Buying The Breakouts

Part 1: Taking A Deeper Look At What’s Behind The Breakout And Why I’m Buying In 

At this point in the season it’s pretty clear who appears to be breaking out and who appears to just have had a hot streak. What we are going to do is discuss some of these breakout players. We are going to dive in to see what has changed to lead to such success and the reasoning behind the breakout that’s occurring. 

Why do I believe these breakouts are legit? Well it’s simple. There are tangible changes occurring with each of these players. Whether it be plate approach or adding a new pitch, there are changes coinciding with the positive results. When someone makes a change with sustained success that’s when I tend to buy the breakout.

As you can see, this is part one. If I covered every player on the list I’d have to write a book so we are just discussing the top 3 on my list in this article. Let’s take a look at who made the first cut. 

Frankie Montas SP, Oakland A’s:

Baseball Savant

Frankie Montas has been a streamer in the past and gone through his hot stretches. Why is this any different you ask? Well, I believe we are at the mid point of a breakout season. The big reason driving this success is he added a splitter to his arsenal this year. It has since become his one of his most effective pitches and allowed a better pitch mix and a better use of the arsenal as a whole. The graph below shows the overall pitch usage change from 2018 to 2019. 

Brooks Baseball

As the chart above shows, Montas added a splitter and throws it quite a bit. The splitter has a whiff rate of 41.2% and a K rate of 40.3%! That’s is elite and plain unfair. It has led to a more diverse arsenal and definitely assisted towards to the success and breakout we have seen. Teams as a whole are hitting sub .200 against that said splitter as shown in the chart below.

Brooks Baseball

A few other stats worth noting are his increase in overall K rate to 24.8% (Which coincides with the new pitch and pitch mix) and his drop in walk rate to a solid 6.3%. Also, his line drive and fly ball rates have dropped as well and ground ball rates have risen. He has an overall chase rate of 32.3% which is up almost 8% from last season. Lastly, he’s allowing the lowest barrel rate of his career, which shouldn’t be surprising considering everything previously stated. Because of the career low barrel rate, only a lowly 3.3%, he has so far induced a career high weak contact rate of 4.7%. To put that in prospective, the league average is 3.6%. These are the types of changes you like to see and I’ve definitely bought into the breakout. I expect some solid production for Montas the rest of the season. 

Josh Bell 1B, Pittsburgh Pitates:

Baseball Savant

I love me some Josh Bell. I pegged him as a sleeper coming into the year but I did not see this type of breakout. He had a 21 game run at the end of the 2018 season that gave you a glimpse of things to possibly come for this year. He attributed that late 2018 season run to returning to his approach that he succeeded with in the minors and what allowed him to succeed in 2017 when he first broke into the majors. He was his own worst enemy last year for most of the year. He is known to tinker a ton with his approach and mechanics and it has earned him the nickname of Tinker Bell among his teammates. Yes that’s a true statement and you can google it. What has changed this year? Well apparently he has stopped tinkering. This is a huge deal for him and it has allowed him to take the same swing , stance and plate approach each and every at bat and we’ve now seen the upside he possesses. He has always had excellent plate discipline and raw power and has even flashed it in the past. I believe we are watching it all come together. 

Let’s get to the changes behind the breakout. Bell has a K-rate of 20.8% (a career high) and a walk rate of 10.2% (which is great but actually a career low). You would typically find these changes to be a negative thing most of the time but in Bell’s case it is not. It is partly by design as he has become more aggressive at the plate. His first pitch swing rate has increased by a little more than 10%. He has also increased his zone swing rate and of course his overall swing rate. Bell has done all this with the slightest uptick in chase rate, which is still above league average. He is essentially trading off some walk rate and a lower K rate for the power numbers and it’s proven to pay off. 

Along with being more aggressive, Bell has made an effort to increase in launch angle to 10.9 degrees. That’s an increase of 1.7 degrees from the previous year and a career high. This has helped lead to less ground balls and more line drives and fly balls. He also increased his hard hit rate to an astounding 51.3%. That’s easily a career high and by a very wide margin. Bell’s previous career high hard hit rate was 39%. His average exit velocity has also increased by 3.8 MPH from 90 MPH in 2018 to 93.8 MPH this year. So of course with the hard hit rate and exit velocity up, and factor in the higher fly ball rate, this power binge isn’t a fluke. These metrics have basically been here all year with no change. It’s very impressive and I believe this is the new and improved Josh Bell. His new found approach has shown to be successful and I am buying it without a second thought. 

Ketel Marte 2B/SS/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks:

Baseball Savant

Here’s another guy I loved coming into draft season but it wasn’t for his power. I pegged him as a 15 home run guy with 20 home run at best upside and 15 plus steal speed. It was the speed being the main reason I was interested. The multi-positional flexibility was, and still is, a huge plus. The power output has been amazing and the speed hasn’t shown up yet but he still has it. Marte is in the 82nd percentile for sprint speed but it’s hard to steal if you just hit home runs! It’s a great problem to have. Nevertheless, it’s been quite the season to this point and this power binge and breakout doesn’t appear to be a fluke. I’m sure the juiced ball has a part to play in it but he’s yet another player who’s conformed to the fly ball revolution. There are two noticeable changes to Marte’s profile. The first is his increased aggression at the plate. He’s another one, like Josh Bell, who’s become more aggressive at the plate. A slight uptick I n K rate (still under 16% which is great) and less walks. About a 3% drop in walk rate. His chase rate is up more than I’d like but the zone swing rate and zone contact are up as well. Another player who has just taken the the more aggressive approach at the plate compared to previous years and its paying dividends. 

Now the glaring change is the launch angle. It has nearly DOUBLED since last season. That’s not a typo. The launch angle has gone from a 5.7 degrees to 11.2 degrees this year. 

Baseball Savant

This has caused a drop to his ground ball rate by 10% which in turn has raised both his fly ball and line drive rates. He is also pulling the ball more this year. A 3.3% increase in pull rate, which may not be a huge gain, still is contributing to some of the power production. All this change in approach has led to other impressive changes as well in his hard hit rate, average exit velocity and barrel percentage. His hard hit rate is at  41.4%, his barrel rate is at 12.1% and his average exit velocity is sitting at 91 MPH. What do all these numbers have in common? They’re all career high marks! Marte is another benefactor of the fly ball revolution! 

This is going to do it for part one of this mini series of breakout articles I will be putting out. There were a few more names I will be writing about soon but as you could see it would’ve been a book if I included them all. I hope you enjoyed the material and stay tuned for the next article. In the mean time you can follow me @Mike_Kurland on twitter.