5 Hitters Ready to Bounce Back After the All-Star Break
As first-half performances continue to marinate, and all eyes settle in on the All-Star events in Minnesota, I can already hear my stomach growling for the regular season to get back underway. Until the action picks back up on Friday, the least we can do is curb your appetite with some food for thought on what players are in line for a resurgent second half. With a splash of speculation, Iâ€™m going to mince some first-half metrics and cook up a few comeback candidates for the remaining three months of the season.
So whoâ€™s hungry? My deepest apologies. But more importantly, who doesnâ€™t love a comeback story?
Looking back on the first half of the season, there has been countless surprise performances, both good and bad - the Giants blowing a 9.5 game lead over the Dodgers in a three-week span, the Brew Crew dropping 11 of 13 before the break, Sean Who-little's ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio, Jose Abreu slugging like a seasoned vet, Verlander's shortcomings, Altuve's historic month of June, Germany molly whoppinâ€™ Brazil on their home turf (sorry, couldnâ€™t resist) - the list goes on and on. And the common measure in all of the above storylines is the unpredictability of each event.
As a self-proclaimed statistician and a contributing writer for numberFire, itâ€™s my job to predict the unpredictable.
First things first, we must remember itâ€™s a marathon of a season. Really though, this 162-game journey can be a tale of two seasons. Once the temperature starts to cool off and the leaves begin to change, itâ€™s likely to see these breakout stars fade back towards reality and the first-half disappointments make up for lost ground. In simpler terms, things are going to even out.
So, the idea here is to find undervalued potential that can provide for a major payday down the stretch. Without further ado, here are the five guys bound to bust out of their early-season slumps and put up some serious production over the second half of the season.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
After returning from his recent five game suspension, Machado has been knocking the snot out of the ball - maybe the time off did the kid some good. In his first 50 games, Machado hit just .236 with four bombs and 12 RBI. Since, heâ€™s logged 19 hits in 12 games while launching five homers and driving in eight runs. To up the sample a little more, through his last 35 games, heâ€™s slashing .317/.362/.532 with seven bombs, and his ground-ball rate is down nearly 20% from his career line.
Coming off of a major knee surgery during the off-season, it was expected to take some time for Manny to find his groove at the plate. Even given his recent resurrection, he's still only batting .270 and getting on base at a clip of .319 for the season, so now is the time to buy. At 21 years old, Machado is destined to be a perennial stud, and I think that stud-like production picks up right where it left off before the mid-season break.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
Kipnis' offensive performance has been an utter disappointment so far this season. In nearly 300 plate appearances, he hit just .255 with three home runs and 24 RBI over the first three months of the season, not even comparable to his .301, 13 homer and 57 RBI line he put up before the break last year. But the thermometer is on the uptick since returning from his oblique injury in May. Heâ€™s recorded six multi-hit games in July already, one less than he had in each of the months of June and April. Heâ€™s swiped 13 bags this season on 14 attempts and racked up five stolen bases in a three game span last week. As the table setter for a surprisingly powerful offense - the Indians are inside the top 10 in almost every advanced offensive statistic without any production from the leadoff spot - opportunities will continue to come in abundance.
His strikeout rate and walk rate are steady for his career numbers, and his line-drive rate is just above the Major League average. He continues to show good plate discipline which is crucial as the leadoff man in Cleveland. Literally, the only thing missing from his game right now is his power stroke. His slugging percentage and isolated power are each down 50 points from their career marks. Odds are, this power outage will come to an end and heâ€™ll get back to producing at levels closer to that of his previous two seasons in which he combined for 31 homers.
Jay Bruce, RF, Cincinnati Reds
In depressing fashion, Bruce has batted .229/.310/.409 this season, well under what he has done for his career. But there are still signs of optimism that he will turn it around. For starters, heâ€™s finally healthy after undergoing surgery to repair his partially torn meniscus in his knee. This may be some of the reason for his drowning numbers over the first three months. As evidence, the Reds have him off and running as of late, already tying his career high of nine steals.
Since the start of June, Bruce is hitting .259 with 20 extra-base hits (seven being home runs) and 17 RBI. During this stretch, he ranks 10th in batting average against the shift, which bodes well for the pull-happy hitter. His line-drive percentage has seen a bump each subsequent month this season. For the year, Bruceâ€™s hard-hit rate of 21.6% is tied with Trout for 22nd in the league. Complement that with him already tying his career mark in stolen bases and we might have a recipe for second-half success on our hands.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Hosmer has been a notoriously slow starter out of the gates. Last year, he was the second-best hitter after the All-Star break, slashing a .323/.379/.473 line - so heâ€™s certainly capable of coming around. For his career, his on-base plus slugging percentage (+74 points) and weighted on-base average (+28 points) have been significantly higher during the second half of the season. Unfortunately though, evidence has shown that seasonal splits are hardly predictive from year-to-year, so take those splits for what theyâ€™re worth.
Hosmer is 20-for-47 (.426) with seven extra-baggers through 12 games in July. Over the last two weeks, heâ€™s hitting .412 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.119 and a 2.00 walk-to-strikeout ratio - putting him among the best in the league in each respective category. The biggest concerns remain to be his career low line-drive percentage and home run-to-fly ball ratio. He had such a slow start to the season that itâ€™ll take a while for these numbers to normalize, but they should continue to regress towards his career lines.
Carlos Santana, C/1B/3B, Cleveland Indians
Through 50 games in April and May, Santana posted an atrocious .159 average and .628 on-base plus slugging percentage. Through 34 games since returning from the DL in early June - when Terry Francona decided to relegate him to a full-time gig at first base - heâ€™s hitting .277 with a .907 on-base plus slugging percentage. Even starting in 16 less games since the beginning of June, heâ€™s belted two more bombs and driven in three more runs than he did in the previous two months.
Santana has the second lowest batting average on balls in play in the Majors at .238. His BABIP over the past two seasons were .301 and .278, respectively. Santanaâ€™s home run-to-fly ball rate is up 5.4% from last season and 6.9% from the season before, and heâ€™s swinging at 5.2% less pitches outside of the strike zone this season. The metrics show that Santana is bound to get his sooner or later this year, so make sure you cash in as his career-low slash line stabilizes in the coming months. Last week, our very own Jacob Adler looked at Santana's season in a little more depth. I highly recommend checking it out.