The second half of the season is upon us!
In many ways, it’s a whole new game and it can be helpful to reset the clock to zero when evaluating the hot and cold streaks that each player battles through. The fact is, every year there are players who make significant adjustments after the All-Star break and completely turn their season around.
It can be hard to identify these players at the right time, especially if they were beset by injury or ineffectiveness in the early months. But for the fantasy baseball managers that keep a close eye on the market, these players can mean the difference between a championship and second place.
So, what do we do with these rising studs?
Looking at the overall numbers, Skubal might seem like a strange choice for this exercise with a ho-hum 3.71 ERA since returning from the injured list earlier this month. But his return has been more boom than bust.
All of the damage against Skubal came in just one start against Kansas City where he gave up seven earned runs in four innings. He tossed shutouts in each of his other three starts, including five innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts on Monday against San Francisco.
Skubal missed nearly a year after undergoing flexor tendon surgery last August. Before that injury, Skubal was having the best season of his career. He was 7-8 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 117 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings.
As with any major injury, there were legitimate concerns that Skubal could recapture that form once he returned. So far, he has put those concerns to rest and picked up right where he left off.
There has certainly been no loss of velocity. Skubal averaged about 94 mph last year on his fastball and is up a couple of ticks so far this season at 96 mph.
He uses a sublime four-seamer to establish up high against both left- and right-handed batters while attacking the strike zone with an above-average slider and sinker. He also has a devastating changeup he uses inside against right-handed hitters that generated a 47.5% whiff rate last year.
Even with a small sample size this season, Skubal seems to have fallen right back into his old ways as far as velocity and location are concerned. He also has managed to cut his walk rate and improve his strikeout rate, which is part of the reason why the ERA estimators are bullish on his progress.
He has a 2.94 xERA and 1.28 FIP. The FIP stands out the most as Skubal has actually been on the bad end of luck with a .316 BABIP, which is nearly 30 points higher than his career average.
Verdict: Legit. It’s easy to get scared off by that bad start against Kansas City. Especially against Kansas City. While Skubal’s four-seamer was still ripping, he was caught hanging his secondaries too much. For a pitcher that relies on extreme command of the zone, it’s not a surprise to see him struggle when that command is even a little bit off. “Living on the edge” could be the name of Skubal’s biography someday, but he has been able to find success with the way he mixes speeds and dominates the top of the zone. It’s incredibly encouraging to see so much life out of Skubal’s arm already. He could be in for a big second half as he settles in.
Bradish is an interesting case. A fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, Bradish was unheralded as a prospect and traded to the Orioles as part of the Dylan Bundy deal in 2019. He struggled in his first taste of Triple-A in 2021 but made enough of an impact the following year to earn a look in the majors.
In his rookie season at 25 years old, Bradish posted a 4.90 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and a 111:46 K:BB ratio in 117 2/3 innings. Again, fairly unremarkable, though he started to emerge in the second half.
He had a 7.01 ERA through his first 11 starts, missed most of July with an injury, and then closed out the remainder of the year with a 3.26 ERA. That improvement was spurred by a change in his pitch mix where he started emphasizing his fastball and slider more to his benefit.
Bradish has taken a similar trajectory this year. He hardly is the same pitcher today as he was back in April.
He had a 6.14 ERA in April, but completely changed his approach starting with a May 6 start at Atlanta. He went from relying heavily on his four-seamer to instead leaning more on his slider. He threw his slider around 15% of the time in the first month and now it’s his primary pitch with a 30% usage. It’s a change that provided instant results.
Bradish’s slider is really good with a +9 run value, 99th percentile PLV, and a strikeout rate of just under 40%. There are some concerns with the pitch, namely a .253 BABIP and an average 29.4% CSW. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but I would still rate the pitch as well above average. There’s a reason why he’s focused so much on his slider.
The biggest concern remains with Bradish’s four-seamer. He has emphasized it less over time, but its 26% usage still remains his second-most frequent pitch. The pitch has very poor movement and a .368 batting-average against. Batters have an average exit velocity of 94.8 against the pitch, which is among the worst in the league.
In fact, all of Bradish’s pitches have disturbingly high EVs against them. His hard-hit rate of 44.4% is well above the league average of 36.1%.
Verdict: Not legit. I don’t mean that Bradish can’t be a high-quality starter and a valuable piece of any rotation. He absolutely is. But over the past month, Bradish has a 1.39 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. That’s not a pace Bradish can maintain. One thing I love about Bradish is that he’s not afraid to try new things and make significant changes to his approach based on the data. Some players tinker too much, some don’t do it nearly enough. Bradish is doing it right, but it feels like he’s riding on borrowed time right now. There is regression heading his way considering his .286 BABIP and 4.20 xERA. The hard hits are going to catch up with Bradish sooner or later.
When Mike Trout went down earlier this month with a fractured left hamate bone, there was serious concern in the Angels-verse. Thankfully, they had the No. 1 overall pick waiting to help pick up the slack.
Enter Mickey Moniak, the top pick in the 2016 draft by Philadelphia who was labeled a bust when he was traded to the Angels last summer in the Noah Syndergaard deal. Moniak was a career .259/.308/.424 hitter in the minor leagues and slashed .129/.214/.172 in 47 games over parts of three seasons with the Phillies.
A change of scenery has done wonders for Moniak, who is hitting .331/.362/.615 with 11 home runs, 34 RBI, 26 runs, and three stolen bases over 169 at-bats this season. He currently is riding a 13-game hitting streak.
There’s no question that Moniak is seeing the ball very well. His 15% barrel rate is by far the best of his career and nearly twice the MLB average. He’s made a concerted effort to hit those balls up in the air, too. With Philadelphia, his groundball rate was north of 60%, but he’s more than cut that number in half. His 21-degree launch angle is actually a bit too high, but he’s had the power to make it work.
Strikeouts continue to be a huge problem. Even during his 13-game hitting streak, Moniak has a 19:2 K:BB ratio. He nearly has as many strikeouts as he does hits (21) in that stretch.
Verdict: Not legit. Moniak is not on a sustainable path. His BABIP is an unreasonable .441 with a 31.6% strikeout rate. Everything is falling for Moniak right now, but that definitely will not continue. His xBA is .274 and his power is mostly legitimate, so there’s still a path here toward a productive player, but there’s work to be done. Once his luck turns and pitchers adjust to his tendencies (he struggles with breaking balls), then Moniak will be in trouble. Still, it’s a good start though for a player that many had written off years ago.