As important as it is to identify and draft potential breakout performers in fantasy baseball, it's arguably more important to evaluate the breakout performers from the year prior and determine whether they are worth their newly expensive price tags.
Here, we'll attempt to do just that with four of last year's biggest breakout performers in fantasy baseball.
Now, let's quickly lay out the criteria to make this list. You won't find any brilliant rookies (Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez) or players who really shined in their first year in the big leagues (Yu Darvish). And Max Scherzer's 2012 was good enough that last season's huge year wasn't a shocker, so you won't see him here either.
Instead, this is a list of veterans who exploded last season, surprising fantasy owners along the way. The question is whether they can replicate those performances.
Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
We've always known Chris Davis had some pop in his bat. He hit 17 home runs in 2008, 21 in 2009 and 33 in 2012 (when he also hit 85 RBI). We just didn't know he had the sort of power he displayed in 2013, hitting .286 with 53 home runs, 138 RBI and 103 runs.
According to ESPN's Player Rater, only Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw were more valuable fantasy commodities last season.
So, if you are in the market for Davis, chances are you will have to use a first- or second-round pick to acquire him. Are you willing to bet he'll replicate his 50-home run season?
Brett Talley of RotoGraphs takes a closer look at Davis' spike in home runs a year ago and the likelihood of a repeat performance:
How did he go from hitting a home run once every 24 or so plate appearances to one every 17 plate appearances? Simple. He hit the ball in the air more frequently and hit it farther. His fly ball rate jumped from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties, and his average home run and fly ball distance increased from 297 feet in 2012 to 308 feet this year, which was the 8th best distance in the league.
Average home run and fly ball distance has some year-to-year correlation (r-squared of .423), so I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis maintains some of the gains he made in batted ball distance on balls in the air. But I’m just concerned he’s not going to put as many balls in the air. As noted, the increase in FB% came on offspeed and breaking pitches, but most of that increase occurred early in the year.
My best guess is that he keeps the average home run and flyball distance comfortably above 300 feet, but his flyball rate ends up somewhere in the high-thirties or low-forties. If that’s the case, Davis ending up with something more like 40 home runs seems about the stick.
Davis is without question the most risky first-round talent in fantasy baseball drafts this year. If he drops to you in the second round, scoop him up and hope he hits 50 home runs. Just don't bank your entire fantasy campaign on him repeating 2013's breakout effort.
Matt Carpenter, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Sometimes, breakthrough fantasy players can slip through the mainstream cracks. Such was not the case for Carpenter, who was a major factor in the Cardinals reaching the World Series.
All he did last year was hit .318 with 11 home runs, 78 RBI and 126 runs scored. According to ESPN's Player Rater, only Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis were more valuable at second base, and Carpenter also had eligibility at first base, third base and the outfield.
When you can snag a player who helps you in nearly every category and has eligibility at multiple positions, he's absolutely worth drafting. Remember, Carpenter hit .284 with six home runs, 46 RBI and 44 runs in 114 games in 2012. His breakout season didn't come completely out of left field, and he should absolutely be a player you target in the middle rounds this year.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Gomez is one of the trickier players to get a feel for. On one hand, his most valuable asset—speed on the basepaths—shouldn't wane this season. Gomez stole 40 bases last year, but he also nabbed 37 in 2012 and 33 in 2008, so that wasn't terribly surprising.
What was surprising, however, was his newfound prowess at the plate. Last year, he hit .284 with 24 home runs, 73 RBI and 80 runs scored, all career highs. He showed glimpses of home run power in 2012, hitting 19 dingers, but his RBI total and batting were dramatically higher.
Still, Gomez is a pretty safe player to select at the right price. If nothing else, he'll be a big contributor to your stolen base totals. Don't overpay for him based on last year's power numbers, but don't be afraid to take him in the middle rounds either.
Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals
There weren't a ton of players who burst onto the scene last season at starting pitcher—outside of rookies and foreign players joining the league, that is—but Zimmermann surely did.
Zimmermann finished 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 161 strikeouts. His win total, WHIP and strikeout totals were all career highs. It was a season good enough to make him the 10th most valuable starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a year ago, according to ESPN's Player Rater.
The problem for Zimmermann is that almost half of his value came from his 19 wins, and any fantasy owner worth his or her salt knows that banking on wins is a foolish strategy. Let another owner overpay for Zimmermann—his numbers across the board are solid, but his win total from a year ago will surely over-inflate his value at drafts this year.
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