario 27 -9.3% 1.7% .016 1.7% 25
Avisail Garcia 27 -1.4% 2.8% .045 2.8% 26
Justin Bour 26 5.9% 1.6% .027 1.6% 29
Starlin Castro 26 -1.8% 0.4% .049 0.4% 27
Jed Lowrie 26 -4.9% 11.6% .020 11.6% 33
Joey Votto 26 -8.0% 10.9% -.033 10.9% 33
Marcell Ozuna 26 2.3% -3.0% .033 -3.0% 26
Eduardo Nunez 26 -3.7% -5.7% .042 -5.7% 30
Eugenio Suarez 25 -5.8% -1.2% .005 -1.2% 25
Corey Seager 25 -2.9% 5.4% .048 5.4% 23
Jean Segura 25 1.1% -0.7% .058 -0.7% 27
J.T. Realmuto 24 -4.6% 2.2% .019 2.2% 26
Paul Goldschmidt 23 0.4% 8.7% .028 8.7% 29
Jake Lamb 23 -4.4% 0.2% -.009 0.2% 26
Jay Bruce 22 0.1% 7.7% .006 7.7% 30
James McCann 22 -7.8% -6.5% -.024 -6.5% 27
Adam Duvall 21 -0.2% 0.7% .038 0.7% 28
Daniel Murphy 19 -1.0% -2.8% .001 -2.8% 32
Mark Reynolds 19 1.4% 2.0% .041 2.0% 33
Justin Upton 18 -5.1% -1.1% .029 -1.1% 29
Elvis Andrus 18 7.9% 4.0% .017 4.0% 28
Carlos Gomez 18 -0.1% 7.2% .014 7.2% 31
Nelson Cruz 17 -4.7% 5.5% .000 5.5% 36
Kolten Wong 17 -1.0% -0.6% .060 -0.6% 26
Jon Jay 17 -5.2% 1.5% .043 1.5% 32
Welington Castillo 17 0.9% 2.2% .047 2.2% 30
Salvador Perez 16 -2.2% 1.4% .007 1.4% 27
Eric Hosmer 16 -4.2% -1.9% .030 -1.9% 27
Orlando Arcia 16 -2.8% 3.0% .040 3.0% 22
Willson Contreras 16 0.9% 3.7% .006 3.7% 25
Bryce Harper 15 4.1% -4.7% .049 -4.7% 24
Daniel Descalso 15 3.3% 7.7% .014 7.7% 30
Kiké Hernandez 15 -3.7% -1.0% -.023 -1.0% 25
David Freese 15 -13.5% 2.5% -.005 2.5% 34
Alex Bregman 15 -13.1% -2.0% .010 -2.0% 23
Miguel Sano 15 -1.1% -4.9% .069 -4.9% 24
Evan Gattis 15 -7.0% 2.5% .025 2.5% 30
Cesar Hernandez 14 1.3% 4.1% .017 4.1% 27
Chase Utley 14 -7.2% 4.6% -.023 4.6% 38
Khris Davis 13 -0.6% 1.1% .001 1.1% 29
Wilmer Flores 13 2.7% -0.5% .019 -0.5% 25
Josh Harrison 13 -1.5% 3.4% -.013 3.4% 29
Adrian Beltre 12 -0.5% -7.6% -.007 -7.6% 38
Lorenzo Cain 12 -4.5% 4.4% -.003 4.4% 31
Mallex Smith 12 0.6% 1.9% .049 1.9% 24
Brett Gardner 12 0.9% 10.2% -.028 10.2% 33
Ryan Braun 11 0.4% 8.8% .011 8.8% 33
Brandon Phillips 11 -0.9% -4.5% .010 -4.5% 36
Freddy Galvis 11 -7.4% 4.5% .004 4.5% 27
Robbie Grossman 10 -9.7% -4.8% -.030 -4.8% 27
Nolan Arenado 10 5.3% -0.6% .040 -0.6% 26
Buster Posey 10 -1.6% 3.7% .026 3.7% 30
Jedd Gyorko 9 -0.9% 0.0% .040 0.0% 28
Giancarlo Stanton 9 -7.2% -2.7% -.032 -2.7% 27
