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1st Half Fantasy Baseball All-Stars: Late Picks Making Huge Impacts

Fantasy Baseball MLB All-StarsWith the first half of the season winding down and a long week of digesting this weekend’s gluttony on the horizon, let’s step back from the here and now and take a quick look back at the first half that has been.  Regardless of where you are in the standings at the halfway mark, some combination of overperformers, underperformers, waiver saviors, and lineup fixtures has gotten you there.  Today, we look at the overperformers, those unsung (or quietly-sung) heroes that have helped many teams to the top of their fantasy leagues.
It is often said that fantasy leagues can’t be won in the early rounds of your draft, but they can be lost.  With that in mind, today we will look at later round picks performing well above their expected levels, as these are the true MVPs that help win leagues.  Sure, Mike Tout has been plenty valuable this year, but if he’s the only guy performing above expectations for you, then you are likely not doing very well in your league.  All of these players were drafted outside the top 90 picks in most standard fantasy leagues, and I’ve tried to give extra weight to later round picks and waiver wire pickups.  As you might expect, most of these guys are up near the top of the Yahoo MVPs list – the players found most often on the top 500 teams throughout Yahoo’s fantasy baseball universe.

Without further ado, your 1st-Half Fantasy All-Stars

C – Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (preseason rank – 166, current rank – 53)

Lucroy has been the picture of consistency this year, hitting at least .283 each of the first 3 months while playing almost every game, leading to a .329 season BA on his impressive 104 hits (currently 10th in MLB).  His current power numbers may be at the high side of his potential (bolstered by a 6 HR June), but he has consistently contributed in that area over his career, and he even chips in a few steals as well.  His K:BB is stellar (38:36), and he’s already hit 30 doubles this year, helping to keep his lofty OPS afloat.  It’s easy to forget he was the 8th catcher off the board on average in drafts this spring.  He gets the nod over Mesoraco for his consistency, as it’s very hard to find a set-it-and-forget-it stud at catcher these days (though Meso’s per game impact is clearly higher).

Honorable Mention – Devin Mesoraco, CIN (336, 90)

1B – Jose Abreu, CWS (110, 16)

Abreu has been nothing short of sensational in his first lap through the Bigs, giving us elite power (46-27-69, .941 OPS) while still helping out (or at least not hurting us) with a .276 BA.  He’s tied for the league lead in HR and 3rd in RBI, all while spending a couple weeks on the DL earlier in the season.  While preseason hype did start to build for Abreu leading up to draft day, resulting in him getting picked higher than it looked like he would in early March, not even his staunchest supporters could have envisioned this season he is putting together.  Considering the games he’s already missed, where he plays his home games, and the ridiculous pace he is currently on, he’s got to be the favorite to lead the Majors in HR this year.  I sure wouldn’t bet against it.

HM – Victor Martinez, DET (156, 15)

2B – Jose Altuve, HOU (90, 14)

The Mighty Mouse has been absolutely on fire over the last two months (particularly the last month, when he hit .411 with 17 SB in June), and has run himself into a top-10 ranking among all hitters in the league.  He comfortably leads the Bigs with 122 hits and the AL with a .337 BA, and his 38 SB in 41 attempts is simply unfair.  In a year when 2B has not been quite the black hole it usually is (there are currently 8 2B in the top-100), Altuve has been a cut above the rest.  Most of us thought the big average and steals numbers would come eventually for Altuve, but we didn’t expect them this big, this soon, and at the same time.  With that insane SB success rate and a batted ball profile mostly in line with his career numbers (plus a major decrease in Ks), there’s no reason to think Altuve won’t continue close to his current pace.

HM – Brian Dozier, MIN (218, 37)

3B – Todd Frazier, CIN (227, 17)

It looked like another disappointing year for Frazier when he hit just .233 through 25 games in April, but a strong May and even stronger June have earned him the starting 3B spot on our 1st-half fantasy all-star team.  He’s been a rock in the middle of a Reds lineup that has seen its share of ups and downs this year, and he’s been equally valuable to fantasy squads with a juicy 6-cat line of 54-17-47-13-.291-.855.  The power’s always been there for Frazier (19 HR each of the last two years), though this year he’s stepped it up another notch, but where did the speed suddenly come from?  Actually, I take that back - when a guy is performing at this kind of level, fantasy owners are better off not asking questions.  With a career-high 23% LD%, there’s reason to believe this production will continue.

HM – Anthony Rendon, WAS (250, 27)

SS – Dee Gordon, LAD (268, 20)

Like Frazier, Dozier, and Rendon, Gordon was an afterthought on draft day.  Most were hoping the Dodgers would do the ‘smart’ thing and start the year with Alex Guerrero in the middle infield, relegating Gordon to a bench role or even the minors.  Gordon had other ideas.  After a 4-2-3-1 opening day in Australia, he didn’t let his BA fall below .300 until May 21, essentially guaranteeing his playing time for the rest of the year.  Though he hit a bit of a lull late-May/early-June, a recent hot streak has him back over .300 again, to go along with his ML-leading 42 SB and a solid 50 Runs scored.  Most fantasy owners were hoping for nothing more than a reasonable backup with solid position flexibility when they took Gordon, instead, they’re probably leading their leagues in SB.  With his spot atop the loaded LAD lineup secure, expect more of the same in the 2nd half.

