Reality Check: A tale of two halves
All-Star ... break? Ha!
Players are still playing and you're still watching, your life consumed by a competition of no real consequence.
It's OK. You've come to the right place ... to feed the addiction, that is, not cure it.
Every one of those players in Tuesday's contest matters to someone, and just to make sure you're already doing everything you can with what you have, every one deserves an outlook for the second half.
And those outlooks I'm here to provide. Each comes with an up arrow, a down arrow or two arrows spinning to infinity. You can probably guess what they all mean.
Still on the fence about Billy Butler ? Thinking about moving Chris Sale ? Wondering if you should dump Rafael Furcal ? You'll get my take right here. All you have to do is sit back and relax.
But, of course, you won't. You're the kind who works during a break, after all.
Mike Napoli : If you were one of those who said Napoli's second half and postseason performances last year were part of a well-timed hot streak and not a legitimate breakout, pat yourself on the back. Then go trade for him because he's overdue for another of those hot streaks.
Joe Mauer : At this point, Mauer's lack of homers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. So he hit 28 one year. Move on already. His .326 batting average is still good enough to rank him second among catchers in Head-to-Head and fourth in Rotisserie. And given his career .324 mark, it's completely sustainable.
Matt Wieters : The most amazing part about Wieters' top-10 status at catcher is that his .247 batting average would be a career low. Imagine where he'd rank if he hadn't hit .188 in May. Given his steady improvement in strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last couple years, I'm guessing he'll avoid such pitfalls in the second half.
Prince Fielder : No one would claim Fielder isn't an All-Star-caliber player, so the fact his starting nod met with groans and cries of injustice shows just how much he underachieved in the first half ... until he homered in three of the team's final four games, that is. Yeah, who's groaning now?
Billy Butler : Butler hit 19 homers last year and 15 in 2010. He has 16 now. So is he on an unsustainable pace or simply breaking out at age 26? Considering he slugged .561 over his minor-league career, I'm thinking the latter ... and that it's long overdue.
Adam Dunn : Dunn is on a 50-homer pace despite having never had a 50-homer season, making him an obvious candidate to decline. But he's also on a 250-strikeout pace despite having never had even a 200-strikeout season. If you want to claim regression to the mean, claim it across the board. Most likely, any slight drop in power would come with a slight rise in batting average.
Paul Konerko : Based on his performance the last two years, you'd think Konerko is as safe as safe can be. But he's 36 and playing through a wrist injury that has caused him to hit .236 over the last six weeks. He hit only .272 in the second half last year, remember, making his current .329 mark seem all the more unsustainable.
David Ortiz : Ortiz is the No. 1 first baseman in Fantasy right now as a 36-year-old only three years removed from a supposed collapse. His commitment to improving against lefties last year has given his career second life, and his BABIP gives no reason to believe he'll slow down now.
Robinson Cano : A perennial first-rounder like Cano is by no means a "sell-high candidate," but I have to point out that an established superstar already well into his prime probably won't better his previous career high in homers by 10, as he's currently on pace to do, especially when his fly-ball rate is the lowest of his career. You may need an alternative source of power in the second half.
Ian Kinsler : Kinsler exploded for 19 home runs in the second half last year, which doesn't necessarily mean he'll do it again, but his modest total of nine suggests he has some ground to make up. It's a nitpicky thing considering Kinsler is already second in Head-to-Head leagues, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him switch places with Cano by season's end.
Adrian Beltre : Since his stint with the Red Sox two years ago, Beltre has established himself as a .300-hitting, 30-homer guy, which is exactly the pace he's on now. Life after Safeco is pretty sweet, huh?
Miguel Cabrera : I can't help but sense a feeling of disappointment from the Cabrera owners who drafted him first overall only to see him rank fifth among hitters at the break. Horror of horrors. Don't underestimate his reliability. He'll leapfrog a couple of the overachievers ahead of him just by continuing to do what he's doing.
Derek Jeter : Kind of like Old Man Peabody with his pine trees, Old Man Jeter had this crazy idea about hitting .300 at age 38. Is it really so different from doing it at 37? Jeter may have bitten off more than he could chew with the power early on, but he'll remain a top-10 shortstop through the simple accumulation of hits.