Josh Reddick 8 3.4% 5.0% .046 5.0% 30
Cameron Rupp 8 0.7% 1.3% .022 1.3% 28
Chris Owings 8 3.8% 8.5% .002 8.5% 25
Eduardo Escobar 8 -4.2% 7.9% -.020 7.9% 28
Keon Broxton 8 7.6% 5.3% .009 5.3% 27
Hernan Perez 7 -5.6% -3.4% -.023 -3.4% 26
Dexter Fowler 7 -1.3% 3.8% -.041 3.8% 31
Domingo Santana 6 -4.0% -0.1% .034 -0.1% 24
Tucker Barnhart 6 -2.7% 1.5% .016 1.5% 26
Jason Castro 6 -6.5% -1.0% .001 -1.0% 30
Andrew McCutchen 6 -6.3% -3.1% -.025 -3.1% 30
Russell Martin 6 -7.5% -7.5% -.009 -7.5% 34
Chase Headley 6 2.6% -0.5% .057 -0.5% 33
Odubel Herrera 6 6.1% 1.4% .015 1.4% 25
Nick Markakis 6 2.4% -5.5% .032 -5.5% 33
Matt Adams 5 0.6% -5.3% .006 -5.3% 28
Martin Maldonado 4 11.0% -1.3% -.005 -1.3% 30
Yan Gomes 4 -9.8% -4.0% -.018 -4.0% 29
Gary Sanchez 4 1.2% -1.5% .020 -1.5% 24
Todd Frazier 4 -7.1% -4.1% -.039 -4.1% 31
Delino DeShields 4 0.7% 6.9% .071 6.9% 24
Brandon Drury 4 3.1% -3.0% .032 -3.0% 24
Cameron Maybin 4 -1.0% 4.2% -.023 4.2% 30
Yangervis Solarte 4 -5.3% 5.4% -.014 5.4% 29
Matt Kemp 3 -3.1% -12.9% .022 -12.9% 32
Matt Carpenter 3 -2.8% 5.1% -.033 5.1% 31
Danny Valencia 3 2.5% -0.4% .022 -0.4% 32
Dustin Pedroia 3 -2.8% 4.0% .011 4.0% 33
Dee Gordon 2 -1.1% -4.6% .014 -4.6% 29
Seth Smith 2 2.2% 3.7% .012 3.7% 34
Curtis Granderson 2 0.0% 5.6% -.020 5.6% 36
Melky Cabrera 2 3.3% -4.6% .003 -4.6% 32
Scott Schebler 2 0.5% 9.1% -.060 9.1% 26
Brandon Belt 2 1.7% 0.9% -.047 0.9% 29
Jose Abreu 2 1.4% 2.3% .002 2.3% 30
Ender Inciarte 2 3.2% 5.2% .020 5.2% 26
Sandy Leon 1 -1.0% 6.4% -.015 6.4% 28
Francisco Lindor 1 1.3% 12.6% -.038 12.6% 23
Matt Joyce 1 3.9% 8.2% -.034 8.2% 32
Asdrubal Cabrera 1 -5.0% -3.9% .002 -3.9% 31
Jordy Mercer 1 0.2% -0.4% -.014 -0.4% 30
Yunel Escobar 1 1.0% 3.3% -.005 3.3% 34
Kris Bryant 0 -6.2% -2.0% -.010 -2.0% 25
Chris Young 0 -4.2% -5.1% -.008 -5.1% 33
Brian McCann 0 -4.7% -2.1% -.015 -2.1% 33
Brian Dozier 0 0.6% -6.0% .005 -6.0% 30
Kevin Kiermaier -1 7.1% -7.9% .025 -7.9% 27
Javier Baez -1 1.7% 1.8% .020 1.8% 24
Jarrod Dyson -1 3.8% 9.0% -.024 9.0% 32
Yoenis Cespedes -1 1.0% 9.1% .001 9.1% 31
Steve Pearce -1 6.2% -1.3% .010 -1.3% 34
Francisco Cervelli -1 6.5% 3.1% -.010 3.1% 31
Edwin Encarnacion -1 -0.3% -1.6% .015 -1.6% 34
