By Jake Ciely
It’s easy to look back at the first half and hand out awards. It’s just as easy to say that you saw production coming or you expected things to happen. I’m not going to do either. We’re here to predict the second-half awards and show you a recap of preseason predictions.
In February, I talked about Mixed League sleeper pitchers and AL-only sleepers for pitchers and hitters. I thought you’d enjoy the chance to see what I had to say then and if I was spot on or way off (injured players not included). As always, we’ll add a poker flavour and watch as I “Chip Up,” “Chip Down,” or “Push” on each claim. After the recap, the second-half award predictions wrap things up.
Josh Beckett – BOS: Much of his 2010 woes can be attributed to his back problems. Beckett won 49 games, struck out 565 batters and registered an ERA/WHIP split of 4.03/1.19 or better in his previous three seasons with Boston. Beckett is primed for a bounce back.
When I said, “bounce back,” I wasn’t even expecting this. If his knee stops bothering him, Beckett will finish this year as one of the best pitcher values. Chip Up
Kyle Drabek – TOR: He has a terrific out pitch in his curve and is a strong groundball pitcher. Like many rookies, he’ll struggle with his command. Who would you rather have: A Brandon Webb type injury risk or a young, top-notch arm with significant upside?
Drabek started quite well with a 4.16 ERA and 3-3 record through May. As pointed out though, he struggled with his command… mightily. He walked 52 in just 72.2 IP and the Jays sent him back to Triple-A. Still, Drabek at least saw time, whereas Webb never will. Chip Down (due to demotion)
Gio Gonzalez – OAK: At home, Gonzalez had a 2.56 ERA, while on the road it rose to 3.92. The good news is he was lights out in the second half; Gonzalez can easily take the next step into the Top 30 SPs for 2011.
Gonzalez is actually in the Top 20 right now. With a 2.47 ERA and on pace for 193 Ks, Double-G has been worth double his price. Chip Up
Jeremy Hellickson – TB: As a starter, he posted a 2.05 ERA with a 25:4 strikeout to walk ratio in 26.1 innings. The Rays know what they have, and it’s why they were willing to ship Matt Garza off to the Cubs.
While the strikeouts are not at the level we’d like to see, Hellickson looks good so far. His biggest problem is home runs allowed, but even so, Hellickson still has a 3.21 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and eight wins. Chip Up
Shaun Marcum – MIL: Not only did Marcum finish with a top-notch ERA (3.64) and WHIP (1.15), he did so in a division with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays. Marcum could easily finish in the Top 25 given his ability and new surroundings.
Before dealing with minor injuries, Marcum was masterful in the NL. Even with the recent bumps (pun intended), Marcum still has seven wins, a 3.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and an 8.1 K/9 rate. Chip Up
Brandon Morrow – TOR: His K/9 rate ranked first overall for starters at 10.95. If he averages just 6.1 innings over 32 starts (202 IP), Morrow projects to strike out 246 batters. If you like your starters to rack up Ks, there is no one with more potential.
At least Morrow’s injury was at the beginning of the year and is past him now. He’s steadily improved his ERA since his June 11 blowup against Boston. The strikeouts are still there, with his 10.46 K/9 rate. Chip Up (unless he regresses, which I don’t expect)
Mike Pelfrey – NYM: While he’ll never be a big time strikeout pitcher, playing in cavernous Citi Field certainly helps (2.83 ERA at home versus 4.95 on the road). If he avoids the slumps, you made out like a bandit.
His 4.55 ERA isn’t terrible, but when you carry a 1.38 WHIP and only strike out 5.03 batters per nine innings, you’re not worth much. His ERA is 2.96 at home and 5.77 on the road. He’s what I expected and just can’t avoid the poor outings. Push
Michael Pineda – SEA: He posted a sparkling 2.22 ERA in Double-A before his move to Triple-A… [where he finished] with a 10.97 K/9 rate while holding batters to a .225 AVG. Even with a delayed impact on your 2011 season, Pineda is more than worth his current draft position as the 58th AL-only pitcher.
