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July 21, 2013

Overthinking It

Second-Half Risers and Fallers for Every Team, AL Edition

by Ben Lindbergh

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Baseball is back, and while there’s less of it remaining than there usually is when the so-called second half starts, there’s still plenty of time for good seasons to go bad and bad seasons to get better. Mike Gianella went position-by-position in search of second-half risers and fallers from a fantasy perspective earlier this week; I’m going to go team-by team, picking an opposing pair from each roster. We’ll start with the American League, since the DH is not as clumsy or a random as a pitcher who hits; an elegant position for a more civilized age. (NL picks are here.)

AL East

Boston Red Sox
Riser: Will Middlebrooks. With the exception of Joel Hanrahan, whose season is over, Red Sox who’ve significantly underperformed expectations have been few and far between. I’m not a big believer in Middlebrooks in the short term, but he’s young, he can’t be much worse than he was, and the Sox are platooning Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder at third base, which means that barring a trade, Middlebrooks is a Pawtucket hot streak away from a shot at redemption.
Faller: Jose Iglesias. What, you thought it would be someone other than the .367 hitter with the .400-plus BABIP and the .244/.296/.292 career Triple-A line?

Tampa Bay Rays
Riser: David Price. Injuries limited Price to 12 starts and 80 innings in the first half, and struggles with runners in scoring position made his line look worse than it was. If his three dominant starts leading up to the break—admittedly, all of them against the Astros or White Sox—were any indication, he’ll be back in something like Cy Young form going forward.
Faller: James Loney. The Rays have already gotten their money’s worth with Loney, even if they get squat from him for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, that scenario isn’t completely far-fetched. The first baseman has cooled off considerably since his hot two months to start the season, though he walks enough and plays good enough defense not to be a black hole if he can’t recapture the BABIP magic of April or the surprising power of May.

Baltimore Orioles
Riser: Matt Wieters. Okay, so Wieters isn’t the hitter we thought he’d be. But he’s a better hitter than this.
Faller: Tommy Hunter. The owner of the lowest BABIP in the AL (min. 50 innings), Hunter throws hard and isn’t walking anyone, but he’s also not missing many bats. Miguel Gonzalez is also leading a charmed life, with an ERA roughly a run lower than his FIP through his first 200-plus innings.

New York Yankees
Riser: Curtis Granderson. You can take your pick of Yankees who missed most or all of the first half and might make a bigger (read: any) contribution down the stretch, but Granderson is the youngest and best of the bunch. He just has to hope that painful hit by pitches don’t come in threes.
Faller: Hiroki Kuroda. We can’t pick a hitter, since no one on the offensive side has very far to fall. So it has to be a hurler, and while Kuroda has pitched perfectly well, there’s nothing in his peripherals to support an ERA in the mid-2.00s. The real faller might be the team’s one-run record, which sits at 16-9 and has helped the Yankees outplay their 44-51 Pythagorean record.

Toronto Blue Jays
Riser: Josh Johnson. As you might imagine, given how poorly they’ve performed, the Jays have quite a few candidates for superior second halves. Emilio Bonifacio, who’s never before had a problem getting on base when he puts the ball in play. J.P. Arencibia, who might not be much better at the plate but seems to have gotten better behind it. But I’ll give the nod to Johnson, who’s outpitched his 5.00-plus ERA and 1-5 record. Johnson isn’t throwing as hard as he used to, but he succeeded last season with a fastball this speed. The AL East is a tougher assignment than the NL East, but Johnson can be better than this.
Faller: Casey Janssen. Until this season, Janssen had never shown any skill at suppressing hits on balls in play or homers on fly balls. His average four-seamer is down two miles per hour and he’s not missing as many bats, so while he has gotten more grounders, some correction is coming.

AL Central

Detroit Tigers
Riser: Victor Martinez. The Tigers stuck with Martinez through the lean months, so clearly they don’t think missing last season killed his career. He’s hitting .393/.443/.607 in July, so perhaps their faith is beginning to be rewarded.
Faller(s): Matt Tuiasosopo and Jhonny Peralta, two of baseball’s least likely high-average hitters.

