4 Baseball Stars Primed for a Second-Half Breakout
Every fantasy baseball owner dreams of that mythical mid-season pickup, the one who catches fire and propels your team into the playoffs. Nationals fans dream of last season, when their team could actually hit. There might be some overlap between those two groups.
Some players, for whatever reason, typically have performed better in the second half of the season. This isn’t a rock-solid theory (just as some guy always having monster Aprils or Mays is more likely a fluke than anything else) but with large enough sample sizes, second half improvement carries more weight. Here are four guys who have posted superior second half numbers throughout their careers, and might be available on the (relative) cheap.
Zimmerman has had issues this season. The Nats’ pre-Harper franchise cornerstone is hitting for his lowest average since 2007 and displayed major issues in the field that caused fans to wonder if the end was coming for Zimmerman sooner than expected. He righted the ship somewhat, but there is even more reason to expect big things from Zimmerman in the second half.
In his career, Zim has hit 34 points better and slugged 50 points better in the second half. (If you’re curious, his career first half line is .271/.338/.455 versus .305/.372/.505.) This is in 1915 second half plate appearances, so it’s not a small-sample-size fluke. Furthermore, his wRC+, a measure of runs created, jumps a full 23 points, from 110 to 133.
Zimmerman’s value has never been lower than it is this season, but he’s a prime candidate for a solid second half.
The parade of underwhelming Nationals continues. At this point, Werth is never going to live up to the $126 million contract he signed back before the 2011 season. But he can still be a useful offensive player provided he keeps putting up high on base percentages.
He hasn’t done that this season. He’s hitting .271/.333/.438 and sporting one of the lowest wOBPs of his career. But like Zimmerman, he usually has strong second halves. His career OPS is a healthy 39 points higher in the second half, and he too has a large sample size – 1789 plate appearances. He should be a bargain in most leagues and is worth a shot.
Unlike the first two guys on this list, Beltre is actually having a good year. His .296/.336/.482 line is about par for his career, save a sudden drop in power. But he too (this is becoming a theme) plays betters in the second half.
Beltre’s OPS is an incredible 101 points higher in his second halves than his firsts. He also has the largest sample size of anyone on this list – 2943 plate appearances. Beltre has never played significantly worse in the second half. In fact, every season of his career except 2010 and 2007, he’s been much, much better in the second half. Plus, our projections have him pegged for 15 homers and a .896 OPS for the rest of the year.The splits are strong with this one. He’ll cost more to acquire thanks to his solid season, but he’s prepared to turn it up after the All Star game.
Heyward is a slightly different case than the previous three guys on this list. He’s a young player who hasn’t really established his true potential and he has a much small sample size. But he is a very strong buy low candidate, if he hasn’t been bought up already.
In June, Heyward hit .312/.370/.495 and handily led the Braves in WAR. Since coming back from an emergency appendectomy, he’s been hitting very well and dragging his average from baseball’s shame chamber, the Mendoza line. This upward trend toward his career norm is reason enough to target Heyward as a buy-low candidate. (He does still have just a .693 OPS, so an inattentive owner could be vulnerable to giving him away.)
On top of Heyward’s recent performance, he does have (a little) history on his side. His average is 25 points higher in the second half, although his small sample size should make fantasy owners wary of putting too much faith in that trend. Either way, it doesn’t hurt, and Heyward makes for a good value pickup right now, especially if you can nab him in a keeper league.