1st Half Vs 2nd Half Comparisons – Hitters

In MVP voting, recency bias is going to be a factor and that can’t be helped.

With that in mind, I wondered who were the top performers for the first half of the season vs the second half. Fangraphs has a handy split which allows us to check this. Rather than going back and forth on those pages, I’ve collated the top and bottom ten hitters when comparing the second half to the first half.

A few points before we begin.

  • This list only contains qualified hitters for both the first and second half. There are quite a few big names missing, due to injuries or sitting out games. Only 103 players made the qualified hitters list for both first and second half.
  • Due to where the first/second half split sits on Fangraphs (quite late in the season), we have a split of about 90+ games in the first half and 60+ in the second half.
  • Because of this skewed split, the home run (HR) and stolen base (SB) stats are divided by the number of plate appearances (PA), multiplied by 600 (Average end of season PA), then those extrapolated figures are compared. EG. Aaron Hicks had a rate of 30 HR for the first half, 25 HR for the second half. Therefore he’s -5 when comparing first half to second half.
  • Weighted Runs Created + (wRC+) is a stat that doesn’t require similar adjustment. So a straight comparison is easier to achieve. As a reminder, 100 is average, anything above to good, below is bad.
  • We have to remember those hitters that stayed consistent (bad or good) throughout the year will not appear in these leaderboards. These are designed to show the extremes that either had a hot or cold second half of the season.

On with the results, we’ll start with those hitters who saw a rise in power when comparing the second half season to the first half.

Name Team 2nd half HR rate compared to 1st half
Christian Yelich Brewers 33
Khris Davis Athletics 24
Rhys Hoskins Phillies 19
Marwin Gonzalez Astros 17
Michael Conforto Mets 16
Marcell Ozuna Cardinals 15
Joey Gallo Rangers 15
Freddy Galvis Padres 14
Stephen Piscotty Athletics 14

Over 600 PA, Christian Yelich saw an increase HR rate of 33 HR in the second half of the season compared to the first half. Which will only add to his MVP case, showing that he really lit it up during the second half when it feels like it’s counting more.

How about our hitters who lacked power in the second half?

Name Team 2nd half HR rate compared to 1st half
Jose Ramirez Indians -20
Ian Desmond Rockies -20
Jesus Aguilar Brewers -19
Shin-Soo Choo Rangers -19
Ozzie Albies Braves -18
Mookie Betts Red Sox -18
Ryon Healy Mariners -16
Andrew Benintendi Red Sox -16
Brandon Nimmo Mets -14

Jose Ramirez really dropped off, along with the unsurprising name of Ian Desmond. A surprising name on here though is Mookie Betts, who did miss some time, but he really cooled off in the second half. There were games where he was sat as well, but it could be something to watch going into the postseason.

We’ll now shift onto speed. Here are the top 10 stolen base (SB) hitters, when comparing the second half with the first half.

Name Team 2nd half SB rate compared to 1st half
Whit Merrifield Royals 30
Mallex Smith Rays 28
Amed Rosario Mets 26
Trevor Story Rockies 18
Adam Jones Orioles 15
Cody Bellinger Dodgers 14
Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 12
Brian Dozier Twins 12
Alex Gordon Royals 10

Whit Merrifield went on a tear in the second half of the season. Bearing in mind that the second half splits have a shorter period of to accumulate those stats, his SB total jumped from 17 in the first half to 28 in the second half. That equates to a rate of 25 SB in a season on the first half, to 55 (!) SB in a season on the second half of the year. That was a serious increase in speed!

Mallex Smith saw extra playing time due to injuries and trades in the Rays outfield, so it’s no surprise to see his name on the list.

Now for the players that saw a drop in speed.

Name Team 2nd half SB rate compared to 1st half
Starling Marte Pirates -24
Javier Baez Cubs -23
Tim Anderson White Sox -23
Ender Inciarte Braves -22
Andrew Benintendi Red Sox -16
Jose Peraza Reds -12
Dee Gordon Mariners -11
Cesar Hernandez Phillies -9
Jurickson Profar Rangers -9

Starling Marte had 25 SB in the first half of the season, this dropped to 8 in the second half. This was a 600PA rate of 43 in a season for the first half and a drop to 19 in a season for the second half. Javier Baez (NL MVP candidate) also saw a drop in speed, seeing his rate drop from 30 in a season in the first half, to 6 in a season for the second half.

Finally lets look at wRC+.

Name Team wRC+ comparison from 2nd half to 1st half
Christian Yelich Brewers 98
Tommy Pham Cardinals & Rays 78
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 56
Joey Gallo Rangers 50
Marwin Gonzalez Astros 50
Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 47
Matt Chapman Athletics 46
Marcell Ozuna Cardinals 42
Michael Conforto Mets 42

Christian Yelich tops another table, this time he saw his wRC+ increase from a first half 122 to a second half 220. An incredible climb and just shows why people see him as the NL MVP.

Anthony Rizzo also saw a big increase during the year, going from a 101 wRC+ to 155 in the second half, just when the Cubs needed him.

Jackie Bradley Jr. makes the list, but it isn’t that great a story, he went from 77 wRC+ in the first half to 118 in the second half. Lets compare that to his Red Sox team mate J.D. Martinez who went from 173 in the first half to 165 in the second. It’s a 8 point fall, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of his season.

Now lets look at those who got cold in the second half.

Name Team wRC+ comparison from 2nd half to 1st half
Brandon Crawford Giants -71
Shin-Soo Choo Rangers -67
Jesus Aguilar Brewers -59
Jose Ramirez Indians -57
Ozzie Albies Braves -53
Eugenio Suarez Reds -50
Nick Markakis Braves -45
Andrelton Simmons Angels -43
Andrew Benintendi Red Sox -43

The San Francisco Giants were bad on offense, really bad. Brandon Crawford was a 120 wRC+ hitter in the first half, just 2 points behind MVP candidate Christian Yelich. Yet Crawford’s season went downhill badly, as he finished the year with a 49 wRC+. Remember, 100 is average, 49 is bad, really quite bad.

Jose Ramirez took a big drop too, but still within a decent season. Having a first half wRC+ of 170, which then dropped to 113 in the second half. Despite him increasing his walk rate, his OBP dropped along with his average and slugging percentage. All equating to a drop in wRC+.

Andrew Benintendi saw a drop in K%, but also saw a drop in BB%, the power really dropped off and saw him finishing the second half as a slightly below average hitter in terms of wRC+ at 96.

What have we learned from these results, if anything? These results do not say who was the best or worst, they only show us who improved and who fell in the second half of the season. So when you’re championing your MVP candidate, just remember it’s over a whole season, not just the final few months.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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