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As the second half of the baseball season approaches, many fantasy owners like to take this time to reassess and attempt to figure out if they can hold on to their leads or make the charge past the leader into first place. Many Baseball Prospectus subscribers use PECOTA’s rest-of-the-season numbers to figure out how their team projects out the rest of the way in order to accomplish this goal.

I enjoy looking at projected rest-of-the-season numbers as much as the next fantasy player. However, one of the things I really like doing is examining the “fact or fiction” behind PECOTA’s projections the rest of the way. Will PECOTA’s projections hold up? Or should we be looking more at year-to-date numbers to determine how well a player will do?

Any exercise designed to figure this out will be imperfect by design. I decided to rank players by league based upon the following:

  • PECOTA (PFM) earnings year-to-date, and
  • Projected PECOTA (PFM) earnings for the rest of the season.

I then took the differential between the two rankings to see who PECOTA thinks will show the biggest improvement and the biggest decline from the first part of the season to the second half. Then I offer my own commentary, where I am most likely to agree with and disagree with PECOTA’s assessments.

Enough with the pleasantries. Let’s dive right in.

Table 1: AL Hitters, PECOTA Risers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Rios, Alex

130

51

79

Gillaspie, Conor

NR

95

74

Avila, Alex

162

91

71

Sano, Miguel

NR

98

71

Cano, Robinson

78

8

70

Jaso, John

168

105

63

Bourn, Michael

116

56

60

Cabrera, Melky

83

24

59

Loney, James

148

89

57

Wieters, Matt

163

106

57

You’d expect a significant number of first-half disappointments on this list, and sure enough PECOTA delivers. The only rookie on the list is Sano, and a finish on the periphery of the top 100 in AL-only formats certainly seems realistic if Sano hangs in there.

But this list is dominated by injured and disappointing veterans: the kind of players that you probably want to target if you are looking to make a comeback in your league. The deeper the league, the more inclined you should be to push for one of these players. You won’t find most of these guys floating around in an AL-only, but in a 15- or 16-team mixer, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if players like Loney, Cabrera, Bourn, or Jaso were floating around on the free agent pool.

Way to Go PECOTA: Melky Cabrera
Twenty-fourth in AL formats is a little bit aggressive for the Melk-man. However, he has picked up his performance somewhat in the last few weeks and it seems unlikely that he will continue to lay an egg all season long. PECOTA sees a fairly big bump for most of the White Sox lineup Post All-Star, and if that happens a rising tide will lift all boats, particularly in runs/RBI.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Robinson Cano
Cano is the player who jumps out here as an eye-opener. While his prior career performance certainly suggests he could be a top-10 player the rest of the way in AL-only, it is difficult to envision him putting up top-10 numbers without most of his prior power returning. A .300 batting average isn’t difficult to envision post-All-Star, but the 20-plus-homer pace he would need to put up to get to this ranking is.

Table 2: AL Hitters, PECOTA Fallers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

De Aza, Alejandro

84

NR

-85

Canha, Mark

75

159

-84

Moreland, Mitch

42

121

-79

Butler, Joey

91

NR

-78

Pillar, Kevin

14

87

-73

Valbuena, Luis

48

111

-63

Forsythe, Logan

40

102

-62

Burns, Billy

27

88

-61

Young, Chris

81

142

-61

Valencia, Danny

103

161

-58

Table 2 contains a who’s who of the 10 hitters who are most likely to be among the 10 biggest bargains in the AL at season’s end, even assuming some slippage. De Aza may be the exception (his price moved into the low double-digits in some AL-only formats), but many of these hitters cost $5 or less in standard mono formats.

The question in nearly every case is do you believe that this list of surprises will continue to surprise Post All-Star. PECOTA is taking the safe track and predicting regression to the mean. This would be my general assumption as well, but history has shown that sometimes players like this defy the odds for anywhere from as short as a full season to as long as an entire late career surprise. Many of the hitters on this list are here because speed pays in fantasy, and unlike many projection systems the PFM pays the full freight for stolen bases—and in some cases, then some.

