Thursday, December 15, 2022


We bring the list of first half slashers up to date with this installment. Keep in mind that the Top 300 list is determined by the statistic adjusted on-base plus slugging (OPS+). Welcome back to 2010, when our world began to connect with the forces that would plunge it into its increasingly defiant "fraughtness"--and when baseball would take its own strange "walk on the wild side" that would (inadvertenly, perhaps) expose the falsity of the "three true outcomes." Here we go:

Even in a period of offensive downturn (which was followed by a rollercoaster ride in the second half of the decade) slugging is still uber alles for those in the Top 300 of half-season performance. (That said, we should note that "first half" was often getting very lopsided: with earlier and earlier starts to the season, the All-Star game was often coming well after the true mid-point of the season. Not taking that into account makes some of this slugging, such as Chris Davis' 37 HRs in 2013, look somewhat more impressive than it actually is.)

Davis and Justin Morneau would soon take rides down the elevator shaft almost as swift as the one taken by Charles Laughton in The Big Clock. But these were the salad days for Miguel Cabrera, part of an eight-year period where he cemented a slot in the Hall of Fame. (The jury is still out for Joey Votto.) Jose Bautista had the most impressive first half of anyone in the decade (#30 all-time), just beating out Bryce Harper's 2015. 

And here he is, showing up in a Top 300 ahead of Mike Trout, who operated at around 150 points of OPS lower--but did it all the time. (He'll be showing up soon enough.) We have first sightings for Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez, and we witness the last hurrah of Troy Tulowitzki. (Which reminds us: take a guess as to how many shortstops have a Top 300 first half or second half--we'll fill you in on that in an upcoming post.)

In what became an increasingly fraught (there's that word again...) "launch angle" time frame for baseball and the nation (think of the Orange Menace as a hoary, bloated missile sent hurtling at the increasingly desiccated core of America...), no single hitter pushed hard against the upper strata of the Top 300. (Trout was close, but the "fragile" aspect of his career made its first appearance in '17 and he just qualified to even be on the list.) 

A somewhat elevated level of "flash in the pan" coincided with the peaks found in the "launch angle" phaselet, as seen by Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich (and even, possibly, in Mookie Betts, whose enforced trade to the Dodgers has stolen something from the thunder he produced due in part to playing half his games in Fenway). We see the first coming of Aaron Judge (and you've already seen his second coming previously, with his "second half advent" in '22) and we witness a last hurrah from David Ortiz. 

Oh yeah...and Trout adds himself to the list two more times, despite what appears to be an inexorable decline in BA. 

We'll pause here to sum up the 19 members of the Top 300 list who come from the 2010-19 decade. Of those nineteen, no one hit .400+; 3 were at .350+; and all 19 were over .300 (Trout just makes it in '19). In terms of OBP, we have: no one at .500+, nine at .450+ (including Trout three times), and 18 at .400+. Moving on to SLG, we have five at .700+, 11 at .650+, and 18 at .600+. In the realm of homers, we have six players with 30+, nine at 25+, and 14 at 20+.

Now onto the 20s...

Offense levels took a hit in '21 and '22 (despite a relative abundance of HRs in '21), and slugging was the only way for anyone to crack the Top 200. What was lost in the fetishizing of Shohei Ohtani in '21 was that his first half stats, eye-popping as they might be, weren't quite as good as those of Vladimir Guerrero II. (Of course, Ohtani's unique two-way achievements make just about anything he does seem even larger-than-life.) Had it not been for an injury that cost him a month of the '22 season, Yordan Alvarez might have given Aaron Judge a run for his money, despite #99's finishing kick.

And speaking of #99, folks might be wondering why he's not on this list. After all, he hit 33 of his 62 HRs in the first half. What gives?

Glad you asked. Yes, #99 hit 33 homers in the first half of '22. But he didn't hit all that well otherwise. (Actually, he did hit really well relative to the league--but remember that the Top 300 in any given half of the season has an OPS+ of at least 185 or so. #99 only comes in with a 173 OPS+ for the first half of '22.

Let's see where that ranks him amongst first halves in the next tier down for 2021-22:

He ranks 579th all-time for his first half in 2022. Remember, there are 122 years' worth of first half performances to be ranked. 579th is pretty darned good from that perspective, but it's somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn from the "distance from the sun" (#1) perspective. Ah, maybe a bit better than than--maybe somewhere in the asteroid belt. 

Note that Paul Goldschmidt won an MVP award this year while having only the 339th best first half in baseball history. When we get finished with anatomizing the decades (as we did for the second half in an earlier post), we'll look at MVP awards relative to first/second half performances. And we'll also look for the seasons where both the players' first/second halves are in the Top 300. Stay tuned...