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All-Star Break Extra: The first-half underachievers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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Are you up for a little reminiscing? I hope so because I want to take you back to the spring -- a time filled with optimism not only for major-league clubs but for Fantasy owners as well.

Do you remember how you felt on Draft Day? Surely, you were filled with excitement after what appeared to be a promising draft that brought dreams of a Fantasy championship.

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Fast forward a few months and we've reached the midway point of the 2012 season, but I want you to go back and look at your league's draft results. Like every year, you are going to find some picks that are worthy of self-promotion and patting yourself on the back for a job well done, but you are also going to find some picks that made you fill up the curse jar because of their less-than-inspiring first-half performances.

If you are still in the hunt for a playoff berth in your Fantasy league, then good luck. If your team has seen better days and are counting down until your Fantasy Football draft, well then, I guess there is always next year.

Still, there is a lot of baseball left to be played and hope remains for many Fantasy Baseball owners. Patience and fortitude are other mannerisms you find prevalent among owners. If you have the patience to stick by struggling players or the fortitude to pursue a buy-low candidate, then the payoff could be worth it in the end.

There was plenty of underachieving draft options again in the first half this season, and in this column we will evaluate some of those players and gauge their outlook for the rest of the season.

Catcher
Mike Napoli, Rangers
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 4th round (Rotisserie); 7th round (Head-to-Head)
Rank at position after first half: 10th in H2H; 13th in Roto
Analysis: Napoli was voted into the All-Star game, but his first-half performance left a lot to be desired based on being drafted as a Top 5 Fantasy catcher in all formats. Napoli's problems in the first half stemmed from his career-high 30.2 percent strikeout rate (career average is 25.1 percent) and not getting enough loft under his hits. According to FanGraphs.com, Napoli has a 1.05 GB/FB rate, which is well above his career average (0.83). The good news for Fantasy owners, though, is that Napoli has been a much stronger performer down the stretch in his career. His second-half slash line -- .280/.371/.535/.906 -- is much better than his first-half line -- .248/.348/.483/.830. And we all remember what Napoli did in the second half last season. I came close to cutting Napoli for Salvador Perez in a 10-team, Rotisserie league, but I refrained because Napoli looks poised for a big second half.

First Baseman
Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 1st round in H2H and Roto
Rank at position after first half: 17th in H2H; 23rd in Roto
Analysis: We all know why Gonzalez had such a poor first half -- a lack of power. He had just six homers in 86 games and is on pace for 11 homers, which would be a career-low for a full season. That's the big anomaly. You look at all of his other numbers, including plate discipline, BABIP, GB/FB/LD rates, and there are no real big outliers outside of Gonzalez swinging at 52.6 percent of the pitches he sees, which is above his career average 48.7 percent. But I'm confident we are going to see a resurgent Gonzalez in the second half. The big reason why is that Gonzalez is back in his comfort zone at first base. He is hitting .290 with five homers and 35 RBI in 74 games as a first baseman this season, as opposed to .254 with one homer and 10 RBI as a right fielder. Since June 20 -- when Gonzalez went back to playing exclusively at first base -- he is batting .372 (29 for 78) with a .395 OBP, .474 slugging percentage and .869 OPS. I will also mention Gonzalez is a strong second-half producer as well, with a career slash line of .302/.387/.516/.903.

Second Baseman
Rickie Weeks, Brewers
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 7th round in H2H and Roto
Rank at position after first half: 23rd in H2H; 25th in Roto
Analysis: Weeks' biggest problem has been his lack of contact. He has a career-high 28.6 percent strikeout rate in the first half and it's not like he is chasing bad pitches. According to FanGraphs.com, Weeks is swinging at just 21.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which is slightly above his career average (21.4). It's just that his overall contact rate is 72.5 percent and the league average is 81 percent. Though, Weeks has been showing signs of turning the corner. He is batting .296 with a .352 OBP, .506 slugging percentage and .858 OPS in his last 21 games. His strikeout rate is still high during that span, but his BABIP increased to .389 after it was .219 in the first 60 games. It seems Weeks is headed for a market correction, so if you are looking for some middle-infield help, then Weeks (owned in 79 percent of leagues) could be a cheap fix off waivers.

Third Baseman
Kevin Youkilis, White Sox
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 5th round in Roto; 6th round in H2H
Rank at position after first half: 31st in H2H and Roto
Analysis: I didn't forget about Ryan Zimmerman, but I chose Youkilis over him because Zimmerman was still owned and started in most leagues even when he was struggling. Many folks took Youkilis out of their lineups during his down turn, but he seems to have gotten a second wind since being traded to the South Side of Chicago. In 13 games with the White Sox, Youkilis is batting .317 with a .418 OBP, .571 slugging percentage, .990 OPS, three homers and 14 RBI. He is delivering the results Fantasy owners expected on Draft Day. Will it last? My gut tells me no. Or at least I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon after a few weeks with a new team. Obviously, Youkilis is playing with a chip on his shoulder after being pushed out of Boston and it seems his timing is back. But remember his body continues to betray him as he has been limited to 55 games this season because of injury. Also, Youkilis is hitting .231 with no homers and four RBI in seven road games with the White Sox, as opposed to .478 with three homers and 10 RBI in six home games. He could end up as a player you only start down the stretch when Chicago is on a homestand.

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Shortstop
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 12th round in H2H and Roto
Rank at position after first half: 15th in Roto; 17th in H2H
Analysis: Ramirez has passed as a low-end starter in mixed leagues the last few years, but by Week 9 his starting percentage had dropped from 85 to a season-low 41. It's on the rise again thanks to a late surge before the All-Star break. Ramirez is batting .423 with a .439 OBP, .564 slugging percentage and 1.003 OPS in his last 21 games. Now, even those numbers are astronomical for Ramirez, but he needed a market correction to get his numbers back to the norm. Though, I wonder how much growth Ramirez has left. From 2008-11, his stat line was .279/.323/.421/.745. After the first half, Ramirez's line is .266/.287/.341/.628. His lack of power has been his biggest drawback this season, and even during his 21-game surge, Ramirez has just one homer. Once Ramirez cools off, I think the lack of power is going to hinder him in Fantasy and keep him outside the position's top 12.

Outfielder
Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 2nd round in Roto; 3rd round in H2H
Rank at position after first half: 31st in Roto; 39th in H2H
Analysis: Upton hit a first-half low when the Diamondbacks faithful began to boo him on Independence Day. Now, he is one of the hot names on the July trade market. Maybe a trade will spark his offense like it has done for Youkilis. Honestly, though, the only thing wrong with Upton is his lack of power. He has a .340 BABIP, which is right around his career norm (.337), and he is even making contact at a career-high 76.1 percent, according to FanGraphs.com. It's just that Upton's GB/FB rate is 1.39, which is well above his career average (1.02). If Upton starts hitting homers in the second half, then all will be back to normal -- no matter what uniform he dons.

Starting Pitcher
Cliff Lee, Phillies
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 2nd round in H2H and Roto
Rank at position after first half: 75th in H2H; 111th in Roto
Analysis: Lee almost went the first half of the season without a win before locking one down in his final start against the Mets, but it took a late rally for that to happen. Run support has been a big issue for Lee this season. Among starters, he ranks near the bottom with a 4.9 run-support average, according to ESPN.com. Lee has also been hit hard at times this year, but he has just a 3.98 ERA, which is slightly above his 3.66 career mark. He is also getting first-pitch strikes at a career-high 71.2 percent, so it's not like Lee is falling behind hitters. His BABIP (.330) is higher than normal (.296), so it seems Lee has been a bit unlucky in the first half. But now that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are back from injuries, perhaps Lee will finally get the run support he needs. I'm buying a turnaround for Lee in the second half.

Starting Pitcher
Tim Lincecum, Giants
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 2nd round in H2H; 3rd round in Roto
Rank at position after first half: 133 in H2H; 392 in Roto
Analysis: It seems the only thing that is going to fix Timmy is an exorcism because the demons he is battling on the hill have taken over. It's all out of whack for Lincecum. He is giving up too many hits, homers and walks. He still has a good strikeout rate, but his strand rate is at 59.2 percent, which is just awful. The league average is 72 percent, according to FanGraphs.com. Obviously, this isn't the norm for Lincecum, but there's no telling right now if he is going to right the ship. I've benched Lincecum and will keep him there until he starts stringing together some respectable starts.

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Starting Pitcher
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 4th round in H2H and Roto
Rank at position after first half: 60th in H2H; 86th in Roto
Analysis: Kennedy is on pace to win 11 games in 2012 after winning a career-high 21 last season. He has been the unfortunate benefactor of poor run support, averaging 5.6 per game, according to ESPN.com. But that hasn't been his only problem this year. Kennedy was a bit unlucky in the first half, sporting a .326 BABIP, which is well above his .280 career average. His FIP is also 3.58, while his ERA is at 4.26. According to FanGraphs.com, hitters are chasing pitches out of the zone against Kennedy at a 34.7 percent rate, which is above the league average (30 percent) and Kennedy's career average (28.7 percent). He's also throwing first-pitch strikes 66.2 percent of the time and hitters are swinging at 50.9 percent of Kennedy's offerings, which are both above the league norms and career bests for the right-hander. Lastly, while Kennedy went 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in the first half last year, his career first-half numbers are 19-20 with a 4.25 ERA. His second-half numbers are 18-5 with a 2.81 ERA. I'm buying Kennedy as a bounce-back candidate in the second half.

Relief Pitcher
Heath Bell, Marlins
Average Draft Position (based on 12-team league): 8th in H2H; 9th round in Roto
Rank at position after first half: 34th in H2H; 178th in Roto
Analysis: After years of consistency with the Padres, Bell has fallen apart in his first year with the Marlins. Maybe he just isn't cut out to pitch in the NL East. Before landing in San Diego, Bell posted a 4.92 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in three seasons (2004-06) with the Mets. Maybe the adjustment to a new team and pitching under the pressure of a hefty contract is affecting the veteran closer. But we do know that Bell is having trouble sneaking his pitches past hitters. Opposing batters are swinging and missing on just 5.8 percent of Bell's offerings, which is below the norm (8.5 percent) and a career-low for Bell, whose career average is 9.4 percent. Hitters are also making contact at an 85 percent rate, which is above the norm (81 percent) and Bell's career average (78.3 percent). If he doesn't figure it out soon, manager Ozzie Guillen might have to turn the closer's role over to Juan Oviedo once he comes off his suspension in late July. With the way teams have been churning through closers this season, it wouldn't be surprising if Miami makes a change later this summer.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com

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Player News
Dodgers sign Jeremy Horst to minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:50 pm ET) The Dodgers have signed pitcher Jeremy Horst to a minor-league deal, according to ONYX Sports Management. 

The 29-year-old Horst spent last season in Triple-A. He posted a 3.98 ERA over 63 1/3 innings. Horst has pitched 72 2/3 innings in the majors, compiling a 3.34 career ERA. 


Blue Jays' Justin Smoak not guaranteed a roster spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:26 pm ET) Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak is not guaranteed a spot on the team's 25-man roster, according to Sportsnet590.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos told the station that Smoak could begin the season in the minors if he struggles during spring training. The 28-year-old joined the club in the offseason, and is expected to compete for a backup role.


Braves' Dian Toscano to start season in Triple-A
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:09 pm ET) Braves outfielder Dian Toscano is expected to start the season in Triple-A, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The 25-year-old recently signed a four-year deal with the club. While he could have started the season in the majors, the team wants to get him more experience after not playing all that much last year. Toscano hit .356/.400/.452 in 86 plate appearances back in 2012-2013, his final season in Cuba. 


Angels avoid arbitration with David Freese
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:08 pm ET) The Angels have avoided arbitration with third baseman David Freese, the team announced. 

Freese signed a one-year deal worth $6.425 million, according to MLB.com. The 31-year-old Freese hit .260/.321/.383 over 462 at-bats last season. Freese is set to open the season as the team's starter at third. 


Dodgers announce minor-league deals with Bedard, Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:57 pm ET) The Dodgers have signed pitchers Erik Bedard and Ben Rowen to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training, the team announced Wednesday.

Bedard, 35, spent 2014 with the Rays, going 4-6 with a 4.76 ERA and 64:29 K:BB ratio in 75 2/3 innings. He has posted a career 3.99 ERA and 8.6 K/9 rate since making his major-league debut in 2002.

Rowen, 26, debuted with the Rangers last season, giving up four earned runs in 8 2/3 innings in eight appearances while striking out seven batters and walking four (three intentional). He posted a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock in 2014.


Braves designate OF Jose Constanza for assignment
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:40 pm ET) The Braves have designated outfielder Jose Constanza for assignment, the team announced Wednesday.

The move clears a 40-man roster spot for Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano, with whom the team announced a four-year deal Wednesday. Constanza received just four at-bats with the Braves in 2014 while hitting .293/.344/.324 with no home runs, 36 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 447 at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett.


Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts: 'Strongest I've ever felt'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:57 pm ET) Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been working out at the EXOS performance institute in Arizona, the facility where second baseman Dustin Pedroia trains every offseason. ESPN.com says Bogaerts feels he's pushed himself more than ever before, "and the results are showing."

"This is probably the strongest I’ve ever felt going into a season -- and by far,” Bogaerts said, via the website. “I’m definitely real excited for the season.”

Bogaerts, 22, had an up-and-down 2014 season, his first full year in the majors. He finished at .240 with 12 homers and 46 RBI in 144 games.

He'll spend a few more weeks training in Arizona before reporting to spring training.

“I kind of never challenged my body to lift heavier weights because I’ve always tried to kind of maintain the same,” Bogaerts said. “Getting the knowledge from those kind of guys and just trusting the whole system that they have over there and just pushing your body, it’s really a difference than any years I’ve had in the past.

“It was mostly gym and conditioning and speed and stuff like that, power and speed. It was definitely something that I really enjoyed.”


Report: Pirates sign Wilkin Castillo to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:24 pm ET) The Pirates signed catcher Wilkin Castillo to a minor-league contract Wednesday, sources told Fox Sports. The deal includes an invite to spring training.

Castillo is a career .314 hitter in 35 at-bats.


White Sox sign second baseman Gordon Beckham
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) The White Sox signed second baseman Gordon Beckham  to a one-year, $2 million contract, the team announced.

Beckham spent more than five seasons with the White Sox. He is a career .245 hitter and is expected to play in a utility role. To make room for Beckham, the team designated Dayan Viciedo for assignment.


Masahiro Tanaka says his elbow feels good
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka told the Japan Times that his elbow feels fine as he prepares for spring training, per The Star-Ledger. Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that could eventually require Tommy John surgery.

Tanaka missed more than two months last season due to the injury. After the layoff, he was able to make two starts toward the end of the season and finished 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.

"So far, so good -- including that [elbow]," Tanaka said.

The Yankees signed Tanaka last offseason to a seven-year, $155 million contract.


 
 
 
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