Part two of a series that started with the American League.
Riser: Jason Heyward. The 23-year-old is making more contact, walking more often, and hitting more line drives than he did last season. There should be better days ahead of him as soon as his hamstring lets him get back on the field.
Faller: Luis Avilan. Avilan started the season as a low-leverage reliever, but his success, coupled with injuries to other Braves, has led to more late-inning work. The problem: in 39 innings, he’s struck out 20 batters and walked 16, and he’s been among the most fortunate pitchers on balls in play.
Riser: The bench, collectively. Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, and Scott Hairston have batted .197 in 518 first-half at-bats. That worked for Rob Deer, but most of the Nats’ backups haven’t had Deer’s patience or power.
Faller: Tyler Clippard. One of baseball’s best setup men, but not quite this good. Even extreme flyballers on good defensive teams can’t keep their BABIPs below .200.
Riser: Carlos Ruiz. What with Ruiz and Melky Cabrera both following career years and subsequent suspensions with lousy seasons, this hasn’t been the best year for PED skeptics. In general, 34-year-old catchers don’t make for buy-low opportunities, but Ruiz has fallen so far so fast that he might have at least a dead-backstop bounce in him. The Phillies don’t have a whole lot of other candidates for improvement (much as Ruben Amaro might want to believe otherwise), though Cole Hamels could have a better second half.
Faller: Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon’s velocity and strikeout rate are down. His ERA isn’t up yet, but I’ll take the over on his career average, which is about where it stands now.
New York Mets
Riser: Ike Davis. His stint in Las Vegas—as good a hitter’s park as it is—showed that he’s not completely broken. I wouldn’t bet on a repeat of the 20-homer second half he had last year, but merely managing to hold on to a roster spot would be an improvement.
Faller: Marlon Byrd. Byrd has never slugged .500 in a season, and age 35 seems like a strange time to start.
Riser: Giancarlo Stanton. No, he hasn’t gotten much to hit, but he showed in June that he can crush opponents even when they’re trying to pitch around him. Expect a healthier, home runnier second half.
Faller: Jose Fernandez. Not because he’s going to be bad, just because he’s one of the few Marlins who’s been good enough to decline, he’s 30 innings away from a career-high total, and he’s had a little luck on his side.
St. Louis Cardinals
Riser: Holliday has been making plenty of contact, but he hasn’t enjoyed his customary results. He’s never failed to hit .290 or have an ISO of at least .198, and while decline comes for every 30-something athlete, he’s not a bad bet to bounce back. Fun fact: Holliday never made a Baseball America top 100 list.
Faller: Edward Mujica. He’s gotten way more swings outside the strike zone this season, which you’d expect to lead to whiffs and weak contact, but a .156/.152/.188 line with runners in scoring position is extreme.
Riser: Gerrit Cole. The lone active Pirates pitcher with an ERA higher than his FIP, save for Jason Grilli, whose ERA is under 2.00. He’s going to start missing more bats at some point.
Faller: Jeff Locke. A groundballer on a good fielding team and a serviceable starter even from a defense-independent perspective, but still pretty much the poster boy decline candidate. Jeanmar Gomez and Justin Wilson fit the same description.
Riser: Ryan Hanigan. The Reds have gotten very little from their catchers offensively, but it’s going to get better. Hanigan is still taking his walks, but his batted balls keep finding fielders.
Faller: Mike Leake. Leake is a groundballer pitching in front of a good infield defense, but he won’t end up with the rotation’s lowest ERA.
Riser: Starlin Castro. June was ugly, but he’s too good to be that bad. Hitting .286/.344/.464 in July.
Faller: Travis Wood. When you’ve made 19 starts and your BABIP is lower than Jeff Locke’s, you know you’ve led a charmed life.
Riser: Ryan Braun. He hasn’t been bad, but right thumb soreness and an inflamed nerve in the same hand have held him back. If the All-Star break helped him heal and the clock runs out on starting Biogenesis suspensions this season, he could spend the second half posting the MVP-type stats he put up in April (and from 2011-12).
Faller: Tom Gorzelanny. He’s become a better pitcher, but a correction is coming.
Riser: Martin Prado. The Diamondbacks haven’t seen the best of the player they traded Justin Upton for—and then signed to a four-year extension—but they’ll get more out of him as they try to preserve their slim lead over Los Angeles. Also Adam Eaton, since he’ll have a second half.
Faller: Patrick Corbin. Corbin has already proven plenty of people who underestimated him wrong, but he still looks more like a solid no. 2 or 3 starter than the ace his ERA and win-loss record indicate. Josh Collmenter’s mid-2.00s ERA isn’t likely to last long either.
Riser: Matt Kemp. Yes, he might just be broken, but he’ll be activated on Sunday, and being further removed from shoulder surgery could help restore some of his power. Oh, and Clayton Kershaw, whose ERA will rise from 1.98 all the way to, oh, 2.35.
Faller: Yasiel Puig. With a 38-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .278/.310/.389 line in July, he’s entered the “prove he’s not Jeff Francoeur” portion of his season. He has the skills to make the adjustments Francoeur couldn’t, but he might have to suffer through some lean times first.
Riser: Roy Oswalt. His stuff and strikeout rate suggest that he still has something left.
Faller: Michael Cuddyer. His triple-slash line would look much more believable with a batting average about 50 points lower.
San Francisco Giants
Riser: Pablo Sandoval. We know he’s a better hitter than this. Then again, the official Pablo Sandoval Fat Meter has been tuned to 6 all season, and that might actually matter.
Faller: Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla. Low BABIPs have hidden declining strikeout rates and radar readings.
San Diego Padres
Riser: Edinson Volquez. Volquez’ worst-ever ERA ever has been accompanied by his best walk rate and FIP since 2008.
Faller: Jason Marquis. Only in Petco could an 88-mile-per-hour four-seamer and a 1.06 K/BB ratio have lasted even this long.