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2013 Power Breakout Candidates

Aiming to improve on John Dewan's method, we figure quality of opponent into spring stats.


Spring training stats don’t matter. Or so they say.

Generally, no, they don’t matter. Spring training is full of fill-in minor leaguers, players working on different approaches and pitchers working on certain pitches, et cetera. There is an awful lot of noise in spring games, even more so than the noise present in small regular season samples.

But it can’t all be for naught, right? After all, some of you still have fantasy drafts to do, while others who have drafted need to upgrade via the trade market or are scouring the waiver wire for players to plug into recently open roster spots (thanks to teams FINALLY putting guys on the disabled list officially).

Spring stats are, of course, valuable for determining position battle outcomes, but what about identifying breakout candidates?

In 2006 (I think), John Dewan showed that there IS something we can pull from spring training stats for fantasy purposes:

Paraphrased from Baseball Press: Dewan predicted, with 60% success, breakout candidates based on these criteria: a player with 200 career plate appearances has 40 or more spring training plate appearances, and their spring slugging percentage is 200 points higher than their career mark.

Six out of 10 for predicting breakouts is pretty impressive, and the list of notables this method "hit" on is equally impressive. I don’t believe anyone had done so yet this year, so I pulled all of the 2013 spring stats through March 28 and compared them to the career stats for all active players.

Again, what we’re looking for are these criteria:
*200+ career plate appearances
*40+ spring plate appearances
*Spring SLG > Career SLG by 200 points

Unfortunately, that method gave us 47 potential breakout candidates. That’s just way too many for this to be a useful tool, so I needed a way to whittle it down even further.

So I took out players who had big 2012 seasons – basically, some players career SLG may not have caught up to a breakout that already happened. Josh Reddick, for example, has had a great spring, but he already broke out in 2012. Same for Melky Cabrera, who has had a few good seasons but his career SLG is low due to a slow start to his career.

Our new criteria looks like this:
*200+ career plate appearances
*40+ spring plate appearances
*Spring SLG > Career SLG by 200 points and Spring SLG > 2012 SLG by 200 points

Now our list is at 41, which still isn’t terribly useful unless you play in a league with 200-man rosters (I think Eno Sarris might, but most of us don’t). So again, I wanted to narrow it down further, but how?

We’re in luck. This year, Baseball Reference is giving each player a "Quality of Competition" metric for their spring at bats – basically, they are rating the quality of opponent so that we aren’t fooled by hitters teeing off on Single-A pitchers. Using this measure, we can see who had large gains in slugging percentage against good pitching.

So what I did next was limit the list to players with an "OppQual" of nine or greater. A rating of nine means that the hitter faced, on average, 50 percent Major Leaguers and 50 percent Triple-A pitchers, based on their weighted average level played in 2012. An MLB pitcher gives you an OppQual of 10, a Triple-A pitcher an eight, a Double-A pitcher a seven, and so on. So a nine is a pretty strong indicator of competition quality.

Our new criteria looks like this:
*200+ career plate appearances
*40+ spring plate appearances
*Spring SLG > Career SLG by 200 points and Spring SLG > 2012 SLG by 200 points

*OppQual => 9.0

When we filter for OppQual, our list is now down to 20 players, a much more usable list. (For the record, some interesting names that lost out due to OppQual include Domonic Brown, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia and Freddie Freeman, as well as Matt Wieters, who I think is already pretty damn good. Anyway, scroll to the bottom for link to the full list.)

So, who are your 2013 power breakout candidates?

Age Tm OppQual SLG Career Slg Spring - Career SLG 2012 SLG Spring - 2012 SLG
BeltBrandon 24 SF 9.3 0.901 0.418 0.483 0.421 0.48
FowlerDexter 26 COL 9.3 0.843 0.427 0.416 0.474 0.369
GordonAlex 28 KC 9.3 0.778 0.439 0.339 0.455 0.323
LillibridgeBrent 28 CHC 9.3 0.6 0.35 0.25 0.274 0.326
CastroJason 25 HOU 9.2 0.829 0.352 0.477 0.401 0.428
SmoakJustin 25 SEA 9.2 0.782 0.377 0.405 0.364 0.418
MoustakasMike 23 KC 9.2 0.739 0.395 0.344 0.412 0.327
GutierrezFranklin 29 SEA 9.2 0.725 0.384 0.341 0.42 0.305
CrawfordBrandon 25 SF 9.2 0.61 0.333 0.277 0.349 0.261
YoukilisKevin 33 NYY 9.1 0.75 0.482 0.268 0.409 0.341
CowgillCollin 26 NYM 9.1 0.565 0.311 0.254 0.317 0.248
IbanezRaul 40 SEA 9.1 0.673 0.47 0.203 0.453 0.22
NorrisDerek 23 OAK 9 0.838 0.349 0.489 0.349 0.489
CongerHank 24 LAA 9 0.694 0.33 0.364 0.167 0.527
KellyDon 32 DET 9 0.696 0.344 0.352 0.248 0.448
CainLorenzo 26 KC 9 0.712 0.412 0.3 0.419 0.293
GentryCraig 28 TEX 9 0.618 0.355 0.263 0.392 0.226
HarperBryce 19 WSH 9 0.734 0.477 0.257 0.477 0.257
AndrusElvis 23 TEX 9 0.6 0.353 0.247 0.378 0.222
RosarioWilin 23 COL 9 0.733 0.522 0.211 0.53 0.203

Ahh yes, Brandon Belt. He’s been heavily trumpeted as a breakout candidate, absolutely smashing the ball this spring. Alex Gordon has also shown some extra pop, while Jason Castro, Lewie’s pick for a breakout based on September 2012 numbers, also grades out well. And then 17 more guys, including my own personal favorite for a mini-breakout if the playing time is there, Craig Gentry.

So there are your power breakout candidates for 2013. The method isn’t perfect, but Dewan’s very simple indicator had a 60 percent success rate over six years – I think we’ve probably improved the efficacy of it here with OppQual, so hopefully we see a surge from at least half of this group of 20.

If you’re interested in the full spreadsheet with OppQual and SLG changes, I’ve made it publically available here.


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