1. Miguel Cabrera (1H-2, PROJ-1): When you’ve set the bar so high it’s hard to realize expectations so when .306-14-75-57 at the break is a disappointment, it’s relative to a Triple Crown pace. That said, Miggy’s HR/FB is on a career worst path. Whether it’s injury or just an off-year, Cabrera’s string of hitting at least 25 homers in each of his full seasons is in jeopardy. Still, he’s producing runs at a high level. This year Mike Trout was followed by Cabrera in almost every draft. Trout has solidified his spot as valediction. The salutatorian is up for grabs.
2. Adrian Beltre (1H-5, PROJ-2): Health is Beltre’s main obstacle as he’s once again hitting well above .300. There are some calling for Texas to deal Beltre. I personally don’t see that happening. Injuries are pulling the Rangers down, no need for a rebuild. But in case you’re wondering, while this season Beltre’s home numbers are embellished by Arlington, last season his home/road splits were neutral.
3. Todd Frazier (1H-1, PROJ-17): If someone tells you they saw this one coming, ask them for a stock tip. It’s one thing expecting Frazier to have a growth year. It’s quite another for him to be fantasy’s best at the hot corner over the first half. Frazier’s plate skills are identical to last season (same whiff and walk rates). His .326 BABIP is higher than normal but it was .316 in 2012 so it’s just at the upper end of a big range of variance. A six percent increase in HR/FB to 18% is impressive but not mind-blowing – especially in the Great American Bandbox. Most notably, Frazier has taken great advantage of Bryan Price’s penchant to run as he’s snagged 14 bags in 19 tries. Going forward, at least this season, Frazier should maintain most of his power gains and will likely continue to run. This is enough to keep him in the top-three rest of season. All bets are off next year as Frazier is likely to regress and the market will no doubt price him off of this season. That actually makes him a fantastic chip to deal away in a keeper league since his price is assuredly much lower than what he’ll cost next year.
4. Josh Donaldson (1H-3, PROJ-5): The party line coming into the season was “Donaldson’s power spike is real but his average will regress.” I agreed but didn’t think his average would slide as much as others did which explains my top-five spring expectations. Turns out the party line was right – sort of. Donaldson’s power has grown even further but his average has plummeted below what most expected. It’s real easy to reverse-engineer the narrative explaining why; whether it’s the truth is another matter. Donaldson’s line drives are down eight points to a dismal 13 percent. But his fly balls are up which is partly responsible for more homers. So the suggestion he’s looking to loft more balls is perfectly plausible. An increase in strikeouts also backs that since a chance in approach may affect contact. I’m not going to bet my life this is the case, but the anecdotal evidence points in that direction.
5. David Wright (1H-12, PROJ-3): Wright’s HR/FB has dipped from the teens into the single digits which accounts for the drop in homers. He’s not running nearly as much. I’m going to be completely forthright. My projections are almost 100 percent objective. I’ll override when I deem necessary. Had I taken a closer look, I may have softened my rest-of-season expectation for Wright, to a point he may not even be top-ten at the position. Granted, we still have 60-plus precincts to count, but Wright is going to be an interesting call next spring.
6. Matt Carpenter (1H-10, PROJ-6): In what’s becoming a popular theme Carpenter’s power was down pre-break. But remember, in terms of fantasy worth, everything is relative and power is down everywhere so to really judge, you have to take into account the global drop. The bigger hit to Carpenter’s value came from a drop in runs scored as the Cardinals success with ducks on the pond is as unlucky this season as it was lucky last year. The team is likely to bounce back as a group so Carpenter’s runs, hence value should pick up a bit.
7. Kyle Seager (1H-6, PROJ-8): Seager’s doing pretty much exactly as expected though maybe running just a little less but that’s true of the Mariners as a team. Seager’s one of my favorite fantasy players. Quietly productive but still flying just under the mancrush radar. That said, one of these years Seager’s going to hit into some good BABIP luck and the secret will be out.
8. Aramis Ramirez (1H-11, PROJ-10): Ramirez is doing what Ramirez always does – hit for a good average with power and run production – in between DL stints.
