Is It Legit?: Taijuan Walker, Ha-Seong Kim, and Jeimer Candelario

Can these three players keep the good times rolling in the second half?

We’re firmly in the season’s second half. The All-Star break has come and gone, but we’re still a couple of weeks away from the trade deadline and even further away from late-season prospect debuts. At this point of the season, it can be tricky to find solid contributors on your league’s waiver wire.

Today we’re diving into three players who have been on a hot streak lately to see if we can expect their performance to continue or if their good days aren’t here to stay. Hopefully, you’ll be able to confidently make some fantasy moves based on the analysis.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Another year, another steady output from Taijuan Walker. The Phillies are getting pretty much exactly what they signed up for when they inked the 30-year-old righty to a four-year, $72 million contract last offseason. He leads MLB in wins with his 11-3 record and has a 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 88 strikeouts in 101.1 innings.

Although it’s been a decent season for Walker, I could certainly see a tinge of disappointment from some Phillies fans in one of their newest players. Walker certainly hasn’t been able to replicate his 3.49 ERA from last year, and his 11.2% K-BB% rate is a career-low. While those can surely be seen as dismaying, it’s important to remember we still have half a season to play, and Walker is just now starting to throw the best he has all year.

Over Walker’s last seven starts, he’s a perfect 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a 25% strikeout rate. The sterling ERA and WHIP numbers aside, the most exciting part of this recent run for Walker has been an uptick in punch outs. He fanned eight batters in three of those seven starts. That 25% strikeout rate would be the best number of Walker’s career if he posted it over a full season. His career mark is 21.3%.

How has he gotten better results? By really honing in on throwing his best pitches more often.

Walker’s switched up his fastball mix quite dramatically. He throws a four-seamer, sinker, and cutter, and of those three the four-seamer has easily been the worst. It has just a 4.58 PLV which is in the 11th percentile of all big league pitcher’s four-seam offerings and has been crushed; it’s given up a .489 wOBA and .711 SLG to opposing batters. Understandably, Walker’s really cut back on the four-seam usage over the season, especially in this recent successful stretch.

With the decrease in four-seamers, Walker’s tossed the sinker and cutter much more often. They have PLVs of 4.94 (63rd percentile) and 5.16 (51st percentile), respectively.

Aside from his fastballs, Walker’s bread and butter is his splitter. It’s his best pitch and he’s throwing it 36% of the time this year to the tune of a 22% CSW. Despite the unimpressive CSW mark, the pitch excels with a 5.38 PLV (83rd percentile) due to Walker’s ability to keep it low and inside to hitters.

If Walker sticks with the pitch mix change, I do think he could be in for a solid second half. We’ve certainly seen him do it before. In his 2021 All-Star year, he went 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in the first half and he followed that up with a nearly identical first half last year with a 7-2 record, 2.63 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP.

Verdict: Legit. I went into writing about Walker thinking there’d be no way I’d say what he’s doing could stick, but I actually think it might. He’s only available in 55% of ESPN leagues and 25% of Yahoo! leagues, but he could be a good trade target if you want to try to stabilize the back of your pitching staff with someone who shouldn’t run you too high of an asking price.

Ha-Seong Kim, 2B/3B/SS, San Diego Padres

It’s been a great season for Ha-Seong Kim as he’s enjoying a breakout campaign in his third year playing in the United States. The Padres’ 27-year-old infielder is slashing a career-best .262/.351/.418 with 11 home runs, 48 runs, 33 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. He’s already set a new best with his 17 swipes and is just one long ball away from a new highwater home run mark just past the halfway point of the season.

Those season-long numbers are pretty solid, but Kim’s been even better as of late. Since June 15th, he’s put up a .330/.400/.557 line which comes out to a 163 wRC+ – that’s the 20th-best wRC+ among all hitters during that period.

The biggest change for Kim over that stretch has been that he’s finally starting to hit the ball harder. On the year his barrel and sweet spot rates are up, but his hard contact percentage had been down until recently.

Kim’s finally starting to hit the ball hard, and he’s seeing a payoff in his results. Over half of his home runs this year have been hit in his last 19 games.

