Joey Votto

Major League Baseball’s All-Star break serves as the most official of all arbitrary cutoff points. Arriving at a little more than halfway through the season, the four-day break from games separates the year’s first and second halves. Whether that layoff has any impact on players’ performances is debatable, but for whatever reason, some players excel during the second half, while others suffer through some notable regression.

Given the lack of meaningful games played this past week, we’ll turn our attention to players who trend in opposite directions after the midway point of the season. Three hitters poised to finish strong and three second-half slumpers go under the microscope in Week 15 of Three Up, Three Down.


1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Stats July 10 – 17: 6-for-12, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 KPercent owned: 97 percent

Based on weighted runs created plus, an advanced hitting metric created by Fangraphs that quantifies a player’s total offensive value relative to the rest of the league, Votto was the best hitter in the league during the second half of last season. And really, it wasn’t even that close.

Similar to OPS+, a statistic that focuses solely on a player’s on-base and slugging percentages, wRC+ is used to compare players to the league average. League average for hitters is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above average. Votto’s second-half wRC+ in 2015 was an astonishing 211, 10 points higher than the next-best hitter and nearly 50 points higher than Nelson Cruz, who finished 10th.

Throughout most of his career, Votto’s best attribute has been his elite control of the strike zone. He led the league in walk rate in two of the past three years and hasn’t posted a season with a walk rate under 15 percent since 2010.

During the first two months of this season, Votto looked nothing like his usual self. His walk rate dropped to 13.2 percent, while his strikeout rate soared uncharacteristically high. He posted a 26.9 K% in April and May, with an atrocious .213/.330/.404 slash line over that two-month span.

Since then, he’s gone back to his old ways. In 164 plate appearances in June and July, Votto has walked and struck out 34 times each — good for 20.7 percent. His season-long numbers are still a bit weighed down by his sluggish start, but don’t let that fool you. We’ve all seen this movie before, and it ends with Votto getting on base and crushing the ball all over the place to finish the season strong.

1B/OF Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals

Stats July 10 – 17: 3-for-12, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 KPercent owned: 75 percent

Morales looked absolutely lost at the plate for the first two months of the season. He hit .193/.262/.330 through 48 games in April and May, with 39 strikeouts and only 14 walks. His 13.8 line-drive rate from April improved only slightly in May (17.6 percent), both below his career average of 18.5 percent.

Since then, he’s improved his contact rate immensely, posting line-drive rates of 27.1 and 25 percent in June and July, respectively. Unsurprisingly, hitting more line drives has a positive impact on a hitter’s production, as Morales has hit .339/.400/.606 since the start of June. What’s more interesting is that he’s succeeded this year by feasting off of left-handed pitching.

Morales has a wRC+ of 89 against righties this year, compared to 143 versus lefties. His career splits against righties and lefties — including what he’s done so far this season — are 119 and 103, respectively. Perhaps it’s a sign that Morales, now 33 years old, has matured as a switch-hitter and closed up holes in his swing. He’s swinging less often at pitches outside the strike zone than he has since 2010, and his hard-contact rate is the highest it’s been since 2009.

In the first half of last season, Morales’ wRC+ was 117. In the second half, it jumped to 148. Maybe he’s already experienced this year’s version of that seismic improvement, but the hitter who looked helpless through the first two months is merely a distant memory at this point. Morales is still available in 25 percent of leagues and can probably be acquired via trade for a steal in most others if owners haven’t been paying close enough attention.

OF Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres

Stats July 10 – 17: 4-for-13, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 3 KPercent owned: 94 percent

Just over a month ago, Kemp was featured in the Three Down section for his remarkable lack of plate discipline. He’d walked just four times (!!) in his first 262 plate appearances and was hitting .241/.248/.458, falling well short of expectations.

Kemp hasn’t exactly developed Joey Votto-like patience since then, but in his ensuing 121 plate appearances, he’s more than doubled his walk total (nine free passes in 27 games) and had a productive slash line of .288/.339/.441 — nowhere near his peak years, but definitely playable from a fantasy perspective.

Kemp’s wRC+ in the first half of 2015 was a meager 87, but he posted a 140 wRC+ in the second half, marking one of the biggest turnarounds of any hitter that season. He might be due for a similar resurgence this season and should be attainable for a reasonable asking price via trade. If outfield is an area of need, Kemp is worth a buy-low trade offer.


3B Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox

Stats July 10 – 17: 2-for-12, 0 XBH, 0 BB, 4 KPercent owned: 97 percent

Though there is probably no credence to the dreaded Home Run Derby curse, the fact remains that Frazier, last year’s Derby champ, was awful in the second half of 2015. His 71-point difference in wRC+ from the first to second half — 146 versus 75 — was the largest drop-off of any qualified hitter last season.

Frazier has the lowest batting average on balls in play among qualified hitters this season by a wide margin. His BABIP from 2011 to 2014 was .294 — right in line with the league average. He hit .282 on balls in play through the first half of last season but wasn’t the same after the break, with a paltry .256 BABIP and a .220/.274/.390 slash line.

Frazier has swung less often at pitches inside the strike zone this season than in years past, and when he has made contact, he’s hit harmless fly balls more frequently than before. He’s on pace for 45 home runs this year, so none of that matters much if your fantasy lineup can sustain the hit in batting average and OBP, but owners should keep a close eye on how Frazier performs in the coming weeks — it’s best to have a contingency plan in place should a similar second-half slide be on the horizon.

2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

Stats July 10 – 17: 2-for-11, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 3 KPercent owned: 89 percent

Despite being one of the most consistent hitters throughout his career, Pedroia has endured rough second halves over the past few seasons. His first-half wRC+ in 2013 was 128 compared to 95 in the second half. In 2014 he went from 104 to 88, and last season Pedroia posted a 122 mark in the first half versus 98 in the second half, though it should be noted that he only had 100 second-half plate appearances in 2015 due to injury.

Still, his recent history suggests that a similar trend might occur this season. Though never considered a home run hitter, Pedroia’s power numbers have fallen off since his prime. He posted an isolated power mark of .168 from 2008 to 2011, and that number has fallen to .129 since.

Pedroia’s power has declined as this season has progressed. Through his first 50 games, he posted an ISO of .179 with 22 extra-base hits. In the 37 games since, his ISO is a mere .067, though he’s still posted a solid .289 batting average.

Even without power, Pedroia is still valuable from a fantasy perspective. He’ll score plenty of runs atop the Red Sox lineup and should still get on base at a decent clip. Though he’s been a clear overachiever this season, owners might want to brace themselves for a dip in overall production.

OF Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Stats July 10 – 17: 1-for-7, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K, 2 BBPercent owned: 89 percent

Last season, Bruce went from a solidly above-average hitter in the first half (115 wRC+) to abysmal in the second half (65 wRC+), continuing a trend of second-half slumps. For his career, Bruce has hit .254/.324/.476 in the first half compared to .241/.312/.454 in the second half, a small yet noticeable dip in production across the board.

Though the second half is barely underway, the early stages of Bruce’s slide appear to have begun. After a scintillating May and June in which he hit .288/.329/.601 in 53 games, he’s gone ice cold through the first part of July. Though it’s been only 48 plate appearances, his slash line of .167/.271/.286 looks more concerning given last year’s performance.

Bruce is among the players most likely to be traded before the deadline, meaning he could suddenly be placed into a more competitive lineup than what the Reds have been trotting out during their miserable season. More RBI chances would help mitigate things should he suffer a decline like last season’s. Given his inconsistency over the past few years, owners might be wise to sell high before the bottom falls out on Bruce’s production at the plate.