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Evaluating Second Half Breakouts Using xwRC+

The last two articles that I have written for Fantrax discuss the xwRC+ model I created. Using this model, I predict breakouts and busts for the 2022 season. However, what about the players who made in-season adjustments? Commonly in fantasy baseball drafts, people look at second halves because that is what is most recent in our minds. Recency bias can skew drafts and lead to players being taken way earlier than they should be. This article uses xwRC+ to look at breakout second-half performances. Below I detail two players whose performance was backed up by xwRC+ and two players that the model believes just got lucky during the second half of 2021.

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2021 Second Half Breakouts to Believe In

Jorge Soler- OF Free Agent

Soler struggled during the early parts of 2021. The MLB home run champion back in 2019 looked lost at the plate, hitting 0.186/0.283/0.318 with a wRC+ of 66 through June. On July 30, Soler was traded to Atlanta. After the trade, everything started to click again for Soler. The 2021 World Series MVP had an excellent second half, but this does not seem to be reflected in his ADP. Soler is currently going as OF52 according to NFBC ADP Data. xwRC+ believes that the second half of 2021 is the real Jorge Soler and he has an excellent chance to continue his second-half breakout in 2022!

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ 2nd Half wRC+ 2nd Half xwRC+
101 109 139 124

As you can see from the table, xwRC+ believes that Soler was actually unlucky over the entire season not just the second half. However, the adjustments made by Soler propelled him to new heights in the second half. The biggest change can be seen in his pitch selection. Before 7/25, Soler was swinging at pitches out of the zone 24.7% of the time. His swinging strike rate was 13.8%, and he was striking out 27% of the time. After his trade during the second half, Soler reduced these numbers. He now was only chasing 20.3% of the time with a swinging strike rate of 9.9% and a 21% strikeout rate.

Soler also increased his sweet spot percentage during the second half. This helped his BABIP bounce back closer to what we have seen throughout his career. His BABIP was 0.243 in the first half, but that improved to a 0.273 in the second half. Soler also saw his barrel percentage increase from 11.9%(still very good) to 13.3% during the second half. Coming from a guy who posted a 16.6% rate in 2019 and a 18.9% rate in 2020, there is no reason to believe his barrel rate cannot climb even higher.

Soler is a free agent currently, but there is no doubt he will sign soon NOW THAT THE LOCKOUT IS OVER!! He is a player who can provide tremendous value to your fantasy team. His second-half success is backed up by xwRC+ and another important factor to consider is he will no longer be playing his home games in Kansas City. Kauffman Stadium is not known to be a good park for power hitters, so Soler now playing somewhere else boosts his value even higher.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.-2B/OF

During 2021 fantasy baseball drafts, Gurriel was a popular breakout pick amongst fantasy baseball players. After getting off to a horrible start in April, a lot of fantasy managers seemed to throw in the towel on Gurriel. He quietly started putting up solid numbers after April and then exploded. During the second half he posted a 0.296/0.360/0.529 slash and gave fantasy managers everything they were hoping for. After posting those phenomenal numbers, Gurriel is still only going as OF38 outside of the top 140. Looking at his second half, xwRC+ backs up the 136 that Gurriel posted and believes that he has a strong chance to continue his success in 2022!

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ 2nd Half wRC+ 2nd Half xwRC+
107 113 136 134

A noticeable difference was Gurriel’s second-half barrel rate. In 2019 and 2020, Gurriel posted a barrel rate above 11%. Across the first half of last year, Gurriel was only barreling the ball up at a 7.6% rate. This well below his career average and a primary reason as to why his average exit velocity during the first half was only 88mph. Gurriel adjusted and regained the bat control that made him such a valuable player. During the second half, Gurriel posted a barrel rate of 12.5% and an average exit velocity of 91mph. Both are elite rates that helped back up strong stats from the second half. As you can see from the picture below from Baseball Savant, Gurriel also increased his sweet spot percentage during the year. This another reason why xwRC+ believes his second-half breakout was for real.

Lourdes Gurriel Sweet Spot

Another reason xwRC+ believes in his second half is the pitch selection adjustment that Gurriel made during the second half. He cut his out of zone swing percentage down from 34% to 32.3%. This helped reduce his strikeout rate from 20% in the first half, to 17% in the second half. Not only did his strikeouts decrease, but the walks increased. Throughout the second half, Gurriel walked 8.8% of the time. This is well above his career norms and if these adjustments stick, it could bring Gurriel’s value to new heights.

Everybody was hopeful for a breakout 2021 season. Fantasy managers who were paying attention realize that the breakout came during the second half. Gurriel is hitting in a loaded lineup that could get even better once free agency starts up again. He has a chance to score and hit in a lot of runs. His second half numbers are backed up by strong peripherals and he should definitely be a player you target in drafts for 2022!

Bonus Ian Happ- OF Chicago Cubs

I was going to include Happ in this article, but I decided to focus on the other two players listed above instead. I already wrote an article on Ian Happ this offseason discussing the reasons he is an excellent value in drafts. Happ’s excellent second half was backed up by his xwRC+. Look for Happ to build off this breakout in 2022!