HM – Alexei Ramirez, CWS (191, 64)

OF – Nelson Cruz (139, 4), Michael Brantley (179, 11), Brandon Moss (194, 42)

While none of these guys were exactly unknowns coming into the year, their prices were all depressed for one reason or another, leading to some exceptional values for the discerning investor.  Cruz changed teams (and in fact was unsigned for a long period during draft season) and was coming off steroid allegations, plus had a long history of soft-tissue injuries.  All he’s done is lead the league in HR and RBI while hitting .290, making him the third most valuable hitter in the league.  Brantley had a seemingly established track record of solid-if-unspectacular production after posting his third consecutive year as a fringe fantasy player in 2013 (66-10-73-17-.284-.728).  With one more year under his belt, however, Brantley has almost matched last year’s numbers in only half a season, going 58-13-57-10-.321-.896 so far.  Not everyone develops on the same curve, but Brantley is more proof that hitters often begin to peak around their age-27 season.  Moss surprised many last year with a 30-HR season (he shouldn’t have, as he hit 21 in 265 AB the previous year, but he did), and with a .256 BA and 140 K in 2013, many were calling for a letdown this year.  Instead, Moss has improved his eye (35 BB already) which has actually increased his BA this year (.272) and, oh yeah, the power pace has increased as well (19 HR, 62 RBI).  He should end up with 5-10 more HR and close to 30 more RBI than last year.  You can’t predict regression when there’s no established mean to regress to.

HM – Charlie Blackmon, COL (304, 26), George Springer, HOU (254, 99), Melky Cabrera, TOR (293, 39)

SP – Johnny Cueto, CIN (145, 5), Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (117, 9), Scott Kazmir, OAK (223, 29), Garrett Richards, LAA (303, 31), Corey Kluber, CLE (213, 57)

Starting Pitchers are a little trickier because their values are more dependent on league settings than offensive players.  If you play in a H2H league I wouldn’t fault you for putting Tim Hudson on this list as his lack of Ks won’t hurt you in that format.  That said, all five of these guys have been absolute studs this year regardless of format, and have been some of the best values in fantasy baseball.  Cueto and Tanaka are both top-10 fantasy players right now, and their numbers speak for themselves (and quite loudly, I might add).  Barring injury (especially with Cueto), they should continue their studly ways and help pitch many a fantasy team to victory.  Kazmir and Kluber were both back-end fillers for fantasy rotations in March, but they are both pitching like borderline aces right now.  Kazmir’s stingy 2.53/1.01 ratios have him at 10 Wins already for the surging A’s, and Kluber’s 137 Ks are 4th most in all of baseball.  Kluber is pretty much established at this point and should be a strong #1-2 starter moving forward.  Kazmir has so much injury history that he’s fairly hard to trust, but there’s no reason to expect much of a drop off assuming he stays healthy.  Richards looks like one of the best waiver wire finds of the season, if not THE best.  He’s only given up more than 3 ER three times this year leading to excellent ratios (2.71/1.07) and 10 Wins, and he seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on.  With 119 K in 116.1 IP, he’s got the full package.  He does only have this half season under his belt at this production level, so a bit of a downturn in the 2nd half is not out of the question, but he looks like the real deal to me.  I would not be looking to sell high if I were a Richards owner (unless someone made me a Godfather offer).

HM – Jon Lester, BOS (173, 47), Josh Beckett, LAD (312, 49), Jason Hammel, OAK (315, 51), Tim Hudson, SF (300, 65), Alfredo Simon (301, 55)

RP – Francisco Rodriguez, MIL (302, 43), Huston Street, SD (185, 68)

Every year, new closers emerge from the waiver wire, many of them establishing themselves and maintaining their new job all year.  Rarely, however, does one mark their territory with as much authority as K-Rod has this year.  He did not give up his first ER until May 11, at which point he already had 15 Saves.  In a season when everyone thought he was washed up, and many even scoffed at the idea of him replacing incumbent Jim Henderson, Rodriguez has saved 27 of 30 chances with a 2.34 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 49 Ks in 42.1 IP.  They say to never pay for saves because you can find them for free, but it’s not often you find the best closer in the league using that strategy…Street was a tough choice, as he was drafted everywhere and so often there are free closers deserving of a spot on this list, but what he has done to this point is simply too hard to ignore.  He just blew his first save of the year this weekend, doing his best to disrupt the narrative, but 23 of 24 ain’t bad, and his 1.13/0.78 ratios are dead-ball era numbers.  Likely one of the last full-time closers selected in drafts, Street has been a huge bargain this year.  The main risk with him going forward is a trade to a contender, but he’s been so good this year he may just displace the incumbent of whatever team takes him on for the stretch run.

HM – Zach Britton, BAL (324, 70), Sean Doolittle, OAK (307, 87)

Let me know who I snubbed on Twitter at @RotoClayton.  Until next time, thanks for reading.