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Breakout Hitters for Fantasy Baseball - MLB Batters Rising In The Second Half

andrew vaughn fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers

Welcome back RotoBallers from the All-Star break, and to another edition of my "Breakout Hitters To Watch" series. What we're doing here is taking a good, close look at the hitting data each week to see which hitters are standing out the most.

I want to do something different for this edition, we're going to find players meeting particular criteria that I think in itself can point us towards some future breakout hitters.

Before we get to the names this week, I've included a brief intro and also the recap of all the names we've talked about throughout the year in this weekly piece.

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Finding Breakout Hitters for Fantasy Baseball

Remember back in 2019 when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his long-awaited MLB debut but went on to hit ~only~ 15 homers in 123 games with a .272/.339/.433 line? It was a solid rookie season, but plenty of people were disappointed with him given the hype. He had another similar profile in the short 2020 season, and his career ground-ball rate sat well above 50% at that point. That had people worrying about if he could really hit for power since he was having trouble getting the ball into the air. Everything else in the profile was elite, and that seemed to be the last remaining question.

During the 2021 season, Guerrero dropped the GB% to 45.6% and 48 homers and 111 RBI followed. Juan Soto went through a similar thing, hitting 22 homers his rookie year (116 games) with a high 54.7% GB%. His sophomore year saw him drop the GB% to 42.8% and 34 homers followed.

Those are two great examples and it explains what I'm about to do. It is certainly easier to change your launch angle / batted ball profile as compared to changing your quality and frequency of contact. Therefore, we want to look for hitters posting

  • Low strikeout rates
  • High hard-hit rates
  • High ground-ball rates

These types of players would quickly start hitting home runs at a high rate if they turn ground-balls into fly-balls, given how hard they're swinging the bat and how good they are at avoiding the swing-and-miss.

 

Fantasy Baseball Breakouts Recap

Here are all of the names I've recommended so far.

Week # Breakout Picks
Week 1 (ST) Julio Rodriguez, Steven Kwan, Kevin Smith, Bryson Stott
Week 2 Steven Kwan, Gavin Lux, Andrew Vaughn, Jesus Sanchez, Austin Nola
Week 3 Seiya Suzuki, Jeremy Pena, Alex Verdugo, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Rowdy Tellez
Week 4 Alec Bohm, Santiago Espinal, Taylor Ward, Cristian Pache
Week 5 Rowdy Tellez, Ha-Seong Kim, Max Kepler, Christian Walker, Pavin Smith
Week 6 Manuel Margot, Brandon Drury, Josh Naylor, Daulton Varsho, Gleyber Torres
Week 7 Brendan Rodgers, Yonathan Daza, Brandon Nimmo, Tommy Edman, Ryan Jeffers
Week 8 MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel, Patrick Wisdom, Julio Rodriguez, Mike Yastrzemski
Week 9 Alejandro Kirk, Nolan Gorman, Christopher Morel, Joc Pederson, Garrett Cooper, Emmanuel Rivera
Week 10 Andres Gimenez, Jazz Chisholm, Santiago Espinal, Harold Castro, Brendan Donovan, Ramon Urias
Week 11 Matt Chapman, Luis Garcia, Christian Bethancourt, Oscar Gonzalez, Luis Arraez
Week 12 Juan Yepez, Andrew Vaughn, Bobby Witt Jr., Michael Harris II, Gavin Lux
Week 13 Alex Kirilloff, Adley Rutschman, Isaac Paredes, Josh H. Smith, Matt Vierling, Victor Caratini
Week 14 Ryan Mountcastle, Cavan Biggio, Nick Gordon, Daniel Vogelbach, Rob Refsnyder,
Week 15 Vinnie Pasquantino, Kris Bryant, Yermin Mercedes, Yadiel Hernandez

 

Breakout Picks for the Second Half

Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox

PA 306
HR 10
K% 16.7%
Contact% 81.2%
Hard Hit% 50.0%
GB% 49%
FB% 22%

It's the third time we've mentioned him here, but I can't get enough! Only 14 players have a higher hard-hit rate than Vaughn this year. Only five other hitters have accomplished a 50%+ hard-hit rate with a strikeout rate below 20% (those names: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu, Rafael Devers, and Bryce Harper).

The 22% fly-ball puts him in the 22nd percentile in that category (meaning 73% of hitters have higher rates than him), so there is plenty of room to improve here. The lack of fly balls has kept his power production to about a league-average level (30.6 PA/HR), but there's nothing else about this guy that makes me believe he will be a league-average power hitter for long.

I can't say with any authority that Vaughn will hit more fly balls in the second half, but I can say that if he does - watch out - he's going to quickly become a fantasy stud.

 

Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

PA 360
HR 4
K% 20.8%
Contact% 79.7%
Hard Hit% 49.0%
GB% 50%
FB% 18%

Of the 313 hitters in the league with more than 100 balls in play, Hayes ranks 286th in fly-ball rate with that 18% mark. That's too bad for the Pirates because he's been hitting the ball often (80% contact%) and hard (49% hard-hit rate), but the suboptimal angle range he's put up has him with just four dingers in his 360 plate appearances. That is one of the worst home run rates in the league, but unlike the rest of the guys near the bottom of that list - Hayes has some power potential.

