Second half slumps that should have you worried

Lots of guys can slump at the end of a season without much cause for concern. Whether it’s an untreated injury, a guy losing motivation due to missing playoffs, or just the grind of a 162 game schedule getting to someone, we see it happen without fail every year to even the absolute best. But we always need to wonder who is just facing a cold stretch, and who is actually having a real decline. It’s not always precise to find this out, especially with so many variables, but there are methods.

The most important part of extracting actual meaning from raw data is taking out the noise. We need to find ways to make smart guesses if a hitter is hurt (drop in pull percentage, fly ball distance), look at performance incentives (playoff races, contract bonuses) and peripheral numbers to see if luck is to be blamed. By using these, here are guys who you need to be cautious over when considering them in the future.

Wil Myers

I’ll start with someone perhaps a little controversial. Myers has been cold, but he has still been one of the best hitters in baseball over the course of the year, and he’s young enough that an injury or steep decline wouldn’t be expected to hamper him too much. I mean, I even wrote earlier in the year about how much I liked what the kid had been doing!

But something I mentioned towards the end of the article is something that he hasn’t fixed, and it’s starting to cost him. His swing is not a very mobile one, and when I say that I mean he has trouble adjusting to pitches not in his natural wheelhouse. This isn’t a problem for a few hitters, but Myers is tall and stays very upright throughout his swing, with little hinge action at the hips and hamstrings to allow what he needs. Because of all this, he’s struggled mightily with pitches on the outer third, especially pitches low and away, because he simply can’t control his swing plane properly in the area. It’s the same thing that happened when he was on the Rays in his rookie year, where he hit like the ball said something unprintable (untypable?) about his mother. The league caught on to his holes, and his production plummeted.

Look at his whiff percentage in graph form, and pay attention to the increase in whiffs on off-speed pitches. As pitchers keep throwing them down and out, he’s chasing and missing:

Second half slumps that should have you worried chart 1

This is being shown by a huge increase in strikeout rate (29.2% second half to 20.6% first half) and an increase in grounders as well. His whiffs have been on a three month climb, which is the beginning of a trend, and that’s something to worry about. His trouble adjusting to American League pitchers is what drove him out of St. Petersburg, and if he doesn’t adjust to the National League he’s going to be in trouble once again.



Xander Bogaerts

I’ve said before that I hate Bogaerts’ batted ball profile (too many grounders to be more than a singles hitter), but awkwardly enough he has been hitting more fly balls recently; he just hasn’t been able to do any damage with them. His ground ball percentage has plummeted going into the second half (51.0% to 39.3% splits) while he has intuitively seen a noticeable uptick in his fly balls (31.5% to 38.2%). More fly balls should equal more power, especially for a righty playing half his games in Fenway, but with his new batted ball profile he’s hitting for less power. His isolated slugging percentage has crept down from .146 to .137. While on the surface this is a small drop, it’s much more severe when you take expected slugging by batted ball and ballpark into account, where we would instead be expecting his numbers to be increasing quite nicely.

Logically, the problem is Bogaerts isn’t able to send the ball far enough despite hitting it in the air enough to become a powerful hitter. His batted ball distance has him at 117th in the league, behind guys like Jon Jay and Rajai Davis, not quite a lineup striking fear into pitchers.

Bogaerts’ situation is a mysterious one, but it looks like he just doesn’t have the strength necessary right now to be hitting for the power he flashed in the minors. It’s frustrating to consider he might be most useful as a singles hitter, but with the data he’s given us, that’s our best conclusion.

Josh Reddick

When he was traded, the Dodgers were expecting more of the same from the 29-year-old, a well-disciplined approach at the dish coupled with some power. But he has struggled out of the gate with them, and for a little with the A’s before his trade as well, and the signs are concerning. While Reddick’s 32 homer campaign appears to have been a nice peak instead of something we can expect from him as each year passes by, he’s also become a guy to walk a lot and not strikeout much. He still hits a lot of fly balls, which go for power doubles often, and has led to lots of production (especially when he has had men on to drive home) for the outfielder.

But the second half has him walking little (6.7%) and striking out much more than his past few year averages (14.5%). The Dodgers are hoping the issues are simply mental, as even manager Dave Roberts has given him time out of the lineup to clear his head. But all his peripheral numbers still look good. His batted ball profiles are the same and his hard contact percentage is similar; he’s just not being as disciplined at the plate and it’s costing him.

It’s not entirely clear how much his discipline has been affected by his hand injuries, if at all, but it’s concerning to see his performance drop the way it has because the problems are happening between the ears. It might be mental, or it might be a drop in plate vision that comes naturally with age. Either way, Reddick has given us plenty to worry about moving forward with him.

 

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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.