Split ‘em: second-half performers to target

In horse racing, swimming, track, and car racing alike, the winners aren’t necessarily apparent in the beginning. Perhaps they save their energy for later, like Jason Lezak did here in his anchor leg of the historic Men’s 4 x 100 Freestyle final in Beijing in the 2008 Olympic Games. A horse may stumble coming out of the gates and gallop to victory by a nose. A Usain Bolt-like figure may need 50 meters to calibrate and conquer. A racer may only best the field in the final lap.

And while baseball is no racing sport, sometimes it’s helpful to think of it in such a context; it’s a slow, crawling race. In both the standings found on (insert stat service of choice here).com and those posted on the Green Monster at Fenway Park, all that matters is one’s location on the final day.

The same applies to a single player—do you care what he was hitting in mid-April, or mid-June for that matter? So long as you’re starting them and playing in a roto league, players are the sum total of their stats; all the 0-fers and all the four-hit days (and everything in-between), totaled and averaged.

With that in mind, one should recognize the possible distortions of small sample size. Just because Aramis Ramirez struggled mightily in April (where he hit .214) doesn’t mean his .273 batting mark is a high-water mark, or that he’s destined for mediocrity all year. Just because Carlos Gonzalez is on pace for 33 homers, 112 runs batted in and 21 steals doesn’t mean he won’t up the pace. And just because Ian Kennedy was expected to regress heavily doesn’t mean he won’t improve on his 4.26 ERA. Look for the chance to buy these three and more, presented below.

Main targets

Carlos Gonzalez
Let’s start with one of the more obvious answers to the question, “Who would I most like on my fantasy roster in the second half?”. Before we dismiss the notion that one shouldn’t buy Gonzalez because he’s sure to falter from his .334 batting mark and 120/30/110/20 pace, let’s look at the historical splits for the face of the Rockies. Gonzalez totaled only 84 at-bats in the first half of 2009 and logged a fatter 194 after the All-Star Game. The splits were profound:

Split       G  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB  BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   27  94  84 11 17  4  2  1   5  5  0  9 25 .202 .280 .333 .613  28   .276    43    64
2nd Half   62 223 194 42 62 10  5 12  24 11  4 19 45 .320 .384 .608 .992 118   .357   125   160

Sure, sure. Small sample size. The 2010 season, though, brought Gonzalez’s breakout, though not in full until the second half of the season:

Split       G  PA  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS  TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   77 347 325 56 102 12  4 17  60 12  5 16 76 .314 .346 .532  .878 173  .360    81   136
2nd Half   68 289 262 55  95 22  5 17  57 14  3 24 59 .363 .412 .679 1.091 178  .413   123   198

And 2011 confirmed a trend, whether it’s because Gonzalez enjoys his days off, felt motivated by All-Star snubs, had extra time to work with the hitting coach and self assess, or loves the heat. Whatever it is, behold:

Split       G  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB  BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   86 359 318 55 93 18  3 13  51 14  4 33 72 .292 .359 .491 .850 156   .336    92   138
2nd Half   41 183 163 37 49  9  0 13  41  6  1 15 33 .301 .372 .595 .967  97   .305   116   161

Granted, Gonzalez has never found as much success in the first half as he has in 2012. The balls are falling in play at what figures, to the naked eye, to be an unsustainable rate. That said, his approach at the plate (and specifically his strikeout-to-walk ratio) is far better than it was in 2010, when he posted a .336 average and sported a .384 BABIP (which is a tad lower than his mark now).

Oddly, Gonzalez is making less contact when he swings (which happens less than ever before) and isn’t making as much contact outside the zone as in previous years. So, as crazy as this sounds, Gonzalez could be headed for a .350 average.

Aramis Ramirez
We’ll keep it more simple with Ramirez. No story necessary, just a lot of raw numbers taken over his career (12-plus years of service time). Here are the splits:

Split      G   PA   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS   TB BAbip tOPS+
1st Half 963 4022 3636 493 1008 227 13 160 612 10  9 295 572 .277 .337 .479 .816 1741  .288    94
2nd Half 796 3264 2949 426  859 173  8 165 561  8  7 235 428 .291 .349 .523 .872 1543  .290   107

(sOPS+ is not available for the entirety of Ramirez’s career, so that stat has been omitted.)

Despite playing in 167 more games in the first half than in the second , Ramirez has hit 160 homers in that total span; on the other hand, he’s hit 165 dingers in his aggregate second half. His .291 average in the late-July to September bests his .277 mark for all games earlier. His second-half slugging percentage of .523 is better than the .479 mark he’s put up in the first half over his career.

Slugging the ball more? More runs batted in, one would assume. More batting average and homers? It’s self-explanatory how that’ll help your fantasy roster. Ramirez has hardly been sexy this season, so you may be able to pry him out of his owner’s hands for cents on the dollar. It would be a smart move.

Ian Kennedy
Welcome our first pitcher on this list. Kennedy’s splits are strong and consistent. Everything gets better, from the strikeout rate to the ERA to WHIP to the home run rate—everything. Behold:

Split    W  L  W-L%  ERA  G GS CG SHO SV    IP   H   R  ER HR  BB IBB  SO HBP   BF  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1st Half 19 20 .487 4.25 63 62  1  2   0 385.0 371 192 182 49 124   4 327  21 1645 1.286  7.6  2.64
2nd Half 18  5 .783 2.81 33 32  0  0   0 198.1 161  65  62 14  61   0 177   7  810 1.119  8.0  2.90

Objectively, Kennedy’s been unlucky this year. His home run rate is in line with his career mark, but at .326 his BABIP is far above his .280 career mark. Despite a marked improvement in his control (his walk rate is under two per nine!), he’s simply giving up more hits. Luck will turn around, and turn around sharply. Kennedy is due to shine in the second half, as per usual.

