Every MLB Team's Biggest Second-Half Surprise of the 2021 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2021

Every MLB Team's Biggest Second-Half Surprise of the 2021 Season

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Sometimes, an MLB player's full-season stats don't tell the entire story.

    A poor first half can make it difficult to return a season stat line to respectability before the end of the year, which can in turn mask a stellar second-half performance.

    Those are the players we're focusing on here.

    Ahead, we've highlighted one player from each team who has far exceeded his first-half production since the All-Star break, emerging as an impact performer and perhaps positioning himself for future success, with the final months of this season as a jumping-off point.

    Off we go! 

AL East

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    Matt Harvey
    Matt HarveyAdam Hunger/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: SP Matt Harvey

    First Half: 18 GS, 7.70 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 76.0 IP
    Second Half: 7 GS, 3.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 37.1 IP

    Harvey won a rotation spot out of spring training as a non-roster invitee. The 32-year-old might have been released months ago if not for the fact that he was chewing up innings for a last-place team, and he rewarded the Orioles' long leash with 18.1 scoreless innings over his first three starts coming out of the break.


    Boston Red Sox: RF Hunter Renfroe

    First Half: 312 PA, .780 OPS, 13 HR, 46 RBI
    Second Half: 138 PA, .900 OPS, 12 HR, 31 RBI

    Non-tendered by the Tampa Bay Rays last winter, Renfroe landed in Boston on a one-year, $3.1 million deal that is shaping up to be one of the best bargains of the offseason. Still just 29 years old and controllable for another year via arbitration, Renfroe has smashed 10 home runs in 84 plate appearances in August.


    New York Yankees: RP Wandy Peralta

    First Half: 32 G, 2 SV, 5.26 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 25.2 IP
    Second Half: 10 G, 3 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 11.2 IP

    Acquired in an April trade with the San Francisco Giants, Peralta has filled the second lefty void in the Yankees bullpen that was created by a struggling Zack Britton. The 30-year-old has allowed 10 hits and one unearned run in 11.2 innings since the break, and he's making less than $1 million this year.


    Tampa Bay Rays: SS Wander Franco

    First Half: 66 PA, .197/.258/.328, 4 XBH (2 HR), 22.7 K%
    Second Half: 150 PA, .309/.367/.515, 17 XBH (4 HR), 12.7 K%

    The consensus top prospect in baseball, Franco endured some early growing pains after making his MLB debut in June. Those are now a distant memory. The 20-year-old is working on an impressive 26-game on-base streak, and he's moved up to the No. 2/3 spot in the batting order.


    Toronto Blue Jays: SP Steven Matz

    First Half: 15 GS, 4.72 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 76.1 IP
    Second Half: 7 GS, 2.27 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 35.2 IP

    After three straight quality starts to open the year, Matz was knocked around to the tune of a 5.74 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and a .304 opponents' batting average in his next 12 outings. The free-agent-to-be has righted the ship since the break, including a 1.25 ERA in four August starts, and he has a chance to boost his offseason stock considerably with more of the same.

AL Central

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    Amed Rosario
    Amed RosarioMary DeCicco/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: SP/RP Reynaldo Lopez

    First Half: 10 G, 7.62 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 39.0 IP (at Triple-A Charlotte)
    Second Half: 12 G, 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 29.0 IP

    Once a promising prospect who showed flashes while making 55 starts for the White Sox in 2018 and 2019, Lopez became the odd man out in the South Siders rotation when Lance Lynn was acquired and Carlos Rodon was re-signed. After spending the first half of the season at Triple-A, he is now thriving in a swingman role.


    Cleveland: SS Amed Rosario

    First Half: 314 PA, .259/.306/.367, 18 XBH
    Second Half: 166 PA, .342/.373/.513, 18 XBH

    Rosario began the season in a utility role with semi-regular action in center field, but he has since settled in as the everyday shortstop and No. 2 hitter in the Cleveland lineup. Just 25 years old and with a top prospect pedigree, he has a chance to be a long-term piece up the middle.


    Detroit Tigers: RP Michael Fulmer

    First Half: 25 G, 4.05 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 40.0 IP
    Second Half: 13 G, 2.63 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 13.2 IP

    Remember him? The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in recent seasons, but he has resurfaced as a reliever. The 28-year-old has slowly settled into a late-inning role, and he is missing more bats than he ever did in a starting role.


    Kansas City Royals: SP Daniel Lynch

    First Half: 3 GS, 15.75 ERA, 8.0 IP
    Second Half: 6 GS, 2.27 ERA, 35.2 IP

    Lynch is one of four pitchers the Royals selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, along with Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic. The 6'6" left-hander has long been viewed as the best of the bunch in terms of future upside, and after getting knocked around in a trio of May starts, he has looked the part of a future ace in his second go-around in the rotation.


    Minnesota Twins: SP Bailey Ober

    First Half: 8 GS, 5.45 ERA, 33.0 IP
    Second Half: 7 GS, 2.78 ERA, 35.2 IP

    Unranked among the Twins' top 30 prospects at the start of the year, according to Baseball America, Ober made his MLB debut in May. The 26-year-old does not have overpowering stuff, but his towering 6'9" frame and plus command make him difficult to square up, and he has settled in nicely in the majors.

