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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
Michael Morse to miss time with oblique injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:33 pm ET) Giants outfielder Michael Morse will miss a couple games due to a strained oblique, according to CSN.

Morse will miss the rest of the team's road trip. There's a chance he could return next week, when the team returns home. Morse is hitting .280/.338/.477 over 436 at-bats. 


Sean Doolittle able to play catch Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:28 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Sean Doolittle was able to play catch Tuesday, according to CSN.

Doolittle was able to throw from 90 feet. It was the first time he played catch since injuring his oblique. Doolittle said the session went well. There's currently no return date for Doolittle. 


Chris Young questionable to make his next start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:24 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Chris Young is questionable to make his next start, according to 710 ESPN.

Young was pulled in the first inning Monday after giving up five runs. Manager Lloyd McClendon said he would monitor Young throughout the week in order to make sure he's 100 percent. If Young does well in the coming days, he should make the start, according to McClendon.


GM hints that Carlos Rodon won't be coming up
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) White Sox general manager Rick Hahn indicated pitching prospect Carlos Rodon won't be called up during September, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"It just wasn’t right time in [Rodon's] development to bring him to the big leagues and and ask him to get big league hitters out," Hahn said. Rodon was the third overall pick in the June draft, but was thought to be one of the closest players to the majors. The club could still bring Rodon up during the month, but it seems unlikely given Hahn's comments. 


John Jaso able to take batting practice Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Athletics designated hitter John Jaso was able to take batting practice Tuesday, according to FanGraphs.com.

Jaso has been dealing with concussion-like symptoms. He believes he'll be able to return soon, but can't ramp up his work too much. Jaso is hitting .264/.337/.430 over 307 at-bats. 


Joe Thatcher could return in a week or so
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:54 pm ET) Angels pitcher Joe Thatcher could return to action in seven to 10 days, according to the Orange County Register

Thatcher has been sidelined since early August due to an ankle injury. Manager Mike Scioscia said he expects Thatcher to return in about a week. Thatcher has a 3.00 ERA over 27 innings. 


Erasmo Ramirez gets the call
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:21 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez has been called up Tuesday.

Ramirez was temporarily demoted to the minors, but was expected to return once rosters expanded. He's expected to pitch out of the bullpen going forward. 


James Paxton on his way back up
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:18 pm ET) Mariners pitcher James Paxton is coming back up to the majors Tuesday.

Paxton was temporarily demoted to the minors in order to make room on the active roster. With September call-ups active, the club brought him back up. Paxton has a 1.83 ERA over 39 1/3 innings.


Michael Kohn designated for assignment Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:59 pm ET) Angels pitcher Michael Kohn has been designated for assignment Tuesday.

Kohn was optioned to Triple-A in July. He posted a 3.04 ERA over 23 2/3 innings in the majors. He has a career 3.67 ERA over 110 1/3 innings. 


Adam LaRoche unable to return Tuesday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:54 pm ET) Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is not in the lineup for Tuesday's game against the Dodgers, as a result of a back injury suffered the previous night. He remains day to day at this point, though the extent of the injury is not yet known.

 
 
 
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