Isolating small parts of a season is one of the best ways to create player profiles of our own imagination. We can look at one-month periods to create a story as to why a player is going to break out or why a player is going to struggle in the coming season. The best part of numbers is the ability to twist them to fit exactly the story we are trying to tell. We are all guilty of it but being able to find the truth behind the numbers is what we all should strive for. My xwRC+ model does just that by deciphering whether a player truly deserved to perform at the level they did. If you want to read more about xwRC+ you can check out this article here. This article isolates last season’s second half and identifies four halves we should be ignoring.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Second Half Breakout to Ignore
Tony Kemp- 2B, Oakland A’s
Nobody is paying attention to just how good of a second-half Tony Kemp had. Playing for the Athletics, it is easy for this to go unnoticed. After the All-Star Break, Kemp hit .278/.342/.426 with a 126 wRC+. This wRC+ is nearly 60 points higher than his first half. During this stretch, Kemp struck out under nine percent of the time while posting a mediocre .289 BABIP. Going as 2B45 in fantasy drafts, his second-half success might intrigue you to take a late flier. However, his xwRC+ was still just 88. Kemp remained 12% worse than league average offensively and you should not be paying any attention to his second-half success.
I have no debate over Kemp’s contact skills. They are some of the best in baseball. The PLV contact ability graph below shows just how impressive Kemp’s contact skills are. The case can be made that his .278 second-half average is actually deserved. Kemp does not strike out and hits plenty of line drives which should produce a good batting average.
The issue that xwRC+ has with Kemp’s success has nothing to do with the average. Contact skills are an important part of the model in which he performs well in. Kemp’s chase rate ballooning 33.5% during the second half knocks him down a peg but is still not a huge area of concern. In fact, xOBP, a key part of the xwRC+ model predicted Kemp’s second half to be worth a .320. A tick below his .342, but not terrible.
The discrepancy between xwRC+ and wRC+ comes from Kemp’s power output. Over the course of his career, Kemp has a slugging percentage of .334. The highest mark he ever posted was .418 in 2021. Power is not Kemp’s thing and there is no reason to believe the .426 second-half slugging percentage will stick. Kemp barreled the baseball up just two percent of the time during the second half with an average exit velocity of 84.8 mph. These quality of contact metrics are the main reason xwRC+ sees no reason to buy into this power outbreak. Despite posting such a lackluster barrel rate, Kemp saw his HR/FB% jump to 7.5% during the second half. That would be Kemp’s highest rate since 2019.
Tony Kemp and Steven Kwan were the only two hitters in baseball with 500+ plate appearances and a hard-hit percentage under 20%. Kwan at least has a 78th percentile sprint speed compared to Kemp’s 24th percentile speed. The PLV rolling power chart shows that Kemp still maintained well below league-average power throughout the entirety of the season.
Kemp’s ADP speaks to drafters being aware of his second-half fluke, but xwRC+ provides factual data behind this belief. A youth wave is coming in Oakland, and Kemp will likely lose playing time in 2023. There is no data to back up his strong second half and you should not be making him a target even in deep leagues for 2023.
Second Half Struggles to Ignore
Ryan Mountcastle- 1B, Baltimore Orioles
On June 14th of last season, I wrote an article identifying buy and sell candidates for the rest of the season using xwRC+. Ryan Mountcastle was identified as one of the players to target and boy did he make me look great for a short stretch. From June 14th up until the All-Star Break, Mountcastle hit .307/.339/.553 with an ISO of .246. Simply put, he was incredible. However, during the second half, Mountcastle hit a disappointing .221/.300/.357 with an 89 wRC+. xwRC+ is not buying this dip in production and thinks Mountcastle was just as good in the second half as he was to start the year. The model recommends ignoring Mountcastle’s second-half slump and buying into his talent.
Looking at the data, Mountcastle was essentially the same player during both halves of the 2022 season. Despite the dip in production, Mountcastle still posted a barrel rate of 14.7% with an average exit velocity of 90.3 mph. The quality of contact was incredible, but Mountcastle saw his HR/FB% drop to 9.9%. Just looking at his xHR, it is clear to see just how unlucky Mountcastle was. Over the course of the season, Mountcastle’s xHR was 27.6 which is six home runs higher than his actual total. Even his xHR if he played all his games in Camden Yards (stupid wall) was 23 which is above his total of 22. Mountcastle has monster power and there is no real reason for the drop-off in power during the second half.
Not only does xwRC+ like Mountcastle’s bat skills, but it also loved the reduction in chase rate he showed during the second half. Mountcastle has always been known as a free swinger and swung at 59.3% of pitches including a 44% chase rate during the first half. Mountcastle reduced his chase rate by seven percent during the second half and showed much-improved decision metrics as evidenced by the graph below.
