One giant leap
Recently I wrote about
There are a number of ways to define a breakout season. In compiling the list below I went looking for players who have been in the league for two-to-three years, are young enough to have development left but have established a certain level of performance. There are players such as
What do true breakout players look like? Well, a little like this...
Now that's the sunniest view of Weeks' season. What that doesn't show is that on Aug. 1 the Brewers sent Weeks, hitting .212/.330/.363 and not showing improvement defensively, to Triple-A for two weeks. This was, in part, a reaction to the team's summer malaise, which Weeks was a part of but not the sole reason for. Even with his low batting average Weeks' walk rate, K/BB and isolated power were career highs or close to it, showing growth. Weeks was recalled nine days later, and was one of the best players in the NL down the stretch: .273/.442/.553, 38 walks drawn in 197 PA, 15 for 15 stealing bases.
If you just look at Weeks' seasonal OBP and SLG you end up missing the impact of an unusually low batting average, the improvement in his core skills, and the way he played after the demotion. Weeks is 25 now and ready to be one of the best second baseman -- at least at the plate -- in the National League.
Navarro was one of the worst players in baseball in the first half of 2007, batting .177/.238/.254, with a 36/13 K/BB in 229 plate appearances. To the Rays' credit, they didn't bury him, allowing him to remain the regular catcher throughout the season. They were rewarded with a significant improvement in the second half: .285/.340/.475, with a better K/BB (31/17 in 209 PA) and the best power of his career.
Now, with both Weeks and Navarro, it's fair to wonder whether emphasizing a subset of performance is the correct way to analyze them. After all, if a full season isn't always enough to ascertain player quality, is six weeks or three months an appropriate window? In these two cases the players' youth, their core skill sets and the way in which their late-season work fits with their career curves make me believe those smaller samples indicate improvement, rather than merely being a statistical blip. Navarro doesn't have Weeks' upside, and I would suggest that both his .285 second-half BA and 190 ISO are a bit over his head. As a switch-hitting catcher with good defensive skills and the ability to post a .360 OBP, however, he's a tremendous asset. Navarro, still just 24 years old, is in line to be an above-average player for the next three seasons.
Santana was sent to the minors just after the All-Star break, following a five-start stretch in which he allowed 32 runs, 46 hits and seven homers in 26 innings. After he returned, however, he was back to his inconsistent self: seven starts, including three quality starts and three others in which he allowed at least five runs. Overall his line was comparable to his 2006 performance, and most notably, he had a 39/15 K/BB with just three homers allowed in 40 innings. Throw in a dominant relief outing against the Red Sox in the Division Series and it's not hard to see that, at 25, Santana can put up the best season of his career this year.
What we saw in '07 was Kubel finally get back to the hitter he was before the injury. In the season's first two months Kubel struck out 33 times and walked 11 in 165 PA. In the next two months those numbers were 21/10 in 148 PA, a big drop in strikeout rate and K/BB. Over the last two months: 25/18 in 153 PA. Kubel, a disciplined hitter coming through the minors, regained that discipline in '07. His batting average and power followed. He's 26 this season and may actually be the Twins' best hitter during it; better than
I'm reminded of
Other players who, for various reasons, are strong candidates to improve their performance dramatically in 2008 include