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Taking a Mulligan - Second-Half Rebound Candidates

We've reached the All-Star Break, which means the baseball season is just over halfway done. Let me repeat that: we still have three months to go! I think some of us are still operating in the mindset of the shortened 2020 season and are thinking that our fantasy seasons are over if we're not in the top three or four in our league right now. That's just not true.

A lot can happen in three months, especially this season. We know that a lot of teams will be limiting the innings of younger pitchers who have already thrown way more innings than they did last year. We already have heard that Trevor Rogers will have his innings limited and should expect the same from young arms on non-competing teams like Tarik Skubal, Logan Gilbert, and many more. With the increased innings also potentially leading to more fatigue and injuries, it's important to not give up but keep looking to improve your team. If others have checked out, you can climb the standings even faster.

At this point, the best way to make up ground is to start attacking specific categories. It's fine to scan the waiver wire for the trendiest players or look to buy low on intriguing talent, but you also need to make sure those players will help you climb the standings in the categories you need. So, as we go through these players that I think will have strong second halves, I'll also try to explain which categories I think they could be assets in so that you can decide which guys might be best for your team.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:



I started compiling my list by creating a custom Statcast leaderboard that looked at the difference between actual results and expected results in batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA. While we don't take x-stats as gospel, this helps me to identify which players were unluckiest or made contact that consistently should have resulted in better results. Baseball is a fickle sport, so those results won't always come to fruition, but it's a good place to start.

On that same leaderboard, I also added key stats that I think often relate to offensive success: average exit velocity, barrel rate, launch angle, and O-Swing%. This way I can not just see what players underperformed their x-stats, but I can also see if those players were generally hitting the ball hard, at launch angels conducive to success, and not swinging at lots of bad pitches. I then made a list of the players that jumped off the page and dug into them individually to see which ones were worthy of this article.

You can see that leaderboard here.

You'll notice that I also have a lot of names on here, so the analysis will be a little bit shorter so that I can give you more names to think about adding or trading for.


Mitch Garver - C, Minnesota Twins

You all know I love catchers, but it's been a dark position this year in deeper leagues. If you're in a league deeper than 12-team or in any form of two-catcher league, there has been a lot of turnover. One of the guys you've been looking to replace is Garver, who landed on the IL with a brutal sounding groin injury after a foul ball and frankly, he wasn't great when he was on the field, hitting .224 with a 33.3% strikeout rate. However, Garver had been coming on before the injury and had been making loud contact all season.

His 15.5% barrel rate would tie a career-high, and his 90.4 MPH average exit velocity and 45.1% hard-hit rate are in line with his 2019 numbers when he finished with 31 home runs. Garver's .271 average from that year seems fluky and his O-swing% is still higher than we'd like to see. However, he had shown improved patience in May, with a 24.7% strikeout rate but a 21.9% walk rate. The O-swing% was still higher than 2019 and 2020, so I think Garver may be capped around .250-.260 for the second-half. However, we have reason to think the power production is real, which can be an asset at the catcher position.

One thing to keep an eye on will be if the Twins become sellers and trade away guys like Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson. If the lineup around Garver becomes less talented, then his counting stats may take a hit.


Alex Kirilloff - 1B/OF, Minnesota Twins

Garver's teammate and former top prospect Alex Kirilloff may also take a production hit if the lineup around him gets worse. However, trading away those aging stars would mean locked-in plate appearances for Kirilloff. The rookie has had a fine first half, hitting .265 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs, but I think there is more in the tank. The left-handed hitter jumped out to me when I saw that he was eighth overall on the leaderboard in terms of the difference between his actual slugging percentage (.450) and his xSLG (.560). In fact, his .560 xSLG is top 7% in the league, while his .296 xBA is top 5%.

Kirilloff has an exceptional 13.1% barrel rate, but a really inflated 40.7% O-swing, which I think is part of the reason he's fallen short of that xBA. Even in June, Kirilloff's O-swing was 42.5%, so it's not really moving in the right direction. As a result, I don't think you're going to get an average much higher than .260-.270, but I think the power potential will start to come into play and you might see 10-15 home runs in the second half.


