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July 13, 2016

Fantasy Freestyle

First-Half Awards

by J.P. Breen

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HITTERS

First-Half MVP: Ian Desmond, SS/OF, Texas Rangers

Coming into the season, Ian Desmond had seen his fantasy stock drop. We ranked him as the sixth-best shortstop in April. ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best. To put that in perspective, ESPN ranked him in the preseason as the 128th-best fantasy player—behind guys like Brian McCann, Raisel Iglesias, Kolten Wong, and Michael Pineda. We’re at the All-Star Break, and the Rangers’ center fielder is the fourth-best position player overall and the no. 1 shortstop.

Desmond is hitting .322/.375/.524 with 15 homers and 15 stolen bases. Because he benefits from a strong surrounding cast, he’s almost eclipsed his run and RBI totals from a year ago. The .402 BABIP will come down to earth; however, he’s proven to be a high-BABIP player. The decline may not be as big as it may appear at first glance. And even if it does decline, his strikeout rate has improved enough to wonder if he’s back to his peak form, circa 2012-2013.

Without concerning ourselves with the sustainability of the performance—and considering his preseason rank—there’s not much to do other than marvel at Ian Desmond’s performance at the plate. He’s set himself up for a pretty little payday this winter.

Honorable Mention: SS Jonathan Villar; OF/1B Wil Myers; OF/1B Mark Trumbo

Biggest Bust: Carlos Gomez, OF, Houston Astros

It’s tempting to saddle Dee Gordon with this faux award, but Gomez has been a special kind of awful that it merits its own space. The 30-year-old is hitting .217/.282/.332 with four homers and nine stolen bases. He’s battled injury, to be sure, but he’s seen his strikeout rate skyrocket and his swinging-strike rate balloon to an unhealthy 17.2 percent. In short, the dude ain’t just dealing with plum ol’ bad luck.

I am sympathetic to the argument that things have improved slightly in recent weeks. In his last 31 games, he’s hitting .259/.331/.438 with four homers and three steals. It’s an improvement. Unfortunately, he was so hapless at the plate for the first two months that any mid-season improvement has been negligible when it comes to salvaging his overall fantasy value. For a guy who was a top-50 fantasy outfielder and an outside five-category contributor, a .614 OPS is nothing other than abysmal.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: OF Jason Heyward; DH Prince FIelder; OF Byron Buxton; C Yan Gomes; OF Aaron Hicks

PITCHERS

First-Half MVP: Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants

Cueto sat firmly in the middle of our four-star tier in February. He was a fringe top-20 fantasy starter, according to us, and he’s turned back the clock to 2011-2014. He is mirroring his strikeout-to-walk performance from a year ago, when he posted a 3.44 ERA, but with more ground balls, fewer homers, and better defense behind him. All of that has led to 13 wins and a 2.47 ERA. It’s led to him being the no. 3 fantasy starter in all of baseball.

Part of this uptick in performance is surely moving to the pitcher-friendly Bay Area. Part of this is also undoubtedly Even Year Magic. Part of this is also the fact that Johnny Cueto is elite and we all forgot about him due to one good-but-not-great year. His 3.55 DRA and 86 cFIP suggest that he may not be so dominant going forward, but for owners who are sitting at or near the top of their fantasy leagues at this point, Cueto is probably a big reason for that.

Honorable Mentions: SP Drew Pomeranz; SP Kenta Maeda; SP Steven Wright; SP Aaron Sanchez; RP Jeanmar Gomez

Biggest Bust: Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets

Matt Harvey was a preseason top-20 fantasy starter who won only four games, compiled a 4.86 ERA, and saw his strikeout rate drop to 18.9 percent (career 25.1 percent). His velocity fell, his swinging-strike rate tumbled almost two percentage points to 10.1 percent, and his inability to handle left-handers doomed him.

The right-hander is far from finished. Perhaps he comes back from his thoracic outlet surgery and regains his command/swagger, but he hasn’t looked near-invincible since his magical 2013 season. It’s been Tommy John surgery, blood clots, and scary nerve issues. For owners who invested an early-round pick in the right-hander suffered more than they will in the second half… because he’s no longer blowing up ERA and WHIP categories. That, in itself, should speak volumes as to the dreadful nature of his first half.

I wish him a speedy and successful recovery. A healthy and productive Matt Harvey is a joy to watch. I hope we get to enjoy that again soon.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: SP Nathan Eovaldi; SP Sonny Gray; SP Yordano Ventura; SP Clay Buchholz; RP Ken Giles

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

Related Content:  Awards,  Fantasy

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Prospectus Feature: No... (07/12)
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