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Starting Nine: 2nd Half Predictions

TCB writers discuss which players they expect to improve or disappoint in the 2nd half of 2017

Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It would be too greedy to ask certain players to improve upon their first half performances (e.g. Springer, Altuve, Correa), but there is certainly room to improve for some (e.g. Bregman, Gregerson, Beltran).

Who do you expect to have the biggest improvement in the second half of 2017? To balance things out, also name a player you think will disappoint fans in the second half.


I expect that the biggest improvement in the second half will be Collin McHugh.

Cop-out answer? Maybe, since McHugh hasn't pitched this year. But one of the recurring themes has been the Astros' so-called "need" for another pitcher to bolster their rotation, and particularly their playoff rotation (insert a gratuitous scoffing sound).

I won't go so far as to completely excuse McHugh's "meager" 3.0-WAR performance from 2016, and there is some injury risk, but he was the unluckiest pitcher in the majors in terms of balls in play last year. He's better than his ERA.

From 2014 though 2016, McHugh has been a Top 15 starter in the American League by WAR, ERA, and FIP. He's a really good pitcher, and if healthy, he's the guy who's going to provide a big contribution in the the Astros' weakest area.

It would be easy to point at a number of players' BABIPs (Correa, Springer, Marwin, namely) and argue that those hitters could sneak downward in the second half. But realistically, their first half numbers have been so ridiculous, that even a 15% loss of production would still leave them among the Top 20 best batters in baseball. So I'm not sweating the regression monster too much.

However, the guy I'm still nervous over is Yuli Gurriel. He has drawn 6 walks this season in 76 games, so we know that he's going to swing the bat at everything. He sees fewer pitches per plate appearance than anybody else in the majors. He also doesn't have a great contact rate (81%, and 63% on pitches outside the zone).

No matter that he is currently batting .297/.321/.491, I just can't buy that skill set. It's the same approach as Jose Peraza (57 wRC+) and Alcides Escobar (38 wRC+), with similar strikeout rates and only slightly more pop. Pitchers are going to stop throwing in the zone, and will just let him pop up (which he does far more than most MLB regulars) or ground out.

I root for Yuli as hard as any when he hits those gappers, but it's not a sustainable approach.


I'm not sure that I can name a player who will disappoint me during the second half. I could say Springer, but to be fair, last year was the first year he played every single game. I could say Altuve, but even if he starts the 2nd half bad, I feel like he'll still win the batting title.

There's Correa who has always had sky high expectations. Maybe we could be disappointed with him but his numbers so far this season will likely surpass his rookie and sophomore stats. I'm going to say that I'm going to be disappointed at the collective offense if they don't put up at least 5 runs a game.

I want the bullpen to turn it around. It seems like they struggle with inherited runners. They also get a little sloppy because the offense is so good. A trade might help. Peacock going back to the bullpen will also help.

Brian Stevenson

The biggest improvement will be Alex Bregman. He's had close to a full season total in the Big Leagues now, and he's better than what we've seen. He's as good a pure hitting talent (though without the same power) that Correa is. He's not going to hit .256 the rest of the way. The breakout is coming soon.

Which is a good thing...because Springer's downfall is also coming soon. Oh yeah, I said it. To be clear, I'm not saying he's going to fall apart, but he is going to come back to Earth.

He hit .310/.380/.613 in the first half and is on-pace for nearly 50 home runs. He's not going to be that good. Whack 20-30 points off each of those slash numbers and, well, you still have a very high-level player, but not not the MVP candidate he's been so far.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images


I'm also going with Alex Bregman for biggest improvement. He has had great plate discipline all year, but just hasn't been able to square up the ball consistently. I think that's coming though, and has already started as he has a 156 wRC+ in his last 8 games.

I'd like to give more of an optimistic outlook for Yuli than what Chris gave above. I certainly don't blame Chris for his assessment of Yuli, because well... pretty much everything he said is true. But here is what I'm seeing for Yuli's pitches per PA by month:

April: 3.15

May: 3.22

June: 3.26

July: 3.81

Yuli was as hot as anybody on the Astros the last week or so before the All-Star break and it seemed to me that he was laying off more pitches than usual. The numbers above back that up, though I acknowledge the extremely small sample size that July is so far. Still, this can be an encouraging sign if Yuli is intentionally making an effort to lay off more pitches.

