Using Batted-Ball Stats to Predict MLB's Second-Half All-Stars
Now that the pesky "real" All-Star game is over, we can finally focus on things that truly matter: fake awards that nobody will ever actually receive.
No, we're not being delusional by discussing "second-half All-Stars." We know those don't really exist, but so what? The first-half studs got their due, and now it's time to check out some dudes who could put in work in the second half.
To do this, we'll be looking at batted-ball stats from the season's first few months to spot players who are striking the ball well but were not selected to the mid-summer classic. We'll pick one player for each league from each onesie position and then three outfielders who could be primed for a big-time output post-All-Star break based on how well they hit the ball in the first half. We'll try to exclude strict platoon players whose numbers may be skewed by only facing pitchers of the opposite handedness.
Which players are primed to bust out in the second half? Let's take a look.
American League: Brian McCann
National League: Nick Hundley
Catcher is far from the deepest position in the American League, but Brian McCann is very much worthy of recognition. McCann's 36.4% hard-hit rate is his highest since 2010, when he was still bumping with the Atlanta Braves. What jacks up his fun factor is that he has been even better of late, posting a 43.4% hard-hit rate and 50.0% fly-ball rate since the start of June. His strikeout rate over that span is just 16.4%, and putting him in a park that slathers love on lefties won't hurt.
Nick Hundley missed a good amount of time in the first half, but when he was healthy, he was sneaky good. His hard-hit rate is 38.9%, up from 27.8% in 2015 and his career high of 33.0% in 2010. His 13.2% walk rate and 15.1% strikeout rate have allowed him to get on base at a .358 clip, and that's despite a .282 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) that is well below his career mark of .302. His numbers in the first half were good, but they could be even better going forward.
American League: Chris Davis
National League: Joey Votto
Is it cheating to include a dude who hit 22 tanks in the first half? Probably. But I'll take any opportunity I can get to peep Chris Davis dinger videos.
Davis' .237/.348/.497 slash won't blow you away outside of the isolated power, but his hard-hit rate is still a hefty 40.6% with a 49.0% fly-ball rate. Putting those numbers in Camden Yards will lead to some gross totals, especially with the temperatures and humidity going up.
For a guy who said he was contemplating retirement earlier, Joey Votto sure did some silly things in the first half. He's fourth in the league in hard-hit rate at 43.1%, and his 10.9% soft-hit rate is third lowest. Votto is striking out more and walking less, but his batted-ball stats are the best of his career. Like Davis, he plays in a long-ball-friendly park, so don't be shocked if his June hot streak stretches into the latter months.
American League: Logan Forsythe
National League: Neil Walker
General perception of Logan Forsythe is that he's limited to mashing just lefties. It seems he takes umbrage with that assertion.
Out of the hand at 78 mph—off the bat at 103, according to @Statcast.
Logan has left the building. #RaysUphttps://t.co/XiFSrEuVar
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 9, 2016
Forsythe's soft-hit rate against righties is down to 10.5% this year, putting him at 9.4% overall with a 36.1% hard-hit rate. His earlier injury doesn't appear to have had a negative effect as his hard-hit rate since coming off the disabled list is 35.4%, so there are plenty of reasons to buy into Forsythe as a potential second-half stud.
While the New York Mets are busy lamenting the successes of the departed Daniel Murphy, Neil Walker is having a truly solid season. For the year, he has a 15.9% strikeout rate, 38.5% hard-hit rate, and 53.8% fly-ball rate -- against left-handed pitching, that is. It's still a small, 69-plate-appearance sample, but he's becoming a more balanced hitter who may be less of a liability when a southpaw is on the bump. With a career-high 36.0% hard-hit rate for the season, he's not going to erase the pains of losing Murphy, but he can at least help close the gap.
American League: Kyle Seager
National League: Jake Lamb
Kyle Seager has already been to the All-Star game once, but here's a dirty little secret: he's getting even better.
