Breakout Bats (2015): Using OPS like GPS

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Kole Calhoun - Breakout

As a kid, in my formative years, I quickly learned from my dad that RBI were the most important offensive stat in baseball. The category implies power and clutch hitting. Team RBI leaders usually hit third or clean-up – the most revered spots in the line-up.

OPS is baseball’s GPS

Years ago, soon after becoming a member of the second largest non-harmful cult in North America, fantasy baseball, my old favourite column, RBI,  has now been replaced by OPS. OPS has a beautiful uniqueness about it: you simply add OBP (on-base percentage) and SLG. (slugging percentage) together. It has become the first offensive stat I look at when perusing minor leaguers, and now I believe it is the most important. OPS is baseball’s GPS. 

Even if the stats I’m looking at don’t have OPS readily available (hello CBS), I find myself automatically adding its two components together. It has become so ingrained in me now that I’m not even aware I’m doing it.

So, after I work my mathematical genius, I then automatically take a gander at the stolen base column, and then consider the two categories together. Minor league OPS numbers begin to grab my attention around the .800 mark, unless there is a sign of speed.

Bill James, in his “The 96 Families of Hitters” gave these OPS ranges:

Category Classification OPS Range
A Great .9000 and Higher
B Very Good .8333 to .8999
C Above Average .7667 to .8333
D Average .7000 to .7666
E Below Average .6334 to .6999
F Poor .5667 to .6333
G Atrocious .5666 and Lower


For fantasy baseball purposes, however, you should consider stolen bases, in addition to OPS. What does this mean? Well, for example, if you have a minor leaguer with a .750 OPS, and 30 SB in 100 games, he certainly deserves a second look. (as far as minor leaguers are concerned, beware of two issues here: don’t read too much into small sample sizes, especially in the minors, and account for an adjustment time when they are promoted to the big show.)

Then there is the marked difference between the different AAA leagues. The PCL (Pacific Coast League) has a reputation for inflating a hitter’s numbers, and 2014 lived up to it. There were 34 players in the PCL who had an OPS above .800., and 8 of those were above .900. In the International League it was exactly half that number, as 17 players managed an OPS of .800 or higher. Only 2 of those were above .900. So, when you peruse the stats from the minor leagues, make sure you account for the differences.

Incidentally, Stephen Souza Jr. of the International League had the highest OPS between the two leagues, 1.022. So, keep an eye on him as he could contend to be the 4th Ray in 8 years to win the Rookie of the Year award. Oh, and he also had 18 HR, 75 RBI and 26 SBs in 96 games. He looks to have a starting spot in the outfield with the departure of 2013’s ROY, Will Myers.

There just aren’t too many Mike Trouts out there who thrive without any transition period. (Corey Dickerson and George Springer should be exceptions, as well) That’s why I like to look at the Minor League stats of players who have already gone through their transition to the Majors. These are the players who have shown signs of a breakthrough in their first 2 or 3 years, but have fallen back to earth before their afterburners kicked in. The great thing about this approach is that most of your fantasy opponents have grown tired of that great prospect who has been a disappointment in his first year and a half. He’s no longer the hot commodity. If he has failed in his sophomore year, his ranking drops, but his value increases. The next year is the year to swoop, especially if his average minor league OPS was above .900 

For the purposes of trying to keep things as simple as possible, Caveball has now made a clearcut distinction between Sleepers and Breakouts. A Breakout is considered to be any player who is currently ranked in the top 168 overall, while a sleeper is any player ranked 169 or higher. For a 12-team draft this includes any player taken in the first 14 rounds.

So, what bats could be looking at a breakout season in 2015? Well let’s put it this way, 2015 is definitely the year of the outfielder:

1. Corey Dickerson (OF) – Some might argue he had a breakout season last year, but there’s more to come, and it doesn’t include a sophomore slump for a batter of his talent. Dickerson’s OPS of .981 in the minors is eye-popping, even with PCL stops along the way. You could even say 2014 was his sophomore year, anyway, since he did play in 69 games in 2013. He turns 26 in May, so, unlike Harper, he won’t go through the growing pains of yute (sorry, a little Cousin Vinnyish – couldn’t resist). He is entering his prime years right now.

