Don’t despair. The baseball season has officially reached its halfway point with All-Star break, but that does not mean that everything is written in stone. There is no shortage of struggling stars, but there are still plenty of games left to play. A bad first half does not mean that a player is destined to have a bad season. Every year there are second-half heroes who surge in the late summer. In fact, many fantasy championships are built on identifying those players.
Here are three early-drafted players that could really use a strong second half.
Alonso is one of the game’s most exciting young power hitters. After starting the season strong, the slugger limped out of the first half and into the Home Run Derby where he ran into a buzz saw named Julio Rodriguez. Alonso put on a fine performance for his part, but it was just his luck that Rodriguez clobbered a record-breaking 41 home runs in the first round. Bad luck is just Alonso’s thing right now.
Since June 1, Alonso is hitting .149/.259/.372 with 11 runs, six homers, 15 RBI and a pair of stolen bases. You can live with low ratios (to a point) as long as you’re getting power, but the Polar Bear isn’t even doing much of that lately. Overall, he’s hit 26 dingers, but the vast majority of those came in the early weeks of the season.
From a power perspective, Alonso’s metrics look healthy. If you told me nothing else about his statistics and just gave me the raw data, it would be hard to notice that anything is amiss. He’s sporting elite numbers in ISO (.286) and HR/FB ratio (24.5%). He’s regularly putting the ball into the air with force and leaving the park at an elite rate that’s in line with what he has done in the past. While his exit velocities have fallen for the second straight year, he’s shown he’s still capable of hitting the ball as hard as anybody.
As much as we hate to admit it, luck still plays a factor in baseball. Alonso should know that all too well this season.
Overall, his BABIP is shockingly low at .186, which is about 90 points lower than last year. He’s never finished a season with a BABIP below .242 and even that was a bit of an outlier. Since June 1, Alonso’s BABIP is .129. In that same timeframe, his ISO is .223 and his HR/FB ratio is 19.4%. In simple terms: unless Alonso hits the ball out of the park, he’s rarely getting a hit.
Verdict: Patience. There are a few concerning trends. Notably, Alonso’s strikeout rate has gone up from 18.7% last year to 21.3% this season. However, that’s still better than league average and also better than his first couple seasons when he sensationally broke the rookie home run record. Alonso also is struggling with fastballs, hitting .176 on four-seamers despite hitting .250 or better on that pitch throughout his career. But bad luck has played a role there as well. He’s not striking out on fastballs at a higher rate. His 22.1 K% on four-seamers is actually the second-lowest of his career. His xBA against four-seamers is .241. Overall, Statcast feels that Alonso should be better than he actually is with a .256 xBA and .542 xSLG. While both numbers would represent a down year for Alonso, they’re miles better than where he’s currently at. Better days should be on the horizon!
This one is a bit personal. I’ve invested heavily in Javier in my fantasy leagues and thought that he came into the season undervalued for the quality of his arsenal. Through most of the first half, Javier performed somewhere between OK and Excellent. But the last couple weeks have been devastating.
Overall, Javier is 7-1 with a 4.34 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings. On their own, those numbers would be incredibly disappointing, but it’s worse when you take a closer look. At the end of May, Javier was 6-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He was holding opponents to a .203 batting average against.
It’s been downhill ever since.
Since June 1, Javier has a 7.48 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. His ERA in that timespan is eighth worst among all starters with at least 20 innings pitched. Opponents are now batting .247 against Javier on the season. He’s allowed four earned runs or more in four of his last five starts. That includes complete meltdowns against St. Louis (six earned runs in four innings) and Texas (eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings).
In two recent starts, walks suddenly became a major issue. Javier walked three in a poor outing against the Guardians and then five more against the Mets in just 2 1/3 innings. While Javier has never exactly been a control freak, he’s not exactly Nick Pivetta when it comes to issuing free passes (Sorry, Nick). He typically does a good job in that department and overall has improved this season.
The real concern has been the declining quality of his once electric fastball. Last year, Javier’s four-seamer was simply one of the best pitches in the game with a -18 run value. Opponents hit just .183 against the pitch. This season, opposing batters are hitting .257 on his four-seamer and, while the pitch is still a positive with a -7 run value, it’s quickly trending in the wrong direction. He managed just four whiffs on the pitch against Texas and seven against St. Louis.
At the same time, Javier’s slider has also declined. While the slider was never his bread-and-butter, it is still a strong tool in his arsenal (really, his only other tool). The slider had a -8 run value and .121 batting average against last year, but that has dipped to a -1 run value and .195 BAA. It’s basically just an average pitch now.
Verdict: Patience. Maybe it’s too personal. Maybe I’m too invested. But I don’t see much value in cutting out at this point. It’s certainly not bad luck that has tainted Javier’s season. His fastball has lost a lot of the deception in movement that has made him so successful and his strikeout rate has plummeted. But we’re still just talking about just a handful of bad starts. And while those starts have been VERY bad, it would be poor management to run away at this point. This is purely patience based on investment. Javier does not have a long track record to rely on, but he has proven to be a highly-elite arm at his best. Hold for now.
Ryan is another player that started the season strong but finished the first half with a whimper. At the start of June, Ryan had a 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. His ERA has risen by nearly 100 points since then with a series of horrible starts trailing in his wake.
Sure, overall, Ryan is still having a solid season. He’s 8-6 with a 3.70 ERAA, 1.01 WHIP and 124:18 K:BB ratio in 107 innings. It’s not Top 50 material, but it’s a valuable piece for any team – both fantasy or real. Since June 1, Ryan has had a couple truly excellent outings, including a complete game shutout June 22 against Boston. However, in that same span, Ryan has a 5.14 ERA, so the concerns are legitimate.
Ryan relies heavily on his four-seamer to get the job done. He throws that about 60% of the time and it works as his main putaway pitch. His secondaries, namely his changeup and slider, function mostly as setup for his fastball. He attacks low and away with the secondaries and then burns hitters up high with the four-seamer. It’s a simple and effective approach that demands excellent control of the strike zone, which Ryan usually has.
Until he doesn’t.
The issue with relying on one pitch to do your dirty work is that when that pitch isn’t working, neither are you. He had just eight whiffs on the four-seamer in his most recent start against Baltimore where he allowed five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. He had just three whiffs on the pitch against Atlanta a couple weeks ago where he gave up six earned runs in just 3 innings.
Verdict: Patience. All sorts of patience. Ryan is fine. Yes, there will be some volatility in his profile as he won’t have perfect command of his fastball in each start. But Ryan is right more often than he is wrong. The best part is, Ryan gives you strikeouts either way, which is exactly what you want out of your fantasy pitchers when they have bad starts. Against Baltimore, Ryan still came through with 10 Ks. Overall, he has been a bonafide ace. His four-seamer has a 32.8% CSW, which is in the league’s 87th percentile and PLV loves his stuff with a 5.28 mark that’s among the best in the league.