Fantasy

Fantasy Baseball: First-Half Bests and Worsts

Corey Dickerson

Draft day is the most anticipated event in all of fantasy sports. Draft prep takes quite a bit of work, and most owners will go into the draft with a plan in place and a few players “up their sleeve.” While it all may look good on paper, one can never really predict how the real players will perform. With the excitement of every breakout performance, there are equally frustrating bouts of ineffectiveness or prolonged slumps that will torpedo a fantasy team. Add to that the new 10-day DL and what looked good on paper in late March can quickly go up in smoke. There is always the silver lining of finding a gem in an unexpected performance from a waiver wire or minor league call-up that can mitigate some of the damage. It is all part of the allure to fantasy sports and why we do what we do.

Let’s take a look at a position-by-position analysis of the best performers versus the worst performers in relation to ADP. For this exercise, I will be using Fantrax’s ratings based on H2H leagues. What I am qualifying as “best” performance will be the player who may be performing at a higher level than the ADP would have dictated.  Conversely, on the “worst” side of things will be those players drafted early at their positions in hopes of making an immediate fantasy impact. This will give us at least a relative idea of who is doing what and whether we can expect either trend to continue into the second half.

Catcher

Worst: In most league formats, the catcher position holds little fantasy intrigue outside of the top three to five performers. With that in mind, Jonathan Lucroy (ADP 64)was probably drafted in most leagues in that range, but he has performed somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18th best catcher in the first half. Based on that alone, fantasy owners have surely been frustrated with Lucroy’s performance thus far. With 242 at-bats in the first half, he is sporting a miserable .256/.303/.364 slash line. His four home runs, 24 RBI, and 24 runs are pretty pedestrian, even for a catcher. Lucroy is due to become a free agent over the winter. Thus far, Robinson Chirinos has been a better option for the Rangers, so they may explore trading away Lucroy at the trade deadline. Based on his career .282/.340/.436 line, I expect the veteran to turn things around assuming he’s healthy. A possible change of scenery could help that along. Watch for a possible trade at the deadline and adjust accordingly. Worthy of Mentioning: Russell Martin, Wellington Castillo

Best: With the caveat in mind that catchers are not usually top fantasy performers, our best performing catcher in terms of ADP was quite possibly not even drafted in most leagues. Alex Avila (ADP 845) came into the season projected as James McCann’s backup in Detroit. Avila was able to perform well while McCann made a trip to the DL in May and has kept up solid production out of the catcher’s spot while sitting against most lefties. With his .299 average, 11 home runs, 29 RBI, and 27 runs, he’s been a top-10 fantasy catcher in the first half. That said, Avila is currently eclipsing almost every career number rather significantly and has a BABIP of .413, so regression is due. Worthy of Mentioning: Yadier Molina, Tyler Flowers

First Base

Worst: Unfortunately, Father Time is undefeated, as the saying goes. Miguel Cabrera (ADP 17) is having easily his worst season here at age 34, an age when many hitters experience a steep regression. Cabrera has set his norm at such a high level of performance that his worst season could be described as decent for others. While a .796 OPS in the first half is nothing to sneeze at, his career mark is an otherworldly .955. His previous season low was .879 in 2004. His 11 home runs, 41 RBI, and .264 batting average are far below what was expected out of someone being chosen on average in the first two rounds. He did have a short stint on the DL in April with a groin issue, but he has missed little time since coming off May 2. At his age and rate of decline, I believe we are seeing the end of one of the great right-handed hitters in the game. There will be some better days ahead, but he’s not the elite hitter he once was. Worthy of Mentioning: Mark Trumbo, Hanley Ramirez

Best: Justin Smoak (ADP 627) definitely deserves mention here, as he’s currently ranked within the top 12 fantasy first basemen and started the All-Star Game for the American League. I am going with an equally surprising performer and All-Star snub: Logan Morrison (ADP 684). He currently ranks slightly ahead of Smoak in H2H points league formats. He already has a career-best 24 homers in only 291 at-bats; his previous high was 23 dingers in 462 at-bats in 2011. He is also easily in striking distance of career bests in RBI, walks, and runs scored. His current slash line of .258/.367/.564 and OPS of .931 are well above career marks. At age 29, it is possible that he is somewhat of a late bloomer. He does have the pedigree of being a high-ranking prospect when coming through the minors in the Marlins’ system. With an ISO at .306 and a BABIP at .266, I am cautiously optimistic that he can continue these first-half trends  Worthy of Mentioning: Justin Smoak, Mark Reynolds

Second Base

Worst: Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar (ADP 31) was a very trendy pick at second base heading into the 2017 season. After all, the multi-position eligible Villar was coming off a breakout 2016 campaign in which he posted a .285 average with 19 home runs and 62 stolen bases. At age 26, he was slotted atop the Brewers’ order and had the starting second base job on Opening Day. Unfortunately, Villar’s production has not been what anyone expected or hoped for. He is hitting an ugly .221/.353/.288. He has shown a little pop with eight home runs and the ability to steal bases with 16 swipes in 22 attempts, but he’s done little else to help fantasy owners. If he has any hope of regaining his place at the top of that lineup, he has to improve his plate discipline. In 272 at-bats, he has 90 strikeouts and 26 walks. Since returning from the DL on Jun 26, he has shown a slight pulse by hitting safely in his last five games. However, I would prefer to see more improvement before I buy in on his ability to regain last season’s form. Worthy of Mentioning: Rougned Odor, Ben Zobrist.

