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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
Pirates' Gregory Polanco smacks second home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco connected off Padres starter Ian Kennedy for his second home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Polanco hit the solo home run in the second inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored. He is now hitting .247 on the season.

Prior to his performance Thursday, Polanco was hitting .333 with one RBI in his last five games.


Pirates C Francisco Cervelli collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had three more hits during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres to raise his batting average to .320 on the season.

During Thursday's contest, Cervelli went 3 for 5 with two runs scored. Over his last five games, Cervelli is 9 for 17 with four RBI and six runs scored.


Pirates OF Starling Marte hits 10th home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte smacked his 10th home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Marte hit the two-run home run off Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Marte finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.

Prior to Thursday's contest, Marte was hitting .167 with one home run and four RBI in his last six games.


Angels' Erick Aybar (hamstring) not expected to need DL stint
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Thursday's win over the Tigers that shortstop Erick Aybar (hamstring) is not expected to need a trip to the disabled list, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aybar left Thursday's game due to hamstring tightness. He suffered the injury while trying to beat a bunt to first base. The team could call up a capable replacement at shortstop even if the Angels believe Aybar will only miss a few games with the injury. He was replaced Thursday by Taylor Featherston, who had played a total of six innings across four games at the position this season.


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 at the plate to help lead the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Padres on Thursday.

McCutchen drove in two runs and scored two during the contest. Prior to his three-hit game Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .382 with three home runs and five RBI in his last nine games.


Padres 3B Will Middlebrooks collects three hits in Thursday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 3 for 4 at the plate during Thursday's contest, but it was not enough as the Padres fell 11-5 to the Pirates.

All three of the hits for Middlebrooks were singles. He drove in one run and scored a run during the game.

Middlebrooks is 9 for 22 with two home runs and five RBI in his last five games. During that time, he has raised his batting average from .211 to .240.


Pirates SS Jung Ho Kang slugs three-run home run in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang connected off pitcher Ian Kennedy in the first inning for his third home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Ho Kang finished the game 1 for 5 with three RBI. Ho Kang has hit safely in his last 10 games. During that time, he is 15 for 41 with eight RBI and he has raised his average from .270 to .308.


Angels' Chris Iannetta delivers grand slam in win Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Angels catcher Chris Iannetta went 2 for 4 with a grand slam in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

Iannetta put the cherry on top of a blowout win for the Angels with his seventh-inning slam, which increased the Angels' lead to 11 runs before the Tigers were able to get one back in the ninth. It was the fourth grand slam of the catcher's career.

Iannetta has hit just .178/.263/.307 with 13 RBI in 101 at-bats, but all three of his home runs have come in his last eight games.


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett allows five runs in Thursday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up five runs (four earned) over 5 2/3 innings to earn his fifth victory of the season during the 11-5 win over the Padres on Thursday.

Burnett (5-1) struck out six and walked two batters during the outing. His ERA rose from 1.37 to 1.81.

The Pirates gave Burnett a 7-0 lead before Burnett allowed two runs to score in the fourth inning on hits by Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks. Burnett permitted more runs in the fifth inning when two hits and two errors led to two runs.

By failing to toss seven innings Thursday, it broke Burnett's streak of four-consecutive starts throwing seven innings. He allowed four earned runs during those outings. His next expected is scheduled for Tuesday at San Francisco.


Angels' Matt Joyce homers in second straight game Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Angels left fielder Matt Joyce went 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBI in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

After being bogged down offensively for much of the season, Joyce has now homered in consecutive games and looks to be getting on track at the plate. He has hit just .187/.262/.313 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 134 at-bats, but it's improvement on his .360 OPS at the end of April.


 
 
 
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