July 14, 2009
The official, non-numerical second half of the season is upon us, and there are some players that can't put the first half of the year behind them fast enough. Not everything goes according to plan, no matter how good some of these guys are, but first half struggles are nothing that cannot be forgotten with a post All-Star break revival. Today we will take a look at some of the best candidates for a strong second half among those that didn't start the year out so hot.
Player HR R RBI SB AVG/ OBP/ SLG Rick Ankiel 5 30 22 1 .215/.278/.359 Howie Kendrick 4 28 25 7 .239/.290/.354 Pat Burrell 4 22 28 3 .232/.341/.347 Geovany Soto 8 19 27 1 .230/.336/.396 B.J. Upton 7 56 33 31 .239/.326/.375 Alex Rios 10 43 46 14 .262/.316/.416 Ian Stewart 16 43 44 6 .223/.307/.487 David Murphy 7 27 23 5 .276/.360/.444 Dan Uggla 16 43 50 1 .227/.340/.429
Rick Ankiel's main issue this year has been a bum shoulder he suffered on a collision with an outfield wall at the beginning of May. He admitted this weekend that things still aren't right with it, which is why he's still not showing the power he is known for. The All-Star break is a brief respite that may do him some good, but there's also a good chance he ends up on the DL for a spell to give himself time to recover. PECOTA does not know that Ankiel is injured, and projects him for an updated line of .240/.301/.436; healthy, he would be able to outperform that, which would put him closer to his appealiing initial PECOTA forecast (.259/.328/.489). Keep an eye on his performance when he returns to see if he's healthy, so you can reap the benefits before someone else snatches him up.
Pat Burrell has not lived up to his 'Pat the Bat' moniker in his first season with Tampa Bay, hitting just .232/.341/.347 on the season, with the lowest slugging percentage and Isolated Power figures of his career. A neck injury was suspected to be the cause for his problems, though given his age, history, and the way he had struggled, it was just as likely that things were all downhill from here for Burrell. However, he has shown life during these first two weeks of July, hitting .237/.310/.447 with five doubles and a homer. It's possible this is a blip, but if his power is coming back because his neck isn't affecting his swing anymore, he's worth picking up if you have the roster space.
Geovany Soto was supposed to be one of the best-hitting catchers in the league this year, but to the surprise of everyone, he has not been anything close to that. Soto hit .285/.364/.504 in 2008, and though his power dipped a little after the break he still put up a very solid .191 ISO. He's hit just .230/.336/.396 with eight homers this year, which isn't terrible for a catcher but is not what you drafted him for; if you were in a league where you picked Soto ahead of Joe Mauer or Brian McCann, his performance stings that much more. PECOTA has faith that the 26-year-old can bounce back, having him down for .251/.353/.451 in the updated forecast-not what you expected, but certainly improvement from where he's at now. He has lost a little on his HR/FB rate, but his problems can be tied to BABIP-PECOTA is simply regressing his line back to health. The one caveat with Soto is that he'll be on the DL until early August with a strained oblique; if you can afford to wait, this, combined with his struggles, may lower the price on him in a trade.
Alex Rios had some problems in the first half of 2008, and it looks at first glance like recent history is repeating itself, but if you look closer you can see that there's nothing to worry about in the long term. His HR/FB rate is a smidge above last season's, though that's below his peak power years of 2006-2007. He's walking and striking out at the same rate as in the past, and he's still swiping bags at a good clip; the main difference in his performance is his batting average, due to an uncharacteristically low BABIP; Rios' career rate is .328, but he's at .292 this year. His liners are down a bit, and his ground-ball rates are up. If last year is any indication, Rios should be able to tweak his swing and get himself back where we want him to be, hitting for a better average and a bit more power in the second half. If you recall, Rios had almost no power output in the first half of 2008 due to his swing, which caused him to put balls on the ground at a similar rate to when he first came up and struggled to hit the ball with authority. Things smoothed out after the All-Star break, and what looked like a horrible down year turned into one that was just a little behind the previous two strong efforts. Here's hoping for an encore performance from the 28-year old Blue Jay.
David Murphy surprised many people in 2008 when he hit .275/.321/.465 with solid defense for the Rangers playing almost full-time. Things didn't go so smoothly to begin 2009, with Murphy hitting .097/.282/.194 in April and a punchless .290/.365/.419 in May. You need to do better than his May line when you're a corner outfielder playing in one of the friendliest hitter's parks in the majors, but Murphy made up for his slow start since the calendar turned over to June, hitting .320/.384/.534 11 total extra-base hits (including five homers) over his last 103 at-bats. PECOTA doesn't think he can keep up that pace (anticipating .266/.338/.443 for the season), but I would bump that up to compensate for his April, and because he should benefit from playing in Arlington in the summer; the ball just keeps going in warm air, and Murphy will get a chance to keep his early-summer success alive in that heat.