Elvis Andrus : Little by little, Andrus continues to improve his Fantasy stock, moving into the top five at the position by adding extra-base power and on-base percentage to his arsenal. The subtlety of the improvements is part of what makes them so believable.
Asdrubal Cabrera : A recent slump has dropped Cabrera outside the top five at shortstop, but overall, you have to like the compromise between contact and power hitting that he seems to have struck this year after selling out for power last year. The improved line-drive rate pretty much says it all.
Jose Bautista : Will Bautista get back to hitting .300 like he did a year ago, or is he stuck in the .250-.260 range? Hard to say. Given his propensity for fly balls, the latter seems more likely. The bigger question is does it matter? He's the top third baseman in Fantasy regardless.
Curtis Granderson : Granderson is striking out at a career-high pace, causing his batting average to dip below .250, but you'll live with it from a 40-homer man. The important thing is his improvement against left-handers, which was the key to his breakthrough last year, has carried over to this year.
Josh Hamilton : Regression to the mean kicked in for Hamilton after his red-hot May, leading to a .214 batting average and six homers in the next 32 games. He still has a little bit more room to fall and also hasn't had his requite muscle pull or broken bone yet. He's a top-10 outfielder for sure, but maybe not top-five.
Adam Jones : When Jones last made the All-Star team in 2009, he hit .344 with a 1.005 OPS the first two months only to hit .234 with a .658 OPS the rest of the way. Granted, he's a better power hitter now and, at 26, more polished, but his struggles since the start of June are reason to wonder if he still has work ahead of him.
Mike Trout : Look, Trout probably won't actually lead the AL in hitting as a 20-year-old rookie, so technically, I could give him a down arrow. But the bottom line is he's an asset in batting average. As freely as he steals bases, I don't see any way he drops out of the top 10 outfielders, even with a slight hiccup in the second half.
Mark Trumbo : On the one hand, Trumbo is too much of a free-swinger to maintain a batting average over .300. On the other hand, he'll be hitting too many home runs for anyone to care if it falls to the .280 or .275 range. As much as any player on this list, he's made a statement this year about his long-term value.
Justin Verlander : If anything, Verlander looked like he might need an up arrow a couple weeks ago, when his ERA was approaching 2.70, but he has since brought his numbers up from exceptional to outstanding (or vice versa, depending on your own personal hierarchy of terms). He's on pace to lead the majors in both innings and strikeouts for the third time in four seasons.
Yu Darvish : Don't look now, but Darvish has gone four straight starts without issuing four-plus walks. All were seven innings or more, and three resulted in 10 strikeouts or more. His stuff is overpowering when he actually attacks the zone, and now that he seems to have come to that realization, he'll make up some ground in the rankings.
Matt Harrison : Harrison ranks 20th among qualifiers in ERA even though he ranks 68th in hits per nine innings. And who honestly thinks it'll last in the house that Juan Gone built? Didn't think so. Harrison will win his share with that offense backing him, but his other numbers will come down to size.
Felix Hernandez : Remember that stretch of six starts a while back when Hernandez produced a 6.37 ERA and 1.87 WHIP? No? Well then, you've made my point for me. If his overall numbers are good enough to earn him an All-Star distinction even with that on his first-half resume, he's in good shape.
Jake Peavy : Just because Peavy is "back" doesn't mean every aspect of his performance is sustainable. His hit rate, which is one of the lowest of his career, could normalize, resulting in a slight bump in ERA and WHIP. Combined with the injury risk -- he already has more innings than he did in any of the previous three seasons -- you shouldn't trust him to be your team's ace in the second half.
David Price : The wins sustained Price in 2010. The strikeouts sustained him last year. This year is the best of both worlds and a natural ascension for a player once drafted first overall. You can expect Cy Young votes to come his way.
CC Sabathia : About the worst thing you can say about Sabathia right now is that his recent groin injury put him off pace for his sixth straight 230-inning season. If he misses only two turns as expected, though, he still has time to make this year's numbers a carbon copy of last year's.
Chris Sale : Trading Sale now might seem counterintuitive, as good as he's been, but even if the converted reliever is able to sustain his 198-inning pace, the road there could take a toll on his numbers. He's a prime candidate to be this year's Michael Pineda .
