2022 Fantasy Baseball Second Half Breakout Candidates
Published: Jul 20, 2022
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game now behind us and just two and a half months left in the fantasy baseball season, it’s the perfect time to take stock of our teams and determine what holes we need to fill or positions we need to fortify for the stretch run. Often the most cost-effective way to do that is with players who have struggled in the first half but look poised for a turnaround in the season’s later months. These players can be found on the waiver wire, via trade, or sometimes on our own bench. These are the players who have not come close to living up to their preseason ADPs.
Who are players that are positioned for breakout second-half performances based on what we have seen so far? Here we dissect a couple of hitters and a couple of pitchers to target for your fantasy squad.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Muncy have told anyone who will listen over and over again that Muncy’s left elbow injury is behind him and he is now fully healthy. He missed 13 games in late May/early June but has been on the field for most games outside of that IL stint. If we believe that Muncy is healthy (and why would the first-place Dodgers keep playing him if he is not?), then we should expect some major positive regression to come his way in the second half.
Despite some underlying metrics that are in line or better than his career averages, Muncy is bottom-10 in MLB among 157 qualified hitters in a number of categories.
The batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is what really jumps off the page when compared to his previous seasons. His .181 this year is almost 75 points lower than his career average (.254) and it is having a direct impact on his batting average. Muncy has never been a tremendously high batting average player (career .230), but his .160 average this season is a mirage unless the Dodgers are not being forthright about lingering injury issues.
All other metrics on Muncy’s ledger look good. His strikeout rate (24.2%) is right in line with career norms. His walk rate (18.5%) is a career high, so he is still golden in OBP leagues. Muncy is hitting more fly balls (51.8%) and fewer ground balls (33.8%) than he has in his career, but his fly balls just aren’t leaving the park. His 10.3% HR/FB rate is 11 points lower than his career average and ranks 99th among all qualified hitters.
The injury concern does worry me somewhat, but this is a hitting profile that screams better results than we have seen. The pieces are in place for Muncy to have a much improved second half of the season.
It’s hard to call a guy with 22 home runs at the All-Star Game a breakout candidate, but the truth is we could be getting so, so much more from Walker the rest of this season. Walker is already just seven home runs and 27 RBI away from a career-high in both of those categories. But the reality is a poor BABIP, much like with Muncy, is robbing us of what could truly have been an elite power season.
As it stands now, Walker is setting career-bests in walk rate, strikeout rate, flyball rate, and is close in slugging percentage. But his .188 BABIP this year is close to 100 points behind his career numbers (.282), despite the improvement in all other areas.
The power has also leveled up this year, as we can see from his Statcast rankings according to Baseball Savant.
Add it all up and you are looking at a player who was already on pace for 40+ bombs, but could also be looking at a jump up in batting average in the second half. That means more opportunities for runs and RBI in addition to the increased power. Since Walker became an everyday major leaguer, he has not had an average below .244 in any given season. Currently sitting at .204 this year, don’t lose faith that Walker can bump that up by at least 20 points before the season is out.
We have highlighted a potential Tarik Skubal breakout once already last season, but it appears he is a candidate in 2022 as well, even if some of the surface-level indicators portray him as an average pitcher. Under the hood, there are elite skills being masked by some mid-season bad luck.
Despite ranking 49th out of 61 qualified pitchers in ERA this season, Skubal has the 15th-best expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) in the majors (3.28). That number is better than Sandy Alcantara, Justin Verlander, and a whole host of other elite pitchers in 2022.
His performances in the past couple of months have been so good, in fact, that it has placed him in some rare company among MLB pitchers.
His recent stretch before the All-Star break was nothing fantasy owners ever want to see. He gave up four or more earned runs in five of seven starts to close the first half, ballooning his season-long ERA to 4.11. But some bad BABIP luck and a season-long 65.8% left-on-base percentage (league average is 72.2%), shouldn’t dissuade you from jumping in the waters here.
Skubal could potentially be acquired with a discount given his most recent outings. If that’s the case, I would jump at the chance.
In a span of about four seasons, Lucas Giolito has gone from practically the worst pitcher in the league (6.13 ERA, 4.67 BB/9 in 2018) to one of the best (3.41 ERA, 11.62 K/9 in 2019) to one of the most polarizing this season.
He is still striking people out at a clip of 10.39 per nine innings, the walks are reasonable and below his career average (3.26 BB/9), but his ERA in 2022 (4.69) is more than a full run worse than his xFIP (3.66) and is now 75th out of 87 starters with at least 80 innings pitched.
His left-on-base percentage (73.1%) is slightly better than the league average (72.2%), so he is not getting unlucky there. So what’s left to look at that might convince us Giolito can turn the ERA ship around in the second half? For that, we have to hop back on the BABIP train.
Giolito’s .338 BABIP allowed is roughly 50 points worse than the league average (.288) and is more than 60 points worse than any other season of his career, including the dreadful 2018. In fact, Giolito’s BABIP is now the fourth-worst mark among all starting pitchers in the majors.
Most projections systems see him settling back in around a .280 BABIP and a 3.80 ERA the rest of the season. Combine that with 10 or 11 strikeouts per nine innings and you’re looking at a top-30 starter the rest of the way.
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Related MLB Links:
- July Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings
- Fantasy Baseball Daily Round-Up
- MLB Injury Report
- Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire
- MLB Prospect Reports
- Fantasy Baseball Stock Watch