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Improving Hitters to Watch in the Second Half

Akil Baddoo - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

We have more than three months of baseball in the books. It has been a glorious spring and summer with the return of the 162 game schedule. While it was nice for MLB to sneak in 60 games and some expanded playoffs in 2020 after we feared a full season cancellation, it really just didn't feel right.

After that goofy season, we figured that the early part of the 2021 season would be a strange one. Indeed, that turned out to be the case. We saw hitters really struggling early on, posting record-low batting averages. Things seem to have corrected as we've moved forward, and we should be in for a somewhat normal second half of baseball.

What I was curious about was a comparison of hitters between April and May and June and July. So I went ahead and drew a line on June 1 and then compared every player's number from before and after that line in numerous categories. I'll go through each category one by one and highlight the biggest standouts, and then I'll publish the full dataset for your viewing if you're interested. Note: for this analysis, I looked at only hitters that had 100+ PA before June 1 and had 75+ PA after.

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Contact Rate

Contact rate is the percent of the time a hitter makes contact (fair or foul) when he swings. This statistic is usually pretty constant, so you won't see wild swings in a hitter's race from month to month or year to year.

For context, the average contact rate is typically in the high-70s (it was 78% for full-time players between 2015 and 2020). The extreme cases get into the 90s (Michael Brantley, Luis Arraez, Nick Madrigal), but anything in the mid-to-upper eighties should be considered very good. Anything below 70% is pretty putrid, with the league's worst contact hitters in the lower sixties.

Here's how it has looked before and after June 1 this year.


Contact Rate Improvers

The biggest improver has been the Tigers' Akil Baddoo. He started his career with a few early home runs, but was also near the league leaders in strikeout rate. Things have changed quite drastically since early on, as his contact rate has come up to about a league-average number now. Unfortunately for his fantasy outlook, the power numbers have gone the opposite direction.


You can see there his barrel rate has come down right in step with his swinging-strike rate. That's not a surprising or uncommon thing to see. There was clearly some kind of swing change here. It makes sense that as you focus on making more contact, the contact would, in turn, be weaker. These are things you have to keep an eye on because a high contact rate doesn't necessarily make for a useful fantasy player. I still wouldn't be saying Baddoo is anything close to a fantasy star, but at least for now, he's not a complete batting average liability.

The more exciting names at the top of the list are Joey Gallo and Andrew Vaughn, who have maintained high barrel rates (super high in Gallo's case, sufficiently high in Vaughn's) while their contact ability has improved. Gallo still finds himself well below average, which will always be the case, but you can deal with a 70% contact rate with a guy with that much ridiculous raw power. It might be too late to buy low on Gallo given the awesome last few weeks he's had, but Vaughn is a guy that is probably still somewhat cheap on the trade market.


Miguel Sano and Eugenio Suarez are basically the same players for fantasy purposes, and it's good to see their contact rate escaping the pits of hell more recently. They can be relied on for a good supply of homers and RBI in the second half, but literally nothing else.


Contact Rate Decliners

You can go ahead and sort that table on the "Diff" column to show the biggest decliners here. The number one spot is taken by Ronald Acuna Jr., but unfortunately for the game of baseball, there's no need to talk about him until next year.

We see Josh Donaldson as the second-biggest decliner, but the 71% rate he's posted since June 1 really hasn't hurt him much. That's still a decent enough number to get by with, and his barrel rate has increased quite a bit in that same time frame, as we'll see.

There are a couple of guys that were just overperforming early on (Rougned Odor, Miguel Cabrera) near the top, as well as some names that just aren't interesting for fantasy purposes (Marwin Gonzalez, catchers, Asdrubal Cabrera). It's discouraging to see Tommy Edman posting just a "very good" contact rate as opposed to elite, since most of his fantasy value derives from piling up base hits. He's slowed down quite a bit as the year has gone on, and has turned into more of a steals-only guy, but maybe he can turn it around in the second half.

Let's move on now, our next category is...


Barrel Rate

Typically, a good barrel rate is anything about 10% and anything reaching 15% or higher is elite. We have seen some insanely high barrel rates this year, however, so maybe as time goes on we'll have to adjust our scales a bit. Here's the data:


Barrel Rate Improvers

Another unfortunate name at the top, as Kyle Schwarber's season was put on hold with a hamstring strain a couple of weeks ago. That gives the true crown to a guy that I would be trying to acquire right now, Garrett Cooper.

Cooper was so-so for the first couple of months and then hit the injury list on June 8. Since returning from that IL stint, he has slashed .463/.593/.829 with four homers in 15 games (54 plate appearances). He has more walks than strikeouts in that time. We saw Cooper have a stretch like this in 2019 as well. For his career, he has a very respectable .284/.355/.457 line with strong plate discipline numbers (26% K% and a 9% BB%). He brings in a nice floor as a hitter when getting every day playing time, and he's shown a little bit of ceiling recently as well with that 19% barrel rate since June began.

Next is the aforementioned Donaldson, who has traded some contact for extra power recently, and he's been a pretty great fantasy hitter when on the field this year. There is a decent chance he will be part of the Twins' trade deadline, so that could make things pretty interesting for him. I'd be holding on and hoping for the best for Donaldson.