Hiroki Kuroda
The fifth-year Japanese import is succeeding against the odds, which are, in no particular order, old age, a nightmarish home ballpark, a declining ability to pound the strike zone, and diminishing velocity. Kuroda has made the necessary adjustments, though. He’s throwing more sliders, generating more grounders (last year’s tumble in groundball rate spelled concern for some) and is still stranding runners at an above-average rate. (Last year’s success seemed like a mirage partly because of his too-high left-on-base percentage.)

So while luck may be unkind to Kuroda in the second half, his career trend says he might find his groove and beat the Baseball Gods.

Split    W  L  W-L%  ERA  G GS CG SHO SV    IP   H   R  ER HR  BB IBB  SO HBP    BF  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1st Half 29 35 .453 3.59 79 78  2   2  0 484.0 472 221 193 49 132  17 348  11  2038 1.248  6.5  2.64
2nd Half 20 18 .526 3.26 53 53  0   0  0 323.0 299 133 117 28  63  13 258  10  1321 1.121  7.2  4.10

Kuroda seems to harness his control in the second half historically, which would bode well in keeping his ERA at it’s current mark in the mid-threes. He generates more double-play balls while operating with the same exact BABIP, meaning Kuroda’s pitching ability seems to actually improve without the help of luck. He makes for a perfect mid-level pitcher to target.

Bigger names

In no particular order, here is a mish-mash of ten names who are probably owned in your league but can be expected to improve on some stats from hereon out.

1) Cole Hamels: The prodigious lefty won’t be had at a discount in any functioning league, but he’s absolutely aces in the second half. His ERA is better by 0.43 and his WHIP by 0.07. Worthy gains.
2) Clayton Kershaw: Ditto for the 2011 Cy Young winner. He’s regressed closer to 2010 levels but soon may find his ERA and WHIP lower. (He has a 3.12/2.53 split for the former, 1.18/1.13 for the latter.)
3) Tommy Hanson: Struggling but might soon find his control. His first half totals feature a 2.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio; his second half, meanwhile, features a 3.27 mark.
4) Wandy Rodriguez: Finds his strikeout groove in the second half (8.3 K/9 bests his 7.0 mark pre-break). Modest improvements in ratio stats, too.
5) Max Scherzer: Seems to benefit from luck (a BABIP 20 points lower) and should similarly see a BABIP turnaround from the current, ridiculous .359 mark. WHIP will look much, much better.
6) Adrian Gonzalez: Slugs more, homers at a higher rate. Invest now and you’ll be buying very low; luck turns plus historically hot trends in the hot months? Perfect target.
7) Troy Tulowitzki: More career homers in the second half, and a .321 batting mark compared to a .267 mark in pre-All Star games. Buy now while insisting that he’s brittle. Then remind yourself that he is brittle.
8) Delmon Young: May salvage draft-day promises, as he hits far more homers in the second half (44) than in the first (35) and will likely enter on his hottest streak of hitting yet this year.
9) Mike Napoli: Really disappointing season for Napoli coming off an unquestionable career year. May find cozy home in late-summer months: his .907 second-half OPS is hotter than his .831 pre-ASB mark.
10) Jeff Francoeur: Sees modest second-half power boosts a la Napoli; OPS is ~80 points and batting average ~25 points better. Owners need to hold onto some hope; it’s clearly worth doing.

Waiver turnarounds

In no particular order, here are five names worth adding off the waiver wire for their historic second-half success.

1) Cliff Pennington: His OPS is nearly 100 points better second half, and he steals more bases, hits more homers. A .264 second-half average is bearable, whereas his current .202 mark is not.
2) Will Venable: Seems to harness power in hot weather and enjoys modest boosts in his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging marks.
3) Randy Wolf: Already covered in waiver wire column, but over the last three years, his second half ERA is 3.47 and his WHIP is 1.19. Key to improvement is lower walk rate.
4) J.A. Happ: Thanks to the ground ball (particularly the double play), Happ proves respectable in the later months (3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 marks). Worth streaming at least.
5) Juan Rivera: Improvement across the board, as in batting average, both parts of OPS, home run rate—even steal percentage. Dual eligibility helps add value and .292 batting average nothing to scoff at.

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Comments

  1. Chicago Mark said...

    I’m not completely agreeing with the Adrian Gonzalez selection here.  It hasn’t been since 2008 that he’s hit better in the second half.  And he did it in 2007 and 2006 also.  But in the 3 yr period of 2009, 10 and 11 his home run rate and slugging % have been down after the break.

  2. Nick Fleder said...

    The problem with Raburn is that he may not get another shot. That said, the splits are hefty to say the least.

    Good point, Mark, you’re right to an extent. He still hits for a higher average in the last three years, so it’s not as if he’s turned into a first half-performer primarily. The larger sample tells me he’s usually good in the first half and great in the second half, and whether it’s luck or trends that pushes the latter (luck that hasn’t been there for a couple of years), I expect to see him perform in late July-September this year.

  3. tannic said...

    Dropping Kennedy anyway to take a flier on Wilton Lopez replacing Myers (trade or otherwise). Dude wrecked my first half.

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