Four second half surges to keep in mind for 2017

With almost an entire season of baseball under out collective belts, it can be pretty darn hard to find fluctuations in hitters performances simply by looking at the season numbers. Good play over a month or two is often not enough to move the needle when the first few months have not looked the same; it’s just how math works, unfortunately.

But plenty of players make the right adjustments mid-season that set themselves up for long-term success going forward, even though it’s hard to see now. Picking these guys out as sleeper picks (or sleeper trade chips in dynasty) is what creates champions, and failing to properly address them can leave you just a few points away.

Just because a guy is hot, however, does not mean that he is necessarily going to keep it up. We need to strip  luck and random variance away from real ability, which is tough and often unpredictable in these type of sample sizes. So don’t go shouting on the streets that these guy will definitely make you win, because not only is that poor strategy, but it is also taking a pretty big chance that I’m always 100% correct.

Enough with the pleasantries, though. On to the studs:

Brian Dozier

I’ll start with probably the most obvious. He has hit 24 homers in 36 days, bringing him up to 38 on the season. His power output when compared to other second basemen puts his 2016 in the ranks of all time elites. Essentially, what he has done is taken an already fly ball centered approach and just ramped it up to 100, leading the league in plate appearances ending with a fly ball. Dozier has stopped swinging at pitches away, and instead really only swings on the inner third where he does the most damage. He’s adjusted his stance to allow for full extension and hip clearance on the inside pitches as well, so he hits even more of them at a hard clip.

Guys have hot months all the time, but what sets Dozier’s apart is that it’s at a historical rate, and that there is tangible evidence to his changes. His strikeout rate has risen in the second half (21.1% from 15.9%) as a result of him simply just swinging more often. And earlier as we were talking about fly balls, he has increased his rate as the season has gone on (50.3% second half when compared to 46.5% first half).

Dozier is hitting like a madman, but what he has changed in his swing and approach have us believing that he really has evolved into one of the best hitters in the game. These power numbers are legit, and although this rate has to cool down a little, he’s a top fantasy grab.

Brad Miller

Now let’s get a little more obscure. While Miller entered the league with two seasons at about league average level, his production has dipped since, leaving many to wonder if his ceiling had already passed. And although his second half strikeout rate is awfully high (27.9%), his production has been legit. His second half slugging of .573 is over 150 points better than any season he’s had before, and this looks to be attributed to Miller starting to pull pitches more often. A career 38.4% pull hitter, Miller in the second half has been pulling 48.3% of batted balls. This would be a problem for him as a lefty since defenses can shift on him more easily, but his power has helped negate any difference there so far. A career high 39% hard contact rate is getting balls through the infield as well as over the fences, leaving him tough to defend against.

Second half surges you need to know about chart 1

Something else to note when seeing his spray chart is that he’s done a very good job of going the opposite way at times for hits. Keeping the defense honest opens up more holes for Miller to be exploiting.

His prospect shine has worn off, and very few players get the attention they deserve when they play 81 games in St. Petersburg’s finest domed baseball stadium, but Brad Miller is on fire and should be feared and valued heading to 2017.

Ender Inciarte

Always a defensive wonder, Inciarte’s glove has always made up for his (lack of a) bat. Despite only being a major league average hitter just one time (and even then it was just barely), Inciarte’s defense had given him enough plate appearances to make him intriguing as a fantasy sleeper. I mean, he already fooled one handsome writer with another hot second half. But instead of trying to simply scout breakouts, he’s actually had the numbers this year to suggest his bat is coming around.

First off, at 25 and about three full years of plate appearances under his belt, Inciarte has been seasoned well to understand major league pitching. And while we aren’t seeing a huge decrease in strikeouts or increase in power (although there is some), we see him putting the ball in play more effectively. Now, this is a dangerous phrase because often that’s correlated with luck. But he has the hard contact improvement to back it up (27.3% compared to 18.7%) as well as a decrease in fly balls (23.7% from 32.3%) which allows him to put more on the ground which go for hits more often (especially with his speed).

Don’t get me wrong here where we expect Inciarte to jump to superstardom. His smarter approach at the dish has him getting on base way more often which leads to more steals and runs. And it’s not like he hasn’t been a good overall hitter even though the power is a little empty, as his second half wRC+ is 28th in the league. Inciarte is a 20 stolen base candidate who can hit above .300 with his new style at the plate. Not a guy to build you team around, but one of the more solid supporting candidates who will most definitely be undervalued.

Jose Abreu

Abreu has had quite a roller coaster ride over the past few years. From sneaking over from Cuba, to winning AL Rookie of the Year on the back of a 36 homer performance, to 2016 where the first half had many wondering if he was on his last reps as a legitimate big leaguer. From March through May, Abreu was good for only a 77 wRC+; not acceptable for any position, and especially less so for first base where you need to have a power hitter. A good start to June sparked some more hope, but both fizzled together as the first half drew to a close, leaving questions around the 29-year-old.

Abreu has been hitting at a 150 wRC+ clip in the second half, 15th in the majors. What he’s been able to do to help this torrid pace is cut back drastically on whiffs, from 20.3% to just 14.8%, while still hitting for immense power (isolated power of .225). He’s hitting the same fly balls and grounders, but is pulling the ball more often (33.5% to 38.5% first and second half differences). He has a tremendous hitters park to play in for 81 games – more so for righties, which helps explain why pulling the ball more often helps his production.

Compare slugging percentage heat maps from the first and second half:

Second half surges you need to know about chart 2

Second half surges you need to know about chart 3

As you can see, in the second half he’s able to turn on inside pitches with much more success and power. This is once again in line with his pull-hitting mentality, and has taken away an area where pitchers were using earlier in the season for strikeouts. With Abreu fixing holes in his swing with homers, it’s not hard to understand why he’s been so dominant in the second half. He had a rough start to 2016 but should still be thought of as one of the best power hitters. Don’t let a cold stretch fool you off of his real value.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.