Will Middlebrooks is a popular pick for a breakout player (at least according to the local Boston media). Now breakouts aren’t really something you can predict, but I will not go into that whole can of worms. On the surface Will Middlebrooks seems like an obvious choice, a young player with power, coming off a down year with no serious injury history. The hopes for a Middlebrooks breakout upon closer inspection seem to be driven by hope and optimism rather than actual facts.
Middlebrooks’s glaring flaw last season was his sub .300 OBP (.271), which was driven in large part by his low walk rate (5.3%) and high strikeout rate (26.2%). Believing that Middlebrooks can improve those numbers is central to any hope that he will have a breakout season. Alex Speier showed that it’s not unprecedented for young power hitters with sub .300 OBPs to see a large improvement in the OBP area, but it’s also not guaranteed. Of the players Speier looked at only 18% saw their OBP increase by 30 points or more (which is what it would take to get Will over .300), so why does the Boston media believe that Middlebrooks will experience this rare transformation?
The main driving narrative behind this optimism is that Middlebrooks was over aggressive and had terrible plate discipline last year, and this allowed pitchers to dominate him. But now that he has worked on his approach at the plate during spring training everything will come together.