Joe Mauer -2 -1.4% 4.9% -.011 4.9% 34
Mitch Moreland -2 -3.9% -0.4% -.020 -0.4% 31
Yadier Molina -3 5.7% 5.6% -.012 5.6% 34
Shin-Soo Choo -3 -4.3% -5.9% -.023 -5.9% 34
Neil Walker -3 -2.0% 0.4% -.008 0.4% 31
Denard Span -4 3.6% 9.3% -.006 9.3% 33
Josh Donaldson -4 5.1% -2.7% -.004 -2.7% 31
Ian Kinsler -4 -8.2% 2.8% -.034 2.8% 35
DJ LeMahieu -4 1.8% -4.9% .002 -4.9% 28
Ryon Healy -5 5.0% 2.2% -.019 2.2% 25
Erick Aybar -5 -0.2% 7.3% -.035 7.3% 33
Evan Longoria -5 -5.6% -10.6% -.008 -10.6% 31
Adam Jones -5 1.9% -5.1% -.004 -5.1% 31
Wil Myers -6 5.6% 9.1% -.004 9.1% 26
Anthony Rizzo -7 -5.8% 0.4% -.038 0.4% 27
Jackie Bradley Jr. -7 1.8% 0.3% -.006 0.3% 27
Nick Castellanos -7 -2.3% -6.8% -.030 -6.8% 25
Jacoby Ellsbury -7 2.9% -0.8% -.014 -0.8% 33
Billy Hamilton -8 2.7% -0.3% .016 -0.3% 26
Robinson Cano -8 -4.8% -4.5% -.034 -4.5% 34
Kevin Pillar -9 -1.8% 0.5% -.041 0.5% 28
Nori Aoki -9 4.9% 1.4% .007 1.4% 35
Logan Forsythe -9 -3.7% -6.2% .036 -6.2% 30
Yasmani Grandal -9 7.7% -0.8% .047 -0.8% 28
Nomar Mazara -9 -2.1% 6.0% -.025 6.0% 22
Rajai Davis -9 -1.5% 1.1% -.011 1.1% 36
Max Kepler -10 -1.0% 4.6% -.015 4.6% 24
Tony Wolters -10 -4.9% -5.1% .022 -5.1% 25
Kendrys Morales -11 2.2% -4.1% -.018 -4.1% 34
Addison Russell -11 2.7% -0.3% .003 -0.3% 23
Kyle Seager -12 1.8% 7.4% -.013 7.4% 29
Jose Reyes -12 -3.3% 0.2% -.049 0.2% 34
Christian Yelich -12 -2.7% 3.9% -.027 3.9% 25
Joc Pederson -13 -3.8% -6.9% -.034 -6.9% 25
Gregory Polanco -13 -4.9% 1.4% -.026 1.4% 25
Randal Grichuk -14 0.6% -0.4% -.003 -0.4% 25
Stephen Piscotty -14 -5.1% -0.2% -.035 -0.2% 26
Brandon Moss -14 0.5% -6.0% -.031 -6.0% 33
Brad Miller -15 -10.4% -2.6% -.031 -2.6% 27
Ben Revere -15 -0.5% -6.8% -.028 -6.8% 29
Yasiel Puig -15 -6.5% -1.9% -.057 -1.9% 26
Derek Dietrich -15 1.0% 5.6% -.024 5.6% 27
Joey Rickard -16 6.5% 2.5% -.004 2.5% 26
Joe Panik -17 4.3% -2.6% -.009 -2.6% 26
Stephen Vogt -17 0.7% -4.6% -.053 -4.6% 32
Matt Wieters -17 1.1% -2.6% -.002 -2.6% 31
Darwin Barney -17 3.0% 1.3% .001 1.3% 31
Tommy Joseph -18 0.6% -8.5% .011 -8.5% 25
Travis d’Arnaud -18 0.3% 8.6% -.031 8.6% 28
Kole Calhoun -19 4.4% -7.0% -.016 -7.0% 29
Xander Bogaerts -19 1.9% -5.1% .006 -5.1% 24
John Jaso -19 4.5% 21.1% -.058 21.1% 33