Well, hello Mr. Pineda. Even with his rough outing the last time out against the Angels, Pineda still holds a 3.03 ERA, a sparkling 1.04 WHIP and 9.00 K/9 rate. Expect more second-half hiccups, but Pineda is as good as advertised. Chip Up
Rick Porcello – DET: Once he returned in mid-July… Porcello posted a 4.00 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and most importantly, a 3.2 K/BB ratio. Expect him to continue his late-season turnaround.
Is Porcello a solid pitcher or not? I’m not sure he even knows. If he could avoid being torched every so often, Porcello could be reliable. As it stands, he’s AL-only material only as suggested in the preseason. Chip Down
Wandy Rodriguez – HOU: If he simply reverts to 2009 form, WayRod finishes as a Top 20 pitcher. While his win total could keep him from that level, a Top 25 finish is well within reason.
Yet another pitcher who can’t decide what to be. Wandy has as many zero or one-run outings as he does four-plus runs (six each). Even with that rollercoaster performance, Wandy still has a 3.52 ERA and 7.2 K/9 rate. Push (could finish Up or Down)
Ricky Romero – TOR: Romero increased his strikeout rate while lowering his walk rate. If he can be just an average pitcher against the Yankees and Sawx, his final numbers will be much better than his draft cost.
Romero still hasn’t figured out the Red Sox, but he’s done well against the Yankees. Overall, Romero has been more than worth his draft cost. Chip Up
Anibal Sanchez – FLA: Sanchez posted his best numbers since his impressive rookie season… evidenced in a career-best 2.24 K/BB ratio, and his best OPS against (.680) since his rookie season. Sanchez [will] bring great return value on your pick.
The strikeouts are making Sanchez a supremely valuable starter. He’s on pace for 214 Ks with a mid-3.00 ERA. Those are great numbers from a pitcher many considered NL-only material. Chip Up
James Shields – TB: Shields’ ERA of 5.18 was 1.46 higher than his predictive ERA (xFIP). That’s a huge amount. The luck is evidenced in opponents’ BABIP of .341, which was 30 points higher than his career mark… [and] his 8.28 K/9 rate was a career high.
Nice little roll we have going here. Although Shields was just tagged for six runs in six innings against Boston on July 16, he still holds a 2.60 ERA and leads the league in complete games (seven). He’s on pace for 255 Ks, which would dwarf his previous high of 187 in 2010. Chip Up
Javier Vazquez – FLA: The consensus is that a move to the National League benefits pitchers. This will be the perfect chance to test how accurate that theory really is… his career average in Ks (183)… along with a sub-4.00 ERA puts him right back into the Top 50 for starters.
I said Vazquez was the true test, and he’s proven there isn’t an automatic improvement by moving to the NL. Since June 16, Vazquez has turned things around, which has him close to avoiding complete disappointment. Push (precariously close to being Chip Down again)
Jered Weaver (bonus) – LAA: No, he’s not a true sleeper, but this is a bonus mention… he’s still undervalued. He’s currently the 12th pitcher off the board… you can expect him to compete for a Top Five finish and a possible Cy Young award.
Weaver is currently No. 2 among all pitchers. Pretty good for my prediction (I took the obvious pick in the NL with Roy Halladay if you’re curious). Chip Up
Frank Francisco – TOR: Francisco will be the closer for the Blue Jays, [but] he carries risk given the options of Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch if he falters. He is currently going un-drafted in most leagues, which is the best value you can get for any closer.
He was the closer. Then he wasn’t. Then he was. Now he’s not, but might be again? Everything was spot-on above, and it’s just too bad Francisco can’t stay consistent. Push (being right doesn’t equal a Chip Up, unfortunately)
Joel Hanrahan – PIT: Hanrahan’s stuff screams closer material with a mid-90s fastball and 12.92 K/9 rate. He was one of only four relievers to finish with 100 or more Ks… great value from the 28th closer off the board.