AL West

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    Abraham Toro
    Abraham ToroStephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: 3B/OF Aledmys Diaz

    First Half: 126 PA, .278/.341/.435, 3 HR, 18 RBI
    Second Half: 111 PA, .330/.360/.509, 4 HR, 20 RBI

    A versatile bench piece, Diaz was forced into everyday action at third base while Alex Bregman was sidelined for more than two months with a quad strain. The 2016 All-Star more than held his own in an expanded role, and with Bregman now back in action, he can return to his super-utility role.


    Los Angeles Angels: RP Austin Warren

    First Half: 22 G, 6.19 ERA, 36.1 IP (at Triple-A Salt Lake)
    Second Half: 11 G, 1.69 ERA, 16.0 IP

    Warren put himself on the MLB radar with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, posting a 1.54 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. Despite ugly Triple-A numbers, he made his MLB debut at the end of July, and he's recorded more than three outs in seven of his 11 appearances.


    Oakland Athletics: RP Sergio Romo

    First Half: 36 G, 6 HLD, 4.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.0 K/9
    Second Half: 17 G, 5 HLD, 0.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 10.0 K/9

    At 38 years old, Romo was still a solid middle reliever during the first half of the season thanks to his signature slider, but he has returned to elite form since the break. With Lou Trivino struggling of late in the closer's role, don't be surprised if Romo gets some ninth-inning chances down the stretch.


    Seattle Mariners: 2B Abraham Toro

    First Half: 93 PA, .229/.301/.349, 4 XBH
    Second Half: 143 PA, .291/.371/.480, 12 XBH

    The decision to trade bullpen ace Kendall Graveman in the midst of contention raised some eyebrows at the time, but the Mariners may have found their second baseman of the future in Toro. The 24-year-old is hitting .327/.404/.475 with nine extra-base hits in 27 games with the Mariners, and he's controllable through 2025.


    Texas Rangers: IF/OF Andy Ibanez

    First Half: 78 PA, .179/.218/.270, 4 XBH
    Second Half: 129 PA, .303/.352/.487, 13 XBH

    A member of Cuba's World Baseball Classic team in 2013 when he was just 19 years old, Ibanez defected in 2015 and inked a $1.6 million bonus with the Rangers. He hit .300/.375/.497 with 30 doubles and 20 home runs at Triple-A in 2019, and he is making the most of his first extended look in the majors.

NL East

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    Lewis Brinson
    Lewis BrinsonWill Newton/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: SS Dansby Swanson

    First Half: 362 PA, .243/.302/.453, 37 XBH (15 HR), 40 RBI, 28.2 K%
    Second Half: 160 PA, .320/.369/.592, 20 XBH (10 HR), 37 RBI, 15.6 K%

    Swanson had a productive first half, but his on-base percentage and strikeout rate left a lot to be desired. Both issues have been resolved since the break, and after showing flashes of stardom the last few seasons, everything is finally coming together for the 2015 No. 1 overall pick.

    Tip of the cap to Tyler Matzek, who has tossed 16.1 scoreless innings in the second half.


    Miami Marlins: CF Lewis Brinson

    First Half: 69 PA, .221/.232/.353, 5 XBH, 1.4 BB%, 30.4 K%
    Second Half: 118 PA, .250/.308/.472, 14 XBH, 6.8 BB% BB, 22.0 K%

    A .189/.242/.304 career hitter with a 29.4 percent strikeout rate in 821 plate appearances in the majors entering the year, Brinson has taken a long-awaited step forward. The longtime top prospect is still only 27 years old, and he'll be given every opportunity to solidify his long-term place down the stretch.


    New York Mets: IF/OF Brandon Drury

    First Half: 46 PA, .182/.217/.318, 2 XBH
    Second Half: 39 PA, .405/.436/.703, 7 XBH

    Drury has been used primarily as a pinch hitter since the All-Star break, and he has been one of baseball's best in that role. Cold off the bench, he's going 11-for-27 with three doubles and three home runs on the year, and he has carved out a spot on the MLB bench after spending much of the first half at Triple-A.


    Philadelphia Phillies: RP JD Hammer

    First Half: 17 G, 1.74 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 20.2 IP (at Triple-A Lehigh Valley)
    Second Half: 12 G, 1.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 14.2 IP

    Hammer had a 3.79 ERA in 20 appearances as a rookie in 2019, but his 5.11 FIP and 1.42 WHIP painted a less encouraging picture, and he didn't see any MLB action last year. The 27-year-old was called up shortly before the All-Star break, and he has emerged as a reliable middle relief option in a shaky Philadelphia bullpen.


    Washington Nationals: OF Yadiel Hernandez

    First Half: 87 PA, .241/.299/.329, 3 XBH, 4 RBI
    Second Half: 98 PA, .352/.408/.591, 10 XBH, 17 RBI

    A 33-year-old rookie, Hernandez has taken over as the everyday left fielder for the Nationals since Kyle Schwarber was traded to Boston. He is making the most of his opportunity following the team's deadline fire sale, and at the very least has carved out a fourth outfielder role next year.

