Second-half surges that have changed minds

August 19th, 2021

Over the course of the long MLB season, the truth typically will come out. Maybe the adjustments made in the offseason will take time to bear fruit. Maybe an early injury will tame a talented player temporarily. And, sure, sometimes it’s just not your year.

But if the body allows and the spirit is willing, these guys do tend to find their level eventually.

For the following 16 players, a second-half surge has positively altered our perception about their 2021 outputs. (Statistics through Tuesday.)

1. , 1B, Reds
Before All-Star break (61 games): .257/.347/.463, 11 HRs, 40 RBIs
After All-Star break (30 games): .330/.430/.777, 15 HRs, 36 RBIs
Votto’s first half was solid but interrupted by a thumb injury that cost him about a month. In the second half, he has been otherworldly, padding his Hall of Fame credentials and leading the Reds back into the playoff race. Votto had a homer in seven straight games, including a pair of multihomer games. The difference between his first-half OPS (.810) and second-half OPS (1.206) was the largest of any player with at least 100 at-bats in the second half. Teammate Kyle Farmer (.940 OPS since the break) is also worth saluting here for solving this club’s shortstop quandary.

2. , RHP, Yankees
Before (17 starts): 4.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
After (6 starts): 1.53 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Taillon’s ERA improvement of 3.37 is the best of any qualified pitcher in the second half. He was a risky pickup after two Tommy John surgeries and took time to find his form with rebuilt mechanics. But on a Yankees team in dire need of pitching stability, Taillon has managed to provide it of late.

3. , RF, Nationals
Before (79 games): .283/.407/.445, 11 HRs, 42 RBIs
After (29 games): .364/.591/.705, 8 HRs, 21 RBIs
Let us never speak of the Home Run Derby Curse again! Maybe it’s a blessing. Soto said at the time of the event that the Derby could be good for him, as he had gotten into a bad habit of hitting ground balls. That hasn’t been an issue in an incendiary second half for one of the great young hitters in the game.

4. , LF, Rays
Before (52 games): .251/.333/.400, 10 HRs, 41 RBIs
After (23 games): .382/.433/.708, 6 HRs, 13 RBIs
Does this guy have a sense of occasion or what? First it was his October to remember, and now he has hit his stride in the second half of his true rookie year while the Rays are trying to nail down the American League East title. Teammate Brandon Lowe (.299/.397/.579 in the second half) has really turned it on, too.

5. , RHP, Giants
Before (11 games, 10 starts): 3.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
After (7 starts): 2.01 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
This fourth-round Draft pick quietly emerged as a legitimate rotation piece for the surprising Giants in the first half, but he missed all of June with a right shoulder strain. He has taken his performance to another level since his return, relying predominantly on an effective two-seamer in a time in which such a pitch is gaining value again.

6. , CF, Athletics
Before (52 games): .272/.383/.414, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs
After (28 games): .400/.448/.548, 3 HRs, 18 RBIs
Now this is how you do a contract year. Marte missed more than a month in the first half with a rib fracture but, on the whole, was still productive with the Marlins. But he really began to catch fire just before the A’s acquired him on July 28. He has 16 stolen bases and 20 runs scored since the break.

7. , RHP, Cleveland
Before (26 games, 8 starts): 4.23 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
After (7 starts): 1.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
Acquired last summer in the swap that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres, Quantrill made just two starts for his new club down the stretch in 2020 and didn’t win a rotation job out of Spring Training. But a need arose, and Quantrill has seized the opportunity. Going back to the beginning of July, he has been excellent at inducing weak contact, likely solidifying his spot in the soon-to-be Guardians’ rotation for 2022.

8. , C, Dodgers
Before (74 games): .252/.356/.443, 10 HRs, 32 RBIs
After (24 games): .291/.418/.646, 8 HRs, 27 RBIs
With so many stars on this Dodgers squad, Smith probably doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves. But he has developed into one of the top catchers in baseball and further cemented that status with a second-half surge that has included some clutch homers. He also has drawn raves from new teammate Max Scherzer for his work behind the plate. That’s a ringing endorsement.

9. , RF, Braves
Before (82 games): .186/.279/.320, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs
After (28 games): .242/.359/.556, 9 HRs, 14 RBIs
Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman have all been great in the second half. But the Braves’ biggest revelation since the break is one of their newest additions. Soler’s surge has helped power the Braves back to the top of the National League East. He has been one of the wiliest pickups at the Trade Deadline.

10. , 2B, Twins
Before (82 games): .252/.318/.431, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs
After (30 games): .319/.375/.621, 9 HRs, 22 RBIs
Recovery from multiple ankle surgeries hindered Polanco in 2020 and at the outset of 2021, but he has clearly found his footing. Polanco’s uptrend really dates back to the beginning of May, but in July and August, he really has rounded into the form that earned him down-ballot MVP support in 2019.

11. , LHP, Braves
Before (14 starts): 4.71 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
After (6 starts): 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Fried finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting last year by going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA. Four starts in which he allowed five runs or more clouded an otherwise solid first half, but he has pitched like an ace again in recent weeks, going at least six innings with two runs allowed or fewer in five of six starts.

12. , LHP, Mariners
Before (11 starts): 5.88 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
After (5 starts): 1.67 ERA, 0.90 WHIP
Gonzales has been an underrated, steadying hand in the Mariners’ rotation for a while now. But he had a not-so-steady first half in which he missed about a month because of a forearm strain. Having seemingly righted himself, Gonzales went into his outing Wednesday against the Rangers with a streak of six straight starts in which he allowed three or fewer runs.

13. , OF, Marlins
Before (28 games): .221/.232/.353, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs
After (25 games): .309/.371/.593, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs
Only time will tell if this is a true breakout for Brinson. But the 27-year-old needed this in the worst way after failing to meet the lofty expectations placed upon him the past few years. His hard-hit percentage has greatly improved as the season has gone along, and his max exit velocity -- along with his sprint speed-- ranks in the high 80s in percentile.

14. , 3B, Tigers
Before (81 games): .262/.346/.377, 5 HRs, 24 RBIs
After (30 games): .315/.398/.574, 4 HRs, 20 RBIs
Candelario was having a hard time following through on his breakthrough 2020 season, in which his 2.0 bWAR led the Tigers. But we are again seeing what happens when he gets in the groove. He has 12 doubles since the break.

15. , IF, Brewers
Before (86 games): .237/.328/.418, 12 HRs, 42 RBIs
After (25 games): .284/.376/.554, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs
A single game with five extra-base hits, tying an AL/NL record, sure helped Urías pad his second-half stats, and he’s helping the Brew Crew remain comfortably ahead in the NL Central race.

16. , OF, Cubs
Before (33 games): .234/.290/.359, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs
After (32 games): .385/.443/.594, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs
See? The Cubs didn’t trade all of their stars away! Ortega, a 30-year-old journeyman, is no household name, but he has played like one. He’s a stretch for this list, because he had sporadic playing time in the first half. But his second-half performance has been such a pleasant surprise for the retooling Cubs that we had to include him.