Carlos Beltran -19 3.2% 2.2% -.019 2.2% 40
Jose Iglesias -20 4.2% -3.6% -.015 -3.6% 27
Jason Heyward -20 1.7% -1.0% -.016 -1.0% 27
Trea Turner -20 -2.1% -0.7% -.033 -0.7% 24
Tim Anderson -20 1.4% 5.5% -.031 5.5% 24
Carlos Santana -20 3.2% -4.5% -.013 -4.5% 31
Adam Rosales -20 3.0% -4.3% .031 -4.3% 34
Hanley Ramirez -21 -0.7% 4.4% -.037 4.4% 33
Chris Davis -21 4.6% -1.1% -.003 -1.1% 31
Jose Peraza -22 0.0% 3.9% -.021 3.9% 23
Matt Holliday -22 6.8% 3.1% -.029 3.1% 37
Byron Buxton -22 -7.9% -8.8% -.001 -8.8% 23
Mike Napoli -23 7.2% 8.5% -.054 8.5% 35
Ian Desmond -25 2.2% -6.4% .015 -6.4% 31
Mookie Betts -26 -4.1% 3.6% -.049 3.6% 24
Jorge Polanco -27 -3.7% 2.7% -.037 2.7% 23
Brandon Crawford -27 4.3% -0.7% -.036 -0.7% 30
Jason Kipnis -27 -2.1% 5.1% -.066 5.1% 30
Mark Trumbo -28 -2.5% -3.3% -.018 -3.3% 31
Hunter Pence -28 1.8% 3.4% -.022 3.4% 34
Troy Tulowitzki -28 -1.8% -7.1% -.018 -7.1% 32
Victor Martinez -29 -0.6% -5.9% -.022 -5.9% 38
Luis Valbuena -29 7.0% 3.4% -.063 3.4% 31
Trevor Story -29 3.7% 1.4% -.006 1.4% 24
Alcides Escobar -32 5.9% 6.1% -.030 6.1% 30
Ben Zobrist -33 4.6% 1.1% -.052 1.1% 36
Aledmys Diaz -33 5.6% -0.9% -.023 -0.9% 26
Maikel Franco -33 -2.5% -1.5% -.053 -1.5% 24
Chris Carter -33 6.7% 1.3% .015 1.3% 30
Manny Machado -35 -1.3% 0.1% -.042 0.1% 24
J.J. Hardy -35 4.2% 2.6% -.037 2.6% 34
Danny Espinosa -36 7.9% 2.2% -.051 2.2% 30
Trevor Plouffe -36 8.7% -8.5% -.015 -8.5% 31
Jonathan Villar -38 9.8% -2.3% -.028 -2.3% 26
Jose Bautista -39 7.1% 5.2% -.015 5.2% 36
Rougned Odor -40 1.2% -1.7% -.069 -1.7% 23
Jonathan Lucroy -41 -5.5% -10.8% -.050 -10.8% 31
Alex Gordon -41 -5.1% -5.5% -.067 -5.5% 33
Michael Saunders -44 0.2% 3.4% -.059 3.4% 30
Albert Pujols -45 6.7% 0.0% -.027 0.0% 37
Miguel Cabrera -48 3.6% -4.0% -.042 -4.0% 34
Carlos Gonzalez -58 -0.4% -2.0% -.047 -2.0% 31



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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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rasouddress
Member
rasouddress

Crazy that this implies that Mike Trout has “broken out” this year.

ChippersJonesing
Member
ChippersJonesing

The roof is the ceiling with that guy.

feslenraster
Member
feslenraster

No, the sky is! :)