In baseball, we often associate a good second half performance with skill improvements. And while that’s not always the case, such a development is always very encouraging for a batter.
The purpose of the article is unmasking great 2019 second half performances that weren’t evident. We all know that Alex Bregman, Nelson Cruz, Ketel Marte, Yordan Alvarez, Mike Trout, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Ramirez, and Cristian Yelich are all talented hitters that shined after the All-Star break, but the idea is to go beyond the obvious. As usual, the Fangraphs leaderboards and split tools were extremely helpful in this exercise.
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Second Half Surgers
Below are some of my favorite players who seemed to make significant and possibly permanent changes in their approaches and performances in the second half of 2019. I won’t dig too deep into any one player, but I’ll cite a few key stats and you can decide if you want to investigate further.
Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
Why do we include a player that hit 48 homers and drove in 117 runs in the second half performances we missed, you might ask? Well, because lost in his overall greatness is a very improved hitter.
For years, we viewed Soler as a power-only player. The 48 homers backed that up. But compare his numbers from half to half, especially in the plate discipline department:
Jorge Soler, first half: .240/.307/.497, .334 wOBA, 106 wRC+, 23 HR, 7.5 BB%, 28.9 K%, 69.7 Contact%, 14.0 SwStrk%
Jorge Soler, second half: .299/.411/.665, .434 wOBA, 173 wRC+, 25 HR, 14.8 BB%, 23.0 K%, 70.3 Contact%, 12.3 SwStrk%
The improvement was dramatic. He gained .059 points of batting average, he doubled (!) his walk rate, cut six percentage points of his strikeout rate and gained .100 points of wOBA. Soler is now a premier power threat that won’t necessarily drain your average.
For $6 million per season, the Nationals are paying an affordable salary and banking on Castro’s strong second half performance. He slashed .245/.272/.336 with six homers and a 60 wRC+ in the first half, with a 1.71 GB/FB.
However, he batted .302/.334/.558 after the break, with 16 taters and a 129 wRC+. He also had a 1.20 GB/FB, slashing almost nine percentage points from his GB% (from 52 to 43.)
The data suggest a real skill change: Starlin Castro learned to lift the ball consistently, and the results followed. The Nats got a steal at that price, and fantasy owners should, as well. Castro will, most likely, come very cheap on draft day.
If you look at Teoscar Hernandez’ final line, his 102 wRC+ is underwhelming. His .230/.306/.472 line is uninspiring, as well. He took his walks, at 9.7 BB%, but whiffed a ton (33.0 K%.)
But look at this:
Teoscar Hernandez, first half: .204/.267/.361, 8 HR, 63 wRC+
Teoscar Hernandez, second half: .259/.346/.592, 18 HR, 142 wRC+
Night and day. If we consider the outfielder’s second half, we can bank on cheap power in what is shaping up to be an interesting Toronto lineup.
However, be aware that his K% increased from 30.1 in the first half to 36.0 after the break. You are not drafting or adding Hernandez for his average.
According to general manager Ross Atkins, Hernandez has been working out at first base in the offseason. Just something to consider in draft day.
Man, baseball is a beautiful game. What works for most hitters doesn’t necessarily work for others. Kolten Wong is a perfect example.
Now, I am not familiar with the St. Louis Cardinals’ batted ball advice to their hitters, but the evidence suggests that a fly-ball profile messed him up in the first half.
Kolten Wong in the first half: .244/.327/.376, 86 wRC+, 1.01 GB/FB, 17.6 LD%, 41.4 GB%
Kolten Wong in the second half: .342/.409/.487, 139 wRC+, 1.69 GB/FB, 24.4 LD%, 47.5 GB%
Wong is at his best when hitting liners and ground balls. He has speed, and he has some power, but he is no home run king. The .098 increase in batting average after the break is remarkable, and his offensive prowess was reflected on his wRC+.
J.D. Davis had a good first half. He slashed .279/.341/.468 with nine home runs in 220 plate appearances. That was good for a.340 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.
His second half, however, was sublime. He hit .335/.395/.584 with a jaw-dropping .405 wOBA and a 156 wRC+. He carried the New York Mets in their quest for respectability.
The thing with Davis is that, if Yoenis Cespedes is healed and ready to play in 2020, he won’t have a clear path to playing time. He is a lousy defensive player, and the Mets have several outfield options (Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Cespedes, most notably) and third base is covered by Jeff McNeil. An injury or a trade would need to happen to open things up.
As of now, he will be the starting left fielder if Cespedes isn’t ready to start the season. However, he would be best served in an American League team so he can DH.
Mark Canha’s second half was something to behold. He hit .301 and got on base at a .415 clip. His slugging percentage was .528, and his OPS .943. All of these resulted in a .399 wOBA and a 155 wRC+ from the All-Star break on.
He wasn’t necessarily bad in the first half, as he hit 12 home runs as opposed to his 14 after the break. But he increased his average from .232 to .301. While he probably isn’t a true-talent .300 hitter, he can get on base at a high rate and is gold in OBP leagues.
Playing on a small-market team and overshadowed by other teammates, Canha’s price is very affordable. Playing time isn’t 100% assured, but if he hits like he did in the second half of 2019, he will play. And he will produce.
It’s not often that we see a 35-year-old veteran break out. That’s what Yuli Gurriel did, as far-fetched as it sounds.
He finished the first half with a .277/.314/.482 line, a .796 OPS, a .330 wOBA and a 109 wRC+. That’s the line of a slightly above-average player.
He played like a superstar in the second half, as evidenced by his .326/.382/.623 line, 1.005 OPS, .411 wOBA and 163 wRC+. He was an offensive force, hitting 17 homers, as well.
Gurriel was a monster in July (237 wRC+) and August (185 wRC+) before fading a bit in September (82 wRC+.) His second-half performance, however, will go down as one of the best of 2019.
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