Today we’ll start to delve into PECOTA’s offerings by taking a look at some of the top Breakout candidates it generated for this year’s players. Breakout Rate is an interesting way to look at what players may beat out their projected numbers, and since we only have the weighted means up in our fantasy spreadsheet so far, it’s a good idea to consider a player’s Breakout Rate for those teams drafting early.

According to the BP Glossary, Breakout Rate is defined as:

…the percent chance that a hitter’s EqR/27 or a pitcher’s EqERA will improve by at least 20 percent relative to the weighted average of his EqR/27 in his three previous seasons of performance. High breakout rates are indicative of upside risk. Breakout rates measure change relative to a player’s previously-established level of performance. For this reason, a high Breakout score can create a falsely optimistic picture for a player who has a very poor performance record.

For the reason stated at the end of that definition, I am handpicking the breakout candidates from the list, rather than giving you the top five breakout candidates listed.

Leading off, we find that Akinori Iwamura has a 95 percent chance of breaking out by at least 20 percent relative to his three-year performance, but keep in mind that although he only hit .285/.359/.411 last year with the Devil Rays, that was after he’d produced major league equivalents of .307/.382/.469 and .298/.381/.460 in the Japanese leagues for the 2005-2006 seasons. A 20 percent increase in his performance to go along with his position utility-Iwamura is moving to second base this year after playing third-could make him an interesting option for the middle infield sometime during the middle of your draft, especially if the “name” second baseman have already come off the board.

His PECOTA forecast for 2008 isn’t as impressive as the combination of his 2007 season and his Breakout Rate though, coming in at just .253/.332/.389. PECOTA may be down on his 2008 performance somewhat due to his .363 BABIP last season. Iwamura’s liner rate was just 21 percent, but he managed to outperform his expected BABIP by 30 points. Subtracting those 30 points from his line, and assuming all of the missing hits were singles, puts him around .255/.329/.381, pretty close to his forecast for ’08.

This gives us an odd situation-Iwamura has an absurdly high chance of improving on his three-year performance, but he was also over his head a bit during his first season in the States, at least according to both PECOTA and his batted-ball data. Personally, I would wait on him until later in the draft when the options start to run thin. For leagues with daily position changes, he’s going to be eligible at two positions, and he may hit well enough to stick at second for you while filling in for your third baseman. Once the PECOTA cards are out [Ed. Note: Really soon.], make sure to check out Iwamura’s other percentile forecasts, as that may shed some light on what PECOTA thinks he is capable of.

Casey Kotchman was disappointing in the second half of 2007; despite hitting over .300, he only slugged .439 after the All-Star break. Kotchman isn’t your typical first baseman, as his value stems from his ability to hit for a high average while getting on base and hitting for merely decent, iffy-for-his-position power. The possibility of a 35 percent breakout over the average of his last three seasons is worth a look, as his 2005 and 2007 were both decent campaigns, while 2006 was the season where Kotchman had just 79 plate appearances due to a bout of mononucleosis.

Kotchman hit .272/.352/.484 in 2005 in 126 at-bats, then hit .296/.372/.467 during his first full season last year. Part of the success for his 2005 season stemmed from his homers per fly ball; last year his HR/FB was an unimpressive 8.1 percent, but in ’05 he was all the way up at 26.9 percent. Kotchman is no Ryan Howard, so I wouldn’t expect that rate to come back all the way to that ’05 figure, but the 24-year-old still has time to boost his power production somewhat and end up halfway between those two points.

Kotchman probably isn’t going to win any categories for you on his own, but if you lose out on the big-name first baseman-and there aren’t as many as you think there are, with Kotchman finishing 16th in VORP at the position last year in front of guys like Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Delgado-he’s worth a look, especially since PECOTA expects him to improve on his previous seasons. The only worry is that his 2006 season dragged down the three-year averages too much, creating a misleading Breakout Rate. He’s another player to wait on at draft time until you can assess your team’s needs, and, if your draft slot is later, make sure to check out his percentile forecasts on the PECOTA cards once they are out.

Wily Mo Peña has bounced back and forth between useful and awful the past few seasons, so there are two promising things to take from his PECOTA forecast. First of all, PECOTA is forecasting a .270/.341/.501 line for Peña, in just over 300 plate appearances. Second, his Breakout Rate is 35 percent, and he’s had some interesting enough lines in the past three years that a little bit more of a boost is bound to intrigue fantasy players. Over the past three years, Peña hit .268/.323/.474; with just a bit more average or a few more walks, Peña’s line would be somewhat more pleasing, as well as more productive. Peña does hit lefties significantly better than right-handers, and with the new-found glut of talent in the Nationals‘ outfield, Peña might get primarily used to demolish southpaws. For those who follow opposing pitchers in leagues with daily roster changes, Peña could be a great bench option for you when you take his PECOTA forecast and breakout potential into account.

Once he was given more playing time in Washington after wasting on the bench for months in Boston last year, he hit .293/.352/.504, though most of that production came on the road (.293/.321/.560). With the Nats moving to a more neutral park, and with the opportunity to play against weaker pitching for a whole season, the 26-year-old has the chance to breakout like many of us have been waiting to see for years. He may not be the superstar he was envisioned to be when he first came up, but Peña’s power and ability against left-handers makes him a great option for NL-only leagues and those with daily roster changes. Keep an eye on him to see how playing time is distributed in the Washington outfield.

Kenji Johjima‘s PECOTA forecast is somewhat disheartening after two solid campaigns, as the system only has him down for .274/.319/.395. While that’s not awful for a catcher right now-among catchers with 250 plate appearances last year, that line would have put you somewhere in the top 15 catchers by VORP-you expect better from someone who has been more reliable than that during his two seasons in the majors. Johjima will be 32 years old in 2008 after hitting .291/.332/.451 in 2006 and .287/.322/.433 in 2007. The righty performs much better on the road than at home-.305/.330/.475 away, against just .270/.323/.404 at Safeco. He has a 34 percent chance to break out relative to his performance the last three years, and that gives you some hope that his most recent PECOTA median forecast is a bit premature regarding his offensive collapse.

Drafting a catcher early isn’t a great strategy to begin with, but if you can’t get one of the top five, there’s almost no point in drafting until you absolutely have to. Given that there isn’t a whole lot of obvious difference between catchers at the back end of the draft, you can safely wait on Kohjima and his breakout potential. If someone else snags him too early, it’s their risk-he was only ranked eighth among catchers in VORP last year, after all-but picking him at an optimal time in the second half of your draft could pay off.

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