Fantasy Baseball: Predicting 10 Second-Half Breakout Fantasy Hitters

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 2, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Predicting 10 Second-Half Breakout Fantasy Hitters

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    The long, grueling MLB season is often viewed as a tale of two halves, and the second stretch cannot come soon enough for some hitters.

    Your fantasy baseball team seemed destined for glory in April, but then Matt Kemp and Evan Longoria landed on the disabled list, leaving you in a desperate scramble to replace their offensive prowess. I know the feeling. Seriously guys, come back already.

    Whether injuries or simply lackluster results caused their decline, many skilled hitters have suffered through a poor half, but it’s not too late for some of these proven commodities to re-establish their good graces in fantasy leagues.

    Stay patient or try to acquire these players, who are due to finish the season with strong second halves. 

Justin Upton

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    In all fairness, Justin Upton’s first half was not that bad. We just expected a lot more from the young star.

    Upton has posted a mundane line of .273/.359/.392 with seven home runs and 10 steals. Taking his 48 runs into account, Upton still provided value for fantasy owners, but he has fallen well short of first-round production.

    He can, and will do much better in the second half. Upton turned the corner in June, hitting .333 with a .392 on-base percentage. Now he just needs to regain his home run stroke.

    The main discrepancy in Upton’s performance this season has been the power plummet. The 24-year-old has already topped 25 homers twice in his career, so his current pace to fall short of 20 seems suspicious. His 10.9 home run/fly-ball ratio is the lowest mark of his career, and he is smacking the ball well with a 22.8 percent line-drive rate.

    Expect Upton to right the power outage with a monster second half. The future superstar will reward patient owners with a 15/10 second-half outburst.

Jose Reyes

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    Jose Reyes is way too dynamic of a player to remain this quiet over a full season.

    After winning the battle title last year, Reyes’ average has sunk down 68 points to .269. Maybe his luck is just evening out following a season where Reyes posted a .353 BABIP.

    Or perhaps the vengeful baseball gods are punishing the shortstop for pulling himself out of the last year’s finale, which was his final game with the New York Mets, to preserve the NL’s highest batting average, a feat that means less considering the shortened season of 126 games. There are more important numbers than batting average anyway.

    Even if Reyes fails to claw his way back to .300 this year, the exciting speedster should steer closer to that mark from this point forward. Reyes can outperform all other shortstops in the second half and hit .300 with five homers and 20 steals.

Kevin Youkilis

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    The Greek God of Walks has suffered a tragic downfall this season, but there is still time for Kevin Youkilis to spin his season into a redemption saga.

    Usually a consistent option when healthy, Youkilis looks flustered at the plate this year, batting .233 with four homers in 49 games. Youkilis, a staple for the Boston Red Sox since 2004, quickly fell out of favor as manager Bobby Valentine questioned his dedication and Will Middlebrooks took over at third base.

    The Red Sox ousted him for utility man Brent Lillibridge, a career .212 hitter, and pitcher Zach Stewart, who holds a 6.00 ERA this year and will be lucky to transform into a decent No. 5 starter.

    Youkilis deserves better, and he will get the last laugh after changing his sock color from red to white. 

    His .286 BABIP cannot entirely be used to cry bad luck because of his spike in ground balls, and a 7.3 percent walk rate is far from immortal. A change of scenery with guaranteed playing time, however, should revitalize Youkilis enough to make him a solid option in the final three months.

    The 33-year-old is fading, but look for Youkilis to perform much better in the season’s second act.

Brian McCann

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    You know better than to quit on a proven veteran after one subpar half.

    No catcher in baseball is as reliable as Brian McCann, who has topped 20 homers in five of the last six years. As young, exciting catchers like Matt Wieters and Wilin Rosario enter the mix, McCann is hitting a putrid .226.

    Bank on a big second half from McCann, who has posted a .229 BABIP that ranks as the third lowest among all hitters. His 13.2 strikeout percentage is his best rate since 2008, so his fortune should turn as the season progresses.

    Few players were plagued by poorer luck than McCann in the season’s opening three months. Look for everything to return to normal for the All-Star catcher during the second half. 

Mike Morse

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    Mike Morse needed less than a month to recoup in the batter’s box, and now the mammoth hitter looks poised to terrorize opposing pitchers in the second half.

    After missing the first two months of the season due to a back injury, Morse limped from the gate following his return. A 14-for-27 tear over the last six games, towering his average from .217 to .291, erased any evidence of his early slump.

