One half in the books and you think you have it all figured out.
Well, you don't. You can't unless you've been to the future. As many advances as we've made in projecting player performance the last dozen years or so, there are still some things we don't know and could never know.
Among those things, I've pinpointed the 12 most pertinent to Fantasy owners in the second half. Make of them what you will.
Is Victor Martinez back?
Granted, we all knew he had rushed back from meniscus surgery to begin the regular season on time, but seeing as he's 36 years old, we still had reason to wonder if his disastrous first six weeks were the start of a decline. The switch-hitter had just one extra-base hit from the left side of the plate during that time.
Now, just four weeks since from the return from the DL, he has 11.
He's batting .337 with a .928 OPS during that time, as compared to .335 and .974 during what was a career season last year, and he's still striking out at his typically low rate. Seems like an obvious case of his knee just needing more time to heal, right? Better make an offer before his owner is fully convinced.
Can you trust Jose Bautista's shoulder?
It's the worry that just won't go away. Back in late May, when Bautista first resorted to having a cortisone shot to treat his sore shoulder, he talked like a player at the end of his rope, calling it the "least invasive" of his remaining options.
"You're looking for some relief, not only on the field and my work life, but also regular life," he told MLB.com. "Having throbbing pain at night is not necessarily enjoyable, and I was having to take pain medicine just to go to sleep and that was messing up my stomach."
But then he hit .258 with 10 home runs and a .917 OPS over his next 44 games, putting his Fantasy owners' minds at ease.
That is, until the All-Star game, which he decided to skip so he could -- dun, dun, dun -- receive treatment for his shoulder.
Throughout this ordeal, Bautista's production has never wavered, so by continuing to harp on the shoulder, I risk becoming the boy who cried wolf. But just because it hasn't impacted his performance doesn't mean it isn't bothering him, possibly enough that if one of the three teams ahead of the Blue Jays in the AL East begins to pull away, he could opt to shut it down.
How soon will we see Corey Seager?
Granted, Seager isn't the only prospect we're hoping to see in the second half, but as a shortstop-eligible player with a middle-of-the-order bat, he would be a game-changer in Fantasy.
With most organizations, his dismantling of Double-A early this season would have already earned him the call, but the Dodgers may use his comparatively ordinary performance at Triple-A as an excuse to keep him down, especially with Justin Turner already at third base and Hector Olivera right behind him. They've given no indication that they intend to play Seager at shortstop in the majors.
I'd guess September at best for him, but the potential rewards make him worth stashing regardless.
Which starting pitchers are coming up on an innings limit?
Most teams allow their young pitchers to throw about 30 more innings than the previous year (or their previous career high, in most cases). With that rule of thumb in mind, Lance McCullers and Noah Syndergaard are the two rookies most at risk. McCullers is only 11 1/3 innings away from his previous career high of 104 2/3. Syndergaard has a bit more of a cushion and may just last the whole year if the Mets go back to a six-man rotation, which is harder to justify with Steven Matz out of the picture.
Rookies aren't the only pitchers at risk, though. Carlos Martinez, who has spent most of his major-league career in the bullpen, is 13 1/3 innings away from his career high of 120 2/3 two years ago (minors, majors and postseason combined), and Michael Pineda's 106 1/3 are his most since 2011. And then, of course, there's Matt Harvey, who has a known limit of about 190 innings, but he's not on pace to exceed that number by much.
Now would be a reasonable time to trade any of them, before any potential shutdown is imminent, but only if you can get full return on value, of course. Martinez is probably the highest priority unless you're using him at relief pitcher in a Head-to-Head points league. McCullers is probably the lowest priority since the return would be modest anyway.
Will Stephen Vogt hold up physically?
Rolled ankle, leg cramp, bruised forearm -- if you feel like you're reading about a new Vogt injury every week, there's a reason for it.
"I seem to be a magnet, and my body just attracts baseballs," he said at All-Star media day Monday.
It's why catchers are such risky investments in Fantasy. They take a beating, and in Vogt's case, it's especially worrisome because of how he performed during a bout with plantar fasciitis last year. He hit .361 in his first 44 games and then .180 in his final 40, which is about the time we first heard of the injury.
That's awfully reminiscent of this year. After hitting .322 with a 1.022 OPS in his first 49 games, Vogt, with the accumulation of injuries, is hitting .246 with a .698 OPS in his final 36.
It's not as straightforward as it seems, though. He said Monday that his plantar fasciitis began before the start of last season and had nothing to do with his season-ending slump.
"I started struggling," he said. "It wasn't an injury thing. It was a confidence [thing] and an 'aw man, they've figured me out.'"
And that makes sense for a 29-year-old first-time starter who spent so much of his career in the minor leagues. This year, though, he knows he's capable of bouncing back and perhaps already has. If you shorten the last 36 games to the last 24, he's batting .315 with an .838 OPS.
Maybe he's not as affected by injury as we thought, so maybe we need to start taking his numbers at face value.
Will Jonathan Papelbon be traded?
Papelbon has seemingly been on the trading block since the beginning of time, and judging by some of his comments during the All-Star break, he's tired of it.
But unfortunately, he's not the one making the decisions, and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been curiously tight fisted with his overpriced veterans.
