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Reality Check: Second half studs and duds

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I have an admission to make to all the Fantasy purists out there: I've never been a buy-low, sell-high kind of guy.

No doubt, it's better than selling low and buying high, but I typically don't make trades to exploit someone else's faulty perceptions. It rarely works outside of April, and most experienced Fantasy owners don't fall for it even then.

Plus, if I had tried it this April, it would have backfired. I wasn't so much believing in Chris Davis then.

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And he's hardly the first player to fool me. So many factors go into a player's progression or regression that assessing him solely on his track record, pedigree or BABIP is tricky, to put it delicately. At some point, a season has to speak for itself. With more than half of this one behind us, I'm willing to believe that what we've seen so far is more or less what we'll continue to see.

But even so, I detect a few stragglers -- players who, for one reason or another, haven't shown us their true colors. And while I don't stake my season on it, I do stay alert for the right opportunity to act on that hunch.

So who fits the bill? I have here a group of 30, listed alphabetically. Let's just call them my likes and dislikes for the second half.

You don't need to read any more into it than that. Not every "like" is preferable to every "dislike." I'm not making sweeping changes to my rosters based on those labels. I just think everyone else values these players differently than I do.

If you want to use this list as a guide for buying low and selling high I won't stop you, but I do urge caution. Buying low doesn't mean buying at all costs and selling high doesn't mean taking whatever you can get. Your best bet for context is to consult my rest-of-season rankings. Perception influences them to some degree, but my preferences still take precedence.

Like: Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals
Adams was more highly regarded than both Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter coming up through the minors and, with a .316 batting average and .917 OPS in part-time duty, needs regular at-bats to follow in their footsteps as an out-of-nowhere Fantasy stud. Matt Holliday's strained hamstring is the start of what figures to be an injury-riddled second half for the Cardinals' aging corner outfield duo.

Dislike: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
The most amazing part about Alvarez's first hot streak of 2013 is that it still hasn't ended. Since April 18, he's batting .278 with 24 homers and a .925 OPS. And yet he's striking out more than once every three at-bats. He won't avoid last year's pitfalls that way. Most likely, an especially big one is on the horizon.

Like: Chris Archer, SP, Rays
The only way Archer managed to survive his high walk rate earlier this season was by giving up so few hits. That had to change eventually, right? Well, it did, but not in the way you'd think. In his final two starts before All-Star break, he issued no walks and still gave up only eight hits. That speaks to not only his growth, but also his stuff.

Dislike: Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals
Matt Holliday may be Matt Adams' ticket to everyday at-bats right now, but Beltran figures to be the more frequent one in the second half as a 36-year-old with a history of injuries. Even if he manages to grind out another 65 games, he's liable to hit .236 like he did in the second half last year, when he battled hand, back and knee issues.

Like: Rex Brothers, RP, Rockies
The Rockies drafted Brothers with the intention of making him a closer, and now, in his third big-league season, he has a 0.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 43 appearances, making him as closer-ready as a reliever can be. Only Rafael Betancourt, a free agent to be, stands in his way, and he'll quickly become expendable if the Rockies' slide continues.

Like: Billy Butler, 1B, Royals
In the four years leading up to this one, Butler hit a combined .306, with a low mark of .291 in 2011. His strikeout rate is exactly the same as it was last year, and at age 27, he's still in the thick of his prime. So even if you believe his 29 homers last year were a fluke, you can't expect him to keep hitting just .271.

Like: Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Though I never bought into Castro as a 25-homer or 30-steal guy, now that expectations for him have come back down to earth, I kind of like him. One thing both his pedigree and track record suggest he should do is hit for average, and his 23-for-76 (.303) stretch in his last 18 games suggests he's on his way to doing so.

Dislike: Bartolo Colon, SP, Athletics
With the notable exception of Randy Johnson, who was a freak in many ways, pitchers in their 40s don't throw 200-plus innings. Colon hasn't since 2005. The last chance he had (thanks to last year's suspension) was 2011, and he battled injuries the entire second half. You'll take what you can get from him, but you shouldn't expect it to last.

Dislike: Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies
Granted, A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz disproved the players-don't-set-career-highs-in-their-mid-30s adage last year, but Cuddyer's .330 batting average is about 50 points higher than his previous high, and his .960 OPS is about 100 points higher. Coors Field or not, that's ridiculous, and his .244 batting average so far in July may be the start of a regression.

Like: Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks
Imagine Starling Marte with all of his speed and extra-base power, but with the walk rate of Shin-Soo Choo. That's what Eaton's minor-league numbers suggest he could be. Granted, he has impediments to those numbers, not the least of which is his continuing rehabilitation from a tricky elbow injury, but the potential has me plenty motivated to get him on my roster.

Dislike: Scott Feldman, SP, Orioles
Other than his ERA and WHIP, nothing points to Feldman being a dramatically changed pitcher from his many years in Texas, where he was league-average at best as a starter. His success with the Cubs may have had to do with him moving to the NL, but of course, the point is moot now that he's with the Orioles. He would have been a safe bet to regress even if he had stayed in Chicago, but now he's a near certainty.

Dislike: Matt Harvey, SP, Mets
I assumed innings wouldn't be an issue for Harvey after he threw about 170 between the majors and minors last year, but that was before I knew he'd be on pace for a Tom Seaver-like 230 this year. Everything that frustrated you about Jose Fernandez in the first half could be in play for Harvey in the second.

Like: Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Maybe you take Headley's dreadful first half as a sign that his power surge last year was a fluke, but his struggles this year aren't a simple regression to the mean. Including his lackluster years with the Padres, he's a career .294 with an .816 OPS on the road. With the fences in at Petco Park this year, he should at least revert to that form when he gets his swing right.

Like: Jim Henderson, RP, Brewers
Though he seemed reluctant to do so, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke named Francisco Rodriguez his closer over Henderson a couple weeks ago, perhaps at the behest of a front office looking to sell at the trade deadline. Henderson is supposedly not on the market, which only fuels speculation. His performance as a closer before a hamstring injury in late May speaks for itself.

Like: Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
Former hitting coach Jack Maloof had a misguided philosophy that discouraged his young sluggers from hitting for power at Kauffman Stadium. Before the Royals "reassigned" him, replacing him with the tandem of George Brett and Pedro Grifol, Hosmer hit .262 with one homer and a .654 OPS in 48 games. Since then, he has hit .308 with eight homers and an .866 OPS in 42 games. You do the math.

Dislike: Raul Ibanez, OF, Mariners
At age 41, Ibanez has 24 home runs. The record for a 41-year-old is 29, set by Ted Williams in 1960. Ibanez -- by his own admission -- is no Ted Williams. He probably has the record in the bag now, but Father Time, if not his own track record, has to catch up to him sooner or later. Remember when he hit 22 homers in the first half as a mere 37-year-old in 2009? He hit only 12 (with a much lower batting average) in the second half that year.

Dislike: Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels
You know why Kendrick had only once hit more than 10 home runs prior to this season? Because his fly-ball rate is consistently one of the lowest in all of baseball. And that hasn't changed this year as he enters the second half with 11 homers. On a per-fly-ball basis, he's homering at nearly the same rate as Jose Bautista. Provided he hits more of those balls in play, you can expect his batting average to normalize as well.

Like: Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants
Lincecum's no-hitter Saturday wasn't the first ray of light in an otherwise gloomy season. In his previous seven starts, he had a 3.83 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Nobody expects ace numbers from him anymore, but with that strikeout rate, he's plenty useful if he continues to trend in this direction.

Dislike: Jeff Locke, SP, Pirates
Not everyone is a strikeout artist. Not everyone is a control freak. But the antithesis of both probably won't amount to much in the majors. Locke ranks 77th of the 92 qualifying pitchers in strikeout rate and 84th in walk rate. Yet he ranks second in ERA and 23rd in WHIP. Let's see what happens when those innings begin to pile up.

Dislike: Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles
With his poor plate discipline, Machado will have to maintain an exceptionally high BABIP to keep his batting average over .300. It might not be such a big deal if his power was fully developed, but because he's mostly limited to doubles now, he may disappoint in the second half.

Like: Brad Miller, SS, Mariners
Some favorable hitter's environments may have inflated Miller's power numbers in the minors, but with seven walks, five doubles, two triples and two steals in 16 major-league contests, he's shown everything else will translate. He has a knack for putting bat on ball, demonstrating bat control readily apparent to the naked eye, which could make a poor man's Matt Carpenter in the second half.

Dislike: Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals
Between the majors and the minors last year, Miller threw 150 1/3 innings, which makes 180 a reasonable cutoff for this year if the Cardinals follow through on their intention of limiting his workload in the second half. Have all his five-inning outings because of shaky control recently frustrated you? Just wait for the early hooks when he's pitching well.

Dislike: Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers
Peralta has managed to score the eighth-most Head-to-Head points among shortstops so far, but more because of his .303 batting average than his modest power numbers. The problem is he hadn't hit better than .299 in a season coming into this one, and he had a career low strikeout rate of 16.5 that year. His strikeout rate this year is the third-highest of his career.

Like: Martin Prado, 3B, Diamondbacks
With the exception of 2011, when he was plagued by a staph infection, Prado has hit .300 every full season in the big leagues. He still makes consistent contact and has enough power to keep defenses honest, so you can trust him to overcome whatever has held him back so far. His .314 batting average in his last 18 games may be the start of it.

Like: Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
Between a torn ACL last year, a strained hamstring this year and the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki in between, Ramos hasn't had a chance to follow up a rookie season in which he hit 15 home runs in 389 at-bats, including six in his last 92. Now fully healthy and firmly ahead of Suzuki on the depth chart, he has hit .375 with a 1.019 OPS in nine games off the DL.

Dislike: Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Dodgers
Nobody had much of a scouting report on Ryu coming into the season, which helped him compile a 1.14 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his first six starts and gave Fantasy owners, myself included, unrealistic expectations. In 12 starts since then, he has a Mark Buehrle-like 1.30 WHIP and 5.4 strikeouts per nine. Join me in thoroughly simmering down.

Like: Hector Santiago, SP, White Sox
With Dylan Axelrod coming off a six-start stretch that probably ranks among the worst in baseball history, Santiago is a pretty safe bet to stay in the rotation this time around. If he had compiled them without interruption, his 3.13 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter would make him something like another Gio Gonzalez.

Like: Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners
In 22 games since returning from the DL, Smoak has hit .333 (26 for 78) with five homers and a 1.018 OPS in 22 games, which you could dismiss as a hot streak if he didn't hit .282 with an .861 OPS in 26 games prior. He's back to walking like he did in his minors and has retooled his swing to produce more line drives. Hey, I've always liked the pedigree.

Like: Dan Straily, SP, Athletics
Straily has suffered from a disproportionately high ERA virtually all season long. His walk rate is low, and it's not like he's serving up a bunch of homers. His numbers just haven't recovered from a bumpy four-start stretch in late April and early May. Since then, he has a 2.83 ERA in nine starts, and in his last two, like in the minors, he was practically unhittable.

Dislike: Chris Tillman, SP, Orioles
Tillman is a decent pitcher who owes his 6-0 June more to good fortune than anything else. His skill-based ratios -- specifically, his 7.1 strikeouts and 3.9 walks per nine innings -- were as uninspiring as usual that month. Teammate Miguel Gonzalez averaged 7.3 strikeouts and 1.8 walks per nine innings in June and generally pitches deeper into games. Which would you rather own in Fantasy?

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Tigers' Ausmus: James McCann can be very good major-league catcher
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:00 am ET) Tigers catcher James McCann, who is vying for a spot on the roster as a backup to Alex Avila, allowed a passed ball during Thursday's spring game against the Braves. After the game, McCann was very critical of his play and vowed to make sure no more pitches skip by him. 

McCann's relentless work ethic is one trait that manager Brad Aumus likes about the 24-year-old catcher.

"I don't have to worry about him working," Ausmus said Thursday, per the Detroit Free Press. "I think Mac does an excellent job. He is very alert. His head is into the game at all times. He understands that his value is greater on the defensive side of the game than it is when he is standing in the batter's box. That's not to say he doesn't take his hitting seriously.

"I think he has a chance to be a very good major-league catcher. I'm more concerned about how he handles a staff, how he calls a game, how he blocks balls in the dirt (than his ability to throw out runners)."


Phillies SP Cliff Lee having no doubts coming off elbow injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(7:31 am ET) Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee appeared to be brimming with confidence Thursday, as he said following his first start since missing the final two months of the 2014 season due to an elbow injury that everything is "so far, so good."

While some folks still might have some doubt regarding the 36-year-old's durability moving forward, Lee has no such doubts.

"I don't have any uncertainty," Lee said, per The Philadelphia Daily News. "I definitely have confidence and expect to go out there and be successful, and I'm doing everything I can to prevent something like that from happening again. That's really all I can do. There's no worry or uncertainty or anything like that. I'm just going to go out there and be confident and expect to have success and not really even think about it, to be honest with you."

Lee threw only 22 pitches (16 strikes) in two innings Thursday in his spring debut. He still has a long ways to go in getting back to his previous form, but Lee is confident it will happen.

"As a starting pitcher, you've got to go out there and throw a hundred-and-some-odd pitches, get deep into games to do your job effectively," Lee said. "Personally, until I do that I don't think that I've proven that I can do that yet. I don't have any doubts, but still you have to build up to do that and prove you can do that . . . I don't think anyone is going to know that I can do that until I go out there and show it."


Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


 
 
 
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