    Ever since earning playing time in 2010, Morse has emerged as one of the league’s finest power hitters. Morse, who posted a slugging percentage above .500 in each of the past two seasons, is more than capable of smacking 15 homers in the second half.

    This could be your last time to attain Morse at a discount.

Chris Young

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    Owning Chris Young is not advisable for squeamish fantasy managers, but a daring soul could steal him for scraps right now.

    His head-scratching season perfectly sums up the outfielder’s polarizing career. Young was baseball’s hottest hitter in the first 11 games, batting .410 with five home runs, 13 RBI and two steals.

    Lately, Young can’t buy a hit. Ever since a trip to the disabled list halted his scorching start, Young is batting .148, only recently collecting his first two home runs of the 32-game period.

    Wait long enough and another hot streak could come around the corner. Despite his inconsistencies, Young is one of the safest bets in baseball to annually approach the 20/20 plateau. He faces an uphill climb to reach the mark for the third consecutive year, but Young can catch fire and make up for lost time in a heartbeat. 

    There is no other player as easily capable of producing 10 homers and 10 steals in the second half that can be obtained at such a cheap rate. If you can stomach an ugly batting average, gamble on Young.  

Adam LaRoche

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    After undergoing shoulder surgery that cut his season short last May, anticipating anything more from Adam LaRoche this season seems greedy.

    LaRoche exited many fantasy drafts without finding a team this year, but he captured owners' attention by returning to old form. The veteran first baseman has smashed 15 home runs and 50 RBI with a .502 slugging percentage this season.

    So why expect even more success from LaRoche? The second half treats LaRoche kindly. LaRoche sports a .295/.354/.535 line after the All-Star break during his eight-year career.

    While the All-Star break is an arbitrary cut-off point that is often employed to manipulate data, it is hard to ignore a player consistently hitting better in the second half throughout his career.

    The veteran first baseman will continue to hit in a potent Washington Nationals lineup that should only get better when Jayson Werth returns from the disabled list and Ryan Zimmerman finds his stride.

    Acquire LaRoche if you need a corner infielder for the stretch run.

Howie Kendrick

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    If Captain Hindsight actually existed, he would lecture us for labeling Howie Kendrick a breakout option for 2012.

    We should not have trusted Kendrick as a power source after blasting more than 10 homers only once. His position in the Los Angeles Angels’ batting order should not have mattered as much since his slot in the lineup can easily change, and it placed an ordinate amount of his value in another player’s hands.

    Yeah, I get it, but Kendrick should play better than this.

    The second baseman, who also holds first base and outfield eligibility in some leagues, is batting .278 with four homers and four steals. Countless free agents can provide those numbers, but we would not want any part of them.

    Kendrick tallied his best numbers last year, but has boasted double digits in homers and steals in each of the last three seasons. He is also a career .291 hitter who has never batted below .279, and regardless of his position in the batting order still plays on a loaded offense.

    Better days lie ahead for Kendrick. Don’t expect earth-shattering stats, but he can offer decent value for a middle infielder.

Anthony Rizzo

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    Anthony Rizzo should have received a call-up months ago, but fantasy owners will gladly settle for half the season.

    In a forgettable stint with the San Diego Padres last year, Rizzo hit .141 with one homer and 46 strikeouts in 49 games. Don’t count out the young slugger for that lethargic start though.

    After the Chicago Cubs rescued him from Petco Park, Rizzo obliterated the competition in Triple-A, hitting .342 with 23 home runs and 62 RBI in 70 games before earning a promotion. Armed with a more compact swing and a friendlier stadium, Rizzo should amend his poor debut.

    If the hype soars too high, Rizzo might become a sell high option with a quick start. However, he is owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, so snatch him off free agency before worrying if everyone is overrating him.

    Rizzo is not going to save your team with a dominating splurge a la Ryan Braun upon his MLB debut, but he could hit a dozen home runs for your squad.

Cameron Maybin

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    Look on the bright side—it can’t get much worse for Cameron Maybin.

    Following a strong campaign in 2011 where he finally delivered on his potential, Maybin has hit .202 this season. Taking the glass-is-half-full approach again, the rest of Maybin’s numbers seem fine.

    Maybin has shown more plate discipline, improving his walk rate to 9.1 percent and slashing his strikeout percentage to 20.8. Despite his .281 on-base percentage, Maybin has swiped 16 bags for the Padres.

    The young outfielder has endured a .250 BABIP this year, well below his career .315 mark. Maybin is in line for a statistical correction in the second half, so expect him to hit closer to .250 and capitalize on his extra time occupying the base paths.