Cleveland Indians
Riser: Nick Swisher. With the exception of his bad-BABIP year in Chicago, Swisher’s stats have been as consistent as they come. He has a career-low ISO this season, but his batted-ball stats suggest that he’s still hitting the ball hard. At age 32, Swisher is entering the steepest part of the decline phase, but it seems reasonable to expect his fly balls to leave the park a little more frequently in the second half.
Faller: Zach McAllister. The 25-year-old isn’t a bad guy to have toward the back of a rotation, but a .257/.282/.365 line with runners in scoring position probably oversells his abilities.

Kansas City Royals
Riser: Eric Hosmer. The Royals’ underachieving young offense will have to rise as a unit to make Dayton Moore’s commitment to winning now look anything less than deluded, but Hosmer, at least, has already made some mechanical changes and turned his season around. With a couple more months like his June (and July so far), his season will look at lot better than it did at the end of May.
Faller: Jeremy Guthrie. When Sam Miller and I discussed rising strikeout-to-walk ratios a few weeks ago, we didn’t have Guthrie in mind. Guthrie’s 1.35 ratio is easily the lowest among pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched, and while his ERA has been rising since April, it hasn’t hit its ceiling.

Minnesota Twins
Riser: Aaron Hicks. The 23-year-old looked overmatched in April after essentially skipping Triple-A, but he’s adjusted quickly, slugging .467 since then. He still has contact issues, but the power and patience will play, given what he adds on the bases and in the field.
Faller: Caleb Thielbar and his .109 BABIP, with apologies to Sam.

Chicago White Sox
Riser: Nate Jones. Jones has pitched better than last year, but his ERA is almost twice as high. Blame an ugly line w/RISP and the league’s lowest strand rate.
Faller: Gordon Beckham. It’s been a lousy year for baseball on the south side of Chicago, so it would be nice if the Sox could at least cling to the silver lining of a long-awaited Beckham bounceback. But it probably isn’t to be. Beckham changed his batting stance to incorporate a lower crouch late last season, and he’s had some success since then, but the underlying stats don’t seem to support it. His plate discipline and walk rate are worse than ever, and his ISO is about as low as it’s ever been. (The hamate issue probably didn’t help.) He’s hit more line drives, but it’s hard to believe that a new batting stance could be worth 100 points of BABIP.

AL West

Oakland Athletics
Riser: Chris Young. Young’s high popup rates have always yielded surprisingly low BABIPs for someone with his speed, but a .217 mark—the lowest in the AL among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances—is out of character even for him.
Faller: Grant Balfour. The 35-year-old’s .214 BABIP since the start of last season is the lowest by over 10 points among relievers with at least 100 IP. It helps that he pitches in the foul territory capital of the world, but he can’t keep this up forever.

Texas Rangers
Riser: David Murphy. Aside from a BABIP in the Chris Young zone, Murphy has been the same hitter as always. The batting average will bounce back. And unless Elvis Andrus peaked at 23, Texas can expect him to hit his first homer in the second half. At least he’s still leading the league in sac bunts!
Faller: Tanner Scheppers. Scheppers gets grounders, but he doesn’t miss nearly as many bats as you’d expect from a flamethrower whose four-seamer sits at 96. His league-leading 2.5-run FIP-ERA gap is going to get much smaller. In other news, utility man Jeff Baker returns today from a high-five-related thumb injury. Enjoy his .378 ISO and 37.5 HR/FB rate before they’re gone for good.

Los Angeles Angels
Riser: Josh Hamilton. Yes, he’ll swing at anything, but he’s actually swinging at fewer things than he did last season, when he was still pretty productive. It’s not going to be good, but it can’t be this bad.
Faller: Peter Bourjos. His fractured right wrist still hasn’t healed, and it’s awfully hard to have a near-.400 OBP with a sub-5.0 percent walk rate.

Seattle Mariners
Riser: Danny Farquhar. I wrote about Farquhar here. I don’t want to live in a world where a pitcher who throws 95 and strikes out 13.5 batters per nine innings has an ERA of almost 7.00, and hopefully I won’t have too for much longer.
Faller: Tom Wilhelmsen, for hogging all the BABIP luck Farquhar hasn’t had. Or Raul Ibanez, though he possesses anti-aging powers that I can’t comprehend.

Houston Astros
Riser: Matt Dominguez. Maybe.
Faller: Bud Norris. Norris has never excelled at suppressing home runs, but he’s allowed only eight this year without any real reduction in fly ball rate. That’s good news for Houston, who can flip him for better prospects thanks to his less homer-prone half-season.

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

Related Content:  Risers And Fallers,  Second Half

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