After the season, one of the things I like to look at is what players who had big second halves to get a sense of who might be interesting off-season trade targets or auction targets – basically, players whose value might be muted by their overall value/scores, but whose second half suggests big things to come.
This year, I decided to formalize this search. In the past, I’ve just used anecdotal evidence and then looked deeper. Instead, I took a look at every player with 100+ first half PA and 100+ second half PA, comparing their first half points per game to their second half, and today I’ll share the results with you.
Starting with a list of 286 hitters who make the cut described, 49 posted a second half P/G at least 1.5 points better than their first half. Of those, seven were still below replacement level even in their improved second half. Another 16 posted >5.5 P/G for the whole season, making it unlikely their value will be deflated. That leaves us 26 names.
Here are those 26 players.
|Player||1st Half P/G||2nd Half P/G||Diff||Total P/G|
We’ll look at these guys in four groups: Today, we’ll check out the rookies and the young breakout candidates; tomorrow, the established fantasy stars and the rest.
- Blake Swihart – Swihart was abysmal in the first half, but in the second, only one catcher (Buster Posey) was better on a per-game basis. Well, two if you count Carlos Santana, but I don’t. There is cause for caution – a .391 second half BABIP – but he also raised his BB%, lowered his K% and significantly increased his ISO in the second half. Well worth buying if you can pay for a guy with under 4 P/G on the season, but closer to 5 P/G talent.
- Jung-ho Kang – Kang’s first half was marred by both poor performance and a lack of playing time, but prior to his brutal season-ending injury, he was excellent after the break. The biggest change for him was power. The big bat he showed in Korea waited a few months to travel to Pittsburgh, but then he increased his FB% from 24.7% to 30.9% and his HR/FB rate from 9.3% to 23.9%. He got enough hype that he probably won’t come cheap, but this is a MI with 25 HR pop in a full season of playing time.
- Cory Spangenberg – This is the first guy on the list I worry about. For one thing, he does not have the history of the two before him. For another, like Swihart, the most notable change he made was a high BABIP. But the bigger issue is that even with that high BABIP, he was still only at 4.62 P/G. That puts him above replacement level, but not enough above to handle much of a drop in production. He’s probably better than his 2.66 P/G first half, but not worth much more than a $1 flyer.
- Odubel Herrera – If you are in a 5×5 league, you should buy. He stole only 16 bases over most of a season this year, but the last four he has 21, 17, 27, and 34 – the speed is there. But even in points leagues, he put up a solid 5.26 P/G in the second half. His .432 BABIP isn’t even a little sustainable, but he does use a lot of LD and GB to take advantage of his speed. I don’t believe he has the pop to be useful in points leagues, though.
- Enrique Hernandez – His numbers are a bit misleading, as he played 18 games with one or zero PA and 13 of those came in the first half. All of those games alone are enough to drive down a players P/G by an awful lot. In fact, ignore the half season splits and look at this: in the 51 games he started, Hernandez averaged 5.04 P/G. If he has a job, even a platoon job, next year, I’d gladly use him at MI when he starts.
This next group is more like the first group than not – young players who may have shown signs of a breakout – they just happen to not be rookies.
- Eduardo Escobar – By the end of 2013, Escobar had played in parts of three MLB seasons and looked more or less lost at the plate. 2014 was a nice step forward, but that all reverted in a brutal first half of 2015. But in the second half, he upped his BB%, lowered his K% and his ISO got a big boost. Even a drop in BABIP couldn’t stop him from moving from “unownable” to “solid MI option.” If the increased ISO is a real power breakout from the 26-year-old, nothing else in this second half looks unsustainable. But that’s a big if, for another time.
- Christian Yelich – For a while, Yelich was beating the ball into the ground at an elite rate (in fact, he led all MLB players with a 62.5% GB% this year), which makes some sense for a guy with speed. But Yelich was always supposed to offer some pop and the high fantasy expectations around him demanded it. The odd thing is, while his second half looks much better, his FB% and HR/FB rate both went DOWN, as he traded GB for LD. His BABIP soared, but that power is still MIA. I’m not buying.
- Gregory Polanco – Polanco is the anti-Yelich. Well, kind of. His FB% and HR/FB rate both increased in the second half, showing the power many thought he would eventually grow into. He still had only 6 HR over 316 PA, but a 12-15 HR pace is a big improvement over the 6-8 pace he had in the first half. If you can pay for 9 HR and 27 SB, you may get 15/25.
- Rougned Odor – The 1st/2nd half splits for Odor are interesting, but what about this – through May 8, he was hitting .144/.252/.233 in 103 PA. After a return to the minors, he came back and posted a .292/.334/.527 line over his final 367 PA with 15 HR and 5 SB. So what changed? His .188 BABIP rising to .305 probably had something to do with it. Dropping his K% from 24.3% to 14.7% probably helped. He also hit a few more FB and hit’em harder. Basically, he figured something out to make more contact and more solid contact and, at the same time, his luck turned from awful to standard. I’m all in on Odor.
We’ll be back with Part II tomorrow.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.