9. Evan Longoria (1H-8, PROJ-4): Can we finally cease from blaming health for keeping Longoria’s numbers down? Remember what I said about Wright, that I should have exerted executive privilege and altered my projection? I probably should have massaged my expectations for Longoria back in the spring, specifically power as I already lowered his average. You know what this means of course. Longoria’s going to hit .320 with 15 homers the rest of the way.
10. Anthony Rendon (1H-4, PROJ-27): At least part of my low initial ranking for Rendon was the possibility Danny Espinosa took at bats away as the whispers in spring training were the job was not Rendon’s; he had to earn it. Ryan Zimmerman’s injury cleared up that conundrum and Rendon took full advantage. Actually, with Bryce Harper also missing time, Rendon hit at the top of the order which helped his run production, ergo value. Admit it, not many fantasy pundits use words like ergo. It makes up for not being eye candy. Anyway, the Rendon narrative is similar to Donaldson’s in that he shifted some line drives to fly balls so the homers have increased. Though to be fair, his HR/FB is up three percent as well. This is even more impressive in the light of the global paucity of power. Rendon’s number ten rank reflects some power growth but a slight giveback along with the chance he drops in the order once Harper is up to speed.
11. Pedro Alvarez (1H-9, PROJ-12): My favorite home run call BY FAR is Greg Brown’s, “Clear the deck, cannonball coming.” Unfortunately for Bucs fans, the deck hasn’t been cleared quite as frequently as last season but #ElToro, one of my favorite hashtags, has popped a few cannonballs. It’s actually too bad Alvarez’s power is down since his contact and walks are up. Now that I think about it, I’m really bummed since in the preseason, I deemed Alvarez the most likely to go all Chris Davis on us – provided he could cut down on the whiffs. Oh well.
12. Pablo Sandoval (1H-14, PROJ-13): Chances are you got Sandoval at a discount and chances are you’re not complaining. And chances are you’ll continue to be please so long as Panda avoids the disabled list.
13. Ryan Zimmerman (1H-35, PROJ-9): It’s unclear how much of Zimmerman’s power outage is due to his bum shoulder and if any is possibly due to his thumb not being 100 percent. On the other hand, Zimmerman may only have four homers, but he does have 15 doubles so there’s a chance the break did him some good and he could go on one of his patented hot streaks. It’s a risk, but if you’re desperate and wouldn’t win anyway, Zimmerman is a decent speculative pick for a productive finish.
14. Manny Machado (1H-27, PROJ-18): It’s kind of scary; Machado turned just 22 at the beginning of the month. Putting aside the return from injury and suspension, some expected a power spike as Machado turned some of 2013’s 51 two-baggers into four-baggers. The truth is, many of those doubles weren’t the type that become homers. That said, I recently read somewhere that Machado just turned 22 – the power will come. Just not yet.
15. Martin Prado (1H-17, PROJ-7): Prado stopped running last season so his value has to come from being an accumulator. He doesn’t walk much so his average exerts more force with more at bats. The problem is Prado’s already mediocre power is down and more importantly, he’s been dropped in the order so the pure volume aspect of his value is reduced (fewer runs and RBI). While it can’t be quantified easily, the flexibility Prado provides is still worth something. Unfortunately, it looks like all it means is he’s now mediocre at multiple positions.
1. Troy Tulowitzki (1H-1, PROJ-5): You know the drill. When healthy, Tulowitzki is an MLV candidate. So far this season he’s been healthy – and an MVP candidate. Since Tulo’s injuries have been more fluke than chronic, it’s defensible to project a full complement of at bats the rest of the way, less a few for off days. In other words, don’t feel obligated to sell high on the Rockies’ shortstop in fear of an injury.
2. Hanley Ramirez (1H-4, PROJ-1): Ramirez doesn’t do much quietly but his first half slipped a bit under the radar. Or maybe the quality at the top of the position is lacking but Ramirez occupying the two-hole is a bit of a surprise. The reason is likely that he’s turning in a steadier stat-line this season as opposed to having through-the-roof numbers in one area and lesser numbers somewhere else. As usual, injuries are the key and unlike Tulo, Hanley is more prone to recurring woes, notably his shoulder which is already barking post-break. You likely won’t get back full value, but ridding your team of Ramirez’s risk is not the worst idea.
3. Jose Reyes (1H-9, PROJ-3): As is obvious from my #3 spring expectation as well as rest of the season, a healthy Reyes can be a monster in Toronto, even if his running is curtailed. But as is just as obvious by his ninth rank finish over the first half, health is still an issue. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn.
