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July 17, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Second-Half Risers and Fallers

by Mike Gianella

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Years ago, before analytics and baseball became acquainted, many analysts focused on first-half and second-half stats. For many good reasons that are too lengthy to go into here, this type of analysis has become dated and isn’t used in any type of serious study.

However, the All-Star break is still a good time in fantasy to take a step back, look at some poor first-half performers, and figure out who is due for a bounce back in the second half. Rather than analyze the types of players who “traditionally” hit well post-All-Star break, this is a look at players who have struggled so far but who should improve based either on underperforming their metrics or based on past historical performance, as well as players who either will slip or won’t bounce back despite a slow first half.

Catcher

Rising: Ryan Doumit

Doumit is having a similar season in terms of his home run power but has seen a significant dip in his slugging percentage. Doumit is still a legitimate 20 home run threat behind the plate but has been written off as a lost cause by some. The batting average might have been a little high last year, but a .260 BA the rest of the way isn’t an impossibility.

Will Not Rise: Chris Iannetta

Iannetta is a three-true-outcomes guy behind the plate, but the power has never been impressive enough to categorize him as a true TTO player. If you’re in an OBP league, Iannetta doesn’t belong in this category, but in a traditional Rotisserie league, Iannetta’s average will continue to be a drag. Don’t buy into a bounce back; history says it’s very unlikely.

First Base

Rising: Justin Smoak

The Smoak call is less about him bouncing back to have a big second half and more an acknowledgement of the fact that a slow April has made his overall numbers look worse. Smoak is putting up virtually the same OPS as Nick Swisher, yet he isn’t getting nearly the same love from the fantasy cognoscenti. Smoak should continue to provide solid AL-only value the rest of the way.

Will Not Rise: Albert Pujols

My primary concern with Pujols is his health. There are times when he looks okay running the bases; there are other times he looks like he isn’t going to make it. Pujols keeps insisting that he won’t need surgery—and maybe he won’t—but if the Angels don’t climb closer in the standings, it wouldn’t be shocking if the club shut Albert down.

Second Base

Rising: Rickie Weeks

His high strikeout rates always make Weeks somewhat risky in the batting-average department, but his numbers are already in line with what Weeks did in 2012, and he is on the upswing. Weeks should provide most of what he did last year; if you can live with the bad batting average, he will be a solid contributor just about everywhere else.

Falling: Brian Dozier

There is nothing inherently wrong with Dozier’s numbers; however, most of his production came in one huge month (June). He could continue to produce, but his track record says that caution is best exercised here.

Shortstop

Rising: Starlin Castro

All we have to go on with Castro is an extremely small July sample and some improved patience this month. This recommendation is based on two things: 1) Castro’s HR/SB production makes him less than a complete zero in fantasy, and 2) his overall track record and age make him unlikely to simply do nothing all season long. If the commitment to patience is a long-term thing, the bounce back will be more significant, but whether this is true or not, Castro is too young to completely abandon as a fantasy commodity.

Falling: Jhonny Peralta

Peralta has a .385 BABIP in 2013, or 70 points higher than his career total. Some players do defy the BABIP deities for an entire season (Torii Hunter in 2012), but it’s never a good bet, particularly for a high-strikeout player like Peralta. A crash in the second half shouldn’t be a surprise.

Third Base

Rising: Martin Prado

Would you believe that Martin Prado is on pace to hit about the same amount of home runs that he usually hits? If you wouldn’t, you can be forgiven, as most of the coverage surrounding Prado has focused on what a disappointment he has been. His numbers are in line with what he did in 2011. Prado’s contact rates remain about as solid as they have ever been, so what he does the rest of the season is largely dependent on whether the batting average returns to career norms or if this is another strange off-year like 2011.