It's not that a trade would impact Papelbon's Fantasy value so much. Given his track record, he's probably a closer no matter where he lands. It's more about getting Ken Giles in the role he was born to fill. His control hasn't been as sharp as during his rookie season, but over his last 17 appearances, he has a 1.04 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Can Mark Teixeira sustain this home run pace?
The number of singles for the 10 highest-scoring first basemen in Fantasy are as follows: 65, 51, 45, 45, 81, 65, 51, 31, 67 and 54. The outlier there is Teixeira with 31, which may not sound like a big deal since singles aren't especially rewarding in Fantasy, but the real issue is that the widespread use of infield shifts has made him incapable of singling at a normal rate -- something he acknowledged during Monday's All-Star media session, saying his goal was "to hit more home runs."
"You don't try to hit ground balls, so that's really the only way to do it," he said. "What the opposing team wants to do is take the power hitters out of the game, and if you worry about the shift, you're going to take the power out of your game."
So if he can't fall back on singles, what happens if he can't sustain his 41-homer pace? Those who stand pat with him are gambling that he can.
Is the Robinson Cano of old no more?
Enough is enough, right? I mean, you want to hold out as long as you can because you invested a second-round pick in him, but two straight seasons of precipitous decline has Cano on the verge of Fantasy uselessness.
Even worse, the peripherals hint of decline at an age (32) that wouldn't be unprecedented for a middle infielder. The strikeout rate is higher than ever, the walk rate is the lowest it has been in years, and he has suddenly become inept against same-handed pitchers, batting .216 with a .516 OPS lefties, which is a tell tale sign of decline.
Still, this guy has been an elite hitter for so long that he basically needs a full season of this kind of production for me to cut bait. I wouldn't say I'm optimistic and would rather have him on my bench than in my lineup, but he is batting .327 (17 for 52) with an .883 OPS so far in July.
Will Brad Boxberger hold off Jake McGee for saves in Tampa Bay?
Boxberger isn't the closer in Tampa Bay. Not officially.
"We're all just ready after the seventh inning is what we're told," he said during Monday's All-Star media session. "There's no labels on guys, and we know that going into it."
But it's not like he and Jake McGee have been splitting save opportunities. McGee had a stretch in mid-June when he looked like the guy, handling three consecutive save opportunities for the Rays, but Boxberger has recorded eight of their nine saves since.
And I don't really understand why. McGee has dominated since returning from offseason elbow surgery, compiling a 1.37 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, and was nearly as overpowering in a second-half trial as closer last year. Boxberger, meanwhile, has a 1.46 WHIP since "regaining" the role. I thought the walk-off grand slam he allowed July 7 would be the last straw, but then he recorded three saves on three consecutive days leading into the All-Star break.
Boxberger is a pretty good reliever in his own right, and it's clear the Rays want to give him every opportunity to secure the job. But McGee would be elite-level if he overtook him. With the vulnerability Boxberger has shown in recent weeks, I'd want to stash McGee in any league where saves are scarce.
Does Justin Verlander have anything left?
Just when you were about to give up on him after four starts of continued futility, Verlander goes and turns in a gem Friday, allowing one run on five hits with one walk and six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. His fastball touched 97 mph in the contest, and afterward, he said he was turning over a new leaf.
"My last start, I told you guys, 'Hey, I felt like my stuff's much better,'" he told MLB.com. "Really just came down to a couple pitches here and there and the little final bit of rust to knock off."
But how many times did he allow one earned or fewer in seven innings or more last year? I have the answer for you: three. And 10 times he allowed two earned or fewer in seven innings or more. Needless to say, it was still a bad season. And even though he threw a 97-mph fastball Friday, he still averaged just 93.2 miles per hour with it, which was actually less than in his previous start.
I wouldn't blame anyone for continuing to stash Verlander after this last start, but it doesn't restore my faith in him.
Will Corey Dickerson make any sort of impact?
At last report about a week ago, Dickerson had begun running sprints and conducting agility drills in his recovery from plantar fasciitis, which doesn't give the impression he's particularly close to returning. And considering that's an injury most players battle all season, it's not like he'll be fully recovered when he does.
Which of course means you can't trust him to stay whenever he does return, which probably makes you wonder why you're even wasting your time with him. But of course, you know the answer to that if you had him for the first month of the season. He could be having the kind of year J.D. Martinez is having if not for the injury.
But if the month he missed earlier this year bought him only five games before returning to the DL, what's it going to take before the Rockies bring him back this time? Two months? We're running out of season at that point. He's still too valuable to drop, but you should probably treat anything you get from Dickerson from now on as gravy.
Bonus: Is the best of Chris Carter yet to come?
Now that Mark Trumbo appears to have figured things out in Seattle, Carter is the representative all-or-nothing slugger who has delivered a lot more nothing so far.
It takes a certain measure of faith to stick with such a player, but if history is any indication, that faith is usually rewarded. The turnaround for Carter happened at about this time last year. He hit .182 with 13 home runs and a .664 OPS in his first 73 games and .268 with 24 home runs and a .921 OPS over his final 72.
The return of Jon Singleton complicates the situation a bit, but the Astros know Carter's history as well as anybody. If you're short on power in a Rotisserie league, he's a good buy-low choice.