4. Dee Gordon (1H-2, PROJ-23): Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Drinks are on those of you that begrudgingly picked up Gordon as the last middle infielder or final source of speed. Those that bought in on Alexander Guerrero have my sympathy. Barring a complete meltdown, the job is Gordon’s and while his average may not finish in the 290’s, he’ll challenge Billy Hamilton for the stolen base title in what is shaping up to be a great battle.
5. Ian Desmond (1H-8, PROJ-4): A pretty big spike in whiffs has Desmond’s average way down. The bad news is research suggests a poor K-rate is likely to sustain itself for the duration. The good news is Desmond is filling up the counting stats as well as any shortstop not nicknamed Tulo.
6. Elvis Andrus (1H-10, PROJ-7): It should be more of the same for Andrus over the second half – a palatable average with decent steals. The drop in RBI from last season is quite noticeable and is due to the bottom end of the 2014 being much weaker than last year.
7. Alcides Escobar (1H-5, PROJ-21): By all rights Escobar should have made the All-Star team but I guess you can only take so many shortstops. He’s on an every other year pattern with BABIP and this is a plus year. Chances are his average, thus steals will dip the rest of the season but not by much. If you need speed, you could do worse than inquiring about Escobar.
8. Erick Aybar (1H-7, PROJ-15): Aybar is playing at the upper end of his skill set which is pleasing his owners in a big way. There may be some giveback but there’s really nothing that screams “regression.”
9. Jimmy Rollins (1H-11, PROJ-9): Rollins is showing there’s still a little gas in the tank. His contact rate is continuing to slide but it’s still good. This season Rollins’ pop has returned a bit and he’s even running more. There’s no reason not to expect more of the same the bulk of the campaign.
10. Alexei Ramirez (1H-3, PROJ-11): I’m a little surprised Ramirez doesn’t check in a little higher in terms of rest-of-season rank. But a closer look at the numbers suggests he’s a little lucky with batting average and may be in store for a correction. His BABIP is the same as last season but he’s whiffing more. The added power this year is helping to keep the average up. If his power wanes, and it should, the average should fall a little. That said, Ramirez is still a still a solid fantasy performer that will help across the board.
11. Asdrubal Cabrera (1H-12, PROJ-10): Cabera’s coming as advertised and the prognosis for the second half is more of the same.
12. Jean Segura (1H-13, PROJ-2): When I ran the post-break projections, the sad news of the death of Segura’s son was just announced and it was unclear when he would return to the team. And while admittedly how many at bats he’ll get are secondary to real life, I cut a large chunk else he would have ranked in single digits. Segura is back with the Brewers but I opted to keep the lower rank as a hedge – both playing time and performance. Pre-tragedy, this write-up would have suggested a better second half but now who knows. By the numbers, Segura has some BABIP luck coming his way.
13. Starlin Castro (1H-6, PROJ-14): Automated projection engines are good but they’re not flawless. Castro deserves a deeper look to see if his bounce back campaign is real and sustainable. His skills are long the same lines as previous seasons – though perhaps at the top end of his skills range. The main difference is a spike in HR/FB which isn’t a sure thing to continue so in the case, the drop in ranking is warranted but it wouldn’t be shocking if he finished a little higher.
14. Ben Zobrist (1H-18, PROJ-8): The days of hoping for a 20/20 season are in the rear-view mirror as the formerly inconsistent Zobrist has settled into a more stable, but lesser skilled performer. His flexibility is still a strong suit and can be used down the stretch to keep your lineup at his maximum efficiency.
15. Andrelton Simmons (1H-25, PROJ-16): For most of the first half, Simmons had depressed numbers due to a drop in the order. Perhaps this is a leap of faith, but recently he’s been slotted near the top which is reflected in his ranking.
NEXT TIME: The fly-chasers
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Affectionately known as Lord Zola, Todd was the 2013 Fantasy Sports Writers Association recipient of the Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Web. He's been with Mastersball since its inception in 1997 and presently Todd writes for the ESPN Insider and Baseball HQ. Todd is a frequent guest on SiriusXM and is a regular on HQ Radio. He's a veteran of Tout Wars and LABR as well as a multi-time NFBC champion. Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddZola
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