With the All-Star break finally upon us, fantasy owners have time to take a breath and determine exactly where they are and what they can do to improve over the final few months of the season. Now is usually the time that stock can be taken.
When an owner looks up and down the various statistical leaderboards, there are many familiar names, but there are others that do not necessarily look like they belong. Is it time to buy on those that are less owned? Should an owner sell on a player that may not carry their numbers throughout the rest of the season? And, probably as important, will struggling players rebound.
With all that in mind, here are five predictions for the second half.
Corey Hart Will Come Back to Earth...
Hart has impressed many, and with good reason. After a disappointing 2009 campaign, Hart has rebounded early in 2010. He has already exceeded his home run total of a year ago by nine and his RBI number by 17.
Overall, every one of his offensive numbers is on pace to be far better than anything he was able to put together in 2009. However, whether or not he is on pace for 35 to 40 home runs and 115 RBI should be up for some debate when an owner looks at the overall numbers.
Hart's BABIP is not far off from where it was last season. In 2009 he put up a .305, and he has moved it up just a tick to .309 this season. His strikeout rate has hardly changed, as that still hovers between 22 and 23 percent, and his walk rate is largely consistent. The question really has to come in as to what the differences are from one year to the next. Anyone looking at the overall stats can see that it comes in the total home runs he has tallied.
His HR/FB ratio is 18.8 percent! Nearly 20 percent of the fly balls that he hits are leaving the yard. Add to that the fact that his fly ball rate has increased by five points. What does that mean? Not only is he hitting more fly balls for home runs, but more fly balls on the whole. It compounds the overall issue.
It is not that Hart has not hit more than 20 home runs before; he reached that plateau in both 2007 and 2008. His FB rate was 9.9 percent in 2008 and 13.3 percent in 2007. The increase even from those good years is astronomical. It is ten points better than the number he saw last season. Hart is hitting fewer groundballs than he has at any point in his career.
Hart is not likely to hit another 15-20 home runs this season. Look for his numbers to be .270/11/35 the rest of the way. Selling high would not be a bad thing.
...and Nick Swisher Will Too
Look, there will be some that claim I am anti-Yankee (fair point), but Swisher's numbers here make little to no sense. This is a player with a career-high average of .262 back in 2007 prior to his half-season .298 number in 2010. This is the same player that hit .219 two years ago and only .249 in a launching pad of a ballpark last season.
Color me skeptical that he will be able to keep up this pace. The power and the improved strikeout rate we can debate, but the overall production levels are statistical outliers that cannot be sustained by historical performance review.
Swisher is hitting more balls on the line, which is resulting in a drastically improved BABIP. His .341 BABIP is nearly 60 points better than his career mark, and his 6.1 point increase in line drives is nearly identical to that same reduction in ground balls.
He is swinging at many more pitches, as indicated by a ten point jump in the overall number of percent of pitches where he swings, and this relates to the six-point drop in his walk rate from 2009. Not only is he swinging more frequently, he is making contact all that more often, seeing the same ten point jump in that category.
Could he simply be having a career year? Of course, but that would be one crazy career year, where every bit of logic refused to make sense. I do not want to live in that world.
Post-break, expect that he hits far closer to .250 than he does .300. He will produce another ten to 12 home runs and 40 RBI. Far from bad numbers, but also ones you will be able to find nearly anywhere.
Carlos Lee Will Rebound
Even in the Steroid Era, .300 hitters do not become .240 hitters overnight. They may go from 40 home runs to 20, but the average is largely more consistent than the power. Lee is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He has driven in 100 runs in each of the last five seasons and six of the last seven, only missing in 2004 when he drove in 99.
This is a career .289 hitter that has not hit below .300 since 2004 who is struggling to find a way to even get the ball out of the infield. The question has to be asked if this is going to continue or what the correction will be.
Statistically, not much seems different in the more granular numbers. He is hitting fewer line drives, meaning that he is not making as solid contact, and that is the major change. The fly balls are up as a result.
