July 8, 2016
Second-Half... Bounce Backs?
How likely is it that a disappointing player will return to form in the second half?
It is a simple question, but often it is approached from the standpoint of the individual player, as opposed to on the larger level of whether or not underperforming players on the whole bounce back or if they continue to underperform. Rather than run through specific, case-by-case examples of players who are struggling this year, I thought instead I would examine this year’s disappointments in specific groups.
Table 1: Top 10 NL Hitter Losses (Through July 6)
Four of the 10 hitters on Table 1 are currently on the shelf, with Schwarber, Mesoraco, and Pollock out for the season. Players returning from PED suspensions have generally continued to perform, although Gordon’s case is interesting because his value comes almost entirely from stolen base as opposed to from the long ball. Recovery from back injuries is difficult to predict, and the Mets are being understandably cautious with Duda.
Harper is only a “disappointment” in terms of his fantasy value. I would still bet on him finishing with a $30-plus season, but it would have been difficult to expect a repeat of his 26 home run, 61 RBI, 59 run, and .339 batting average from 2015’s first half. He is on a 34-home run, 22-steal pace over 162 games this year. Even if Harper only hits .300 the rest of the way, he is a great bounce-back candidate.
Stanton is on fire, with a big series against the Mets pushing his home run totals up significantly. His ISO is in line with 2013-2014, so even if Stanton doesn’t put up another monster half a season like he did in 2015, he is another strong bounce back candidate.
Heyward and McCutchen don’t seem like quite the reliable bets in the second half as Harper and Stanton do. Heyward has quietly improved since June, but he is still slightly a below average hitter since that time. What is more concerning for fantasy managers is that he isn’t running nearly as much as he did in 2015. Fifteen stolen bases out of Heyward looks like a ceiling at the moment, and it will be difficult for him to get past $20 in NL-only if he doesn’t run. Cutch is another player who is a victim of his lack of steals. The power is on pace to match 2015, but Cutch is on pace to steal four bases. Even if his batting average rebounds in the second half to .300, Cutch will need to run to return the late first round value that was expected from him in March.
Table 2: Top 10 AL Hitter Losses Through July 6
The injury list is populated by players who were having down years even before they got hurt. Batting average drives a lot of Bautista’s negative value, so if you can take the bad AVG hit, your team should be fine. Teixeira was hot as soon as he returned from the disabled list so maybe he has a hot second half waiting. He did hit 31 home runs in 2015. Gordon wasn’t good in 2015 either; sometimes a bad year is not just an isolated incident but the beginning of an overall trend. Gordon’s value is driven by his contributions across the board, so if the Royals offense isn’t clicking, Gordon will lose run and RBI opportunities and won’t come close to earning in the high teens. I am including Gomez in the injury group because he did miss some time in May and injuries undoubtedly have been a factor in his performance. The market on Brantley fluctuated quite a bit in the offseason but it is fairly clear he is going to be a significant drag on his fantasy teams in anything but the shallowest of leagues based on his preseason price tag.
Sano’s negative value is mostly fueled by his subpar batting average. His power potential has not gone anywhere. I would expect a second-half spike, but Sano was overrated coming into 2016 and will not return fifth- or sixth-round value in mixed leagues.
The best bets in the underperforming tier are Upton and Abreu. Upton was somewhat better in June after a disastrous first two months of the season. My primary concern is with the lack of stolen bases. Without 15-20 steals, Upton would have had a difficult time returning this value even if the power had maintained. Abreu is one of those players people would have whispered “buy low” on back when fantasy advice was that obvious. His June was solid and 15-20 home runs in the second half would not be a surprise. Correa isn’t a disappointment so much as he is a 21-year-old sophomore whose fantasy numbers are down (whereas his TAv and other “real-world” indicators are very good). He should be fine, but fine is more likely to be a $25-30 player and not a $35-40 one.
While it would be overly simplistic to say avoid Fielder, he does not look like he will offer much value outside of extremely deep mixed leagues and mono formats. He is swinging somewhat better than he was earlier his season, but the big time home run production has not returned.
Table 3: Top 10 NL Pitcher Losses Through July 6
Injuries: Harvey, Miller, Ross, Cole
A case could be made to put Harvey, Miller, or Cole with the underperforming arms instead of the injured ones. Miller in particular is back from injury yet still looks like a mess. At the moment, it is safer to write off these pitchers to injury and see what develops in the second half, although today’s breaking news on Harvey makes it very likely he will not pitch again in 2016. Cole is the most likely candidate to recover in the second half, although he isn’t as sure a thing as some believe.
Despite posting acceptable numbers in 2015, few if any believed in Hoover entering 2016. That $2 winning bid in LABR was unprecedented for a sitting closer. Even 2015 Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins cost three dollars on average in the expert leagues. Rosenthal is far more of a surprise. The third most expensive NL closer, Rosenthal’s control collapsed and the Cardinals finally had to make the switch. With a WHIP north of two, Rosenthal has earned less than any NL closer with 10 saves or more.
Outside of Peralta, I want to believe all of these pitchers will bounce back to some degree in the second half. Wainwright already has to some degree, and had another solid outing today. The strikeout rate on his curve has improved somewhat after an abysmal April, but not nearly to where it was at his peak. I could see Wainwright pitching to a $10-15 seasonal pace but not matching his preseason expectations. The bad old Liriano with no command has returned with a vengeance. He isn’t generating swings and misses with his slider the way he used to, and the fastball has never been strong enough by itself for Liriano to survive if hitters aren’t offering at his secondary stuff. Corbin is keeping the ball on the ground but he has been so hittable at home and against right-handers that it does not matter all that much. The lack of strikeouts with Corbin and Wainwright make me more likely to gamble on Liriano in a league where my team is lagging and I need to take big risks.
Table 4: Top 10 AL Pitcher Losses Through July 6
Injuries: Gray, Richards, Severino, Rodriguez
Once again, I could quibble and put Gray, Severino, and Rodriguez into the underperforming group, but since all three spent time on the disabled list I will be fair and put them in this category. I do not have much hope for Severino or Rodriguez and would only recommend them as desperation plays in AL-only. Gray lost some of his command this year, and was always the kind of pitcher who needed to have everything going for him in order to put up the solid numbers that he has throughout his career. He rebounded in June and while he did have issues with walks in his last start against the Twins, if this was merely a one game blip Gray could have a solid second half.
Giles never did serve as the Astros closer but since he was paid like one in fantasy is included among them. It is possible that Giles could reclaim the job in the second half, but Willie Harris appears to be rock solid at present. Boxberger was not quite as expensive as Giles, but during the earlier expert auctions it was also expected that he would be back sooner rather than later. It is possible that Alex Colome holds onto the job in Tampa all season long. Perkins was a risky closer to start the season, and now his injury woes have knocked him out for the rest of the year.
Keuchel seems likely to return to form to some degree, but as is the case with Gray if his command doesn’t come all the way back he won’t come anywhere close to what he did in 2015. It was already unlikely that this was going to happen anyway given his level of performance. Archer is the most likely pitcher on Table 4 to bounce back and produce Top 10 value in the second half. His fantasy value already isn’t awful because of the high whiff rate, but Archer has been inconsistent from start to start and even inning to inning all season. If he finds consistency, he could go back to elite or near elite status.