Way to Go PECOTA: Luis Valbuena
I’m as excited as any fantasy player by Valbuena’s unexpected power burst, but I have an extremely difficult time believing that he is going to threaten the 40-homer mark in 2015. If his power slips even a little bit, Valbuena loses a good deal of value, and his batting average could push him into negative earnings territory post-All-Star.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Billy Burns
If you believe in the PFM valuation proposition, then Burns’ overall ranking of 27 in AL-only is an extremely realistic target. It is difficult to envision him falling to 111th unless he loses his job as a regular, which is unlikely to happen at this point. Burns has played his way into the Athletics everyday lineup, and unlike Billy Hamilton doesn’t appear to be a one-trick pony. He might not be a top-30 AL hitter, but he’ll only slip a little post-All-Star, not a lot.

Table 3: NL Hitters, PECOTA Risers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Rendon, Anthony

NR

52

117

Puig, Yasiel

128

20

108

Wright, David

NR

75

94

Dickerson, Corey

126

35

91

Morse, Michael

NR

92

77

Lucroy, Jonathan

129

55

74

Gennett, Scooter

139

69

70

Lamb, Jake

130

62

68

Pence, Hunter

132

68

64

Holliday, Matt

107

50

57

I was hoping to avoid a list that was mostly populated by injured players, but felt that if I intervened too much I would insert too much of the “human element” and my “opinions” into the analytic part of the piece. PECOTA doesn’t know from medical diagnoses, so the assumption is that Rendon, Wright, and Dickerson will all be fine in the second half, even though there is a good chance (particularly in Dickerson and Wright’s cases) that they most certainly will not be. Holliday and Pence should be okay going forward, and Pence’s ranking will certainly climb since his injuries were not due to chronic maladies.

This doesn’t leave too many players to contemplate on the list who didn’t get hurt. Yasiel Puig missed some time but kind of counts because he was disappointing when he was on the field and is a tempting pick. Jake Lamb also kind of fits this model, though the same principle applies with him as well.

Way to Go PECOTA: Jonathan Lucroy
Injury or no, Lucroy is an absurdly easy call to be better than the 55th-best NL hitter the rest of the way, particularly if you are using a position scarcity model as the PFM is. Lucroy is a solid five-category hitter across the board, and at catcher, the fact that he does a little bit of everything enhances his value even more than it would for a hitter at any other position.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Scooter Gennett
I like Gennett and believe that there is some potential for a stronger second half. What I chafe at is the idea that he is going to earn on par with Pence the rest of the way. Gennett is a platoon option for the Brewers and without a strong power or speed carrying tool, he will have a hard time returning 12-team mixed-league value, which is what the ranking above suggests.

Table 4: NL Hitters, PECOTA Fallers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Peralta, David

53

154

-101

Crawford, Brandon

24

113

-89

Herrera, Odubel

71

146

-75

Panik, Joe

38

105

-67

Taylor, Michael

62

123

-61

Bour, Justin

102

159

-57

Espinosa, Danny

58

115

-57

Spangenberg, Cory

113

NR

-56

Aoki, Nori

51

104

-53

Escobar, Yunel

65

117

-52

Francoeur, Jeff

117

NR

-52

Parra, Gerardo

36

88

-52

As was the case in the AL hitter pool, there are a number of surprises here, but I have a softer spot for many of these hitters, and a greater belief that more than a few of these players will not only survive but continue to thrive in the second half. Michael Taylor’s value will hinge almost entirely on his playing time; if Jayson Werth returns and Denard Span stays healthy, Taylor will drop like a stone. Justin Bour is in a similar position, though in his case it isn’t only Giancarlo Stanton’s health but the possibility that Michael Morse gets traded that could impact his value on either end.

The players on this list who are more interesting are the ones who could sustain their playing time in the second half. The situation is a little more crowded in Arizona with Lamb returning to full health, but Peralta should maintain a hold on a regular job and sustain deeper-league value. Herrera has already faded somewhat after a fast start, but if the Phillies strip their team down at the end of the month, he will also provide deeper-mixed value, even if only on the periphery.

