Sunday afternoon, Keith Law posted his list of breakout candidates for 2010 on his ESPN blog. The article is Insider-only, but it's good stuff as always. Law basically outlines players that he believes are on the cusp of stardom, or at least taking a major step forward at the major-league level.
And he's been pretty good at this stuff, too. In 2008, he recognized names such as Adam Wainwright, Chad Billingsley, Jason Kubel and Stephen Drew, although injuries and inconsistency have prevented others, like Rickie Weeks, Howie Kendrick and Edwin Encarnacion, from taking another step. Last season's list included names like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Upton, Adam Lind, Adam Jones and Jonathan Sanchez.
Now, it's difficult to define precisely what qualifies a performance as a breakout. Sometimes, it could simply be a player going from unlucky to lucky, but other times we see players make legitimate changes in their true talent level. I thought that it would be interesting to see if CHONE and ZiPS, two of my favorite projection systems, expect similar breakouts from players that Law targeted as candidates for this season. Law defines these players as, "Players I think are ready to step forward in the upcoming season, usually players with significant tools or baseball skills who haven't fully translated them into performance."
As such, the list is littered with former first-round picks and top prospects with a variety of experience in the majors. But given that Law is labeling these players from primarily a scouting perspective, do projection systems that solely use statistical data see the same kind of progression that Law does?
Well, first off, I'll give you Law's list of breakout candidates, and then we'll quickly go case-by-case. From top to bottom, Law's 2010 breakout candidates are St. Louis' Colby Rasmus, Toronto's Travis Snider, Tampa Bay's David Price, Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, Colorado's Ian Stewart, Texas' Matt Harrison, Oakland's Brett Anderson, Chicago's Gordon Beckham, San Diego's Chase Headley, Florida's Cameron Maybin and Baltimore's Matt Wieters.
Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus
Law believes Rasmus is on the cusp of greatness, a five-tool stud with a developed approach at the plate and impressive defensive skills in center field. While CHONE and ZiPS expect Rasmus to take a step forward with his walk rate and a luckier BABIP, neither projection systems expects a major breakout in 2010, although a 110 wRC+ with above-average defense in center field makes for a pretty nifty player.
Career wRC+ to date: 91 in 520 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 110
ZiPS projection: 100
Toronto outfielder Travis Snider
Snider has prodigious power and a good swing, but he's struggled to make contact in the majors and has developed what Law believes to be an unfairly negative defensive reputation. The projection systems see more of his power coming through in 2010, but the contact woes should continue.
Career wRC+ to date: 102 in 356 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 112
ZiPS projection: 109
Tampa Bay left-hander David Price (he's got a pretty sick last name, I must say..)
Price disappointed last season after his monster performance in the 2008 postseason, but his command and change-up were lacking last season. Law believes he's improved these issues from what he's seen this spring, though, which directly contradicts the projection systems.
CHONE and ZiPS actually expect Price to get worse, with slight increases in his home run rate and no improvement in an unimpressive strikeout-to-walk ratio. The fans are much more optimistic, but the numbers are pretty pessimistic on Mr. Price.
Career FIP to date: 4.47 in 142.1 innings
CHONE projection: 4.71
ZiPS projection: 4.79
Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce and Colorado third baseman Ian Stewart
Here are two guys that CHONE and ZiPS really disagree about, and they make for great examples of guys who could have big breakouts simply by going from unlucky to lucky. Like Law, CHONE expects major breakouts from Bruce and Stewart in 2010. Both have made consistent improvement in their approaches at the plate, and Law believes that both should middle-of-the-order power threats within a couple years.
With the projections, the story is pretty much the same here, too. CHONE expects Bruce and Stewart to maintain their impressive power and walk rates from 2009, with essentially all of his improvement coming in the from of a seriously regressed BABIP. Bruce and Stewart saw some horrid luck in 2009 with BABIPs of .222 and .270, respectively, but these are guys who posted consistently high BABIPs throughout their minor league career. Tough to disagree with CHONE and Law here, but ZiPS doesn't see either hitter maintaining their power.
