How to find a breakout star
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Four losing seasons in a row, one playoff appearance since 2002 ... where did it all go wrong for the New York Mets?

I have a theory.

On "Seinfeld," the Mets were considering George Costanza for the position of head scout. In fact, during a meeting at Monk's Coffee Shop, the Mets told George the job was his. All he had to do was get fired from his job with the New York Yankees.

George tried everything. He wore Babe Ruth's uniform and wiped food on it (the move inspired George Steinbrenner to start walking around in Lou Gehrig's old pants). He interrupted a game by running across the field in a skin-colored body suit. He even dragged the team's World Series trophy around the parking lot while yelling insults through a megaphone.

Nothing worked. Steinbrenner just couldn't let George go. Instead, the Mets hired George's old supervisor Wilhelm as the new head scout.

Who knows where the Mets would be today if they had hired George instead of Wilhelm.

By not getting fired, George's life ambition to become a major league scout was never fulfilled.

But in fantasy baseball, aren't we all scouts to a certain degree? Most of us aren't employed by a major league team, but we still watch games and crunch numbers to find the best players.

When it comes right down to it, fantasy owners and major league scouts really want the same thing: to find a breakout star before everyone else.

Every year there are a handful of no-name guys, a few wolves in sheep's clothing, waiting to break out and jolt your fantasy team to greatness.

Three years ago, we saw the unheralded Jose Bautista set the world on fire with a wooden bat. Josh Reddick is another talent who recently made the leap from "unheard of" to "elite."

So where are this year's invisible treasures hiding? Here's your cheat sheet:

1. The clean slate effect: Think of a player's relationship with his team like dating. Not many people end up marrying the first person they ever go out with. It takes time to find "the one." Sometimes players and teams just aren't a good fit for each other.

Reddick (career-high 32 home runs in 2012) thrived in Oakland after enduring some rocky seasons in Boston. Josh Willingham (35 home runs, 110 RBI last season) bounced around between Florida, Washington and Oakland before he finally found his stroke in Minnesota. Chris Davis (career-best 33 homers and 85 RBI) in Baltimore is another good example of what a change of scenery can do for a player.

2. Second-half heroes: I always look at second-half stats because that's when many struggling players finally turn the corner. Bautista is the poster boy for this phenomenon.

After a tepid July (.220, 1 HR, 4 RBI) and an even worse August (.167, 0 HR, 4 RBI), something clicked for Bautista in September of 2009. He finished the year on a home run tear, producing 10 long balls in his final 109 at-bats.

The success carried over into the next season as Bautista blasted a league- leading 54 homers. Now he's one of the most feared sluggers in all of baseball.

Bautista is just one of many examples. Yadier Molina's .337 average in the second half of 2011 was the precursor to his breakout 2012 season (.315, 22 HR, 76 RBI). Giancarlo Stanton and Curtis Granderson saw their second-half power surges in 2010 continue in 2011. Even Gio Gonzalez got into the act, parlaying his September brilliance (5-1, 2.20 ERA) into a phenomenal 2012 campaign (21-8, 2.89).

Gonzalez had the clean slate effect going, too. That's a fantasy double-whammy.

3. Look for breakout hotbeds: For whatever reason, certain environments lend themselves to breakouts more often than others. Minnesota has produced Willingham, Trevor Plouffe (24 HR last season) and Jason Kubel (.300, 103 RBI in 2009) in recent years, while the Blue Jays struck gold with Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (42 HR, 110 RBI in 2012). Washington is another location you might want to scope out if you're in the market for a breakout talent. Mike Morse (.303, 31 HR in 2011) and Adam LaRoche (33 HR, 100 RBI last season) both became stars when they arrived in D.C. And, of course, we all know about Billy Beane's magic touch in Oakland (Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Reddick).

4. Trying something new: Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak here or there. Bautista added a leg kick to his swing in 2009. C.C. Sabathia shed 30 pounds prior to the 2011 season. R.A. Dickey reinvented himself as a knuckleballer in 2006. Alfonso Soriano had a renaissance season after switching to a lighter bat in 2012 (32 HR, career-high 108 RBI).

Heck, Jason Giambi conquered a slump one time by wearing a golden thong (the grossest part of the story is that some of his teammates asked to borrow it when they encountered their own slumps).

Whatever works, right?

5. Lightning can strike twice: It would have been easy to dismiss Aaron Hill as just another one-hit wonder after his stupendous 2009 season (.286, 36 HR, 108 RBI). It got even easier after Hill's career went down the tubes in 2010 and 2011.

But, as we know, Hollywood loves a comeback story. Maybe someone will write a screenplay about Hill's career resurrection in 2012 (.302, 26 HR, 85 RBI).

Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman and Cody Ross are a few others who have seen their careers come back to life in recent years.

6. Be like Kaepernick: Here I go mixing sports metaphors again. For the first half of the 2012 NFL season, Colin Kaepernick was on the bench wondering what his next tattoo would be. Then Alex Smith got hurt. I think you know the rest of the story.

In Kaepernick's case, being in the right place at the right time meant everything.

This same principle applies to baseball. Lance Berkman's bum knee opened the door for Allen Craig (.301, 22 HR, 92 RBI) in 2012. A similar situation unfolded in Cincinnati when Todd Frazier (19 HR, 67 RBI) began filling in for Scott Rolen at third base. And, of course, Will Middlebrooks (.288, 15 HR, 54 RBI) became the man in Boston, causing Bobby Valentine to send Kevin Youkilis packing.

Poor George. The least the Mets could do is give him a bobblehead night.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.