Hello everybody, my name is Matt and I have been making fantasy baseball content for a couple of seasons. You may have never come across my work but that is okay. A short time ago, Michael Simione, or SP Streamer as he is known to many, decided to put out a call for folks who would like to join the Streamer Squad. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I emailed in.
A couple of days went by and Michael reached out to ask if I’d like to interview for one of the openings. Of course I said yes. And I did so with essentially zero hesitation. When interview day arrived, I spent most of that day thinking about what I would say.
That night, I logged into the meeting. Nervous but excited for the opportunity. We chatted about advanced metrics and fantasy baseball in general. After the interview was over I thought it went well but one should never be overconfident.
To make a long story short, SP Streamer invited me to join the team. I couldn’t be happier. As the natural skeptic that I am, I couldn’t help but feel like it was too good to be true. Was my mind playing tricks on me? Was I putting together what I wanted to happen but it wasn’t really true? Nope. It was true and now I am contributing to one of the most useful sites for those who want to take fantasy baseball seriously.
Sometimes baseball players can also be too good to be true (man, what a segue). More specifically, second half booms can prove to be a mirage. Well, I am here to highlight the players that went off after the All-Star break that are worth buying into this upcoming season.
SS Jorge Polanco (MIN) NFBC ADP 85th Pick
On the surface, Polanco was a menace at the dish in the second half. The middle infielder produced in multiple categories, batting .287, smashed 21 homers, piled up 103 runs plus RBIs and stole 4 bags. Polanco scored over 300 fantasy points after the summer classic. The production was certainly there. But is Jorge Polanco worth buying into for the ‘22 season?
Looking under the hood (a term I love to use), it appears there may have been an approach change that led to an electric second half. From the years 2016-2020, Jorge Polanco supported a K-rate of 13.65%. From July to October, the shortstop struck out 22% of the time. If that sounds like a negative trend, it is. But stay with me.
Three separate batted ball metrics help finish painting the picture. There were noticeable differences in Hard Hit%, Barrel% & Pull%.
Through pretty much the entirety of his career, Polanco carried a Hard Hit% of 28.96%. That metric shot up about 8 percentage points post All-Star break. Polanco finished with a 36.3% Hard Hit rate. Hard Hit% isn’t a be all end all metric so let’s look at his Barrel rate.
Polanco’s Barrel rate is eye popping. Since 2016, the shortstop averaged 3.3% – far from an encouraging mark. From July on, Polanco’s Brl% was 12.3%. Such an improvement is a positive trend for future success.
Last but not least, Polanco’s Pull%, which I believe is the last piece to the puzzle. His Pull% was 52.4%. He hasn’t even been above 40% since 2017 and has not seen a Pull% over 45% since his brief cup of coffee in 2014.
After completing the puzzle, I believe that this shows a change in approach. Polanco is willing to increase the strikeouts to make a concerted effort to not only pull the baseball but make harder contact. Team builders will have to use a top 100 pick to secure the shortstop slash second basemen from Minnesota, but I think it will be worth it in ‘22
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) October 3, 2021
1B Josh Bell (WSH) NFBC ADP 132th Pick
Josh Bell reminded fantasy team builders that he is still a good hitter in the second half of the 2021 season. Bell hit 15 homers, had 80 runs plus RBIs, and supported a 136 wRC+ in the second half. He was among the top 10 first basemen in home runs, RBIs, and OBP. The Washington Nationals first baseman racked up nearly 62% of his fantasy points post break. The question must be asked: should he be trusted heading into 2022?
What immediately pops out is Bell’s second half patience at the plate. His BB rate was 14.3% while his K% was 13.6%. Bell’s 1.05 BB/K indicates how comfortable he was at the plate. Looking at his career, a 1.05 BB/K is a tad inflated but Bell has displayed well above average plate IQ. I’d say it is fair to rely on a good approach going into the 2022 season.
When looking at the back of Josh Bell’s baseball card (aka Fangraphs), it is clear that he improved his swing discipline. Both his O-Swing% and SwStr% was cut down by around 2% from his career average. The improvements in these metrics resulted in his best marks since 2017. Chasing less pitches outside of the strike zone has been positive for Josh Bell. Bringing results that the fantasy baseball world would love to see in ‘22.
Bell’s more disciplined approach is a positive trend I am willing to buy into. He is not a contributor in enough categories to be a must roster in roto leagues. Bell will be a more valuable asset in points formats for sure but should be on everyone’s radar when in the draft room.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 21, 2021
OF Ian Happ (CHC) NFBC ADP 185th Pick
The Chicago Cubs outfielder hasn’t performed as much as most would have desired so far in his career. But when the season passed the All-Star break, Happ got hot. From July 16th to the end of the 2021 season the switch-hitter produced for the Cubs and fantasy team builders. He batted .268, swatted 16 homers, contributed 80 runs plus RBIs, and even swiped 8 bags. Happ’s 133 wRC+ and 30 extra base were very encouraging signs that Happ was figuring it out in the second half of the ‘21 campaign. But should team builders trust Ian Happ heading into ‘22?
Whenever Ian Happ is mentioned the first place most fantasy gamers go is his K%. Spoiler alert, Happ did not improve his strikeouts. Despite carrying a 29.3% K-rate, Happ still produced. Popping the metaphorical hood (see I said it again), it appears that his swing metrics are not showing any kind of improvements over his career averages.
|2021 2nd half||28.50%||13.70%||45.20%|
So if there wasn’t a change in his swing discipline, was his second half a fluke? I don’t believe so. I mean, just by reading the title of the article you know I believe in these players’ second halves. Although in Happ’s case, it is more of a leap of faith. A belief in talent realized. Because the underlying metrics were encouraging.
Ian Happ supported a 42.4% Hard Hit rate, 13.3% Barrel%, and 112.1 MaxEV. All indicators of better and more consistent contact at the dish. Superior contact obviously leads to a better performance. He also finished the second half with an average launch angle of 11.8. I wouldn’t say that is a major development or a glaring mark to get excited about. However, it does suggest he will hit more line drives and given his hit tool, Happ will benefit from a more line drive approach. Given his post 175 ADP, I will be buying into Ian Happ in 2022. I mean if folks are in on Tyler O’Neill then why not grab Happ about 100 picks later? I’ll take that value all day bay bay.
Ian Hott. pic.twitter.com/U8k2E2r56S
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 8, 2021
All 3 players are projected to hit in the meat of their orders so the counting stats will be there. In the case of Josh Bell and Jorge Polanco, there appeared to be a change in approach according to some of their underlying metrics and swing data. Even though Ian Happ didn’t have a similar change, his uptick in production in the second half should not be ignored. He is a talented player with an intriguing profile and his surface stats seem sustainable given his batted ball data.
Whether it is getting a new opportunity or believing in a player’s production, sometimes it appears too good to be true. But for these 3 players, I would trust their second halves in 2021 when your making your draft decisions in 2022.