A lot of Kim’s power increase is owed to his selectiveness at the plate. In fact, he’s swinging less often than ever. So much so that his 37.8% swing rate is in the second percentile of the league. Almost no one swings less than him. That’s led to him taking a ton of called strikes (23.6% – 1st percentile of hitters), but it’s also led to him walking more too.

With a career-best 11.7% walk rate, Kim’s gotten on base more and he’s choosing to be much more active when he reaches. In 582 plate appearances last year, Kim attempted 14 stolen bases. This year, in just 326 plate appearances, Kim’s already tried to swipe 21 bags and has been successful 81% of the time.

Verdict: Mostly Legit. This recent power stretch likely won’t stick for Kim, but his stolen base surge should. Stolen base output is largely due to opportunity and willingness to run, and Kim has more of both of those things this year. A decent second half should see him finish around a 15/30 season. He’s looking a whole lot like Thairo Estrada right now, and if you’re stuck with the Giants’ second baseman on your IL, Kim would be a great fill-in. He’s available in 65% of ESPN leagues but just 28% of Yahoo! leagues.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Washington Nationals

Perhaps the biggest All-Star snub this year was Jeimer Candelario. The Nationals’ third baseman didn’t have the name recognition to win the fan vote, but I thought his solid all-around campaign would at least get him on the roster as a late injury replacement. Alas, the fWAR leader among National League third baseman didn’t make the cut.

Through 363 plate appearances, Candelario is slashing .260/.336/.477 with 13 home runs, 46 runs, 43 RBI, and five stolen bases. That comes out to a 118 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR which is bolstered by his strong defensive play. We’ve seen similar outputs from Candelario before in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and again in 2021, but a big step back in 2022 really killed any thought that Candelario was much of a fantasy asset.

Well, now that we’re halfway through 2023, we may need to rethink that. He’s not winning you your league, but he’s been good across the board. Check out all of that light red!

Those numbers are more than solid coming from a player who was going undrafted in all but the deepest of formats this spring.

Lately, Candelario’s been even more impressive. Since June 15th his slash line is .306/.372/.600, good for a 159 wRC+ which is the 23rd-best mark among all hitters over that timeframe. You’d think such a jump in production would mean there’s something under the hood that’s changed, but oddly, that’s not the case. There’s nothing in Candelario’s profile that jumps out as a clear reason he’s all of a sudden hitting much better. His HR/FB rate is up recently, but that’s it – no other gains in meaningful categories like barrel, flyball, hard hit, strikeout, or walk rates.

Over the course of the full season we’ve seen Candelario change his batted ball profile. He’s hitting more line drives and fly balls and fewer grounders. While the changes have been incremental, it adds up to create a better overall profile when he’s putting the ball in play. His line drive rate is in the 66th percentile of hitters while his flyball rate is in the 70th percentile, and it’s led to a solid bounce-back campaign in the nation’s capital.

Verdict: Legit AND Not Legit. Candelario’s season-long success is absolutely sustainable. In terms of wRC+, this would be just the third-best season of his career. He’s on pace for new highs in home runs, runs, and RBI, plus he’s already topped his previous best stolen base output. On the flip side, his recent hot streak isn’t here to stay. There’s no meaningful change to indicate that what he’s done over the past month is truly the hitter he’ll be long-term. That may be disappointing to hear if you picked up Candelario and are riding out this hot streak, but he should continue to be a boon to counting stats in the second half, especially if he’s dealt to a contender with a better lineup than the Nationals.

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from every fantasy league format you can imagine to the unending greatness of Mike Trout. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

One response to “Is It Legit?: Taijuan Walker, Ha-Seong Kim, and Jeimer Candelario”

  1. Fabian kotel says:

    I’d be interested in seeing trade targets added to these write ups. For each of these players, it would be awesome to see a player you’d offer to acquire and a player you’d sell for. For example: for Kim, maybe you’d offer a surging player like Fraley to buy him. If you were looking to sell, maybe you’d be able to buy low on someone like a struggling Schwarber

    (These players were just examples though, y’all are the real experts)

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