Analysis: A Tale of Two Halves

Mark Teixeira is a typical "slow starter" or "second half player"

Hey guys, just wanted to do a quick rundown of some things I’ve been noticing in the second half of the MLB season.  Many players throughout the league are known as “second half players”; these guys typically have sub-par first halves and really turn it up in the second half.  Off the top of my head Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche and Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira are two examples.  However, there are guys who use the second half to fix a first half slump.  There isn’t anything to indicate that these players are like LaRoche or Teixeira, who have career trends of first half terribleness.  Most players in slumps just need time to work things out.  Now they don’t always fix what’ ailing them; sometimes they stay in the funk they’re in whether it’s just age catching up to them, being extremely unlucky, or failing to make adjustments.  There are also guys who have had historically strong first halves and terrible second halves.  Angels pitcher Dan Haren comes to mind.  And there are guys without historical trends who have great first halves and then plummet in the second half.  In this piece I’ll cover some guys who are currently trending up and some who are currently trending down.  Now I realize there are still roughly two months of baseball to be played, but I just thought it would be interesting to point out some players.

Ok first up comes Braves 2B Dan Uggla.  This guy had an absolutely terrible first half.  First half stats: .185 BA, .257 OBP, .365 SLG, 15 HR, 34 RBI.  Wow.  For the amount of money the Braves paid for a premier slugger who could drive in runs, those stats are putrid.  Now it didn’t help that his BABIP was an extremely low .198, well below his .292 career average.  For those of you who don’t know, BABIP is batting average for balls in play.  A low BABIP usually constitutes a player being extremely unlucky.  All the balls he puts into play go right to the defenders and don’t slip through the holes.  A high BABIP conversely indicates a player being extremely lucky.  Uggla however has made a complete 180 in the second half.  His second half stats as of today: .351 BA, .407 OBP, .703 SLG, 8 HR, 18 RBI.  He’s on pace to smash his first half totals.  It’s important to take note that he won’t likely sustain these second half stats (especially the BA) as his BABIP is now is .353.  However, is it safe to say he’ll hit around .270 the rest of the year?  Sure.

Second up is Uggla’s rookie teammate 1B Freddie Freeman.  Man this kid has turned it up in the second half. He’s made a ton of adjustments which has led to his second half success thus far.  First half stats: .274 BA, .347 OBP, .459 SLG, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 32 BB, 81 SO.  Second half stats: .390 BA, .433 OBP, .549 SLG, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 20 SO.  One thing you notice right away is that Freeman has cut down on his strikeouts and improved his walk rate.  In other words, he’s starting to develop plate discipline.  Now he does have an extremely unsustainable BABIP of .492.  But like Uggla, this was obtained in a small sample size.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Freeman will continue to produce in big ways in the second half, just not at these god like numbers.  So far, he has my vote for NL Rookie of the Year.  I have his teammate Craig Kimbrel in second.  As great a season as Kimbrel is having (2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 32 SV, 86 SO to 21 BB in 54.0 innings), position players always contribute everyday, making them moar valuable in my mind.

Third up is Yankees RF Nick Swisher.  I love the Swish; he’s such a positive force in the clubhouse and always interacts with the fans (just check out his Twitter! 1.3 million followers!).  However, he had such a terrible first half of the season which had caused me and other Yankee fans lots of grief.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never give up on the Swish.  I just knew he would turn things around, and he definitely has.  To preface things, I had high expectations for Swisher this season.  After a terrible postseason in 2009, Swisher reworked his swing with hitting coach Kevin Love (like my boy Curtis Granderson!  Check out Part 1 and Part 2) before the 2010 season.  As a result, Swisher had the highest batting average of his career (.288) while still providing his usual power (29 HR).  So when the first half concluded with his average sitting at .249, disappointment naturally sat in.

However, if you look at his situation with a clear mind, perhaps it was completely normal.  After all, Swisher is a career .254 hitter so that 2010 campaign may have been a fluke (but as we’ve seen with Granderson, Long’s swing chang tutelage works wonders).  But all that can be put aside as Swisher is hitting .329 with a .415 OBP (first half .367) and is slugging nearly .100 points higher as well (.512 compared to .416).  He’s hit 4 HR in a mere 82 at-bats compared to the 10 HR he hit in 281 at-bats in the first half.  He’s also still drawing plenty of walks (66, 54 in the first half which helped his OBP) like he’s always done (Moneyball!), and actually already has moar walks than he had all of last season (58).  So yes I think it’s safe to say the Swish is back.

Fourth up is another Yankee.  This one’s a legend.  That’s right it’s Derek Jeter.  As you may recall, Jeter recorded his 3000th hit on July 9th.   Since then (actually since he got off the DL on July 4th), Jeter has been on a tear.  First half stats: .270 BA, .330 OBP, .353 SLG, 17 extra base hits (3HR, 13 doubles, 1 triple), 24 RBI.  Second half stats (July 4th onward): .307 BA, .369 OBP, .427 SLG, 6 extra base hits (1 HR, 4 doubles, 1 triple), 14 RBI.  One thing to take notice of is that Jeter is driving the ball better now.  He already has 6 extra base hits in 75 at-bats.  While the Captain will never return to the player he once was, it’s good to see him at least make a respectable turnaround.

Fifth up is Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens.  I saved him for last since he’s a player who has gone from good to bad in the second half thus far.  First half stats: 1.87 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 12-3 W-L record in 16 games, 65 SO, 25 BB, 110.2 IP.  Second half stats: 6.26 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 0-1 W-L in 4 games, 20 SO, 10 BB, 23 IP.  Jurrjens’ ERA is now up to 2.63.  I’m no Phillies fan, but even I knew that Roy Halladay was the best pitcher in the NL (sorry there’s no way he’s the best pitcher in all of baseball this season–that honor goes to Jered Weaver or Justin Verlander).  Braves homers were convinced Jurrjens was indeed the best in baseball.  However, if you look at advanced metrics, you would realize that this drop off was bound to happen.  If you look at FIP (fielder independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielder independent pitching where home runs are calculated as 10.5% of fly balls induced), you would realize that Jurrjens’ ridiculously low 1.87 ERA was a mirage.  Those two statistics are much moar accurate in determining what a pitcher’s real ERA should be.

In this case as of now, Jurrjens’ FIP is 3.68, which is really high.  His xFIP is even higher at 3.90 (these stats were obtained from FanGraphs, as FIP and xFIP can be calculated another way).  Part of this can be contributed to his low strikeout total.  Strikeout pitchers have an easier time maintaining their elite statistics because they don’t have to rely on their defense to get outs.  Even Jered Weaver, who is moar of a finesse pitcher, still strikes out plenty of batters.  Anyways, this just proves that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to traditional statistics.  For fun, Halladay’s line this season: 2.55 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 14-4 W-L, 159 SO, all better than Jurrjens.  His FIP is 2.21 and his xFIP is 2.57, which are both incredible.  His WAR is also 5.9 compared to Jurrjens’ 1.8, meaning that Halladay provides 4.1 moar wins than Jurrjens.


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