Way to Go PECOTA: Yunel Escobar
Most of Escobar’s value in 2015 has come from an artificially high batting average. While Escobar has never been a batting average drain, it is difficult to see him sustaining such a high AVG without a discernable change in his approach or stance. He will be fine in deeper formats, but if you are carrying him in a standard mixed league, his value will plummet in the second half.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Brandon Crawford
Crawford isn’t going to be this stellar the rest of the way. But he has hit left-handed pitching for two years running and the power looks legitimate. Crawford might not finish with 20-plus home runs, but 16-18 is a realistic possibility. There is no reason to believe that the improvement he has made this year isn’t real. If someone is selling in your re-draft league because they believe this is a mirage, buy.

Table 5: AL Pitchers, PECOTA Risers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Verlander, Justin

NR

8

101

Iwakuma, Hisashi

NR

22

87

Sabathia, CC

79

10

69

McGee, Jake

108

35

63

Weaver, Jered

75

17

58

Paxton, James

94

39

55

Tanaka, Masahiro

57

3

54

Tillman, Chris

90

41

49

Dickey, R.A.

74

28

46

Moore, Matt

NR

64

45

Table 5 has a “let’s bring the band back together” feeling with pitchers like Verlander and Sabathia at or near the top of the chart. PECOTA cannot stop relying on older stats for pitchers like this—even if those stats are weighted and count less than more current results. It seems possible that Verlander could bounce back somewhat, but it seems very unlikely that Sabathia will do so.

Moore and Tanaka both are extremely difficult to predict due to the nature of their recoveries. Moore seems like a better bet for 2016; how you feel about Tanaka can vary a great deal from start to start. If I had to bet on an injured starter in this group, I would go with Iwakuma, although all three of these pitchers are not the kind of arms you want to be relying on in fantasy at this point.

Way to Go PECOTA: Chris Tillman
I don’t like any of the pitchers on this list to bounce back, so the Tillman pick is damning with faint praise. He looked somewhat better in his July starts, with an increased K:BB ratio. It is a lousy sample size to rely upon, but given the weakness of the entire list, it is either Tillman or Mariners hurler James Paxton. Many of my colleagues at Baseball Prospectus would probably go with Paxton, but I’m reluctantly taking Tillman.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Masahiro Tanaka
I could have picked almost anyone from this bracket, but I am going with Tanaka. Perhaps he will defy the odds and recover completely without the benefit of Tommy John surgery, but even if this does happen, it does not seem likely in 2015.

Table 6: AL Pitchers, PECOTA Fallers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Young, Chris

42

NR

-67

Davis, Wade

41

106

-65

Betances, Dellin

24

84

-60

Ramirez, Erasmo

50

NR

-59

Warren, Adam

56

NR

-53

Keuchel, Dallas

1

51

-50

Boxberger, Brad

7

55

-48

May, Trevor

63

NR

-46

Volquez, Edinson

37

82

-45

Graveman, Kendall

65

NR

-44

It isn’t surprising to see Chris Young at the top of Table 6, but he has defied the odds now for a year-and-a-half running. Some slippage certainly should be expected, but there is a possibility that Young can maintain some streamer value in all formats.

Most of the pitchers in Table 6 have shown some growth in 2015, and in all of these cases PECOTA is skeptical that this growth is sustainable. While PECOTA is correct that regression is likely in nearly every case, the drops in many instances seem to completely discount any of the development for the young arms on the list. At a minimum, Ramirez, May, and Graveman should be able to build on their first halves and not fall as far as PECOTA is predicting.

Way to Go PECOTA: Edinson Volquez
An 82 overall ranking in AL-only going forward seems fair for Volquez. This gives him some utility in deeper formats while admitting that his first half is more of a ceiling than a realistic expectation for Volquez the rest of the way.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Dallas Keuchel
Will he be the best pitcher in the American League at the end of the season? It is extremely unlikely, and I would be willing to bet that he might not even be in the top 10. But the 51-overall ranking in AL-only seems particularly harsh. Keuchel’s skills are sustainable, and as long as he pounds the bottom of the zone, he’ll keep the ball in the park, and maintain a good deal of his first-half value.