Lee is not striking out any more often than he has in the past, though he is up over his number from 2009. Beyond the fly balls, Lee is simply not garnering any overall luck when he does put the ball in play. In fact, his BABIP of .236 is lower than his overall average of .240. That in itself is a statistical oddity!
What does all this mean for the second half? Let us assume there is some return to normalcy. Lee has about 300 at-bats left on the year if he remains healthy. With a career number of .289, that would mean about 87 more hits. Given about 340 total plate appearances, and adjusting to some normal levels, he probably hits close to 15 home runs the rest of the way, giving him 27 for the year and right in line with his totals the previous two.
I'm not saying that he will drive in 100, but he could. He drove in 100 runs in 115 games just two years ago. Using that same rate, he could find a way to drive in close to 70 runs in the remaining games. Even if that number is closer to 55, that would not be unheard of, and would still give him 100 RBI on the season. That number would largely mean driving runs in at his career rate of nearly 0.67 RBI per game.
Remember, as owners we cannot look at what this does overall, only what we can take from him the rest of the way. Still, .285/15/55 would be worth buying low.
The Rookie Pitcher to Own in the Second Half is Not Necessarily Stephen Strasburg
Look, I like the guy as much as the next fantasy analyst, but there are two other pitchers that need to be on the radar of all owners as we look at the second half. Some of this will depend on moves made at the trading deadline, but even with additional pitchers added, these guys should be more than ready to make an impact for owners.
Various rumors out of Tampa have the Rays potentially shopping Matt Garza. Add his problems to the troubles they are having with Wade Davis, and Jeff Niemann leaving his start yesterday due to back injury, and you have what amounts to an opportunity for a certain young pitcher in Durham.
Jeremy Hellickson is sitting with an 11-2 record in Triple-A with a WHIP of 1.14 and a 2.21 ERA. in 105 innings, he has struck out 104 batters and kept his walk rate to 2.2 per nine innings.
To say that he has very little left to prove in the minors is an understatement. With Wade Davis unable to get anyone out in the number five spot of the rotation, Hellickson would be a natural player to swap. Add to that the potential of a trade and you have spots where he can be useful. Fantasy owners should look at the strikeouts and peripheral stats here when he is called up. Even deeper mixed leagues will be able to use the stats he can provide.
The other name comes out of Chicago. The injury to Jake Peavy likely has the White Sox looking to shop outside of their organization as the deadline approaches, but should they choose to stay internal they could do worse than Dan Hudson. The young pitcher has overcome a rough start to find himself at 11-4 with 108 strikeouts in 93 innings at Triple-A. He has complemented those numbers with a 1.20 WHIP and 3.47 ERA in the early going. The White Sox have some decisions to make here, but they could do worse than filling the void with one of the better pitching prospects in baseball.
There are Plenty of Other Rebound Players to Buy
Several players have spent the bulk of the season injured and could certainly take the second half by storm. Jacoby Ellsbury is at the top of my list. After the Red Sox finally discovered the cracked ribs that occurred as a result of the human wrecking ball Adrian Beltre, he was put on the right program. Ellsbury is resuming baseball activity and expects to be able to rejoin the team in early August.
Given that Boston has thrown out Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Eric Patterson, Jeremy Hermida, and a host of others, it is probably safe to say that Ellsbury will be back with some playing time. He can still steal bases; the only question for owners will be his ability to get the timing of his swing back.
Carlos Beltran will be back with the Mets on Thursday night. The plan is for him to play center field and hit cleanup. If he is doing that, he is worth looking at. The question many have, and should, is how often he will be able to play. Beltran's recent exam showed improvement in the knee, but it is highly unlikely that he plays every day from now until the end of the season. The Mets will progress with him carefully, but he is another great buy-low option.
We should even throw in Matt Wieters and Jimmy Rollins here as well. Wieters is currently outside of the top-20 catchers in fantasy rankings, but he is showing signs of life. He hit over .300 after the All-Star break last year.
Jimmy Rollins is a second half player as well that should be able to provide better average and speed even if he cannot produce the power numbers. His average has jumped 20 points after the break over the last three years.
As is cursory, remember that both Nick Markakis, A.J. Burnett, and Adam LaRoche are solid second half players given their career numbers.
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