The first half of 2015 is now in the books and here at The Outside Corner we wanted to look back and identify some of the breakout performances. I won’t claim this is a comprehensive list. I had to make some cuts or this thing would have been 20,000 words or longer. In order to keep some order within this article I’ve decided to group the breakout stars by general status. We have the rookies that are just making their mark in the majors for the first time. We have some of the younger players that have been in the majors for a few years. And finally we have the veterans that have been around for a while.
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Kris Bryant – Bryant was held back in AAA by the Cubs at the start of the season for service time reasons. It was the major story in the first couple weeks of the season because the first couple weeks of the season are slow in the news department. Since his call-up he’s only hit .278/.381/.478 and been worth 3.8 fWAR which is good for 11th among position players in the first half of the season. Seems like a pretty smart decision for the Cubs to wait a couple weeks to get a whole extra year of control. And it hasn’t hurt them in the standings as they are currently in possession of the second wild card spot in the NL.
Joc Pederson – Much like the Cubs with Kris Bryant, the Dodgers received an undue amount of criticism for trading Matt Kemp to make room for Joc Pederson. I really didn’t understand why. Kemp was clearly past his prime and Pederson was a top prospect ready for the big time. Let’s compare their production in the first half:
Pederson’s OBP was exactly as high as Kemp’s slugging percentage. Pederson was nearly 100% better offensively. And in total he was worth about 4 wins more. And that’s not even mentioning all the money the Dodgers saved by trading Kemp and the production they’re getting out of Yasmani Grandal. Yeah, again it looks like the major league baseball club with really smart people in charge of it’s front office was right. Shocking.
THE YOUNGER GUYS
Manny Machado – Machado got rave reviews for his defense as a prospect and he always had power in his bat. The issue was just a matter of getting to it in games (and staying healthy). Well he’s been able to do both this year. He slashed .301/.360/.535 (.384 wOBA, 146 wRC+) with 19 home runs in 366 plate appearances. His previous season high was 14 home runs in 710 plate appearances. Add that offense to his elite defense at third base and he’s been the 6th most valuable position player in the first half with a 4.1 fWAR.
Joe Panik – As a whole the reigning World Series champs look pretty mediocre. They’re currently .500 on the season 5 games back in their division and 4 from the second wild card. But they have to be very encouraged with the production they’re getting out of their second baseman.
Last year in 73 games (287 PA) Panik hit .305/.343/.368 (.317 wOBA, 107 wRC+) and was worth 1.6 fWAR. That’s respectable, especially at second base where the bar is extremely low, but it’s not special. This year in 82 games (353 PA) he’s hitting .306/.370/.443 (.356 wOBA, 134 wRC+) and been worth 3.1 fWAR. That’s good anywhere on the field. All that’s left to prove is that he can keep this up.
Nolan Arenado – In many ways Arenado is like Machado. Both were known for their elite defensive capabilities and questionable bats. Well Arendado is breaking out in a big way just like Machado. In 334 PA he’s hitting .286/.320/.598 (.382 wOBA, 129 wRC+). The batting average and on-base percentage are right around normal for him but the slugging percentage has spiked. He’s hit 24 home runs already where his previous high was 18 in 467 PA. He’s steadily improved every season (this is his third) but this year he’s making a big leap. His current 3.1 fWAR is already a career high for him.
Cameron Maybin – Maybin was part of the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Padres. He was practically an afterthought. It seemed a strange move by a team that was looking to rebuild. Maybin was a fourth outfielder coming into this season coming off two incredibly poor seasons.
While he’s not exactly lighting the world on fire with his defense this season (299 PA) he is hitting a strong .295/.362/.429 (.348 wOBA, 128 wRC+). He’s one home run shy of tying a career high (568 PA). He’s playing in center field when he should probably be in a corner now. That’s hurt his overall value (1.3 fWAR) but he has reestablished himself as a starting regular with his bat.
Todd Frazier – Last year around this time Todd Frazier had garnered a lot of votes for the All-Star game. I had to scoff a little. He was a glove first third baseman riding a streak of luck, I thought. I could not have been more wrong. Last year was a breakout for Frazier. In 660 PA, he hit .273/.336/.459 (.350 wOBA, 122 wRC+) with 29 home runs and was worth 4.8 fWAR.
How can I include him in this article about 2015 breakout stars if he broke out last year? Simple: He’s not done breaking out. So far (358 PA) he’s hit .281/.338/.590 (395 wOBA, 153 wRC+) with 24 home runs. He’s been worth 4.1 fWAR. That’s pretty incredible.
Alex Rodriguez – A-Rod clearly was a star (and then fallen star) well before 2015 so if you want to contest his inclusion on this list you’re welcome to do so. However there were serious and legitimate question about his ability to play baseball at all given his most recent injury plagued seasons and after missing a year plus to suspension. So far he’s answered those questions adeptly.
In 335 PA (almost exclusively as DH) he’s hit .276/.382/.498 (.380 wOBA, 143 wRC+) with 16 HR and has been worth 2.0 fWAR. That’s more than anyone could have dreamed for. It’s not “good for a 39 year old.” It’s good for anyone. With two years and $40 million left on his contract after this season I don’t think anyone is (secretly) happier than the Yankees front office and ownership.