Table 7: NL Pitchers, PECOTA Risers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Fernandez, Jose

NR

16

93

Fister, Doug

104

25

79

Cain, Matt

NR

31

78

Strasburg, Stephen

96

29

67

Garza, Matt

107

43

64

Beachy, Brandon

NR

55

54

Peavy, Jake

NR

47

52

Corbin, Patrick

NR

59

50

Romo, Sergio

NR

60

49

Wisler, Matt

NR

62

47

Just call Table 7 The Komeback Kids. Hmmmm, that moniker would work better if a low-strikeout pitcher like Fister was not on the list. The theme of Table 7 is bounce-back seasons for injured pitchers. Beachy has not even pitched yet but PECOTA believes he can return borderline mixed league value. With the exception of Fernandez, I’m skeptical of nearly every pitcher on this table, and even Fernandez doesn’t excite me so much that I’m willing to put him behind only a handful of non-closers in the senior circuit.

Many of these pitchers are decent gambles in standard mixed leagues where DL and reserve slots are limited and you are looking for lightning in a bottle the rest of the way. Peavy, Cain, and Corbin are not the kind of pitchers who are stashed in this format, and if your team is in trouble in ERA/WHIP, you might as well see if PECOTA is correct or die trying. The healthy options on this table are limited; only Garza and Wisler qualify among the starting pitchers, and only Garza has been in the majors all season long.

Way to Go PECOTA: Jake Peavy
As was the case in the AL pool, I don’t feel comfortable picking any of these pitchers to match their PECOTA/PFM projections Post All-Star. Peavy gets the nod because his poor numbers year-to-date are mostly the product of two poor starts immediately before he went on the DL. Peavy has a 2.71 ERA in 16 starts for the Giants going back to 2014, and for the most part has thrived in San Francisco. He might only be a streamer in mixed, but can be used fairly confidently in other formats.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Doug Fister
I have the misfortune of owning Fister in nearly every league I’m playing in this year, so I would love to see nothing more than for PECOTA to nail Fister’s prospective value. However, it is extremely difficult to envision such a strong finish for a pitcher with plummeting strikeout rates who has had difficulty getting out of the sixth inning all season long. The defensive efficiency of the Nationals has dipped somewhat this year without Rendon, so while a healthy Rendon may improve matters, this is still an optimistic projection.

Table 8: NL Pitchers, PECOTA Fallers

Player

Current Rank

PFM ROS Rank

Change

Heston, Chris

28

NR

-81

Martinez, Carlos

19

76

-57

Siegrist, Kevin

54

NR

-55

Familia, Jeurys

2

54

-52

Rondon, Hector

35

86

-51

Harang, Aaron

47

94

-47

Blazek, Michael

59

NR

-40

De La Rosa, Rubby

46

84

-38

Anderson, Brett

44

81

-37

Phelps, David

61

98

-37

This is the first list in either league that features a significant number of relief pitchers. Four of the 10 pitchers in Table 8 are relievers, and only one of them is currently closing. PECOTA is theoretically correct that these relievers will slip based on past historical trends but based on 2015 alone the sample sizes are too small to make too much of a judgment.

The starting pitchers are a mix of veterans performing above their heads along with rookies with low-end baselines that PECOTA is still relying upon for the go-forward projections. I am more likely to believe in Martinez than Harang as a result, and to a lesser degree believe in Heston over Phelps. As late as this spring, PECOTA was still skeptical of Jacob deGrom’s breakthrough, so if you are selling any of these pitchers based on PECOTA’s wariness in some of the cases above, you are doing so at your own peril.

Way to Go PECOTA: David Phelps
He has had his moments, but it is difficult to believe that Phelps will be more than a fifth starter the rest of the way, with borderline value even in NL-only formats. Phelps is a matchup play at best, and the 98th-overall ranking in NL-only might actually be too high.

Say It Ain’t So PECOTA: Carlos Martinez
Is his no. 19 ranking in NL-only too high? Perhaps. However, given the talent and the significant steps forward Martinez has taken this year, it is far more likely that he finishes closer to that 19th spot than the odds the he falls all the way down the 76th post-All-Star. An injury or an innings limit is more likely to knock down Martinez’s value than a performance fall-off.