2021 Second Half Breakouts to Ignore

Frank Schwindel-1B Chicago Cubs

During the second half of 2021, Schwindel burst onto the scene for Chicago. The Cubs had a fire sale at the deadline trading away nearly everybody including Anthony Rizzo. This opened the door at first base and Schwindel made sure to make his opportunity count. Across the final 56 games, Schwindel hit .342/.389/.613. He was a player who single-handedly helped win a lot of fantasy championships. Is this level of production likely to continue in 2022? Looking at what xwRC+ thinks of his second half, it is clear the model believes Schwindel’s second half was a flash in the pan and he will likely come back to earth in 2022.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ 2nd Half wRC+ 2nd Half xwRC+
152 N/A 163 105


When looking at Schwindel’s profile nothing jumps off the page to point to him being an elite player. He posted a below-average exit velocity, below-average sweet spot %, near league average whiff %, and a league-average chase rate. Despite his great on paper numbers, Schwindel seems like a league-average player which is exactly what xwRC+ believes that he is. The Baseball Savant image below shows that as the season went on, Schwindel’s sweet spot percentage got worse.

Frank Schwindel Sweet Spot

Neither the average nor slugging percentage are sustainable for Schwindel. The average was propelled by a .342 BABIP, which being that Schwindel does not run fast or hit the ball hard will likely come crashing down. Looking at his second-half rankings in the table below, Schwindel hit for a much higher average than he should have.

Fly Balls Line Drives Ground Balls
Hard Hit % Rank 125th 189th 181st
Batting Average Rank 50th 52nd 45th

Schwindel ranking 45th in average on ground balls would only make sense if he was either tearing the cover off the ball or if he has speed. Neither of these are true. Schwindel’s average will likely be much lower in 2022. Also looking at his fly ball hard hit percentages, there should be concerns over his power numbers. Schwindel ranked 70th in baseball during the second half with a HR/FB% of 18.3%. His hard-hit percentage on these was 125th and his pull percentage ranked 97th. Schwindel did not pull the ball or hit it hard yet was rewarded with excellent power numbers.

Using past years’ data I looked at how often a player hit above .270 and slugged above .490. Over the past three seasons, this has happened 146 times. Schwindel’s rankings are as follows:

  • Schwindel’s 2022 season ranked 1st in soft hit percentage
  • He ranked 141st in hard hit percentage
  • Schwindel ranked 113th in LD%
  • He ranked 15th in batting average
  • He ranked 28th in slugging percentage

Despite hitting the ball softer than everybody else in this category, Schwindel was rewarded with some of the best numbers in the group. There are fantasy managers thinking they can get a steal on Schwindel in drafts and are counting on him to follow up his second-half production with success in 2022. However, these fantasy managers should be proceeding with caution as the numbers and xwRC+ do not back up his 2021 success. Schwindel is an average player at best and with the Cubs looking toward the future his playing time could dry up faster than expected. 

Daulton Varsho- C/OF Arizona Diamondbacks

Daulton Varsho is a popular breakout pick for 2022. A lot of the hype stems from the fact that he has catcher eligibility while projecting to play almost every day in the outfield. A former top prospect for Arizona; Varsho posted a measly 32 wRC+ during the first half of last season. Things turned around after the All-Star Break as Varsho hit .290/.349/.530. As a result, his draft price in 2022 has skyrocketed. He is currently going as C4 and OF24 according to NFBC ADP data. If you are somebody that is drafting Varsho that high, you are banking on him continuing his late-season success in 2022. However, using his 2021 second half data, xwRC+ does not believe that Varsho will be able to sustain such high levels of production in 2022 and should not be being drafted so high.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ 2nd Half wRC+ 2nd Half xwRC+
98 90 128 96


Varsho managed to do significant damage in the second half with a well below-average exit velocity. After July 18th, Varsho had an average exit velocity of 85.6 mph. Over the course of a full season, this would rank in the 5th percentile. Despite such a low exit velocity, Varsho posted phenomenal power numbers. Varsho also managed to hit a HR on 9 of his 12 second-half barrels. This rate of 75% is well above the league average of 64%. In conclusion, it is likely that Varsho’s second half power surge was not his true talent level.

After noticing his extremely low exit velocity, I then researched how common it is for a player with his profile to post such numbers. I was able to look at this using Fangraphs splits tool. The first thing I did was look at his batted ball profile. I filtered the results by LD%, FB%, and GB% with a two percent cushion around Varsho’s second-half profile. Looking at the last 3 years, there were 81 hitters who posted batted ball percentages in that range. Of those 81 hitters here are Varsho’s ranks:

  • A 0.290 batting average would have ranked 6th out of 81
  • A 0.530 slugging percentage would have ranked 13th out of 81
  • Of the 81 hitters, the average batting average was 0.244
  • Of the 81 hitters, the average slugging percentage was 0.436

After this, I decided to factor in hard hit percentage since we have already discussed how Varsho did not hit the ball hard during the second half. Filtering this data for only hard-hit percentages within two percent of Varsho’s second half HH%, the number of hitters in our sample dropped to 18.

  • Varsho ranked 1st in batting average
  • Varsho ranked 2nd in slugging percentage
  • The average batting average of the 18 hitters was 0.240
  • The average slugging percentage of the 18 hitters was 0.422

These numbers further prove that Varsho got lucky during the second half of 2021. Looking ahead to 2022, I am even concerned that his playing time will drop off. Varsho was struggling during the first half and got demoted to AAA. There is a chance the Diamondbacks promote top Prospect Alek Thomas early in the season and Varsho is relegated to backup catcher duties if he struggles, which xwRC+ thinks he will. Too much stock is being placed in Varsho’s second half when that is not who he really is.

For more great analysis and rankings, make sure to check out the 2022 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!
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