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2018 was a fantastic year for a number of MLB players. Breaking out and either surprising people or reaching your true potential must be a fantastic feeling for players who have put in years of work to get to where they are. Those breakout players are also a lot of fun for fantasy baseball owners. If you manage to hit on one, be it in the draft or free agency, they can be a big part of the reason you win your leagues. Those breakouts will become some of your favorite players and names you remember for a long time.

The problem is how to value those players the following season. The natural instinct will be to remember the times those players excelled for you. Those stretches where they hit three home runs in a week or had a 25-game hit streak. What tends to get lost are the bad patches, because when you paid nothing for them, the negative stretches do not really worry you during the season. However, the following year those breakout players are not going to cost so little. The whole fantasy world is now aware of those players and if you want them, you are going to have to pay for them.

Therefore, fantasy owners need to be able to work out which breakouts are going to plateau, who will fall back to Earth and, most importantly, who has the ability to take another step. Let's take a look at some infield breakouts who have the chance to go to another level in 2019.

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Matt Chapman (3B, OAK)

Chapman's breakout in 2018 was as much due to an increase in playing time as anything. In 2017, he hit 14 home runs in 325 MLB plate appearances and 30 home runs in total between the majors and Triple-A. You could, therefore, argue that his 2018 home run numbers (24) are somewhat disappointing on a per PA basis. However, the numbers behind the final line are what we need to look at. Despite having a lower HR/PA output, Chapman increased his average exit velocity by an impressive three MPH. That exit velocity ranked top-five in the majors last season.

The problem in terms of power was that he did not transition that effectively enough to fly balls and line drives where he ranked 25th in the majors; that's good but there is potential for more. Interestingly, his launch angle and barrel % both decreased in 2018 compared to 2017. If he can bring one or both of those back up a little in 2019, 30 home runs is a real possibility in 2019.

Regarding batting average, his final line (.278) was a decent amount above his expected batting average (.256). That does suggest there could be some regression in 2019, but it is not likely for him to suddenly going to hit .220 or .230 next season. An important thing to note was the way that he cut his strikeout rate nearly five percent last season, which may have occurred for a couple of reasons.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
2017 28.50% 57.20% 42.70% 57.20% 81.30% 73.20%
2018 23.50% 58.90% 41.20% 59.60% 86.20% 78.70%

As you can see from the table above, according to Fangraphs pitch info, Chapman significantly cut the frequency with which he swung at pitches outside of the zone. Additionally, he also made a higher percentage of contact with pitches both inside and outside the zone. All of that corresponded to a nearly three percent decrease in swinging strike percentage. If he can carry this approach forward into 2019, there is no reason to think that his batting average should regress significantly.

 

Niko Goodrum (1B/2B/3B/OF, DET)

Goodrum was an interesting contributor in 2018. Coming into the year it was generally felt that the primary benefit he would provide to fantasy owners would be stolen bases. However, Goodrum hit an impressive 16 home runs in 492 PA and actually provided as much value power wise as he did on the base paths. There is unlikely to be much growth in terms of his power profile, but after hitting 13 home runs at Triple-A in 2017, it seems more than possible that he can get close to 15 again in 2019.

The same goes for his batting average, as he outperformed his expected batting average in 2018 by .010. While growth in that area should not be expected, it is highly unlikely that the bottom will fall out next year.

There is room for growth in Goodrum's game on the base paths and in his counting stats. He is projected to bat sixth for the Tigers right now and with that, there is a good chance that Goodrum surpasses 492 PA in 2019. There won't be huge growth in his runs and RBI but there should be a little. However, the stolen bases are where the value lies. Despite ranking in the 94th percentile in sprint speed last season, Goodrum was successful on just 75% of his stolen base attempts. At the very least, I expect we see more than 16 stolen base attempts in 2019, and if the efficiency also improves we could see as many as 20.

Over the last 10 years, a player who has stolen 20 bases and hit 15 home runs while providing a .240 batting average has, on average, finished near the 275th-best offensive player. In 10- or 12-team leagues, that is unlikely to be desirable but in 15-team mixed or AL-only formats, Goodrum could be an interesting late-round option in 2019.

 

Brian Anderson (3B/OF, MIA)

Coming into last season, not much was expected from Anderson. There was some optimism he could be a contributor for runs hitting atop the lineup but realistically that was about it. However, Anderson was at least able to return some value in a few categories, contributing over 150 combined runs and RBI, alongside 11 home runs and a perfectly reasonable .273 batting average. Those numbers are not going to get you excited, but there is room for optimism.

Despite a Barrel% of just 5.8%, Anderson was able to put up an exit velocity on line drives and fly balls equivalent to the likes of Travis Shaw, Eugenio Suarez, and David Dahl. The big factor going against Anderson is that he plays in a significantly worse ballpark than any of those hitters. However, if he can improve on the 287th-worst average launch angle in 2019, then there is a chance we can see that home run total creep up into the 15-or-better region. Additionally, his expected batting average was only .011 lower than his final line, suggesting that he will be around that .273 number once again in 2019.

Finally, Anderson is currently projected to hit in the middle of the lineup where he had reasonable success in 2018. In his 358 PA hitting in the three through five spots in the lineup, he had 46 runs and 37 RBI. Assuming he has somewhere in the region of 670 PA again, that pace would give him a shot at 86 runs and 70 RBI. These are not incredible numbers but an overall package of 160 combined runs and RBI, 15 home runs and a .270 batting average is a solid return late in deeper mixed or NL-only league drafts.

More 2019 MLB Breakouts