The Major League Baseball season officially starts today and fans are wondering what a 60 game season will look like. It will be very interesting for fans to see which teams will succeed or flop, how the games will be without fans, and more importantly which players will have breakout seasons. Last season we had Pete Alonso, Ketel Marte, and Rafael Devers. All of these players had one thing in common, they all broke out in unique ways. It is a lot harder to predict breakout players in 2020 with all of the new rules and restrictions for the upcoming season. Myself (@mlbthrone on Instagram) and Justin Girshon (@mlbzone_ on Instagram) have come together to give 4 breakout players for the short 60 game season.
Breakout Player #1 (@mlbthrone): OF Willie Calhoun, TEX
This first pick of mine may come as a surprise to many as Calhoun isn’t a big name to the majority of Major League Baseball fans. If we take a look at the standard stats, Calhoun finished with a decent slash line of .269 AVG, .323 OBP, .524 SLG, and a .848 OPS. This doesn’t look like a fantastic year to many so that poses the question: why did I pick him? Well, Calhoun put up 21 HRs and a .848 OPS in only 83 games. Considering that the 2020 MLB season will only be 60 games, those stats line up very well. It’s also worth mentioning that Calhoun did outperform his expected stats by a fairly large margin indicating there could be regression coming. But, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Calhoun would have put up crazy numbers in 2019 if the season was shortened to 60 games.
Breakout Player #2 (@mlbthrone): SP Mitch Keller, PIT
My last pick is another unpopular name, which makes a breakout player a breakout player right? Anyway, Mitch Keller’s stats in 2019 on paper look horrendous as he posted a horrific 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 48 IP. If you look at the advanced stats though, Keller shines in the majority. He posted a 3.19 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, 4.38 xERA, 12.19 K/9, 1.13 HR/9, and a 3.78 SIERA. Once you look deeper into Keller’s 2019, you c
an see that he got extremely unlucky. His 3.19 FIP was 14th in the entire MLB which is very promising for the young right hander. Keller also ranked 6th in strikeout rate ahead of all-star pitchers like Justin Verlander and Mike Clevinger. The main reason Keller is on here is because of how unlucky he got in 2019 when he only pitched 48 innings. If you take into account his expected stats in the amount of innings he pitched,Keller will have a very stellar 2020 campaign with the 60 game season.
Breakout candidate #3 (@mlbzone_): 1B Christian Walker, ARI
After the Arizona Diamondbacks traded their former face of the franchise first basemen, Paul Goldschmidt, during the 2018-2019 offseason to the Saint Louis Cardinals, Christian Walker took over as the everyday first basemen in 2019. Walker made the best of his new role as he had a .346 wOBA, 112 wRC+, 112 DRC+ along with a .259/.348/.476 slash line over 152 games. On top of being a decent hitter, Walker showed he’s an outstanding defender as seen by his 9 OAA, 11 DRS, and 2.0 UZR. Although it may seem as Walker has already broken out, he underperformed his expected statistics which leads me to believe he could become an even better hitter in 2020. Walker’s xBA-AVG was .001, his xSLG-SLG was .037 and his xwOBA-wOBA was .014. Another reason I believe Walker could breakout is because he had very good batted ball data. In 2019, Walker’s exit velo was in the 84th percentile, barrel% was in the 90th percentile, and hard hit% was in the 96th percentile.
Breakout candidate #4 (zone): SS Dansby Swanson, ATL:
Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft but he’s yet to establish himself as an all star caliber player. Although Swanson has yet to live up to his hype, he made a significant offensive jump from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, Swanson had a .238/.304/.395 slash compared to a .251/.325/.422 slash in 2019. Swanson’s advanced stats also improved as seen by a .021 point increase in wOBA, 12 point increase in wRC+, 6 point increase in DRC+, a .038 point increase in xBA, a .117 increase in xSLG, and a .065 point increase in xwOBA. Similar to Christian Walker, Swanson underperformed his expected statistics which leads me to believe he could become an even better hitter in 2020. Swanson’s xBA-AVG was .018, his xSLG-SLG was .055 and his xwOBA-wOBA was .028. One final reason I believe Swanson will breakout is because he’s already a good defensive shortstop. Over the past two years combined, Swanson has 12 DRS, a -1.1 UZR, and 4 OAA. Swanson is relatively established as a defender and I believe he will be a breakout hitter; because of this, Swanson will start to gain recognition as one of the better shortstops in all of baseball.