We also see Yordan Alvarez really surging lately, it's been a bumpy couple of years for him so maybe he's finally healthy and getting his timing back. It should be a huge second half for one of the game's best hitters there.

Barrel Rate Decliners

The first name that sticks out when you sort the table the other way is Tyler O'Neill. You see the ten-point difference there. This ten-point difference doesn't sting too much when you consider that it was coming down from a ridiculous 23% rate. A 13% barrel rate is still great and should result in quite a few extra-base hits moving forward. His high strikeout rate remains, which will keep him from being a true fantasy stud, but there's no reason to bench or trade the guy right now (unless you can get a great return, obviously).

It's been a weird season for Ramon Laureano. He stole eight bags in the season's first three weeks and has just one since then. He replaces those steals with a bunch of home runs, looking like one of the game's best power bats for a few weeks. Since his return from the IL, he hasn't been doing much of anything and that's evidenced by his weak 5.8% barrel rate since June 1. He had a few really nice games leading up to the All-Atar break, so some grace is in order here as he was coming back from the hamstring injury.I tend to think he'll be fine in the second half, but the big box score home run and steal numbers might fetch you a return well worth accepting right now.

It's tough to know what to do with Adolis Garcia. He was a relatively unhyped prospect but came on the scene as one of the game's best hitters early on. His production has slowed quite a bit lately, and his strikeout rate has stayed high all season long.


The barrel rate early on was unsustainably above 20%, and it's been on the decline since, bottoming out now recently at a still-strong 16%. The swinging-strike numbers haven't improved at all. In fact, there is a small uptrend on that green line. I would probably be looking to sell Adolis if I thought I could get something good for him.


Slugging Percentage

Slugging Percentage Improvers

Schwarber, Brandon Lowe, Jonathan Schoop, Tommy Pham, and Andrew McCutchen have really turned it on since June and have been racking up the extra-base hits. David Fletcher also makes the list, but mainly just because he had such a small slugging percentage (.300) before June.

The guys I'm interested in acquiring here aren't many. I think most of these names have pretty much reached the top of their value, and I'm not one to really believe in the late-career surges from guys like Schoop and Upton.

The one name that is encouraging is Ryan Mountcastle. He debuted with the Orioles last season and looked mostly just like a solid contact hitter capable of hitting 15-20 homers over a full season. It looked much the same early on this year, but recently his fly balls have been finding many more fences to fly over. If you search his name in the barrel rate table, you'll see his barrel rate is at 9% on both sides of June 1. That's a solid rate without being elite. I think he can be a 25+ homer pace guy while providing a solid batting average, and there's obviously upside here given how little we've seen of him. I'd be checking the price on Mountcastle right now.

Slugging Percentage Decliners

Sorting the other way, we see that Kris Bryant hasn't been able to keep up his white-hot start to the year, slugging just .311 since June 1. That's disappointing, and our expectations should be back to where they were preseason on Bryant.

Jesse Winker has also been a little disappointing since June 1. His barrel rate has come down three points and you can see his slugging percentage of .418 doesn't seem to match up with his huge home run total of 19 at the break and his .301 batting average. He has six home runs since June 1, three of which came on June 6 and one coming on June 3. That means he has just two homers and a .218 batting average in his last 140 plate appearances since June 8. That's nitpicking to be sure, and Winker continues to make contact at a high rate. However, if you can get a top 20-ish hitter or an ace pitcher in return for Winker, that seems like a wise idea to me.


One very alarming name that shows up on the list is Ryan McMahon. He has been pretty dreadful since June began with a .400 slugging percentage over that time and he's seen his strikeout rate climb steadily:


Coors Field should keep him a useful fantasy player in the second half, but I wouldn't be too interested in starting him while he's on the road. The sell-high window is probably gone, but see what you can get for McMahon.


Stolen Base Rate

Steals are a tough one to get a finger on over a short sample since so much of steal totals is dependent on getting yourself into situations where it's possible and sensical to try to steal. One half-decent way to see which players are running at a high rate is what I call stolen base rate. The formula I'm using for this is SB / (1B + BB). The idea here is to find what percentage of the time a hitter steals second when he's on first base. Of course, it's tougher to steal second when there's someone else on base with you, and this doesn't account for that, but it works well enough. Here is the data.


Braves and Rockies rule the day at the top of the list, with Ozzie Albies and Trevor Story leading the way. Most of the steals from those two have come after June 1. We expected a good supply of steals from those two this year, and their fantasy ADP had a lot to do with that, so it's good to see them making up for their lack of steals early this year.

Joc Pederson and Matt Olson have decided to run a few times recently, which is a boon to their fantasy value if it continues since you can already feel good about getting nice power numbers from there.

More bad news here for Jazz Chisholm and Tyler O'Neill, who we've seen near the bottom of a few of these tables. The lack of steals recently certainly just has to do with them getting on-base much less. Neither has stopped running by any means, so no reason to panic here, but maybe your expectations should just be brought down a bit from where they were when the times were really good for those two names.

I wouldn't read too much into this table given the smallness of the sample and the randomness of steal opportunities, but flip through the data there and see what you find.

That's it, hope you enjoyed the post - reach out to me on Twitter @JonPGH with questions or data requests!

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