2. Kole Calhoun (OF) – Last year could have been considered a breakout season but he did miss 35 games. I’m hoping his numbers remain relatively hidden from all my fantasy opponents, because over a full season he could eclipse a combined R/RBI total of 180. His minor league OPS was .948. He’s not your typical lead-off hitter, but even if he’s not moved, he’ll still be hitting in front of Trout. That’s a great trade-off. Oh, and he’s entering his age 27 season already.

3. George Springer (OF) – It’s a tough call who is the more exciting player Springer or Dickerson. Springer’s .960 OPS and 65 HRs in 287 games in the minors are reason enough to create the debate. His poor start kept his BA down, but if you prorate his 20 HR in 78 games – well, just double both numbers, and it gets pretty scary what this kid might do. And like Dickerson, Springer turns 26 this year.

4. Christian Yelich (OF) – There was no real second year blues for Yelich. He had 21 swipes and 94 runs with a more than respectable .284 average. Now, with Dee (an-infield-squibbler-is-an-automatic-double) Gordon undoubtedly hitting lead-off for the Marlins, Yelich will slide nicely into the 2-spot (hitting directly in front of Stanton), and should enjoy a healthy uptick in RBI, as well. 

5. Adam Eaton (OF) – Are you seeing a trend here? This year’s crop of outfielders is as top-heavy as ever. If Eaton can stay healthy, then he can finish as a top-twenty OF. Eaton’s lack of home runs makes his .948 OPS through the minors that much more impressive, especially for a lead-off speedster. Although, he has still yet to display his speed over the course of a healthy season. If this happens, we could be looking at Altuve-ish numbers. 108 SB in 349 minor league games speaks for itself. For the purposes of his lower ranking by the big sites, Caveball will include him in its list of Sleepers, as well.

6. Mookie Betts (OF) - Betts may be the toughest breakout to predict because of the glut of potential starting outfielders for the Red Sox. With Hanley Ramirez in Left Field, that leaves two spots for Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino and Betts. So, there’s still obstacles in the way for the young 5-tool player. However, one thing going for him, over say Castillo, is that he does play second, as well. Betts had 11 HR and 33 SB over 99 Minor League games last year, with a .960 OPS. Keep your eyeballs on further developments, as the Sox could continue to deal right through Spring Training. Hopefully, for Boston’s sake, he’s not going to be the one who is dealt away.

7. Kolten Wong (2B) – Looks primed for a breakout after hitting 3 HRs in 8 post-season games for the Cards. His 5′ 9″ frame belies his bathead speed. And, speaking of speed, he is capable of 30 SB in a full season. Combine this with his .818 OPS through his minor league tenure, and a 15+ homer potential, and you have a breakout candidate.

8. Will Myers (OF) – Never really got it going last year at all after having won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013. The injury in late May prevented him from ever recovering. He returned on August 20th and remained “Myred” in a slump right through to the end. In fact, it was a team-wide slump. Almost every bat in the line-up had a down year. His OPS dropped from .831 in 2013 to .614 in 2014. His average OPS throughout the minors was .912. He may not be a phenom in the making, but he’s still a great value pick for the coming year, and should have a lot to prove in his new home, SanDiego.

9. Jorge Soler (OF) - Yet another outfielder, and yet another relatively unknown Cuban. He raked during his small sample size of 24 games late last year. ESPN already have him ranked at 133 overall, so by virtue of Caveball’s rule which helps distinguish breakouts from sleepers – a ranking of 168 or higher constitutes a breakout – Soler has already skipped the sleeper class. He’ll be a big part of the Cubs momentum and quest for a championship.

10. Oswaldo Arcia (OF) – A quiet 20 HR hitter in a shortened season (103 games), Arcia was overshadowed by fellow teammate Kennys Vargas. We can let this work in our favour. In a comparison of their minor league numbers Arcia comes out on top. In his final 3 full years in the minors he had an OPS of .963. Pregnant 3s for all you poker fans. Embarazada. While everyone is fighting over the next hot commodity, Vargas, you swoop in for the guy who has already transitioned. Arcia will turn 24 in May. He’s currently ranked 174th by ESPN, which puts him right on the fence between breakout and sleeper, so Caveball will treat him as both.

OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
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