What more can I say that you don’t already know? He’s third in saves with 26 and holds a 1.34 ERA and 0.92 WHIP… outstanding. Chip Up
Brandon League – SEA: In 2010, League held a 3.42 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and an excellent 62.8 per cent groundball rate. League has a chance to lock himself into the role by the time David Aardsma returns, and for that reason should be owned in every league, AL-only or not.
See: Joel Hanrahan. The ERA is not as pretty, but the saves are terrific and Aardsma had season-ending surgery. Chip Up
Jake McGee – TB: McGee’s competition for saves comes from J.P. Howell, Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. He projects to have the best balance against lefties and righties, and boasts an impressive 10.8 K/9 ratio.
To be fair, trying to predict the closer in February for Tampa Bay was like throwing darts. I’m not sure anyone saw Farnsworth taking the role completely. Chip Down
Joe Nathan – MIN: Nathan may not be ready to start the season and could be eased back into the closer role, but when he’s on, few players can match his numbers.
Nathan was just named as the Twins closer Saturday, a day after Matt Capps blew his seventh chance of the season. It took longer than expected, but the jury is still out on this one. Push
Chris Perez – CLE: Perez has a nasty fastball/slider combination and could be thought of as Billy Wagner Lite. His strikeouts and lock on the closer role easily have him in the Top 15 for closers.
And that’s where Perez currently sits – in the Top 15 for closers. Who wouldn’t be happy with consistency at the closer position this year? Chip Up
Chris Sale – CHW: Sale will bring value no matter where he pitches. Granted, his upside will be limited if he’s not a starter, or if he’s the setup guy for Matt Thornton to close. It would not be surprising to see him take over the closing role at some point in 2011.
Sale is finally bringing value, but it took a while to see it. Even with just two ERs and 19 Ks since May 25, his value is limited without saves. Chip Down
Drew Storen – WAS: You can expect at least 30 or more saves, a low-3.00 ERA and nearly one strikeout per inning from Storen. He has the makings to become an elite-level closer.
Hopefully, you held on through his early-season struggles since Storen is already an elite-level closer. With 23 saves, a sub-3.00 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, you can’t do much better. Chip Up
Matt Thornton – CHW: Those who draft Thornton would be wise to grab Sale as well. The good news is no matters their roles, both will put up great numbers for your team.
Just like Sale, Thornton was a risk in the hope that he would close. Again, like Sale, he had a chance but blew it. Sergio Santos became the team’s go-to closer, and both Sale and Thornton are stuck in setup roles, posting decent ERAs and Ks (of late). Push
Matt Wieters – C, BAL: This year, Wieters barely sniffs the Top 10 for catchers [when it comes to ADP]. His improved ability to hit off-speed pitches has his arrow pointing back up.
Wieters sits just outside the Top Five for catchers due to league-wide lack of production and the losses of Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. While a 15-HR, 60-Run and 60-RBI pace is not spectacular, those numbers at catcher, especially this year, are more than welcome. Chip Up
J.P. Arencibia – C, TOR: In Triple-A last year, Arencibia hit .301 with 32 homers and a .986 OPS. While he’ll never hit for that kind of average, and his on-base percentage can disappoint, his power is undeniable. He projects to hit 20-25 HRs this season.
Extra chips for accuracy? J.P. is on pace for 20 HRs, and his AVG (.219) and OBP (.282) are disappointments. Chip Up
Kila Ka’aihue – 1B, KC: His average is mediocre, but his power is for real. With numbers projected in the 20-25 HR, 70-80 runs and 70-80 RBI range, Ka’aihue could crack the Top 15 for AL-only 1B.
Ka’aihue looked over-matched from day one. Since his return to Triple-A, he appears to have his stroke back, but there’s a real question if he’ll ever translate those numbers to the majors now. Chip Down
Reid Brignac – 2B/SS, TB: Both second base and shortstop thin out quickly in the AL, especially shortstop. With a full slate of games, