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Reality Check: LaRoche owns the second half

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Adam LaRoche's three-homer weekend wasn't your average three-homer weekend -- and not just because it came from Adam LaRoche, a never-been All-Star who's known more as a stopgap in Fantasy than someone who'll carry your team from week to week.

It's not because he accomplished it with two homers in one game, which is pretty much standard fare for three-homer weekends. It's not because his team played a doubleheader one day, which I'll admit is almost cheating but am prepared to overlook. It's not even because it's part of a longer, 14-game hot streak in which he's hit .442 (23 for 52) with seven home runs, though those numbers only further the point.

It's because it signals the continuation of a pattern that probably hasn't gotten enough attention for as much good as it could do Fantasy owners -- a part of his profile that distinguishes him from just about every player in the game.

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He owns the second half.

I don't mean that, over the course of his career, the numbers have broken down in a way that reveals a slight uptick in production after the All-Star break. I mean he owns it, the way Michael Phelps owns the water or lettuce owns salad.

"Yeah, but ..."

Nuh-uh. Don't even try to throw out comparables. I'll shoot 'em down as quickly as you prop 'em up.

Tim Lincecum? I know what you're thinking. His 3.50 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in the first half compared to 2.93 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in the second half suggests his last five starts, four of which fall under the category of "retro Lincecum," are positively legit.

Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but the splits aren't the explanation why. Remove this year's first half, when he posted a 6.42 ERA, and his career mark for that period drops to 3.00, which isn't so far off from 2.93.

Nick Markakis? I'll admit I fell for his charms as well, stating in the most recent Hit Parade that "with a career .303 batting average and .852 OPS in the second half, he could be poised for a strong finish."

Disgusting.

First of all, he has a career .288 batting average and .790 OPS in the first half, so it's not like the splits are all that extreme. Plus, the gap that does exist is mostly the result of his rookie and sophomore seasons way back in 2006 and 2007, when he hit a combined .274 in the first half and .318 in the second half. Remove them from the equation, and he's pretty much the exact same player in each of the two halves.

Ryan Howard? Sure, he had a stretch earlier in his career when he'd save his best for last, but in each the last two seasons, he has taken a significant step back after the All-Star break, his batting average dropping from .257 in the first half to .248 in the second half last year and from .294 to .248 in 2010. Sorry, but whatever trend exists there isn't enough to make me jump.

What those three lack with their first- and second-half splits is reliability. If you could say with 100 percent assurance that they'd significantly improve their production over the final two months, you could go the extra mile to land them in a trade. That's not to say you shouldn't trade for them. All three are buy-low candidates, to a certain extent. It's just that the splits aren't the reason why.

And that split in particular is rarely the reason why. Sure, you could go to any player's splits page, pick out a situation in which he excels and make predictions based on it, but correlation doesn't always imply causation. Not all splits carry the same weight. Righty-lefty? Sure, I think we can all agree a player's projected performance changes with the handedness of the opposing pitcher. Home-away? Given that every ballpark has different measurements and environmental effects, yeah, the numbers should change based on location. First half-second half? That's a matter of timing, and timing is something you can't predict, which is why you see so many anomalies for so many of these supposed "second-half players."

But in LaRoche's case, the timing has become too consistent to ignore. Since 2006, his numbers have always been better in the second half, and usually be a significant margin. We're talking a 50-point increase in batting average and a 100-point increase in OPS. It's like the All-Star break is the full moon that transforms him into a werewolf when normally he's just some dude who likes to fish.

Over his career, it's added up to a .297 batting average and .896 OPS in the second half compared to .247 and .768 OPS in the first.

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Again, he owns it.

That's the difference between David Wright and David DeJesus. That's the difference between Kevin Mitchell and Kevin Maas. That's the difference between Mickey Mantle and Mickey Morandini. OK, maybe that last one's a stretch. But it's big, it's predictable, and it's happening again right now.

Considering LaRoche is still unowned in 10 percent of leagues, you might be able to get him for free in yours, and if not, considering he's still just the 12th-ranked first baseman in standard Head-to-Head leagues (even with that big weekend), you at least might be able to get him for cheap. No one's suggesting you give up Albert Pujols for him -- you lose the benefit of the splits if you have to pay for them -- but if you dangle a fifth starting pitcher (like Wade Miley or Phil Hughes) or third outfielder (like Alejandro De Aza or B.J. Upton) for LaRoche, perhaps even making his owner think he's selling high on him, you might just get a bite.

And in the process, you might just land someone who'll carry your team from week to week, All-Star or not.

In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Doug Fister, SP, Tigers: Over his first 11 starts, when he was plagued by rib and oblique injuries, Fister had a 4.75 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Over his last five starts, he has a 1.62 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He's gone at least seven innings in all of them and at least eight in three. That's the definition of ace, and it's pretty much what Fister was after coming over from the Mariners last year, posting a 0.65 ERA, 0.61 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his final eight appearances (seven starts). So did lightning strike twice, or is it possible that, at less than 100 percent, Fister's normally impeccable command was just a shade off? Well, which is more likely? If a once-in-a-lifetime hot streak happens twice in a lifetime, it's probably just a typical hot streak, in which case Fister is far more dangerous than Fantasy owners have been led to believe. Chances are he's worth whatever you'd have to pay for him on the trade market right now.

Howard Kendrick, 2B/OF, Angels: Over his last seven games, Kendrick is batting .407 (11 for 27). Pretty impressive, right? OK then, why does he rank 29th among second basemen in Head-to-Head leagues during that stretch? You see the problem there? Even at his hottest, Kendrick isn't productive enough to measure up at one of the weaker positions in Fantasy, which begs the question: Why is he still owned in 75 percent of leagues? He was plenty productive last year, yeah, but he also about doubled his previous career high with 18 home runs. He has only five this year. It's not happening again. With a nonexistent walk rate and minimal base-stealing ability, Kendrick was walking a fine line in terms of mixed-league relevance. Any slippage in power would cause him to plummet in the rankings, as has happened to Alexei Ramirez this year. Maybe if he was the perennial batting title contender he projected to be in the minors, he could survive it, but now seven years into his major-league career, that ship has already sailed. Time to move on to bigger and better things.

Ben Revere, OF, Twins: Fantasy owners already knew Revere was a base-stealer, but given his disappointing .267 batting average and pathetic .619 OPS as a rookie last year, they couldn't see the potential for him to be anything more. But this is a guy who Baseball America ranked as its 59th-best prospect entering 2009 -- a guy who compiled a .326 batting average over six minor-league seasons. Quite simply, this is a guy who can hit. Not for power, no, but given his .323 batting average to date, he should clearly stand out from the Rajai Davises or even the Coco Crisps of the world. And if you break down the numbers, he does. Since taking over as the Twins' regular right fielder on May 19, he's the 16th-ranked outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues -- ahead of notables Adam Jones, Jason Heyward and Jay Bruce -- and if you project his 27 steals in 73 games over a 162-game schedule, he'd have 60. In terms of production, Revere ranks somewhere between Juan Pierre of 10 years ago and Michael Bourn today. Shouldn't he in terms of value as well?

Ryan Dempster, SP, Rangers: Unfortunately, Dempster's disastrous start Thursday in which he allowed eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings is probably a sign of things to come with the Rangers. His 2.25 ERA in 16 starts with the Cubs was already destined to rise, both because of the law of averages and because both his velocity and strikeout rate are as low as they've been since he revived his career by moving back to the starting rotation in 2008. Of course, if he had stayed put, the regression to the mean probably would have taken him from stellar to mediocre in terms of Fantasy value, but his move to the tougher league and an exaggerated hitter's park will only amplify the effect, taking him from stellar to ugly in terms of Fantasy value. You might want to salvage what you can on the trade market and move on with your life.

Michael McKenry, C, Pirates: McKenry isn't technically the starting catcher in Pittsburgh, which makes him awfully hard to recommend as a starting catcher in Fantasy. But you know what helps? A .397 (27 for 68) batting average, eight home runs and 1.272 OPS in his last 22 games. Granted, those 22 games have been spread out over the course of six weeks, but the Pirates have begun to take notice, starting McKenry in four of their last seven games. And the production has continued with two home runs during that stretch. McKenry wasn't exactly a stud in waiting during his minor-league career, but he did have a 20-homer season and accumulated a .357 on-base percentage in six seasons overall. Rod Barajas brings a lot to the Pirates defensively, but if the offensive contributions are that far apart, at some point the defense has to take a back seat. McKenry is already worth adding in two-catcher leagues, and if the increase in playing time continues, his value will only rise from there.

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Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers or prospects who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Moises Sierra, OF, Blue Jays: Sierra didn't appear on any of the top prospect lists this spring, and chances are he's not a superstar in the making. But his power breakthrough at Double-A last year carried over to Triple-A this year, earning him a promotion to the majors last week. If it was just to occupy a spot on the bench, you could quickly dismiss Sierra as another statistical curiosity whose minor-league numbers were never meant to lead to bigger and better things, a la Ryan Langerhans or Travis Ishikawa. But the Blue Jays seem at least halfway interested in trying him out, starting him in three of their last six games. Sierra doesn't have great plate discipline, but his other numbers suggest he could be another Torii Hunter (at least offensively) if everything breaks his way.

Dan Straily, SP, Athletics: Speaking of minor-leaguers left off the top prospect lists, all this talk of Straily being elite now that he's in the majors seems a little overblown considering neither Baseball America nor John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com even included him on their midseason lists. Yeah, his numbers are fantastic -- he led all of professional baseball in strikeouts at the time of his promotion -- but he wouldn't be the first to dominate minor-leaguers and then struggle at the next level. See Liam Hendriks or Eric Surkamp. He also wouldn't be the first late-bloomer to catch the prospect gurus by surprise. See Brandon Beachy or even Mike Fiers this year. Clearly, Straily still has something to prove that goes beyond just the numbers. He's worth a flier for sure, but keep your expectations in check.

Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals: Taveras has been a subject of debate recently, with some in St. Louis speculating that he could be on his way to the majors to replace Jon Jay in center field. It seems a bit farfetched considering he only recently turned 20 and has yet to play a game above Double-A, but the proliferation of those rumors in spite of the obvious detractions shows just how talented Taveras is. Despite being younger than most of his peers, he leads the Texas League with a .320 batting average and ranks third with a .567 slugging percentage. He has just 12 more strikeouts than walks, averaging about one per eight at-bats, which is especially impressive for a young power hitter. Even if he's not up this year, he will be next year. He's the kind of player you'll want to lock up in advance in long-term keeper leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Mike Olt to see more playing time at third base
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:24 am ET) Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday it's time to start playing Mike Olt at third base more often, per The Chicago Sun-Times.

"We’ve talked about gradually getting him into that role," Renteria said. "Do I plan on playing him [Wednesday]? Yes.

"Everything’s very calculated. So I’m going to throw him out there and let him run with it a little bit. We’re still measuring everything; we’re still trying to be kind of guarded, but he’ll be in there (Wednesday) again."

Olt is welcoming the opportunity for more playing time at third base.

"That’d be great," Olt said of getting regular playing time. "I definitely did a lot of work to get myself ready. I definitely feel I’m ready for the task and can build off the last couple games and go from there."


Will Middlebrooks could be back with Sox this weekend
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks could return from his rehab assignment as early as this weekend against Toronto, per the Boston Herald.

Middlebrooks, who has been dealing with a calf injury, will play for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday. A determination will then be made as to when he is ready to come back.


Jacoby Ellsbury calls calf wrap 'maintenance'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:10 am ET) Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury had his calf wrapped Tuesday night, which brought to mind his absence for two weeks from spring training with a tight right calf.

Ellsbury, however, told the Newark Star-Ledger that the calf wrap merely served as "maintenance."


David Hale will start Saturday against Reds
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:59 am ET) The Braves announced starting pitcher David Hale will get another start Saturday against the Reds, according to MLB.com. Mike Minor (shoulder) was expected to start Saturday, but the Braves decided he will make one more rehab start before rejoining the rotation.

Marlins recall reliever Carter Capps
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:23 am ET) The Marlins recalled reliever Carter Capps prior to their Wednesday afternoon game at Atlanta. Capps posted a 1.64 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in seven appearances for Triple-A New Orleans, while striking out 17 batters in 11 innings.

Mike Olt hits fourth homer Tuesday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:19 am ET) Cubs third baseman Mike Olt continued his all-or-nothing season Tuesday, clubbing his fourth home run of the season in a 9-2 win over the Diamondbacks.

Olt went 1 for 4 in the game and struck out twice, giving him eight strikeouts in the last four games. Still, he clubbed a three-run shot in the fifth inning to provide what would ultimately be the winning margin in the game.

Olt is hitting just .195, but is providing the kind of power that became his calling card in the minors. Of his eight hits in 16 games, four are home runs and five are for extra bases. He has a .195/.250/.512 line in 41 at-bats. 


Chase Headley hits second home run in big spot
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:12 am ET) Padres third baseman Chase Headley is showing some signs of life, as he ended a power drought and brought his batting average to the Mendoza line in a 2-1 win over the Brewers Tuesday.

Headley slugged his first home run in nine games Tuesday, and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. He went deep in the 12th inning to provide the winning run in the game, and finished 2 for 4 overall with a  walk and strikeout added.

Headley is hitting just .200 through 18 games with two home runs and seven RBI, but has hit safely in four of five games to raise his average 40 points. 


Ben Revere racks up four hits in win
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:09 am ET) Phillies outfielder Ben Revere did his job Tuesday, reaching base four times in a 3-2 win over the win over the Dodgers.

Revere doesn't walk much in general, so each of his times on base came via a single, as he went 4 for 5 at the top of the order. He scored just once, while adding his sixth stolen base of the season.

Revere has raised his batting average in recent days, and is now hitting exactly .300 through 18 games. He has a .319 on-base percentage and .329 slugging percentage in 70 at-bats as well, with 10 runs scored. 


Dee Gordon passes concussion test
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:06 am ET) Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon took and passed a concussion test after leaving Tuesday's game, as he told the O.C. Register. He suffered a head injury while sliding into third base in the seventh inning, but appears to have avoided the worst-case scenario. His status is likely day to day moving forward. 

Jonathan Papelbon nearly flawless in return from illness
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:03 am ET) Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was able to take the mound for a save opportunity Tuesday against the Dodgers, despite missing the team's previous game with an illness. He had little trouble taking care of the Dodgers in the outing, retiring them on seven pitches despite allowing a two-out single. He induced a trio of flyballs to retire the side, earning his sixth save in seven chances.

Papelbon has allowed a run in just one of his nine appearances this season, as he has pitched better than his 3.24 ERA might indicate. He has seven strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings, while allowing three walks and seven hits total. 


 
 
 
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