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Starting Nine: Astros Second Half Rising Stars

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TCB staff writers weigh in on which Astros players they expect to be bigger factors in the second half.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, baseball is a season of ups and downs. Practically every team and player goes through hot streaks and cold streaks. The players who consistently performed at a high level so far in 2016 were just honored at the All-Star Game in San Diego. Now it's time to turn the page and see which players will help carry their teams to winning seasons and playoff berths.

Our brilliant-absolutely-positively-always-correct-100%-of-the-time staff writers were asked to weigh in on the Astros whom they think will shine brightly in the second half of 2016.

Which Astros players do you expect better results from in the second half? Name 1 batter and 1 pitcher.

HOF4BGO

I'm going with the two scapegoats of the early season woes: Ken Giles and Carlos Gomez. The results for Giles have steadily improved each month. He has been getting strikeouts all season long, but was walking more batters earlier in the season. After giving up 4 home runs in his first 10 IP with the Astros, he has only allowed 1 home run in his last 27 IP. I don't expect Harris to crater in the second half, but I wouldn't be surprised if Giles is closing games by September. 

After getting some time off, Gomez had a really nice month of June (120 wRC+) and has run into terrible BABIP luck so far in July (.179). I don't expect him to match Altuve's numbers, but I do think his offense will be much better in the second half.

CRPerry13

A.J. Reed will improve during the second half. Adjusting to the major leagues is hard, but it's doubly hard with a .167 BABIP and 39% strikeout rate. There's no reason to believe in either of these numbers. While it is likely that Reed maintains an early career strikeout rate around 30%, nothing in his profile suggests that 40% is likely. Additionally, he has a 12% walk rate, which is impressive considering it's not a drop from his minor league rates. He is being selective of what pitches he swings at, and plate discipline is a skill that will win out. Pitchers are only throwing him strikes about half of the time. They're respecting him, but sooner or later his plate discipline is going to force them to throw in the zone. Then he will punish.

Collin McHugh will be the most improved second-half pitcher. Why? Because he has a pattern of it. In 2015, he cut his ERA by 1-1/2 runs in the 2nd half. In 2014, by more than a full run. For his career, his first half ERA is 4.30 and second half is 3.87. But that's misleading because in 2013 and 2014 he only pitched about ten innings in the first half in total. His '14 and '15 ERAs after the All Star Break were 2.12 and 3.11.

Brian Stevenson

I was going to say Dallas Keuchel for the pitcher, but he has a 2.78 ERA over his last five starts, so maybe the improvement is already happening. His ERA is sure to come down more, though. Instead, my pitcher is McCullers. Not that he's been bad on the whole, but more because I think he's still got good room for improvement, especially with the walk rate. And there's that .395 BAbip, too. When you think about it and look at his numbers, and then realize he's done what he's done basically with no fastball command after missing all of Spring Training, well, how can you not expect more? By the end of the year we could be talking about McCullers as the ace and Keuchel as the #2.

Gattis for improved batter. He's not my favorite player on the team, but he's a solid one, and to the point, he's better than what we've seen. His BAbip is currently almost forty points under his career average. Expect his overall line to rise with that, and if he keeps up the improvement in walk rate, you could end up seeing something like a 110 wRC+. For a guy now providing actual defensive value as a catcher, that ain't too shabby at all.

clack

I was tempted to say Gattis and Reed, but Brian and Chris mentioned those two candidates for improvement.  I'll go with Jake Marisnick.  I'm not saying he will end up with great hitting stats this year, but he is likely to improve substantially over what he has shown thus far.  Marisnick has a .253 BABIP which is far below his career .297, the ZIPS projection of .306, and last year's .310.  And, if you have watched Marisnick, you know that he has had some hard hits into BABIP bad luck.  Marisnick's power should improve too.  His current ISO of .074 is nearly the lowest of his career and one half of last year's ISO.  Unless trades change the outfield options considerably, I expect Marisnick to continue to get playing time against lefthanded pitchers, and that will give him the opportunity to improve his batting stats.

I agree with Brian that Keuchel is an obvious candidate for improvement, and I feel  that he will end the year with good run prevention stats.  But I should move on from the obvious candidate.  I predict that Ken Giles will have a great second half of the season.  The combination of high BABIP (.347) and terrific peripherals (12.16 K/9 and 2.68 BB/9  !!!) makes him a big candidate for improvement.  On top of that, his HR/flyball rate (14%) is likely to regress toward league average (keep in mind that his career rate is around 6%, which suggests that he isn't inherently homer-prone).  In addition, Giles has a history of gaining strength and improving over the course of the season.  For his career, Giles has a 1.51 second half ERA.  Don't be surprised if Giles becomes the closer by the end of season.