Who have been the second-half comeback kids?

After the dog days of the offseason, and then the seemingly never-ending schedule of meaningless Spring Training games, the regular season arrived and demanded the complete attention of the baseball world.

By the end of April, the following was true…

The Rays were the best team in baseball; the Athletics were bottom of the AL West, and the Marlins had a .276 winning percentage.

Pete Alonso and Dan Vogelbach were hitting the cover off of the ball. Chris Paddack and Domingo German looked like saviours of their respective rotations.

Some of these hot starts were legitimate, others mere illusions.

Other players, of course, were not so fortunate. Here are three players who started the year so badly that you would have been forgiven for thinking that their MLB futures were in jeopardy. An absolutely ludicrous suggestion now, as each has turned in an MVP-calibre campaign in the second half of the season…

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Jose Ramirez

The Indians third baseman is on the Injured List with a broken wrist, robbing Cleveland of arguably their best hitter as they look to pile on the pressure in the AL Central. Although with or without Jose Ramirez, they’ll need Minnesota to stop mashing.

The 26-year-old made a dreadful start to the season as he changed his approach in an attempt to beat the shift. Ramirez, a patient, high-contact hitter, lost his power in the first half.

After going 0-for-4 against the Royals in mid-April, Ramirez was hitting just .135. This is the guy who ranked just below Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve as the best player in the game over the previous three seasons. Now there was talk about him “being done” as he could not deal with the way he was being pitched, and spurious speculation resurfaced that PEDs had assisted his glory years.

By the All-Star break, he had a .652 OPS to rank him in the bottom five of players with at least 300 plate appearances. Top five to bottom five, you’ve got to love baseball.

Immediately after the break, Ramirez started pulling the ball more, hitting it harder and getting the rub of the green. His 5% HR/FB rate rocketed to 23% and his BABIP improved by 80 points.

Want to know how much of a hole Ramirez leaves in the Indians lineup? In the second half, he is slashing .327/.363/.705. His 1.068 OPS ranks him seventh, one spot ahead of a certain Mike Trout.

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Kolten Wong

I love players whose nicknames are longer than their actual names. In his first five MLB seasons, ‘Wonger’, as Kolten Wong is apparently known to teammates, was a below-average hitter (96 wRC+) with an above-average infielder’s glove.

2019 started in the same fashion, with a .244 batting average and .703 OPS, but then something happened. There are plenty of articles trying to pinpoint what changed, but Wong has transformed from a sub .250 hitter to a .359 superstar in the second half.

Since the All-Star break, he is slashing .359/.427/.519 which puts him on course to set career highs in all three components. By the end of the season, he will have recorded more hits, runs, RBI, home runs and stolen bases than in any other season in his life.

Along with pitcher Jack Flaherty, Wong is a major reason for the Cardinals presence at the top of the highly competitive NL Central.

The 28-year-old attributes his success to a more mature approach of maximising contact and not trying to pull everything, but he isn’t hitting for much extra power and still has one of the lowest average exit velocities in the game. Surely it can’t all be down to increased luck with balls falling into play as shown by his .412 BABIP, can it?

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Starlin Castro

Only Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Elvis Andrus and Andrew McCutchen have played more games this decade than Starlin Castro.

In 2010, 44 days after his 20th birthday, Starlin Castro enjoyed a six-RBI debut for the Cubs. He finished the season fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and went on to be an All-Star in three of the next four seasons.

After six years in Chicago and a couple in the Big Apple, Castro has assumed the role as veteran infielder (in experience rather than age) in Miami.

One of only three Marlins earning over $10 million this year, Miami failed to shop Castro before the deadline, partly due to his abysmal first half. Career-lows of .091 ISO and .272 OBP scared teams off. He was the worst regular player in MLB.

The Marlins won’t pick up the $16 million club option leaving Castro as a free agent at the end of the season. It is said that players up their game in contract years, but in Castro’s case he upped it in the second half. The 29-year-old started hitting the ball harder and pulling it more often, with dramatic effect. Since the All-Star break, his triple slash is .300/.331/.543.

There will be definite interest in the soon-to-be free agent.

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