I also don't see a big problem with his plate discipline and contact numbers. He swings at 35.0% of pitches outside the zone, but the league average is 29.7%. So that's worse than average, but not by a ton. Meanwhile, his contact rate for pitches outside the zone is league avg (62.9% for Yuli vs 62.7% for MLB) and his contact rate inside the zone is much better than avg (92.7% for Yuli vs 85.6% for MLB).

Yuli swings alot, but makes above average contact. He was 15% above average offensively in the first half, and I'm not seeing any clear signs that he will regress by much, especially if his July pitches/PA numbers are real.

The guy I'm most worried about is Carlos Beltran. Yes, I do believe in the value of intangibles, but consider this: Evan Gattis has been almost 50% better than Beltran offensively this year and has driven in more runs with about 100 fewer plate appearances. Perhaps some of that is because Gattis has been used at optimal times (i.e. facing a LHP) where you would expect him to succeed, but I just worry that Beltran will continue to be a disappointment at the plate.

This offense is great and can survive a couple guys struggling, but I don't want Beltran getting consistent at-bats in the middle of the lineup if he doesn't improve. He has never had a K% above 20% until this season, and his BB% is also a few points lower than his career avg.

I don't see evidence that he has been unlucky in the first half. He just hasn't been good. He is a veteran and a pretty good one, so I trust that he can find a way to turn things around, but I'm nervous that he is just too far past his prime to be an above average weapon.


Houston Astros v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Improvement for the second half of the season is James Hoyt. He's been maddening at times with a killer slider that's lead to a great strikeout rate but he's getting hit hard at the most inopportune times (two grand slams allowed in a week!). But we should trust the underlying metrics here - he has a 3.03 FIP and an even lower xFIP of 2.23.

I also think Hinch could be using Hoyt a little more strategically to maximize his strengths - he's faced an even number of lefites and righties this season, and LHH are getting on base and hitting for way more power against him than righties. The bullpen needs Hoyt to get both hitters out if he's really going to take a leap, but in a playoff bullpen (if he's there) he should probably be facing only RHH.

My disappointment is parallel to Brian's reasoning, but I'm going with Marwin Gonzalez instead of Springer. Marwin has shown some sustainable improvements (huge spike in walk rate and hitting the ball in the air more) but I don't think he'll quite replicate his 158 wRC+ from the first-half.

Call it hedging on regression or just a guy who hasn't been known for huge offensive value having another tremendous half, but I think he's due for a bit of a drop off from middle of the order superstar/utility guy to just an above-average hitter.


Starting from a high view, there are no indications that the Astros can't sustain something close to their current success. The Astros are actually slightly underperforming their 3rd order B-Pro adjusted standings (61 wins). The team pitching BABIP is about average, and the "FDP-Wins" are almost average. The pitching HR/Fly is likely to regress downward. The pitching ERA underperforms FIP, x-FIP, and SIERA. Looking at BABIP and clutch stats, the team offense (R/G) may slow down a tadbit---but this is like saying the offense will be "very good" instead of "best ever."

I expect the hottest hitters to cool off somewhat--Springer and Correa, for instance--but that's just because they are so scorching hot. I think Yuli Gurriel will be streaky, but I think he can sustain solid offensive production over the course of the season. I think he is comparable to another Cuban hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, albeit a lesser power/higher contact version. Yuli's current batting line (.297, .321, .491, wOBA .345) is remarkably similar to Cespedes' career numbers (.272, .325, .494, wOBA .349), and I suspect that Gurriel's BB% will regress toward the 5% - 6% BB rate typical of a Cespedes type hitter. And that's what Yuli's projections would indicate too. In a way, Yuli may fit into the Astros' offense better than other lineups, because it already has high BB%/high HR hitters and he adds a contact dimension.

As for Carlos Beltran--I have to admit that, when he was signed, I was wary of possibly "falling off a cliff" at his age. I am still cautious, but at this point, I don't see signs of an abrupt decline in skill. I expect Beltran to have an improved and solid second half. I expect some of his peripherals to regress in a positive direction, and we may see something like a 100 - 110 wRC+ hitter in the second half.

On the pitching side, I think injuries will continue to be the main concern for decliners. Depth will be needed. I suspect that trade reinforcements will be necessary for the bullpen, with high usage pitchers like Harris and Devenski at risk of some decline.

All said, things are looking good!