He currently has career-best marks in both hard-hit rate and soft-hit rate while striking out just 15.1% of the time. If he were playing in a more hitter-friendly park, it's hard to grasp how good his traditional stats might be. His brother, Corey Seager, is justifiably getting all the hype right now, but the elder is straight raking. We can't overlook what he has done thus far.
There is no way on this beautiful Earth that Jake Lamb should be eligible for this list. He's the only player in the National League with a slugging percentage above .600, and it's close to being a sustainable mark with his 41.9% hard-hit rate. Lamb has launched 20 home runs already, and he's walking 10.6% of the time. There's legitimately nothing about his game right now that we shouldn't love. Don't expect his first-half slaughtering to end any time soon.
American League: Carlos Correa
National League: Trevor Story
We probably don't need to shed any tears that Carlos Correa wasn't in this year's All-Star game. He'll be there plenty in the future, especially if he keeps hitting the way he has recently. His hard-hit rate for the year is an impressive 37.7%, but it jumps up to 40.2% with a 15.7% strikeout rate over his past 115 plate appearances. His .260/.354/.459 slash isn't as good as his marks from last year, but it'll get there quickly if he can keep this up.
It seems to be a fad to hate on Trevor Story by showing his stats when you omit his disgusting first week. Let's do that! Instead of focusing on silly stats such as batting average, though, here are his batted-ball stats without his first week tear compared to those of the National League All-Stars.
|Since April 12th||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate||Fly-Ball Rate|
The first takeaway -- again -- is that Corey Seager is ign'ant. The second, though, is that if you're going to bash Story, you're going to have to try harder than leaving out his first week. He has been crushing the ball since then, too, and his numbers look even better when you consider the position he plays. Even with the high strikeout rate, he can be a great player when he mashes like this.
Each of the American League outfielders missed a bit of time in the first half for one reason or another, but they all tattooed the ball when they played in the bigs.
Shin-Soo Choo is second in hard-hit rate among all outfielders with at least 100 plate appearances, and his 43.2% mark there comes with an 8.0% soft-hit rate. He has brought his strikeout rate down to 20.9% with a 12.9% walk rate, making his .388 on-base percentage appear largely sustainable. He's batting at the top of a quality batting order in a good hitter's park, so as long as he's healthy, he could post some tasty second-half marks.
There weren't a whole lot of reasons for optimism for the Minnesota Twins in the first half, but Miguel Sano and Max Kepler can serve as the exceptions. They're third and ninth, respectively, in hard-hit rate in the American League among outfielders with at least 100 plate appearances. Both of their fly-ball rates are above 39.0%, as well, so there could be some dingers flying out of Target Field in July. They seem to have already kicked off that quest.
Oh my, indeed.
Including Michael Conforto here would seem a bit strange considering that it's hard to be a Major-League All-Star when you're not -- ya know -- in the Major Leagues. If his .340/.411/.580 slash in Triple-A is any indication, though, he'll be back soon, meaning we can focus again on his delicious 41.7% hard-hit rate. Even when we take out his red-hot April, Conforto's hard-hit rate stays up at 35.4%. If he can cut the strikeouts, he'll return to the middle of the Mets' order quickly.
Yasmany Tomas was another guy flirting with a minor-league assignment earlier in the year, but his batted-ball stats give that sentiment a bit of resistance. He has jacked his hard-hit rate up to 40.5% this year from 31.0% in his rookie season, but it hasn't resulted in big-time improvements in his slash yet. If he keeps stroking the way he has, those things will catch up, and he could catch fire.
This list includes a good number of spring chickens just coming into their own. The 36-year-old Matt Holliday doesn't qualify for that distinction, but you could argue this has been one of his more impressive seasons in a long time. His 40.2% hard-hit rate is the best of his career, but you wouldn't know it because his .248 BABIP is holding his traditional numbers down. Things have been trending up, too, with his hard-hit rate at 43.2% since the start of June. Keep an eye on Holliday down the stretch as his success could be key to a second-half run from the St. Louis Cardinals.