Dan Uggla and Ian Stewart have similar problems, in that they have both hit for some power, but have failed to put up respectable batting averages, at least for fantasy purposes. In Uggla's case, his career BABIP is a bit above the norm despite his below-average liner rates. Part of this is fewer infield hits, but he's also popped up a little more often. Given his strikeouts have decreased significantly, you get the sense that he's in line for a higher batting average, and therefore much more fantasy value, in the second half. For Stewart, it's as simple as his home park's likelihood of boosting his BABIP significantly. Somehow, Stewart is at .234, about 60 points below the league average, never mind a Coors-inflated one. For the second year in a row his fly balls have increased, but his liner numbers are so far off from what he normally does that regression should be expected. With more liners and fewer fly balls, Stewart's average should climb, making his .234 ISO that much sweeter for those who own him.
B.J. Upton and Howie Kendrick have also veered far from what PECOTA and many analysts thought they would do. Upton already has over 30 steals and has scored plenty of runs, so we can forgive his lack of power, but Kendrick has been a complete disaster. Because of those positives, waiting for Upton to bring back the average and power is not an ordeal; my main concern with Upton's first half is he's hit far more fly balls than normally, and he's not driving them like he would a line drive, and his batting average and power numbers have suffered for it. He's not popping up though, so it's not a timing thing; it instead looks like something that could even out with more at-bats. Remember, shoulders take time to heal, and Upton has hit .283/.364/.483 since June 1.That looks like a line from a guy getting his swing back; get a hold of him via trade, if you still can.
Why Kendrick has struggled is tougher to answer. He's been more patient, drawing more walks, letting more pitches out of the zone go by, and has also increased his success rate for contact. It hasn't translated into production yet, and a guy who relies heavily on his batting average sits at the .239 mark. PECOTA thinks he can salvage his season somewhat, with a .264/.301/.397 in-season forecast. I'll buy that and maybe a little better, but it all depends on whether he straightens his swing out and starts driving liners again; his BABIP is over 60 points below his career mark, and thanks to just 13 percent liners he's wasting the best HR/FB rate of his career on a lost season. He's such a buy-low candidate at this point that it can't hurt to stash him and see if the liners start coming off his bat the way that they should.
Name IP SO/9 BB/9 ERA WHIP Ricky Nolasco 90.2 8.9 1.7 5.76 1.39 Manny Parra 71.2 7.8 5.0 6.78 1.79 Scott Kazmir 62.0 7.3 4.8 7.11 1.79 Brett Anderson 87.1 6.6 2.5 4.64 1.37 Jonathan Sanchez 78.2 9.0 5.0 4.69 1.50 Ross Ohlendorf 106.2 5.1 2.5 4.64 1.29 David Price 44.0 9.6 6.3 4.70 1.64
Manny Parra was promising in 2007, acceptable in 2008, and has totally lost it this year. He's still striking out a well-above average number of hitters, which is what keeps him interesting, but the walk rate problems need to go if he is going to turn it around. His current ERA is well above what it should be though, as his FIP is 4.78; that's why PECOTA has him down for a 4.40 ERA the rest of the year despite a K/BB rate (58/38) that's similar to his current total (62/42). His .355 BABIP has not helped things, but it should improve. The Brewers rank ninth in Defensive Efficiency this year, having converted 70.1 percent of balls in play. For Parra, they have converted just 64.5 percent; you will see his ERA start to fall in the second half, even with the walks, if the Brewers play behind him the same way they play behind the rest of the pitching staff. If he can bring the walk rate back down to last year's level, that would be a double bonus and give Parra some real value.
Scott Kazmir's ERA is even uglier than Parra's, but there's a better chance he will be worth hanging onto in the second half. Kazmir has 15 strikeouts against four walks in his 16
A few quick hits to wrap up pitchers: Brett Anderson has seen an increase in fastball velocity during his past few starts, something noted by both scouts and PITCHf/x; he was doing well for a rookie already, and this should help his second half beat the first. Jonathan Sanchez, even ignoring the no-hitter, is primed for a better second half; he just needs to stop giving up so many walks but keep whiffing over a batter per inning. Ross Ohlendorf might not be better in the second half, but he can superficially improve with Andrew McCutchen in center for a few more months. PECOTA isn't so sure, but I think David Price's walks will come down before season's end and he'll give us a taste of what he's capable of as a major league starter.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .