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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
Robbie Ross earns win Wednesday vs. A's
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:48 am ET) Rangers pitcher Robbie Ross picked up a win Wednesday, striking out one in 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his team's 6-1 victory over the A's.

Ross (3-6) was one of three pitchers to appear in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday, and after the Rangers scored six runs on three A's relievers in the top of the ninth, Ross finished off the win with a clean bottom half of the final inning. He owns a 6.39 ERA and 49:29 K:BB ratio in 74 2/3 innings.


J.P. Arencibia slugs 10th home run in win vs. A's
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:46 am ET) Rangers designated hitter J.P. Arencibia went 1 for 4 with a three-run home run in his team's 6-1 victory over the A's Wednesday.

After the Rangers evened the score at 1-1 in the ninth inning, Arencibia put his team up with a big blast over the left field fence. He has a modest four-game hitting streak with two home runs during that stretch. Arencibia has hit .173/.234/.367 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI in 196 at-bats.


Sean Doolittle blows save, takes loss Wednesday vs. Rangers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:46 am ET) Athletics closer Sean Doolittle blew a save opportunity Wednesday and was stuck with the loss in his team's 6-1 defeat against the Rangers.

Doolittle (1-4) was tasked with protecting a 1-0 lead but surrendered a game-tying double before the Rangers broke things open with a three-run home run. The closer finished with five earned runs on three hits and two walks in just one-third of an inning. Doolittle owns a 2.97 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 83:7 K:BB ratio in 57 2/3 innings.


Jeff Samardzija strikes out 10 in gem vs. Rangers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jeff Samardzija didn't factor into the decision Wednesday despite giving up just four hits in eight scoreless innings while striking out 10 and walking none in his team's 6-1 defeat against the Rangers.

Samardzija matched his season high for strikeouts in the gem, and he's now delivered 15 innings of scoreless baseball over his last two starts. However, the bullpen blew his lead in the ninth inning to keep him at 6-12. Despite his record, he's been excellent this season, posting a 2.98 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 190:43 K:BB ratio in 205 2/3 innings. Samardzija is slated to face the Angels Monday.


Derek Holland allows one run in no-decision vs. A's
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Rangers pitcher Derek Holland didn't factor into the decision Wednesday, giving up one earned run on four hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings while striking out five in his team's 6-1 win over the A's.

Holland turned in his fourth straight strong start and actually saw his ERA rise despite the excellent line. The only run came on a single with two men on in the fifth inning, giving Holland four straight starts with one run or no runs since coming off the disabled list. He owns a 0.99 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 22:3 K:BB ratio in 27 1/3 innings. Hollard is scheduled to face the Astros Monday.


Mariners announce weekend rotation plans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:33 am ET) The Mariners announced Wednesday that Taijuan Walker will draw the start in Friday's series opener against the Astros in Houston.

Walker hasn't made a start for the Mariners since late July, but he's managed to make three appearances out of the bullpen in September. He owns a 2.96 ERA and 21:15 K:BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings.

The announcement will move Chris Young back to Saturday and Hisashi Iwakuma to Sunday.


Eric Stults chased in fifth inning of loss vs. Phillies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) Padres pitcher Eric Stults took a loss Wednesday, allowing four earned runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings while striking out two in his team's 5-2 defeat against the Phillies.

Stults (7-17) delivered four scoreless innings before running into trouble in the fifth, when the Phillies opened the inning with four singles to score two runs and then followed a sacrifice with a two-run double, which chased the starter from the game. It's the first time since June 8 Stults has failed to finish five innings. He owns a 4.59 ERA and 101:44 K:BB ratio in 162 2/3 innings. Stults is scheduled to face the Rockies Tuesday.


Cole Hamels strikes out nine in win vs. Padres
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels earned a win Wednesday, allowing one earned run on seven hits and one walk in seven innings while striking out nine in his team's 5-2 victory over the Padres.

Hamels (9-7) gave up just one run for the second straight start, and he's turned in 11 quality starts in 12 tries in the second half, with the only "off" day resulting in a five-inning, three-run win. He owns an excellent 2.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 187:57 K:BB ratio in 189 2/3 innings. Hamels is scheduled to face the Marlins Tuesday.


C.J. Cron swats 11th home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Angels first baseman C.J. Cron went 2 for 3 with a three-run home run in his team's 5-0 win over the Mariners Wednesday.

Cron's home run came at an opportune time, as the Mariners turned to the bullpen in the seventh inning only for the Angels first baseman to immediately smack a three-run blast to put the lead out of reach. He has hit .273/.301/.482 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI in 220 at-bats.


C.J. Wilson tosses seven one-hit innings in win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:48 am ET) Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson earned a win Wednesday, allowing just one hit and three walks in seven scoreless innings while striking out seven in his team's 5-0 victory over the Mariners.

Wilson (13-9) retired the first 11 batters he faced Wednesday before issuing a walk, and his no-hitter came to an end with two outs in the fifth. It's his first time since May 17 getting through a start without giving up a run. Wilson owns a 4.42 ERA and 149:78 K:BB ratio in 169 innings. He's slated to face the A's Monday.


 
 
 
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