Best: He’s not a very sexy pick, as his ADP of 633 would suggest, but Jed Lowrie has put together a very solid and usable first half here in 2017. He currently ranks in the top 15 in most H2H leagues, but he is owned in only about 63% of leagues. His .805 OPS is a career best outside of a 171 at-bat season in 2010, he’s on pace for 93 runs, and his 27 doubles are top-five in baseball. At age 33, he really isn’t a player worth building around, but he’s an above-average replacement if you need middle infield help. Worthy of Mentioning: Josh Harrison, Whit Merrifield

Third Base

Worst: It is hard to fault a player who has missed 38 games due to injury and logged only 161 at-bats to begin the season. Fantasy owners who drafted Josh Donaldson (ADP 10) expected to get an elite bat in the first round. Due to a lingering calf issue, Donaldson missed significant time in April and May. He is still hitting at or near his career averages with a .261/.383/.484 line. With the missed time comes a decrease in the counting stats, obviously, so not too much weight should be put on the nine home runs and 25 RBI. Look for him to improve on his first-half numbers assuming he has put the injury issues behind him. There is also quite a bit of speculation that he could be moved before the trade deadline. Worthy of Mentioning: Kyle Seager, Alex Bregman

Best: Third base seems to be getting deeper each season. Travis Shaw (ADP 303) has certainly added his name to the list with a strong first-half performance. The 27-year-old lefty slugger is having a breakout performance thus far. With 19 home runs, 65 RBI, 50 runs, a .299 average, and .938 OPS, he is a borderline top-five third baseman in points leagues. He is hitting in a great lineup and plays his home games at a very friendly hitter’s park. Needless to say, the Brewers have gotten the better part of the trade that sent Tyler Thornburg to Boston for Shaw and prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. Based on 1,898 minor league at-bats with a .261/.359/.445 slash line, I look for him to have sustainable success even if some slight regression is possible. Worthy of Mentioning: Eugenio Suarez, Jedd Gyorko.

Shortstop

Worst: One of the darling waiver wire pickups of 2016 has yet to find success 2017. Trevor Story (ADP 34) lost 14 games due to a strained left shoulder in mid-May. Before the injury, he was struggling to find any level of success, and since his activation on May 24, that trend has continued. His .224 average and .699 OPS has fantasy owners scratching their heads and wondering if his fantastic rookie season (.272 batting average, 27 home runs, .909 OPS), was an aberration. With a pretty decent prospect pedigree and a minor league slash line that would suggest better days are possible (.264/.348/.469), I would suggest not giving up on him just yet. Now that expectations have come down a bit, the 24-year-old should still show he has the talent to be an everyday shortstop.  Hitting in the friendly confines of Coors field never hurts, either! Worthy of Mentioning: Addison Russell, Aledmys Diaz

Best: Once thought of as a defense-first shortstop, Andrelton Simmons (ADP 441) was little more than an afterthought to most fantasy owners on draft day. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping, (.290 batting average, nine home runs, 39 RBI, 41 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases), his steady play in the Angels lineup and improved offensive approach have put him among the top 10 fantasy shortstops in points leagues. All of his numbers would suggest a breakout season at age 27. With the absence of Mike Trout, Simmons has been asked to shoulder a bit more of the load. Thus far, he has shown the ability to do so and will look to maintain his production in the second half when Trout returns. Worthy of Mentioning: Zack Cozart, Chris Owings

Outfield

Worst: There have been many outstanding performances in the outfield this season, but there are just as many bad performances, if not more. One could easily point to Starling Marte and what he has cost fantasy owners with his PED suspension. There’s the extended DL absence of A.J. Pollock to start the season. There’s also the huge hole left by Mike Trout’s DL stint. However, let’s look instead at Carlos Gonzalez (ADP 57), who by his own manager’s admission has not looked very “Cargo-like” this season. Gonzalez currently sports a ridiculously awful .221/.299/.338 line in 263 at-bats. Despite playing half of his games in Coors Field, he’s managed only six home runs, 22 RBI, and a career-worst .637 OPS. There was a very short DL stint in late June that went the minimum 10 days, due to a right shoulder strain, but no reported lingering injury to cause such a dip in production. Gonzalez turns 32 in October and should still have some productive years left. There is enough history to suggest that he can still be a useful outfield piece when healthy, but given the awful three-month start to the season, I would be very cautious moving forward. Worthy of Mentioning: Yoenis Cespedes, Ryan Braun, Kyle Schwarber

Best: With so many players to choose from, it would be easy to point at a rookie darling or two like Aaron Judge (ADP 285) or Cody Bellinger (ADP 407). Enough has been written about them, deservedly so with the first halves they’ve had, but I’d like to look at more established players for this piece. With that in mind, let’s look at Corey Dickerson (ADP 261) and what he accomplished in the first half. Besides earning his first nod to the All-Star Game while splitting almost even time between left field and DH, Dickerson has rewarded those savy enough to draft or pick him up off waivers with a .312 batting average and .903 OPS in 343 at-bats to go along with 17 home runs, 42 RBI, and 60 runs scored. There is nothing to say that this level of success is unsustainable, and he should continue his fine production in the second half.  Worthy of Mentioning: Steven Souza, Domingo Santana, Scott Schebler

Starting Pitcher

Worst: This is another very deep pool of players to choose from. Madison Bumgarner and his motorcycle accident would be a good place to start. Noah Syndergaard and his torn lat muscle have certainly caused some angst for fantasy owners. Injuries aside, the most alarming performance of the first half has to be the Cubs righty/lefty combo of Jake Arrietta (ADP 28) and Jon Lester (ADP 34). These pitchers were drafted this high not necessarily as staff aces, but as solid No. 2 starters on most fantasy squads. To be drafted this high, owners are hoping for better than Arrieta’s 4.35 ERA and 1.30 WHIP or Lester’s 4.25 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Arrieta has a career WHIP of 1.17, and Lester’s career WHIP sits at 1.24, so you know they are capable of better. Arrieta has an 8-7 record, while Lester, who ended the first half by giving up nine earned runs over 5 2/3 innings, is 5-6. Both are still getting slightly higher than a strikeout per inning, so they are still serviceable options. The number of innings these two have totaled over the last couple of years may be causing some fatigue, so hopefully the All-Star break will give them the rest they need to get back on track. Worthy of Mentioning: Johny Cueto, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello

Best: Jason Vargas (ADP 606) has been one of the biggest surprises of the first half. He was a top-10 starting pitcher in points leagues in the first half, which is shocking. At his best, Vargas has been a good stop-gap option for fantasy, and but he’s never been a frontline fantasy asset. At age 34, it is hard to say this is a career renaissance, so, unfortunately, we are probably going to see some regression back to the norm. He currently sports a 2.62 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 12-3 record — numbers that are much better than his career marks (4.05 ERA and 1.30 WHIP). He’s struck out only 78 in 106 innings, but batters are hitting only .244 against the lefty. Vargas will still have useful starts in the second half, but I believe he will come back to the middle of the pack and possibly switch places with one of the two pitchers mentioned above. Worthy of Mentioning: Jimmy Nelson, Alex Wood, Ervin Santana

Relief Pitcher

Best: Each year brings constant turnover and turmoil as teams attempt to find an answer for the ninth inning. Greg Holland (ADP 269) was an elite closer for the Royals until an elbow injury cost him the entire 2016 season. Signing a free agent contract with the Rockies has paid big dividends for fantasy owners who took the risk. His 28 saves at the break lead Major League Baseball. He has recorded 43 strikeouts in 33 innings and is pitching to a 1.62 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. With the exception of one blown save, which was in his last appearance before the break, he has been a lockdown closer for a resurgent Rockies team and should continue to be so. Worthy of Mentioning: Corey Knebel, Brandon Kintzler

Worst: Rounding out this report is tough due to all of the turnover and injury ineffectiveness. Aroldis Chapman’s prolonged absence due to injury certainly hurt owners who drafted him as the first closer off the board. Same with Zach Britton and his forearm injury causing a two-month absence. Jeurys Familia and his return from suspension and subsequent blood clot in his shoulder was not a good way to start the season in New York. Mark Melancon has endured two trips to the DL and has not been the lockdown closer the Giants had hoped for. One of the most frustrating non-injury related performance so far has been Edwin Diaz (ADP 89). Drafted as a top-10 closer after coming off a promising rookie campaign that saw him save 18 games in 21 chances, Diaz has not been able to gain any momentum this season. Some of that could be attributed to the spotty chances he gets from an under-performing Seattle team that ended the break at 43-47. In five fewer chances than last year, he has already blown three save opportunities and been pulled from the closer role. He has earned it back and still has decent numbers with 48 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings and a 1.23 WHIP and 3.53 ERA. Opponents are hitting only .207 on the year against him, but eight of those hits have gone over the wall. As young players go, he is still showing the talent to compete at this level. With experience, I expect him to show improvement and build off his rookie campaign. The Mariners are not in win-now mode, so they should have patience with him moving forward. Worthy of Mentioning: Any relief pitcher in a Cardinals or Nationals uniform.

 

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