Jered Weaver : Weaver had a 1.86 ERA at the All-Star break last year. He finished with a 2.41 ERA. He has a 1.96 ERA at the All-Star break this year. So how will we finish? Considering his less-than-stellar strikeout rate and unsustainably low BABIP (.223), we may see history repeated. He's an ace regardless, but his best is likely behind him.
C.J. Wilson : Maybe the walks are a little high, but Wilson is getting weak contact and has the potential to improve his strikeout rate in the second half, as has happened the last two years. I'd be as comfortable with him as I would any other ace.
Ryan Cook : You know what makes people feel smarter? Saying Cook's numbers will decline in the second half. You know what I say to that? Duh. He won't average just 3.1 hits per nine innings forever. So why don't I give him a down arrow? Because now that he's the closer, his stuff is still good enough for him to triple his saves between now and season's end.
Jim Johnson : This designation has as much to do with the player's team as the player himself. If the Orioles fall out of the AL East race, Johnson might see only half the save opportunities he saw in the first half. Plus, I have an inherent distrust of closers who aren't bat-missers. Call it the Bob Wickman complex.
Joe Nathan : Remember that guy who averaged 41 saves for the Twins from 2004 to 2009? If his renewed strikeout rate and ERA in his first year in Texas are any indication, he lives on at age 37, much to the chagrin of Neftali Feliz owners.
Chris Perez : I could make the Jim Johnson argument all over again with Perez, but it might enrage Indians fans. Then again, Perez has done a pretty good job of that himself lately. The improved strikeout rate is nice, but he's not a true No. 1 in Fantasy.
Fernando Rodney : Rodney's bow-and-arrow routine every time he records a save isn't the only way he's channeled his inner-Katniss. He's also developed accuracy with that 99-mile-per-hour fastball of his, issuing 1.2 walks per nine innings compared to 4.6 for his career. With the Rays built for low-scoring games, the save chances should continue to pour in, potentially at a league-leading pace.
Buster Posey : Posey bats cleanup and has a favorable slash line of .289/.362/.458. So why is he on pace for only 66 runs scored and 81 RBI? Maybe because the Giants are the fifth-lowest-scoring team in baseball. With a little more help from Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt in the second half, Posey could vault to No. 1 at the position.
Yadier Molina : Molina used to be the requisite defensive pick for the All-Star game, along the lines of Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel . But now, as the third-ranked catcher in Fantasy, he could have the receiving skills of a cheese cloth and make it. Given his age (29) and steadily increasing power over the years, the breakthrough is positively legit.
Carlos Ruiz : Law of averages, people. Ruiz's emergence at age 33 isn't completely unfathomable given the late start to his career, but not even Joe Mauer could hit .350 all year (omitting his MVP season, of course). Provided he stays healthy, Ruiz's pop and plate discipline should keep him in the top 10 at the position, but he'll lose the No. 1 spot.
Joey Votto : Perhaps you've heard Votto never pops up -- or, more accurately, that he has only once over the last three seasons, according to FanGraphs.com. So what does he do instead? Hits line-drives, mostly. This year, he's doing it 30.7 percent of the time, which is 3.2 percent more than last year, when he led all of baseball. If that's not validation of a .348 batting average, I don't know what is.
Bryan LaHair : It's already started, really. With his .220 batting average in 41 games leading up to the All-Star break, LaHair now ranks 33rd among first basemen and 70th among outfielders in Head-to-Head leagues. If the Cubs continue to sit him every third game, as has happened during that stretch, he'll only sink further into the abyss.
Dan Uggla : Uggla ended the first half on a 10-for-95 slide, bringing his numbers down to less than an All-Star level. But lest you forget, he hit .296 with 21 homers and a .948 OPS in the second half last year. With a .351 on-base percentage through it all, the perpetually streaky slugger's approach remains good enough that you know the correction is coming.
Jose Altuve : At 5-feet-5, Altuve is this year's little darling fella who scraps his way to All-Star glory. But you'd prefer him to make it that way than by hitting a dozen fluky homers. If his scrappy across-the-board production made him a top-six second baseman in the first half, the same will be true in the second half.
Pablo Sandoval : So apparently all the weight Sandoval gained during his time on the DL served no other purposes than to freak out manager Bruce Bochy. The round mound has proven he can still pound, hitting .326 with three homers and a .652 slugging percentage in his last 13 games. Provided he doesn't break his hand again, he's a must-start third baseman.
