Trying to decide if a breakout is for real or not is not always easy, especially when it is still relatively early in the season and the sample size isn’t necessarily ideal. Do we buy in or do we lean on older numbers that may skew things in another direction? Let’s try to make that decision as we look at two younger hitters who appear to be breaking out:
Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles
Dodgers – Outfielder
Verdugo has long been highly hyped, though there have always been questions regarding his upside potential. This season he appears to have taken advantage of an opportunity, causing a flurry of excitement. It’s an easy formula:
Hype + Production + Opportunity = Hysteria
The question is whether or not it’s justified. Simply looking at a slash of .325/.350/.584 with 4 HR over 80 PA and it would be easy to buy in. To an extent it’s justified as well. The approach/makeup is solid, with nothing sticking out as a red flag:
- BABIP – .326
- Hard% – 44.1%
- Oppo% – 26.5%
- SwStr% – 4.1%
We’d love to see a few more walks (3.8%), but it’s not that he’s chasing outside the strike zone (26.7% O-Swing%) so we would think it will come in time. Maybe opposing pitchers start to flip the script a little bit, currently throwing him fastballs 61.92% of the time, but outside of sliders (.143 AVG) he’s proving capable of hitting other types of pitches as well (.300 AVG vs. changeups, .429 vs. curveballs).
How about the power? He had been burying the ball into the ground more as he rose against more advanced pitching, but this season he’s at 44.1%. That is going to help, especially since his 18.2% HR/FB isn’t unsustainable.
Maybe the Dodgers continue to limit his exposure against left-handed pitchers (17 AB this season), but he’s hitting .294 with 1 HR against them so it’s possible he plays his way into full-time AB. While there is still a little bit of skepticism, consider him a worthy buy at this point.
Verdict – Buy ‘Em
Brandon Lowe – Tampa Bay
Rays – Second Baseman
He’s proven capable of playing other positions as well, with Tampa Bay finding ways to keep his bat in the lineup. He’s hitting an impressive .311 with 7 HR, 19 RBI and 20 R over 106 AB. Obviously we can question whether or not he can maintain a 49.3% Hard%, but even if we wanted to buy into that number there are some concerns that can’t be ignored:
- BABIP – .419
- Oppo – 13.0%
- SwStr% – 20.2%
- Strikeout Rate – 32.5%
Obviously it’s nearly impossible that he maintains this type of BABIP, especially as he is not using the entire field and therefore is extremely prone to the shift. Throw in his inability to make consistent contact and the average seems impossible to maintain.
The fact that he’s struggled against all types of pitches just further clouds the issue (Whiff%):
- Hard – 17.84%
- Breaking – 24.50%
- Offspeed – 24.29%
Even the power brings concern, with a 30.4% HR/FB. You put that all together and while we’d want to capitalize on the hot streak (and there’s value in dynasty formats), we aren’t buying this type of production (and therefore he is a sell high candidate).
Verdict – Deny ‘Em
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball