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Using xwRC+ to Evaluate Second Half Struggles

My recent articles for Fantrax have all been discussing the xwRC+ model I built. I have been using this model to project hitters that could breakout or bust in 2022. You can view the first three articles of this series below:

The most recent article studied recency bias. I looked at 4 hitters who broke out in the second half of 2021 and used xwRC+ to evaluate whether these breakouts were real or fake. What about those hitters who struggled during the second half of 2021? Should those hitters be pushed farther down draft boards as a result? In this article, I detail four hitters who struggled during the second half of 2021 and tell you whether you should be concerned about them in 2022!

Rejoice! There will be baseball in 2022! Why not celebrate with one of our 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 Struggles to Ignore in 2022

J.D. Martinez- OF Boston Red Sox

After a down season in 2020, Martinez put to bed any questions about his decline with an excellent 2021. Over the course of the full season, Martinez slashed .286/.349/.518 and posted a 128 wRC+. However, on paper, he struggled during the second half. He only hit 0.268/0.320/0.467 over the final 64 games. His ADP appears to be taking a hit as a result. Martinez is currently going as OF23 in drafts around pick 88. However, xwRC+ believes that Martinez was unlucky during the second half of 2022. The model believes that his second-half performance should be ignored and that he should be going even higher in fantasy drafts.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ Second Half wRC+ Second Half xwRC+
128 122 105 129

Looking at J.D. Martinez’s profile, there are no noticeable changes that were made during the second half. Martinez put up elite exit velocity numbers that actually got even better during the second half of the season. His exit velocity ranked in the 90th percentile for all of baseball and his max exit velocity ranked in the 88th percentile. His sweet spot percentage ranked 9th in all of baseball last season. Looking at the chart below from Baseball Savant, there was no change in this from the first half to the second half. In fact, Martinez posted a higher barrel percentage in the second half than the first half.

JD Martinez Sweet Spot

A notable difference can be seen in his home run per barrel rate during the second half. League average is 64%. During the first half, 17 of Martinez’s 31 barrels went for a homerun (54%). During the second half, only 10 of Martinez’s 30 barrels went for a home run. This 33% rate is almost half of the league average! Being a right-handed hitter in Fenway, Martinez could see several home runs robbed each year by the Green Monster. However, during the second half, Martinez pulled and barreled up the ball 5 times. 3 of those 5 barrels went for a home run (60%). Only 4 of his 18 barrels he hit straight away went for a home run (22%). The Green Monster is not the issue for Martinez and his poor luck in the second half of 2021 should be ignored for 2022.

The only concern I have about Martinez is his age. He hits in an elite lineup and he has not seen a decline in any of his skills. He is 34, but he plays mostly DH so his legs should not wear down. Analysts and fantasy managers looking at Martinez’s 105 wRC+ in the second half should be careful to not give it a lot of weight. His profile remained almost exactly the same, if not better during the second half. Martinez has the chance to be one of the top hitters in baseball next season and he should be drafted as such.

Tommy Pham- OF Free Agent

Pham never really seemed to find his footing in San Diego. After struggling for the Padres in 2020, he failed to get going in 2021. Ignoring the month of June, Pham hit .204/.315/.328 in 2021. Pham saw his playing time diminish after the Padres acquired Adam Frazier and Fernando Tatis Jr. was forced to shift to the outfield. xwRC+ believes that Pham’s 2021 season and second half should have been much better. Fantasy managers should be monitoring free agency to see where Pham signs. If given a starting job, he could be a huge value to fantasy teams. His current ADP is OF69 around pick 264. xwRC+ believes that Pham deserved to be a well above average hitter during 2021, and his 79 wRC+ of the second half should be ignored.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ Second Half wRC+ Second Half xwRC+
102 129 79 125

xwRC+ clearly loves Tommy Pham. Over the second half, xwRC+ believes that Pham was the unluckiest hitter in baseball. The model believes that Pham should have had a wRC+ over 45 points higher than he did. A lot of this love stems from Pham’s strong plate discipline. Pham ranked in the 98th percentile in chase rate last season. His 16.1% chase rate is fairly consistent with his career average of 17.8% and well below the major league average. Pham’s strong ability to get on base helps provide him with a high floor even if he gets unlucky hitting. This is exactly what xwRC+ believes happened in 2021.

During the second half of 2021, Pham posted an elite exit velocity of 91.8 with a line drive percentage of 19.3%. While his LD% is not elite, it is high enough that paired with a 91.8 average EV he should post a higher BABIP than .231. Looking at data from the past three seasons, there have been 57 batters to post LD% and HH% within 2% of Pham’s second-half statistics for each category. Pham’s .231 BABIP would rank 55th on that list. His .193 average would rank 56th, and his slugging percentage would rank dead last. Pham performed as one of the worst hitters from that group despite being average in LD%, and HH%. Look for Pham to have better luck and bounce back in 2022!

The biggest question surrounding Pham right now is whether or not he will get a full-time job in 2022. He is currently a 34-year-old free agent coming off the worst two-season stretch of his career. xwRC+ believes that Pham still has great upside and is worthy of an everyday job, but GMs around baseball might not share the same belief. Pham could be a great value to your fantasy team in 2022 if given the opportunity to play!

Second Half Struggles to Pay Attention to for 2022

Mark Canha- OF New York Mets

Canha got off to an excellent start in 2021. During the early parts of the season, he was not only getting on base, but hitting for excellent average and power. In the second half of the season, things fell apart for Canha. Throughout the second half Canha hit .206/.340/.319. His ability to draw walks and get on base was still there, but everything else seemed to disappear. Before the lockout, Canha signed a 2-year contract with the Mets. However, based on his second-half numbers xwRC+ believes Canha’s best days may be behind him.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ Second Half wRC+ Second Half xwRC+
115 111 95 92

During the second half of 2022, Canha seemed to lose his ability to make solid contact. He has always been somebody that can get on base by drawing a lot of walks, but during the first half of 2021, he was an elite hitter as well. During the second half he only hit 8 total barrels. This 4% barrel rate is well below league average. As you can see from the Baseball Savant images below, Canha saw large decreases in his sweet spot and hard hit percentages during the second half. Canha was off to an excellent start to the season in 2021 due to his ability to consistently make solid on which disappeared during the second half.

Rolling Sweet SpotCanha has struggled to stay healthy battling both hip and back injuries. Last July, Canha injured his hip which many initially believed was going to require surgery. There is a strong chance that Canha battled these injuries the rest of the season and that they are partially responsible for his decline in production. However, Canha is 33 and these types of injuries tend to linger. There is a chance we never see Canha’s power production return to what it once was. His slugging percentage and expected slugging percentage on fastballs have both declined each of the past two seasons. This is alarming because 74% of Canha’s career home runs have been hit off of fastballs.


Mark Canha xSLGMark Canha SLG

Canha might never be the player he was during 2019. His second half of 2021, points to several red flags that fantasy managers need to be aware of. There are likely many fantasy managers that are willing to write off the second half of 2021 and chalk it up solely to injuries. The injuries might have played a role, but there is a chance that these injuries never go away. Canha still possesses the ability to work walks with great plate discipline, but counting on him to have a wRC+ over 110 is a stretch.

Jazz Chisholm Jr.- 2B/SS Miami Marlins

Chisholm is another young and captivating player in the league. Coming over in a trade from the Diamondbacks for Zac Gallen, Chisholm made his debut for the Marlins in 2020. Everybody instantly thinks of the home run he hit off Jacob deGrom’s 100mph fastball in early April of 2021. After an excellent start in April and May, Chisholm looked lost at the plate. During the second half, Chisholm posted a triple slash of .228/.278/.383. According to NFBC ADP data, Chisholm is currently going inside the top 80 picks in drafts as 2B9 and SS12. Looking at his performance across the second half and even part of the first half, xwRC believes that Chisholm is a below average player who’s draft price for 2022 is way too high.

Full Season wRC+ Full Season xwRC+ Second Half wRC+ Second Half xwRC+
98 89 80 91

I am cheating a little bit by adding Jazz into this article. xwRC+ did not like much of anything about Chisholm’s 2021 season. I wrote an article for Prospects Worldwide looking at young players who struggled in 2021. In this article which you can check out here, I discussed why I do not have an optimistic outlook for Chisholm in 2022. The difference between him and some of the other players mentioned in that article is that Jazz is going inside the top 80 picks in drafts. You are sacrificing a proven MLB player for the flashiness and potential upside of Chisholm. MLB average whiff percentage is 24.6%. In 2021, Jazz whiffed on 29.7% of pitches he faced including whiffing over 39% on pitches that were not fastballs.

Chisholm can handle the fastball, but after his excellent start to the season, pitchers started learning how to pitch to him. They knew that he could not hit breaking balls whether they were thrown in the zone or out of the zone. They learned that they could expand the zone with fastballs and Jazz would try to hit them. League average chase rate on all pitches is around 28%. Over the last two months of the season, Chisholm chased on about 47% of fastballs thrown to him. In April, pitchers were throwing him fastballs out of the zone 40% of the time. That number was up to 52.4% in September/October. Pitchers were able to exploit Jazz’s inability to hit anything except the fastball; an adjustment I am not sure he will be able to make in 2022.

Chisholm is a fun and exciting player, but somebody that is going way too high in drafts. His wRC+ was low especially in the second half, and xwRC+ believes that was justified by his underlying skills. He is going to have to make major adjustments in 2022 if he is going to return value anywhere near his draft price.

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