David Freese : The good news is Freese has proven his power breakthrough in the playoffs last year was no fluke, already boasting a career high in homers. The bad news is, given his lack of plate discipline and shortage of doubles, it's still not enough to make him a top 12 third baseman in Head-to-Head leagues. Oh well. At least he's healthy.
Chipper Jones : Given his .318 batting average and .876 OPS, maybe Jones' All-Star selection wasn't just for the nostalgia. Didn't know his numbers were that good, did you? Nobody's saying he'll play every day, but provided he avoids another DL trip, like he had in late May, his swan song could push him into the top 15 at third base.
David Wright : When you heard the Mets were moving in the fences at Citi Field, you assumed Wright's resurgence would come in the power department. But instead, he's hitting .351 -- a product of him straightening out a strikeout-to-walk ratio that had gotten turned on its head over the last few years. No reason to think he'll revert to bad habits now.
Rafael Furcal : Furcal might have been a candidate to regress five weeks ago, but having hit .190 since then, his numbers have come down to size. He's still an adequate base-stealer with a decent batting eye and extra-base pop. Barring injury, he's not dropping out of the top 10 at his position.
Starlin Castro : With the Cubs out of contention, Castro has no reason to stop running now, but his 61.5 percent success rate on stolen bases doesn't bode well for the future. As rarely as he walks, he'll need to continue to develop his power to avoid becoming a one-tricky pony in Fantasy.
Ian Desmond : Speaking of not walking much, Desmond's .316 on-base percentage kind of tempers the enthusiasm over his breakout season. To a certain extent, his power breakthrough is legitimate, but keep in mind we're assessing him right at the end of a hot streak. Even if he finishes with 20-20 numbers, his shortcomings could drop him outside of the top five at shortstop.
Carlos Beltran : Beltran has been fortunate to stay on the field so far, but as a 35-year-old with rickety knees, he'll need a respite at some point and will have ample opportunity once Lance Berkman returns from the DL. In a best case, Beltran occasionally falls victim to the Allen Craig shuffle. In a worst case, he winds up on the DL himself. Either way, he'll lose value.
Melky Cabrera : On the one hand, Cabrera's .353 batting average seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is. But even with a .305 mark last year, he was a top-10 Fantasy outfielder. He's so good across the board and so reliable week to week that whatever he loses in one area you can trust him to gain in another.
Matt Kemp : Kemp is currently the 85th-ranked outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues. He'll finish higher than that, of course, but before writing this column, I made a conscious decision not to assign up arrows based solely on lost playing time. Anyone who doesn't know Kemp is arguably the best player in Fantasy by now isn't interested enough in Fantasy to be reading this column.
Michael Bourn : No doubt, Bourn's All-Star bid is deserved. He's on pace for 13 homers, a .311 batting average, an .817 OPS and a bunch of other percentages he's unlikely to sustain. Then again, he is playing for a contract, so even if his power numbers regress, he's sure to make up ground in the one category he has the most control over: stolen bases.
Ryan Braun : On the heels of his successful (and highly controversial) appeal of a failed drug test, Braun has offered the world one big, fat "toldja" by putting up even better numbers than he did during his MVP 2011 season. No. 1 outfielder? At this point, I'm not putting anything past him. He's been a stud since he first broke into the majors.
Jay Bruce : At this point, Bruce is who he is: A high-profile slugger who can swat upward of 35 homers but whose extreme streakiness makes you regret drafting him anyway. Will he finish the season with a .249 batting average? It all depends on how far along he is into whichever way he's streaking.
Carlos Gonzalez : Gonzalez hasn't gotten hurt yet, which for some people might put him in the Carlos Beltran category of delaying the inevitable. But he's only 26. I'm not sure it's a foregone conclusion for him. The five-category potential he's showing now is the same he had in 2010, when he nearly won NL MVP and makes him legitimately a top-five outfielder in Fantasy.
Bryce Harper : I'm tempted to give Harper an up arrow given how productive he's been even with his batting average (.282) and OPS (.826) at less than other-worldly levels. But he's only 19. A Jason Heyward -like adjustment period is just as likely for Harper as he approaches those other-worldly levels.
Matt Holliday : After a slow start, Holliday has gotten his batting average up to .317 and his OPS up to .917, which is more or less exactly where they've been each of the last four years. Nope, no sell-high candidate here.