Rowdy Tellez - 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

Rowdy has been a Statcast darling for a few years now and simply hasn't been able to deliver. However, he makes his way onto this list because he was traded into a starting job when he got dealt to Milwaukee to possibly form a platoon with Keston Hiura. Unsurprisingly, Tellez was all over the leaderboard, ranking 10th overall in the difference between his average (.204) and expected average (.247), seventh in the gap between his SLG (.327) and xSLG (.440), and 5th in the difference between his wOBA (.265) and xwOBA (.323).

As usual, he is hitting the ball hard with a 12.6% barrel rate and 92.7 mph average exit velocity and still finds himself in a solid lineup in a good hitter's park. If regular plate appearances come, I expect a solid second half from Rowdy, who is never going to get you a batting average boost but should compile strong home run and RBI totals.


Tommy La Stella - 2B/3B, San Francisco Giants

La Stella is another player who finds himself on here due to first-half injury (wait, there's more). He only had 75 plate appearances in the first half, so this is kind of cheating, but I just don't want you to forget about him. This is a guy who hit .295 in 2019 and .281 in 2020 with an absurd 11.8% walk rate to 5.3% strikeout rate. His O-Swing% in the first half was lower than previous seasons, and his 92% Z-Contact rate suggests that the bat-to-ball skills didn't deteriorate. In fact, his 6.9% barrel rate from those first 75 PAs is the highest of his career and his .235 batting average is a far cry from the .283 xBA.

The Giants are clearly a team that will move pieces around in their lineup so we might not get 100% playing time, but the left-handed La Stella will almost assuredly take over the strong side of the platoon from Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores at a combination of 2B and 3B, at least until Evan Longoria comes back. However, given Longoria's age, I think the Giants will be careful with wearing him out down the stretch and think La Stella could easily be a batting average and runs boost for your team while starting five games a week for the Giants.


Alec Bohm - 3B, Philadelphia Phillies

Alec Bohm has come up over and over again when talking about potential rebound candidates, but there's a reason for that. Bohm is a top-20 underperformer in batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA. His 92.5 mph average exit velocity is in the top 8% in the league, and there is nothing in the underlying numbers that suggests his .243 average and .298 OBP is legit. In fact, Bohm reduced his strikeout rate a bit in June and hit .329 with a .384 OBP. The O-Swing% was still a bit higher than you'd like to see, but he was swinging at more pitches in the zone and his Z-Contact% grew because of that.

The .441 BABIP in June is obviously a fluke, but I think Bohm can still be the batting average asset you were hoping he'd be the rest of the way, perhaps hitting .270 or .280 in the second half, which is backed up by his batting average rolling graph.

In that lineup, that will mean ample RBI and run opportunities as well. However, I don't think the power is going to follow. He hits the ball hard, but his 4.5-degree launch angle is not geared for home runs and he'll need to do some major re-tooling of his swing if he wants to be more than a 15 home run bat. It's possible, but I don't see it happening this season. Just take the boost in average and solid counting stats and call it a win, especially if he winds up with 10 stolen bases on the year, which seems plausible.


Cody Bellinger - 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

We don't have to spend a lot of time here. Bellinger was a top-20 draft pick in most leagues but has battled injuries to a .176/.291/.303 triple-slash with only four home runs and 17 RBI in the first half. There are no glaring signals of improvement in the rolling breakdowns on Statcast as Bellinger's launch angle has climbed sky-high in recent weeks, which has led to a drop in production. However, he still has an 8.5% barrel rate at his worst and was able to hit .260 in June with three home runs and a 24.2% K rate compared to a 17.% walk rate.

Perhaps he's beginning to see the ball better, but in reality I think this is just a guy who needs the week off to clear his head and get right. Consider this a gut call, but he's too good of a player to be playing this poorly.


Michael Conforto - OF, New York Mets

Conforto is yet another playing on this list who has been dealing with injury. The difference between him and somebody like Bellinger is that Conforto's underlying metrics suggest that success is on the horizon. Conforto is seventh in the league in the gap between his BA (.202) and xBA (.248), 5th in the league in the difference between SLG (.301) and xSLG (.414), and 6th in the gap between wOBA (.302) and xwOBA (.358).

His strikeout rate is in line with career numbers, but his walk rate is a career-high 14.5%. He has also seen his sweet spot% begin to climb over the last few weeks, which suggests that he might be starting to make more meaningful contact despite the results not being there yet.

I think the .322 batting average last year was a bit fluky and largely thanks to a .412 BABIP, but the patience at the plate is real. I think Conforto can be a .260 hitter in the second half with 10-15 home run power in a lineup that has a bit more thump when healthy than people expect.