Won’t Rise: Chase Headley

Headley’s batting average might jump up a little bit, and he could very well put up a 15-home-run, 15-stolen-base season. But there are rumors he is playing through an injury, and whether this is the case or not, the power that showed up in 2012 looks like an aberration. There are some recommending a buy-low on Headley. This is not my position.

Left Field

Rising: David Murphy

Murphy has had terrific contact rates with terrible results (read: poor BABIP). He already has double-digit home runs, so the power numbers will be there, but a batting-average jump is likely. Murphy’s ability to make contact plus his favorable home venue makes him a viable mixed-league pickup in the second half.

Falling: Alfonso Soriano

Never count out Soriano, but after a recent hot streak, it is just as likely that he will go through one of his prolonged slumps. A trade is also a possibility, and Soriano’s role wouldn’t be certain if he is flipped. His overall numbers make a 25-home-run season seem more likely than a 30-plus-homer campaign. I am also not convinced that Soriano will continue running.

Center Field

Rising: Coco Crisp

This status is all about Crisp’s ability to run. Crisp’s stolen base totals from 2010-2012: 32, 49, 39. He has 14 in 2013, and while he has missed some time, it doesn’t entirely explain the lower total. Crisp isn’t going to go crazy on the base paths, but he should increase his SB output the rest of the way.

Won’t Rise: B.J. Upton

Maybe this prediction will look silly in early November, and I could take the same “poor BABIP” stance I took with some of the players above. But Upton’s incredibly high whiff rate isn’t merely the product of bad luck. His approach all season has been poor and his swings have not been quality. Maybe the Braves will find a way to fix Upton, but it isn’t a bet I would make in fantasy.

Right Field

Rising: Ben Zobrist

Zobrist has been the same player he has been since 2011 with the exception of a dip in power. His fly-ball rates are actually higher this year and there isn’t an indicator that speaks to a steep HR decline. Zobrist might not get to 20 home runs on the season this year, but 8-10 home runs post-All-Star break wouldn’t be a surprise.

Falling: Nate Schierholtz

It’s possible that this is going to be the first 20-plus-home-run campaign of Schierholtz’s career, but it seems like a poor bet given his history. This isn’t to say that Schierholtz won’t be a solid outfielder the rest of the way; I just wouldn’t bet on another big burst of power in the second half.

Staring Pitcher

Rising: Matt Cain

A big red flag with starting pitchers who are underperforming is a lack of or a drop in velocity. Cain’s fastball velocity is the same as it has been since 2011. His primary problem has been location in the zone, not losing oomph on his pitches and struggling to adjust to a new normal. It is impossible to predict if Cain will be able to fix his struggles, but he is a better bet for improvement than a pitcher who lost two to three mph off of his fastball and is trying to figure out how to pitch with diminished speed.

Falling: Bartolo Colon

If you’re not an anti-PED crusader, the Colon story has been one of the best stories of the baseball season thus far. While we would all love to see Colon prolong the magic, a sub-5.0 K/9 rate means that he is reliant on a significant amount of batted-ball luck and defensive prowess behind him. Naturally, the park helps, but a sub-3.00 ERA is going to be incredibly hard to maintain.

Relief Pitcher

Rising: Jake McGee

While Jesse Crain and Mark Melancon rightfully get credit for their terrific seasons thus far, McGee is mostly flying under the radar as a viable middle-relief option. His walk rate has improved every month, and McGee continues to strike out well over a batter an inning. McGee likely won’t supplant Fernando Rodney as closer, but in leagues where middle relievers are viable, McGee is a must-own.

Falling: Rafael Soriano

Soriano isn’t in any of danger of losing his job, but his strikeout rate is far lower than his career norms, and falls well outside the range of what you would expect from a dominant closer. Soriano has always managed to beat the odds on the long ball despite his propensity to give up fly balls, but this year he is beating those odds far more than usual. A fall to Earth after the break shouldn’t surprise us, and while I don’t see Soriano crashing and burning, a 3.50 or 4.00 ERA wouldn’t shock me at all.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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