2016 Breakout MLB Stars Who Could Prove to Be 1-Year Wonders

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2017

2016 Breakout MLB Stars Who Could Prove to Be 1-Year Wonders

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    Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
    Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Nobody wants to be the Lou Bega of baseball.

    If your response to that was, "Lou who?" thank you for proving my point.

    If you remember Bega as the man responsible for "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of...)," you get the metaphor. (You're also humming the tune and cursing my name.)

    Every season features breakout performances. Some are the opening ditty in a long, impressive MLB catalogue. Others are one-hit wonders.

    It's impossible to say which is which without the benefit of hindsight, but we can sift through the numbers, add a dash of gut feeling and make educated guesses.

    What follows isn't a list of players who are doomed to disappoint in 2017 and beyond. Inevitably, at least a couple of them will keep being awesome and make me look like an idiot. Good for them, in advance.

    Every guy here, though, has red flags in his stat sheet that suggest regression could strike—and Bega could enjoy some company. 

Eduardo Nunez, 3B, San Francisco Giants

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    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    How He Broke Out

    Eduardo Nunez set career highs in doubles (24), home runs (16), RBI (67) and stolen bases (40) in 2016 and made his first All-Star team.

    He was dealt in late July from the Minnesota Twins to the San Francisco Giants and sits atop the Giants' third-base depth chart heading into spring.

    Why He Could Be a One-Year Wonder

    Anyone expecting Nunez to replicate his power output needs to remember two words and one ampersand: AT&T Park.

    Twelve of Nunez's 16 home runs came at Target Field, which isn't a bandbox but ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of homer-friendliness, according to ESPN's Park Factors statistic. Nunez's new digs by the shores of McCovey Cove ranked dead last.

    Shore 'nuff, Nunez's slugging percentage dipped 21 points after he arrived in San Francisco. 

    The speedy 29-year-old is a mediocre defender with minus-five career defensive runs saved at third, which means if his offense drops, it'll take his overall value with it.

    Nunez's legs are an asset, and he has experience at second base, shortstop and in the outfield. A utilityman who can swipe a base is a fine thing. But the Giantswho spent most of their cash on closer Mark Melancon and didn't add an impact batare hoping Nunez can be much more than that.

Tyler Naquin, CF, Cleveland Indians

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    How He Broke Out

    The 15th overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Tyler Naquin debuted with the Cleveland Indians in April and wound up posting a .296/.372/.514 slash line in 116 games and finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year balloting.

    It was one of many great storylines for the defending American League champs, who will once again count on Naquin as they angle for another October run.

    Why He Could Be a One-Year Wonder

    The lefty-swinging Naquin had extreme splits, posting an .898 OPS against right-handers compared to a .775 mark against left-handers. The Tribe protected him by using him in a quasi-platoon role, which limits his ceiling going forward.

    Here's the really troubling number, though: .411.

    That was Naquin's batting average on balls in play, and it's almost certainly unsustainable. The projection systems aren't bullish, with Steamer projecting a 150-point decline in his OPS in 2017.

    Naquin posted an ugly minus-17 defensive runs saved in center field and made a huge defensive miscue in Game 6 of the World Series.

    As with Nunez, an offensive drop-off could drag his value down like a pair of cinder-block shoes.

Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    How He Broke Out

    After promising campaigns in 2014 and 2015, Kyle Hendricks was nothing short of brilliant last season.

    An eighth-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2011, the Chicago Cubs right-hander paced both leagues with a 2.13 ERA and 188 ERA+ and was the second runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award.

    He drew favorable comparisons to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux from decorated hurler Clayton Kershaw for his control and movementand praise from Maddux himself. 

    "He does all those things usually better than the guys he's facing," Maddux said, per ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers. "If it was a radar contest, then why play the game, right?"

    Why He Could Be a One-Year Wonder

    No one who watched Hendricks pitch last season would argue his success was entirely the result of luck. He's been a useful pitcher since he came into the league, and there's a high chance he'll keep being a useful pitcher.

    The question is, will he keep being Maddux-esque?

    Because he isn't a strikeout artist, Hendricks relies on the defense behind him. Fortunately for him, the Cubs flashed the best leather in either league, according to the metrics and the eyeball test.

    That explains why Hendricks' 2016 xFIP—basically, a calculation of ERA with defense taken out of the equationwas 3.59.

    An ERA in that range would make Hendricks a legit mid-rotation starter, but not an ace who picks up Cy Young votes.

    Chicago is returning much of last season's team intact and should feature a top-notch defense once again. Kenny Kelly of Baseball Prospectus made a case for why Hendricks could again defy his xFIP, which is worth a read for Cubs fans drunk on curse-busting optimism.

    At some point, though, more of those balls hit against Hendricks may find holesand his numbers could adjust accordingly. 

Jean Segura, SS, Seattle Mariners

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    How He Broke Out

    Jean Segura streaked out of the gate in his first full season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013 and made the All-Star team. He fell off big-time in the second half, however, and had middling returns at the plate in 2014 and 2015.

    Last year, he put it all back together.

    In his debut campaign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Segura led the Senior Circuit with 203 hits while slashing .319/.368/.499 with 20 homers and 33 stolen bases. 

    After being traded to the Seattle Mariners this winter, Segura will look to repeat the trick in the Pacific Northwest.

    Why He Could Be a One-Year Wonder

    Let's turn again to BABIP, and note that Segura's mark of .353 was easily his highest in the big leagues.

    It's not as simple as high BABIP=automatic regression, but it suggests Segura's stats could slide, especially since he's moving from hitter-happy Chase Field to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

    The projection systems didn't see his 2016 breakout coming, as Luis Torres of Beyond the Box Score noted:

    Segura’s .315/.362/.482 line exceeds even his 90th percentile PECOTA projections. People frequently misunderstand projections, so let me put it this way: going into the season PECOTA gave Segura less than a ten percent chance of performing this well in 2016.

    Segura made adjustments to his batting stance, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported, which could explain some of his expectation-defying success.

    "Segura looks unreal," an unnamed rival executive said in April, per Rosenthal.

    Now, we find out if that was a compliment or an unintentional, dire prediction.

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    How He Broke Out

    In 2016, DJ LeMahieu had a season that forced every sportswriter in America to memorize the spelling of his surname (much like Mark Teixeira and Jeff Samardzija before him).

    The Colorado Rockies second baseman won the NL batting title with a .348 average and posted a .911 OPS, which bested his previous career high by 65 points.

    Marry that to typically solid defense, and it's no wonder he garnered a top-15 MVP finish.

    Why He Could Be a One-Year Wonder

    Here, again, BABIP rears its head. LeMahieu's .388 mark was 36 points above his career average.

    He was also a completely different player at Coors Field (where he posted a 1.064 OPS) than he was on the road (where he posted a .747 OPS).

    LeMahieu will once again play half his games in the mile-high confines, so that part of the equation doesn't have to change.

    There's a whole lot about his 2016 stat line that feels inflated, however. Steamer concurs and projects a drop from 4.2 WAR last year to 2.2 WAR in 2017.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.


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