Eduardo Rodriguez - SP, Boston Red Sox

I covered Rodriguez a bit last week when I looked at June's K-BB% leaders, so I would encourage you to check that out for why I think he's in for a much better second half.


Jameson Taillon - SP, New York Yankees

A lot of people were expecting big things from Taillon when he was traded to the Yankees. In addition to being a fan favorite because of his perseverance to overcome a myriad of injury setbacks, Taillon had flashed real potential in the past. However, it's been a struggle out of the gate for Taillon, pitching to a 4.90 ERA in the first half. The good news is that there are some signs that a bounceback is coming.

For starters, Taillon is 12th in the difference between BA (.250) and xBA (.235), 18th in the gap between SLG (.455) and xSLG (.425), and 12th in the difference between wOBA (.331) and xwOBA (.313). Beyond that, his strikeout rate is a career-high 24.4%, which is actually giving him a career-best 17.6% K-BB%, which is something we like to see. I also like the approach that Taillon has had all season with fastballs up in the zone and breaking pitches low.

It's possible that we're already seeing some improvement as his two July starts (against Seattle and Houston) led to 13 innings, a .152 average against, 13 strikeouts to only three walks, and a 2.08 ERA.


Aaron Nola - SP, Philadelphia Phillies

On the latest episode of my podcast, Catcher's Corner, we asked Vlad Sedler about Nola. You can find that discussion here at the 54:00 mark because it features a lot of good information.

TL;DR - Nola isn't as good as his 2018 highs, but he should settle in as a low 3's ERA arm while continuing to have good strikeout numbers.


Griffin Canning - SP, Los Angeles Angels

I also discussed Griffin Canning on that same podcast, but since I know I'm alone here, I want to just explain why I like Canning. Yes, I know he's currently in the minors, but the Angels are not competing this year. I expect Canning to get another shot in the second half and I think he can be successful with it. For starters, he's second in all of baseball in regards to the difference between his SLG (.500) and xSLG (.432) and 4th in the gap between wOBA (.360) and xwOBA (.330).

The biggest issue for Canning was the jump in walk rate, up to 10.1%, which is not something that is conducive to MLB success. However, Canning also has a wipeout slider that had a 39.1% whiff rate and a changeup that had a 34.8% whiff rate. It should be noted that Canning's 30.3% whiff rate overall puts him 22nd on the leaderboard (minimum 250 plate appearances faced).

He also totally abandoned his cutter (which was a bad pitch for him last year) and started using his curveball more, which had a .316 average allowed but a .172 xBA. Much like Taillon, I also love how Canning approaches the zone with his pitches.

This is exactly the top of plot you want to see and leads me to believe that if Canning has the confidence in his stuff the find the zone more, cutting his walk rate down to the 8% or 9% he had in the last two years, he could be a solid SP5 option for your fantasy teams during the end of the summer.


Triston McKenzie - SP, Cleveland Indians

McKenzie, like Canning, is another young pitcher who I think should be in for a much better second half. I was impressed by the increased velocity and better command in his recent start against Kansas City and scooped him up in a few places. However, I was even happier I did that after I read Elliott Baas' breakdown here, which is a pretty phenomenal read, so I encourage you to check that out to see why I believe in the lanky right-hander.


Merrill Kelly - SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kelly has already started to find his groove. Despite his 4.46 ERA on the season, Kelly has a 3.06 ERA over three starts in July, with 11 strikeouts to only two walks. A big shift for Kelly has been that he made a conscious pitch mix change and has started to use his cutter more as a primary offering.

I think the change has been a crucial component of Kelly's recent success because of the way the extra movement on the cutter (instead of the four-seamer) pairs with his sinker and changeup. The cutter also induces less hard contact than the four-seamer, even though it means that both the sinker and cutter as below-average whiff pitches for Kelly.

As a result, I think what you're going to see from Kelly is him trading strikeouts for solid ratios. Kelly's 6.3% barrel rate is already 22nd-best in baseball based on the leaderboard settings, so Kelly figures to lean into that much like he did in the KBO, locating better with an array of complementary pitches to get soft field outs instead of strikeouts. This means Kelly won't be a sexy option, especially because he won't win many games in Arizona, but don't be surprised if his second-half ERA comes in just under 4.00 and he provides you some solid WHIP help as well.

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