Bruce Career wRC+ to date: 96 in 839 plate appearances
Bruce CHONE projection: 135
Bruce ZiPS projection: 105
Stewart Career wRC+ to date: 98 in 841 plate appearances
Stewart CHONE projection: 120
Stewart ZiPS projection: 109
Texas left-hander Matt Harrison
Law sees improvement in Harrison this spring, but the projection systems don't know about that. Both projection systems expect him to maintain his roughly 5.00 FIP for next season, with too many walks and not enough strikeouts and ground balls.
Career FIP to date: 5.12 in 147 innings
CHONE projection: 4.99
ZiPS projection: 5.27
Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson
Law all but said that Anderson has already broken out, and it's tough to disagree after the guy posted an xFIP of 3.61 and a 3.8 WAR last season for the Athletics. CHONE and ZiPS don't see him getting much better than that in 2010 though, with practically identical rate projections. Even if he doesn't improve for next season, he's already a damn good pitcher though.
Career FIP to date: 3.69 in 175.1 innings
CHONE projection: 3.92
ZiPS projection: 3.78
Chicago second baseman Gordon Beckham
Considered by Law to be the position player equivalent of Anderson: already proven to be pretty good in the majors, but still room to get even better. Apparently, he's the position player equivalent of Anderson to the projection systems, too. They expect him to maintain essentially all of his rate stats, with CHONE being slightly bullish. Then again, that makes him a roughly 3.5-4.0 WAR player for 2010, so White Sox fans can probably wait a year or so for him to get better.
Career wRC+ to date: 112 in 430 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 115
ZiPS projection: 111
San Diego third baseman Chase Headley
I've seen Headley's name discussed briefly as a breakout candidate elsewhere, and I pretty much bought the argument as I drafted him for my Ball on a Budget team. With a solid glove at third and a good ability to get on base, Law believes that he's positioning himself for a nice career as a solid regular. He was pretty good with the bat last season (108 wRC+), and while CHONE believes that he'll maintain that performance, ZiPS sees decreases in his walk rate and contact rate.
Career wRC+ to date: 109 in 1001 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 108
ZiPS projection: 93
Florida outfielder Cameron Maybin
Law compared Maybin to Matt Kemp in that they're both impressive five-tool athletes with the tendency to strikeout often but impressive power when they put the bat on the ball. We've already seen Kemp's big breakout, and 2010 could be Maybin's big year. It just happens that CHONE is seemingly in complete agreement with Law, while ZiPS apparently thinks they're both crazy.
CHONE projects Maybin for a roughly 3.5 WAR over the course of a full season, as I outlined in this article. That would certainly qualify as a breakout, as he'd immediately be one of the best center fielder in the NL. ZiPS, on the other hand, believes that Maybin won't be able to get over his contact issues and lack of pitch recognition, projecting him for a very below average .307wOBA. So clearly, there's something here that both Law and CHONE see.
Career wRC+ to date: 96 in 288 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 118
ZiPS projection: 85
Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters
Last, but not least of course, is the almighty Matt Wieters. Law expects a monster breakout from Wieters, during which he will, "break records, stadium walls and the sound barrier."
Hyperbole aside, CHONE and ZiPS aren't exactly as optimistic about Wieters as BPro's PECOTA famously was before last season. After being essentially a league average hitter in his rookie season, one during which Wieters showed some pretty clear improvement throughout the season, both systems see improvements in his power production and walk rate for next season. But the improvements aren't huge, and no improvement upon his .288 batting average from last season is expected. Tough to complain though, as he'll be a four-win player in 2010 if he reaches his CHONE projection and stays healthy.
Career wRC+ to date: 101 in 385 plate appearances
CHONE projection: 119
ZiPS projection: 110
All in all, you have some guys that the systems (or at least CHONE) and Law are pretty much in agreement on, like Bruce and Maybin. But you also have guys that have apparently shown improvement this spring that won't show up in projection systems, like Price and Harrison. Really, I wouldn't be surprised if any of these guys broke out next season, but it's always nice to see that the projection systems and scouting reports are conveniently in agreement.
When it comes to Jay Bruce and Cameron Maybin, I would feel pretty good about their odds of being two of the better outfielders in the NL next season.