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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
Sonny Gray turns in another gem
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray turned in another gem Thursday night against the Angels in Anaheim. The right-hander permitted three runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six over seven innings of a no-decision. Of his 103 pitches, 66 were strikes.

Over his last four starts covering 27 2/3 innings, Gray has allowed 12 earned runs. He owns a 3.03 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 27 starts (178 innings). His next start will come Tuesday at home against Seattle.

Alex Gordon hits another home run
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:51 am ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon clubbed his 17th home run Thursday against the Twins. 

Gordon struck in the bottom of the seventh inning. He took a 93 mph fastball from from Ryan Pressly out to right center for the solo shot. Gordon also singled earlier in the contest. He finished 2 for 5, with two runs scored and two RBI. Gordon has now hit five home runs in his last 11 games. 


C.J. Wilson settles for no-decision
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:50 am ET) Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson couldn't last six innings Thursday against the Athletics.

Wilson allowed three runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked three during the outing. Wilson was excellent early, tossing four scoreless innings to open the game. He got into some trouble in the fifth inning. Wilson led things off by giving up a single and a run-scoring double against the first two hitters he faced. After a groundout, Coco Crisp managed to drive in another run on a single. Wilson escaped the inning with a one-run lead. That lead was erased almost immediately. Josh Donaldson homered to start the sixth, tying the game.

Wilson was pulled after putting two men on base with two outs. Wilson did not factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start.


Jason Castro belts a grand slam Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Astros catcher Jason Castro belted a grand slam Thursday against the Rangers.

Castro struck in the bottom of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, he sent a 96 mph fastball out to right for the grand slam. Castro also singled and walked earlier in the contest. He finished 2 for 3, with one run scored and four RBI.


Derek Holland throws 98 pitches during rehab start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) Rangers pitcher Derek Holland tossed 98 pitches during a rehab start Thursday.

Holland allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two during the outing. He gave up two home runs during the appearance. Despite the performance, Holland managed to pick up a win. He was scratched from his previous start due to back spasms. 


Charlie Morton goes four innings in rehab start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton went four innings during a rehab start Thursday.

Morton allowed two runs on four hits over four innings. He struck out six and walked one during the outing. Morton threw 73 pitches. He's working his way back from hip inflammation. Morton has not pitched since August 15 due to the issue. 


Luke Putkonen knocked around during rehab game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:26 am ET) Tigers pitcher Luke Putkonen was knocked around in his first rehab appearance.

Putkonen gave up four runs in just 2/3 of an inning. He allowed two hits, including a home run, and walked two batters. Putkonen is attempting to come back after June elbow surgery. 


Bruce Chen has late meltdown
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) Royals pitcher Bruce Chen had a big time meltdown Thursday against the Twins.

Chen entered with the game tied in the top of the 10th inning. After notching a strikeout against the first batter he faced, Chen gave up a triple and two walks to load the bases. Two singles quickly gave the Twins a three-run lead. Chen was then able to induce a pop out for the second out of the inning. With two outs, he allowed two straight doubles, plating another three runs.

When all was said and done, Chen gave up six runs on five hits during his one inning of work. His record dropped to 2-4. 


Jeremy Guthrie escapes with the no decision
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:07 am ET) Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie turned in a tough start Thursday against the Twins.

Guthrie allowed five runs on nine hits over six innings. He struck out five and walked two during the outing. Guthrie was tagged early. With one out in the first, the Twins managed to put runners on second and third. One run would come in on a groundout. The other would score on a single. Guthrie made it through the next two innings unscathed, but gave up two more runs in the fourth inning. He gave up his final run on a walk and a double in the sixth inning. 

Guthrie exited with the game tied, picking up the no-decision. He’ll take on the Rangers in his next start.


Tommy Milone gets knocked around Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Twins pitcher Tommy Milone had a rough start Thursday against the Royals.

Milone allowed four runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. He did not record any strikeouts, but walked two batters. Milone gave up two runs in the first inning. After giving up a leadoff single, Milone allowed an RBI-single to Alex Gordon after the runner got into scoring position. Gordon would reach second on a walk, and score on another RBI-single. Milone made it through the next two innings without any issues, but was tagged for a run in both the fourth and fifth innings. 

Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie had similar struggles during the start, giving Milone the no-decision. He’ll take on the White Sox in his next start.


 
 
 
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