Andrew McCutchen : I think we can safely assume McCutchen won't hit .363 all season, but to deny he's taken another step forward at age 25 requires a near-militant allegiance to BABIP and its supposed predictive powers. All I know is McCutchen was a top 10 outfielder coming into the season and is even better now.
Giancarlo Stanton : Loose bodies ... not what you want to find in a knee. Now, Stanton is gone 4-6 weeks and may need an adjustment period much like he had in April when he returns. His skills are fine, but the timing of this procedure couldn't be worse. Don't be surprised if he falls short of 25 homers.
Matt Cain : Hard to believe Cain is only 27, right? But then when you find out, the improved strikeout rate is a little easier to believe. Truth is his other numbers are as good as they've always been. He's just finally getting the run support to rate among the true aces.
R.A. Dickey : Maybe Dickey's ERA stands to rise a bit, but this is a statement pick. He's one of a kind, throwing harder than any knuckleballer before or since, and that's enough to baffle hitters beyond what his track record tells you.
Gio Gonzalez : Gonzalez made the All-Star team last year as well. He had a 2.47 ERA at the time. Kind of puts his current 2.92 mark into perspective, huh? It's not like he's going to crash and burn, but his walk rate has a way of catching up to him. Already he's beginning to slip in the Fantasy rankings, having gone less than seven innings in each of his last seven starts.
Cole Hamels : With his ERA, WHIP, strikeout rate and walk rate all within career norms and his BABIP actually on the high side for him, I'd say the biggest question for Hamels right now is where he'll end up. Not that staying in Philadelphia would be a bad thing. He's on pace for a career-high 18 victories.
Clayton Kershaw : Haven't heard much about Kershaw's plantar fasciitis lately? Maybe it really doesn't affect him on the mound, as both he and manager Don Mattingly claimed. Granted, Kershaw's most recent start was no gem, but he had a 3.07 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in the six preceding it. Sorry for the false alarm.
Lance Lynn : Lynn ended the first half on a high note with six shutout innings against the Rockies, but he had a 9.98 ERA in the three starts before it. Have the innings gotten to be too much for him? Perhaps not, but knowing the time he spent in relief last year, it's enough of a possibility to make him a sell-high guy. Try dangling him if his next start is a gem.
Wade Miley : Over four minor-league seasons, Miley compiled a 3.69 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, which makes his hot start this year all the more unbelievable. It went on for so long that calling it a fluke would be irresponsible, but perhaps Miley's last two starts are the beginning of his fall from mixed-league relevance.
Stephen Strasburg : Thanks to a combination of early hooks and heat fatigue, Strasburg enters the break on pace for only 193 innings ... which is still well over the presumed limit of 160. Whether the Nationals plan to pull him even earlier in games or shut him down completely, his best for this year is behind him.
Aroldis Chapman : When Chapman blew three saves in the span of six appearances soon after gaining the closer role, his Fantasy owners freaked. OK, so he's mortal. Doesn't mean he's not awesome. Hopefully, his 10 strikeouts compared to one hit over his final four first-half appearances is enough to convince you he's as good as it gets at the closer position, aside from Craig Kimbrel .
Joel Hanrahan : Trusting the Pirates to hold down first place in the NL Central is a colossal leap of faith. Fortunately, Hanrahan's Fantasy value doesn't depend on it. They're a low-scoring team with good starting pitching, which is the perfect recipe for saves. And you know he has the stuff of a No. 1.
Craig Kimbrel : For most relievers, a 1.36 ERA and 0.70 WHIP would be a house of cards ready to topple. For Kimbrel, with his 99-mile-per-hour fastball and 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings -- both a step up from last year, when he was the top closer in Fantasy -- it might just be par for the course.
Jonathan Papelbon : The Phillies just got Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back, with Roy Halladay soon to follow. The impact is pretty obvious. Unless manager Charlie Manuel reinvents the way closers are used, Papelbon is in line for more saves in the second half.
Huston Street : For having missed about a month of the first half, Street's saves total looks pretty good, as Heath Bell 's always did for the low-scoring Padres. But here's the problem: Those low-scoring Padres are pushing last place, and Street is a pending free agent. Come July 31, he could be getting no saves. Don't get too comfortable with him.
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