The Last 365

While preparing for an upcoming season, analysts will often point to a player’s second half of the previous year as an indicator of future performance, for better or worse.  Depending on if and how far that player’s team goes into the playoffs, there will be a five to six month layoff between games for all players which cuts into the reliability of second half performances as a lot can happen in that kind of timeframe.

You also have to consider the fact that a second half itself is a small sample so any three month sample shouldn’t be used as a perfect guide.  Someone might simply wear down in the dog days of summer (Brennan Boesch) making them look worse than their true talent level.  Conversely, a player may fall into some unexpected playing time not seen in the first half and take the league by storm because they don’t have “a book” on him (Jed Lowrie).

As we wrap up the 2011 All-Star Break (the mercilessly long ASB… Must. Watch. Baseball!), we can now look back on the last calendar year taking the 2010 second half and matching it up against the 2011 first half to see if using the former as a guide would have better prepared us for the latter on any level.  Remember that a lot of people point to Jose Bautista’s 2009 September (10 HR in 30 G) as a sign toward his 2010 breakout into superstardom.  Of course, he still went undrafted in just about every mixed league so it is more of retro-fitting the September narrative to match up with the ’10 breakout, but you get the point.  Today, we will look at the home run charts.

2010 2H HR

J.Bautista 30, A.Pujols 21, P.Konerko 19, T.Tulowitzki 18,

C.Granderson, D.Uggla, C.Gonzalez, M.Stanton 17,

A.Rodriguez, A.Dunn, M.Teixeira, M.Cabrera 16,

J.Thome, A.Ramirez, A.Beltre, D.Wright, L.Scott 15

The bulk of this list contains no-brainer power hitters.  You aren’t looking at this list and making major adjustments on most of these guys up as you already expected them to be amongst the power leaders.  However, there are some standouts that might have caught your eye in some winter preparation to make you question whether it was a sign of things to come or merely a hot stretch to close out the season.

Namely that would be Curtis Granderson.  A lot of was expected of Granderson once he was traded to the Yankees.  He was leaving Comerica Park for the short porch in Yankee Stadium that favored lefties.  He was coming off of a career-high 30 home run season and while his batting average issues would temper his value, he was at least expected to pop another 30 home runs if not more.

He labored through an uninspiring April (2 HR, .687 OPS) and then played just five games in May because of injury.  He was pushed to the outer edges of the radar for some because of the slow start so perhaps his 22 home runs from June on went a bit unnoticed even as he hit nine with a .958 OPS in 29 September games.  He had an equal number of at-bats home and away (233) clubbing a home run every 16.6 at-bats at home while hitting one every 23.3 on the road.  In other words, Yankee Stadium had its desired effect on Granderson but his slow start masked it a bit.

Fast forward to today and Granderson has been a fantasy superstar as he has hit 25 home runs in just 87 games thanks to some excellent production against southpaws (9 HR, .596 SLG), something he had struggled to do in the past.  While he has continued to take advantage of his home ballpark (a home run every 14.4 AB), it is his road production that has really driven the unexpected surge (a home run every 11.9 AB).

Granderson is someone who proved the analysts right in 2010 by increasing his power production when he was playing, but since his whole numbers were down, it wasn’t fully recognized.  He had the kind of second half that analysts look for as an indicator for success the following season, yet again it wasn’t latched onto as his average draft position (ADP) dropped from 48 in 2010 to 74 in 2011.

Here is a look at the home run leaders in the last calendar year:

LAST 365 DAYS

J.Bautista 62; C.Granderson 42; M.Teixeira, P.Konerko 41; A.Pujols 39;

M.Stanton, J.Bruce 36; T.Tulowitzki, M.Cabrera, P.Fielder 35;

A.Beltre, D.Ortiz, M.Kemp 34; M.Reynolds 33; D.Uggla, R.Howard 32;

R.Weeks, C.Gonzalez, N.Cruz, A.Ramirez 30; R.Braun, A.Gonzalez 30

Of the 22 players listed on the year-long leaderboard, 13 are repeats from the second half leaderboard.  What does that mean exactly?  I am not sure it means anything.  Like I said earlier, a lot of the names on that second half list are consistent power producers that we would expect to show up on any leaderboard of home runs that took a legitimate sample of at-bats into account.

For those not on the second half board, here are their 2010 second half home run totals:

D.Ortiz, R.Howard, R.Weeks 14; A.Gonzalez 13;

P.Fielder, M.Kemp, M.Reynolds, R.Braun 12; N.Cruz 11

None of the nine listed above struggled in the second half of last year, they just weren’t superlatives across the league.  Thus it isn’t terribly surprising to see them amongst the best over the last calendar year as they have remained consistent in their production from last year’s second half to this year’s first.

While the second half home run leaderboard may have helped you notice that Granderson did in fact perform as many expected (at least in terms of home run rate as well as the Yankee Stadium boost), it could have also led you astray had you gone a bit further and used it as a handy guide for 2011 breakouts.  To wit, here are some of the second half home run leaders that just missed my cutoff of 15 (2011 HR totals):

A.Hill (4) 14; P.Burrell (7), R.Raburn (8), P.Alvarez (2) 13; J.Drew (4), C.Lee (7) 12

This list contains some names that some fantasy managers had pegged for a big 2011 season and they have subsequently been wildly disappointed.  Pedro Alvarez is the latest shining example of the volatility of prospects.  Meanwhile Ryan Raburn had a big second half for the second straight season only to once again flop in the first half of the follow season.  Both were tabbed at 2011 sleepers at many outlets.  They have been asleep alright… (I’ll be here all week, try the veal).

If there was one thing you could expect from Aaron Hill, it was supposed to be power.  Actually it has turned out to be some speed (11 stolen bases), but the rest of the stat line is so remarkably underwhelming that he is barely worth it and frankly, I am surprised to see that he is still on 66% of the teams at ESPN.  J.D. Drew is another guy who has his flaws (mainly staying healthy), but you at least expect him to produce when he is playing.  Alas at 35, the injuries may finally be catching up (.646 OPS in 218 AB) rendering him virtually useless (3% owned in ESPN leagues).

The takeaway from all of this, if there is one, is that there still aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to analysis.  You need to dig into the second or third level to see if a sample of play had predictive value one way or another.  An elite second half can either be an indicator of big things to come or an isolated three month sample of quality play with no predictive.  Be careful not to make more or less of a second half sample just because it fits the narrative you are trying to tell.  The other takeaway would be that Bautista is amazing (duh!).  His 62 home runs over the last calendar year is something else.  That early-to-mid 2000s production right there in a pitching-heavy environment.

Later this week, I will show some other leaderboards over the last 365 days in some other categories.  Most will be just for fun to look at while others may be against the second half in 2010 backdrop we looked at today to see if there were any pending breakouts poking their heads out at us last August & September.

Hope you made it through the All-Star break… time for some more baseball!

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