Only four hitters have hit more ground-balls or line drives at 95 miles per hour or better (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jose Abreu, Bo Bichette, and Rafael Devers) - further showing how hard he has been hitting the ball.

His max exit velocity of 113 miles per hour also shows you that he is swinging the bat pretty darn quickly, so that's even more reasons o believe that he can hit for more power in the future. Hayes is just 25 years old, so lots of time left to tweak the swing. I'm not sure I want to buy Hayes for the rest of this season, but he definitely fits the criteria of a player that could suddenly start hitting more homers if he can just get more balls into the air.

 

Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins

PA 135
HR 3
K% 23.7%
Contact% 79.8%
Hard Hit% 48.4%
GB% 53%
FB% 28%

The numbers you see above include the brutal start to the year that he went through when he clearly wasn't healthy. Since returning to the Majors, Kirilloff has an elite 19.4% K% with a great 50% hard-hit rate, but a 49% GB%.

Very few players can pull off a strikeout rate under 20% with a hard-hit rate anywhere near 50% (as we already talked about with Vaughn), and Kirilloff has done just that over his last 103 plate appearances. I really think this kid is going to be something special for the Twins, and I wouldn't be surprised if it starts now.

 

Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

PA 397
HR 14
K% 19.4%
Contact% 74.2%
Hard Hit% 46.6%
GB% 43%
FB% 27%

The speedy Dodgers' shortstop ranks just behind Hayes on the list of hard-hit grounders and liners this year, with 99 batted balls. The only criticism we could ever come up with against Trea is the lack of homers, and even that would be a bit unfair given 117 career homers in 3,427 plate appearances, for a fine PA/HR rate of 29.3.

His swing speed seems to be improving in recent years, as he posted a career-best 46.0% hard-hit rate in 2021 and has added slightly to that in 2022 (46.2%). Despite a 45% hard-hit rate in April, he managed just one homer. He did better in May with four dingers, even better in June with six, and he's hit three in just 67 July plate appearances.

The gains in hard-hit rate with the continued low strikeout rate give him some unrealized power upside - Trea could be in for a huge, huge second-half.

 

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

PA 330
HR 5
K% 17.3%
Contact% 77.5%
Hard Hit% 45.4%
GB% 45%
FB% 24%

The 28-year-old has topped out at 21 homers for a season-best in his career (that was last year), and at this point is probably just not going to turn into a power hitter - but he's meeting our criteria today so he is deserving of a mention. He has a good but short of elite 45.4% hard-hit rate, but it comes with a really low strikeout rate of 17.3%.

I think that 20-25 homer range is probably where he'll fall for the next few years, but if he can exchange a some grounders for fly balls we could see some more dingers for him in that elite Blue Jays lineup.

 

Ramon Urias, Baltimore Orioles

PA 229
HR 9
K% 22.3%
Contact% 74.2%
Hard Hit% 49.4%
GB% 48%
FB% 23%

A late-bloomer, Urias debuted in 2020 at age 26. He's put up just a .273/.339/.431 career line in 553 plate appearances, but he's been smoking the ball in 2022. His 49.4% hard-hit rate is up there pretty high on the list, and he's done that while keeping the strikeout rate slightly below league-average.

The barrel rate of 9.8% is solid, especially for a guy with the 48% GB% - and that's turned into a strong 25.4 PA/HR. So he's already showing some power ability, and that could grow if this ground-ball rate can slide downwards throughout the rest of the season.

 

Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays

PA 337
HR 3
K% 10.4%
Contact% 86.7%
Hard Hit% 45.6%
GB% 53%
FB% 16%

Yandy's 16% fly-ball rate ranks 305th out of 313 here. The problem we have here is that we have a huge sample on Yandy Diaz - he has been this guy for a long time.

Year GB%
2017 58.2%
2018 53.3%
2019 51.2%
2020 66.0%
2021 52.1%
2021 53.2%

So it's pretty likely that Diaz's swing is just designed to hit line drives and ground-balls, and that would make it unlikely to change. But it's not out of the question that he could have a season (or half season) where he drops that down to 45% and more homers come because of it. I really wouldn't be expecting this to happen, but he fits the criteria we're talking about so I had to include him.

 

Other Breakout Hitters

Here are some other hitters that meet the criteria:

  • 100+ PA
  • Hard-Hit Rate above 47%
  • K% under 25%
  • GB% above 47%
Player PA HH% K% GB%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 392 53.0% 17.6% 50%
Willson Contreras 339 49.3% 22.1% 50%
Christian Yelich 378 49.2% 23.8% 58%
Bo Bichette 411 48.6% 24.3% 49%
Nelson Cruz 350 47.6% 22.3% 52%

 

And that's it for this week's breakout picks, hope this helps. Good luck this week, RotoBallers!



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