Storylines to Keep an Eye on During the Second Half of the MLB Season
The second half of the 2019 MLB season has officially begun, and like every year, it’s when races and storylines start to heat up.
The Angeles, Dodgers, and Padres all enter MLB’s second-half with something to play for and individual storylines to pay attention to, which should make the end to 2019 exciting.
Cody Bellinger’s Quest for MVP
The Dodgers’ burgeoning superstar was arguably the best player in MLB’s first half, hitting .336/.432/.692 with 30 home runs and a .449 wOBA while posting 18 Defensive Runs Saved. Per FanGraphs, all those numbers rank second among all players. And he leads everyone in WAR.
One trend which went a bit overlooked, though, was his steady slowdown after a torrid first month that saw him post a 1.347 OPS. In May, that figure dropped to .998 before dropping to .967 in June. In addition, while the outfielder’s power has held steady, his on-base skills have dropped a bit from otherworldly to above-average.
Now granted, his overall numbers per month are still elite, but not exactly the Barry Bonds-like performance he was at. But, one can make the argument that the 24-year-old has been robbed from time-to-time. He has an Expected Batting Average of .353, Expected Slugging of .680, and Expected wOBA of .467.
How? Because he’s hitting the ball as hard as anyone but the victim of loud outs. The question now is whether he can keep this pace up. Is he a guy who’s a legitimate option for an OPS north of 1.000? Or did the first month skew him away from what he’s more like: Somewhere in the mid-to-high .900s?
If he continues to stick to the process, the Dodgers may be looking at their first MVP winner since 2014 while leading MLB in wins.
Trout’s Journey for a Third MVP
You can make a strong argument that Mike Trout should have six MVP awards since debuting in 2012. He is continually leading the American League in OPS while playing a good centerfield- can’t get any better than that- and has long cemented himself as the best player in MLB.
But he’s been “limited” to just two AL MVP awards in this span. In his five non-MVP years, the 27-year-old hit .314/.449/.590 with a 45.7 WAR while the winners during those respective seasons hit .332/.413/.598. with a 41.9 WAR. But he’s been penalized for being the victim of having mediocre teammates, as it feels he gets overlooked for not making the playoffs. Could this be the year he finally ends his “drought?”
Trout leads the AL in on-base percentage, slugging, total bases, OPS+, and WAR, and is top-3 in MLB in all those categories. And the Angels are technically still in the playoff picture, sitting 5.5 games out. He’ been by far the best player in the junior circuit, with a distant second place in the MVP-voting being DJ LeMahieu.
Can San Diego Sustain Their Play?
The Padres have been a pleasant surprise in 2019. They entered the All-Star Break at .500, on track to finish with their best record since 2010. On top of that, they are just two games back of their first playoff appearance since 2006 and doing so while getting key contributions from two rookies in particular: Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack.
Now the question is whether both parties can keep up what they are doing. Can the Padres continue to be squarely in the playoff race or will they falter off to the point of becoming sellers? Can the two rookie studs maintain their high level of play or will regression eventually hit them?
San Diego’s run differential is at -35, which suggests they should be worse than they actually are (Pythagorean W-L is 42-49). The stat isn’t the be all end all, but it’s a great indicator of long-term team performance. And with below-average starting pitching, just how long can they sustain this level of winning?
And concerning their rookies, as stellar as they have been, there is an indication that regression may be on its way. Chris Paddack has a 3.78 FIP compared to his 2.84 ERA and has allowed a .224 average on balls in play (.300 is average).
And at 82.1 innings, the righty is well on his way to surpassing his previous high of 90 professional innings in a season. How will his arm hold up? You never know with young pitchers.
And with Tatis Jr., he’s playing like an MVP at the tender age of 20, hitting .330/.397/.618 with 14 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a 167 OPS+ in 56 games.
But he has a .424 BABIP and not hitting the ball particularly hard, owning a below-average exit velocity (per Statcast), nor elevating the ball much (5.4-degree launch angle). His Expected Batting Average is down at .240, while his Expected Slugging is .458. And his Expected wOBA is 80 points below his current mark.
You just never know with young teams and young players because they can be so volatile.
The Returns of Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock
Seager had refound his pre-injury form in his 25-30 games leading up to his hamstring strain and the Dodgers are hoping the interruption didn’t cause him to lose his groove. And regarding Pollock, the team is hoping he can rebound from his .223 average and two home runs before his IL stint.
Manny Machado’ Consistency
$300 million brings along high expectations, which is why Machado has been facing added scrutiny. His first month of the season was abysmal, but he rebounded in May before exploding in June and slumping over the last week-and-a-half. Can he put it all together and be the driving force of the offense he was expected to be?
The Tyler Skaggs Effect
The Angels suffered the shocking and tragic loss of starting pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, which no doubt has taken a toll on their players. The rest of the season will now be played in his memory.
Their first game back from the All-Star Break was also their first game playing in Anaheim since his loss, and boy was it a special one.
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