In a typical MLB season, we’d already reached the midpoint and we’re looking at what teams need to do to boost in the second half. However, due to the lockout, the opening day was moved by two weeks and as a result, most Major League-teams will not play their 81st game until early next week.
Let’s see if we can pick a player in each position who has underperformed so far, but who can still make a difference in the long run.
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Keibert Ruiz, Washington Nationals. A switch-hitter in his first full season, Ruiz connects with an excellent 88.7% percentage and rarely falls out. Unfortunately, he didn’t do much when he made contact – he started the week with a .255 average, two home runs and 13 RBI.
However, advanced stats suggest that Ruiz should be much more productive with an expected batting average of .311 and a slugging percentage of .462. He even has three stolen bases (only three catchers have more). As Ruiz’s luck starts to equalize, look for his stats to see an uptick across the board.
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants. A quick start this year was derailed first by a positive COVID test, then by a knee injury. The strength Belt showed last season – when he scored 29 home runs in just 97 games – has not returned since his most recent stint on the injured list. However, his excellent striking eye is still very much alive. Despite a batting average of .224, Belt reached base with a clip of .351.
As he works his way back to 100%, the Giants usually start Belt against right-handed pitchers, which is a good strategy considering he put up an OPS over 1,000 against them each of the past two seasons.
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals. Merrifield, 33, has never gone below 0.277 in a season as a Major Leaguer, so his 0.227 average is a definite anomaly, especially with a 0.253 average on balls in play that is 70 points below his career standard.
He continues to play every day and lead for the Royals, with nine bases stolen in 10 attempts. Even if he is traded, dreams of Merrifield a great second half have a good chance of becoming reality.
Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers. By the time Baez sat out a June 15 game against the White Sox, his batting average had dropped to a season-worst .188, and his 47 wRC+ rated him the worst offensive player in baseball.
But after meeting that day with his agent and manager AJ Hinch, Baez promptly went on a nine-game losing streak that included four home runs, seven runs, nine RBI and two stolen bases. Whether it was a change of mind or an adjustment with his swing, Baez is much more like the player who hit .265 a year ago with 31 home runs and 18 steals – and was rewarded with a six-year contract of $140 million.
Luis Urias, Milwaukee Brewers. Urias played regularly for the first time and had a breakthrough season in 2021 (23 HR, 77 R, 75 RBI). However, during spring training, he sustained a quadriceps injury and missed all of April.
After a solid start in May, Urias has been terrible in June. His slash at the start of the week was a paltry .216/.314/.347. About the only bright spots so far are that his running speed is still very good and he doesn’t chase bad pitches.
Urias is only 25 and has a lot of advantage.
Jesse Winker, Seattle Mariners. Winker has also fallen short of his excellent numbers from a year ago. But his 15.9% running speed is the third fastest in the majors, behind only Max Muncy and Juan Soto.
Looking closer, Winker starts to warm up with four home runs, 12 RBI and a .910 OPS in June. The Mariners don’t mind him having a left-hander on the mound like the Reds did last season – and he’s been more effective against left-handers so far. If he starts hitting right-handers like the last two seasons (1,070 and .927 OPS), watch out.
Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays. Before pitching seven shutout-innings against the Red Sox on Monday-evening, Gausman had an unremarkable 5-6 record, 3.19 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. However, the underlying stats showed that he had been much the same pitcher as he was a year ago. Possibly even better.
He had posted the highest success rate of his career (16.6%) while at the same time allowing almost no one to walk (1.48 BB/9) or give up home runs (just two in 79 innings). The problem: Opponents hit .372 when they put the ball in play — by far the highest average for any qualified starting pitcher. As a result, Gausman had a low 1.74 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in the premier league. Perhaps the sleeping giant is just beginning to wake up.
Tanner Scott, Miami Marlins. While Tanner Houck in Boston and Tanner Rainey in Washington may be getting more attention, Scott could be the most out-tan-thing Tanner by the end of the season.
This month, he has racked up three wins and converted 6-of-7 save chances, not allowing an earned run in 10 of his 11 appearances. In addition, he has an average of 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings and is tied for fourth among relievers in whiffs. He may have already closed the closer’s job for the remainder of the season.
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB 2022: Kevin Gausman, Javier Baez in possible bustouts in the 2nd half