Looking deeper, Mountcastle’s struggles really were only during the end of July and August. Mountcastle was held out of a game on July 30th with an undisclosed injury but returned to the lineup the very next day. He later injured his hand on August 14th but did not miss more than one game. September 1st forward Mountcastle hit .279/.362/.441 leading me to wonder how much of his second-half struggles can be chalked up to injuries. xwRC+ believes in Mountcastle and you should not let a poor second-half stat line from last season deter you from drafting him.
Mike Yastrzemski- OF, San Francisco Giants
Things have not come so easily for Mike Yastrzemski since posting excellent back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020. Yastzemski was solid to start the year for San Francisco posting a 114 wRC+ through the All-Star Break. Things took a turn for the worse during the second half when Yas posted a .188/.268/.362 slash with a 79 wRC+. Now 32 years old and coming off his worst season, it is easy to write him off, but there is reason for hope. xwRC+ believes Yastrzemski was extremely unlucky during the second half and deserved a 120 wRC+. An ADP outside the top 400 makes now the perfect time to buy Yastrzemski in fantasy.
The model actually liked Yastrzemski’s first half a little bit more than his second half (128 wRC+), but that is not to say it was down on his second-half performance. Over the full season, Yastrzemski posted career-best whiff and zone contact rates. The chase rate increased slightly over the second half, but the contact rates remained high for Yastrzemski. A patient approach at the plate causes Yaz to run high strike-out rates, but there is no explanation for this rate increasing from 2021. We should expect small improvements to his strikeout rate in 2023.
During the second half of last season, Yastrzemski still posted very solid quality of contact metrics. His barrel rate remained above ten percent and he posted an xOBP of .345. The biggest difference between the two halves was BABIP. During the first half, Yastrzemski posted a BABIP of .284 and saw that number drop to .230 during the second half. There was no discernable difference in his batted ball data between the two halves, and he saw his line drive percentage increase as the season moved along.
Speaking about BABIP, Yastrzemski figures to be a big benefactor of the shift ban in 2023. Over the past two seasons, Yastrzemski has posted BABIPs of .318 and .286 without the shift as opposed to .248 and .365 with the shift. He likes to pull the ball a lot and the new rule provides average upside in Yastrzemski’s profile.
The risk with Yaz comes with playing on the Giants. He struggles against lefties and Gabe Kapler has made it clear he loves to play the matchups. Yastrzemski figures to find himself on the bench against most lefties again in 2023, but that is already baked into his ADP. He is going as OF92 in most drafts and should be a primary target late. xwRC+ expects a major bounce back from his second-half struggles and you should too.
Seiya Suzuki-OF, Chicago Cubs
The top international signing prior to the 2022 season, Seiya Suzuki performed well in his first MLB season. He appeared in 111 games hitting .262/.336/.433 with a 116 wRC+. Despite missing the entire month of June with a broken hand, Suzuki posted a strong 126 wRC+ during the first half. Things changed during the second half when Suzuki struggled posting a 107 wRC+. This is still above average, but people might be worried about investing such high draft capital in a player that was barely above average during the second half. However, xwRC+ believes Suzuki was even better during the second half than he was during the first. The struggles he experienced were not deserved and he should see better results in 2023.
One of the biggest reasons that xwRC+ believes that Suzuki was even better in the second half was the increase in his barrel rate. Suzuki was well above-average in this category for the duration of the season, but the 11.8% rate he posted in the second half was even better than the first half. Adjusting to MLB pitching is no easy task and Suzuki continued to show improvement beyond his impressive start throughout 2022. Suzuki was on a 20/600 HR pace during the second half and we can expect even more improvement this year.
The most impressive gains Suzuki made during the second half were in the contact department. On the season, Suzuki posted better-than-average whiff, zone contact, and chase rates. These numbers got even better during the second half. Suzuki improved his overall contact from 78.4% to 80.4% and improved his zone contact from 86.7% to 91.2%. The PLV graph below shows the steady improvement Suzuki made throughout the season.
Not only this, but Suzuki started to make better swing decisions toward the end of the season.
Despite being 28, it is important to view Suzuki’s 2022 season as if he were a rookie. Suzuki had never faced Major League pitching before and there was an adjustment period. His swing decisions and contact skills showed improvement throughout the season. On top of this, xwRC+ does not see any reason that his second half numbers should have fallen off. xwRC+ believes that his second-half stat line should be ignored and loves him heading into 2023. The only bright side to the injury is that Suzuki is now cheaper in drafts. Since February 26th, Suzuki is going as OF37 and has been taken as late as pick 258. If you have an IL slot, buy Suzuki while the value is still low. He could be in for a huge 2023 season upon his return.
Do you have any second-half breakouts you are buying into? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!