NL Central

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    J.A. Happ
    J.A. HappJustin Berl/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: 1B Frank Schwindel

    First Half: 20 PA, .150/.150/.350, 2 XBH, 3 RBI
    Second Half: 87 PA, .367/.425/.646, 13 XBH, 16 RBI

    Similar to Yadiel Hernandez with the Nationals, Schwindel has been thrust into everyday action in the aftermath of the Cubs fire sale, shining as Anthony Rizzo's replacement at first base. The 29-year-old was claimed off waivers from Oakland shortly after the All-Star break.


    Cincinnati Reds: SP Vladimir Gutierrez

    First Half: 9 GS, 4.29 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 50.1 IP
    Second Half: 7 GS, 2.95 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 42.2 IP

    Signed to a $4.8 million bonus in 2016 after defecting from Cuba, Gutierrez has long been among the top pitching prospects in the Cincinnati system. An uptick in velocity last year has helped him unlock his full potential, and he's provided the Reds rotation with a huge boost as they push for a wild-card berth.

    Tip of the cap to what Joey Votto has done since the All-Star break, but we've seen him catch fire before.


    Milwaukee Brewers: 1B Rowdy Tellez

    First Half: 161 PA, .204/.273/.327, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 22.4 K%
    Second Half: 108 PA, .289/.352/.515, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 13.9 K%

    The Brewers acquired Tellez from the Toronto Blue Jays a few weeks before the All-Star break, and he has plugged a significant hole at first base while slotting into a run production role in the middle of the lineup. The 26-year-old has always had big raw power, and now he's developing into a more complete hitter.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: RP David Bednar

    First Half: 39 G, 3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 35.0 IP
    Second Half: 15 G, 1.02 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 17.2 IP

    A 35th-round pick in 2016, Bednar posted big strikeout numbers in the San Diego system before he was shipped to Pittsburgh in the Joe Musgrove trade during the offseason. A solid middle relief option during the first half, he has emerged as a legitimate shutdown reliever and the presumptive closer of the future.


    St. Louis Cardinals: SP J.A. Happ

    First Half: 16 GS, 5.90 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 82.1 IP
    Second Half: 7 GS, 5.82 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 38.2 IP

    The Twins inked Happ to a one-year, $8 million contract during the offseason, but he struggled to a 6.77 ERA in 19 starts and was flipped to the Cardinals at the deadline when the team fell out of contention. The 38-year-old has found new life in St. Louis, going 2-0 with a 1.99 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in four starts.

NL West

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    Tyler Gilbert
    Tyler GilbertDustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Tyler Gilbert

    First Half: 11 G, 10 GS, 3.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 52.1 IP (at Triple-A Reno)
    Second Half: 6 G, 3 GS, 2.38 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 22.2 IP

    In a season that has seen a record eight no-hitters, the unlikeliest of the bunch has come from Gilbert, who became just the fourth pitcher in MLB history to toss a no-no in his first career start. The 27-year-old has set the bar extremely high, and he has been one of the few bright spots in a rough season for the D-backs.


    Colorado Rockies: LF Connor Joe

    First Half: 63 PA, .241/.349/.278, 2 2B, 0 HR, 6 RBI
    Second Half: 115 PA, .320/.391/.620, 6 2B, 8 HR, 27 RBI

    Joe spent time in the Pirates, Braves, Dodgers, Reds and Giants organizations before joining the Rockies in free agency during the offseason. The 29-year-old is finally getting an extended look in the big leagues, and he has quickly played his way into being the Rockies' everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: RP Alex Vesia

    First Half: 12 G, 4.97 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.8 BB/9, 12.8 K/9
    Second Half: 16 G, 0.52 ERA, 0.52 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 10.9 K/9

    The Dodgers acquired Vesia in the deal that sent veteran reliever Dylan Floro to the Marlins in February, and he was called up in May to bolster the bullpen. After a rocky start to his time in Dodger blue, he has settled in nicely. The 25-year-old has recorded 10 straight scoreless appearances with two wins and three holds during that span.


    San Diego Padres: RP Nabil Crismatt

    First Half: 23 G, 3.55 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.4 K/BB
    Second Half: 9 G, 2.35 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 9.0 K/BB

    Crismatt gives hitters a different look than most pitchers, throwing his changeup (50.3 percent) and curveball (24.8 percent) far more frequently than his fastball (13.5 percent). He has started to miss more bats since the All-Star break and has emerged as a useful multi-inning weapon in a deep San Diego relief corps.


    San Francisco Giants: RP Jose Alvarez

    First Half: 31 G, 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 31.1 IP
    Second Half: 19 G, 0.00 ERA, 0.41 WHIP, 19.2 IP

    The Giants signed Alvarez to a one-year, $1.05 million contract during the offseason that includes a $1.5 million club option for 2022. After a solid first half, he has been virtually untouchable since the All-Star break, allowing just six hits and two walks in 19.2 scoreless innings.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, and accurate through Thursday's games.


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