Every year we hear the phrase "baseball is a marathon, not a sprint." And every year it holds true. In fact, I don't believe a sentence has ever been more true.
The Major League Baseball season is a long and grueling one, and hitters go through countless slumps and hot streaks throughout the 162-game marathon. An 0-for-30 slump can quickly turn into 15-for-25 streak. Take a look at Nelson Cruz, for example. He bombed 28 home runs in the first half of the season, but has hit only one since the All-Star break.
Generally, no above-replacement type player is going to stay hot for the whole year, and vice versa. Ups and downs are just a part of the game, which is why writing off a player after a few slow months at the plate isn't always the brightest idea.
I've identified three players who hung around the bottom of the wOBA leaderboard during the first half of the season but are now among league leaders since the break. And yes, I do realize that each player's second-half statistics come from a rather small sample size, but a gigantic jump in offensive production should not go unnoticed.
Adam Eaton, known more for his baserunning skills and fielding abilities (despite this embarrassing meeting with the outfield fence), has recently shown he's no slouch at the plate either. Nobody has more hits (33) in the second half than Eaton, although his 64.1% groundball percentage is fourth-highest among qualified hitters during that period. But almost all of those are going for base hits, as his BABIP is a monstrous .508. Additionally, Eaton has cut down on the strikeouts (10) and upped his walks (8).
ZiPS RoS projection system isn't buying Eaton's second-half surge, however, and predicts that he'll be a .323 hitter—in terms of wOBA—the rest of the way.
The people of Seattle have been waiting a long time for Dustin Ackley to live up to his hype, with no payoff. But, after being among the worst hitters since the start of the year, he has been one of the best hitters in baseball since the break. He had a bad-luck BABIP of .265 during the first three and a half months of the season, but is finding more gaps now as his batting average on balls in play has blossomed to .385 since July 18. That's due in large part to the fact that he's hitting fewer ground balls and more line drives.
Ackley's still not walking at all, but his strikeout percentage is down five percent. He's also finally starting to hit the fastball as his fastball runs above average went from -9.0 to 1.7. And, as a result, his isolated power has jumped through the roof, and has already matched his home run total from the first half.
Denard Span has reached base safely in 35 straight games and is tied for most multi-hit games among National League players. He's already been worth 1.6 wins since the break, after having a 1.5 WAR during the first half. Span has double the amount of walks than strikeouts, and as a result, has an on-base percentage of nearly .500.
Like Eaton, Span is a speedster who has no power to speak of, so hitting fly balls does him no good. His fly ball percentage dropped nine percent, while his GB% and LD% have risen by four percent and six percent, respectively.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 fantasy baseball league for today's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Will the hot streaks of Eaton, Ackley, and Span continue? Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Justin Schultz is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.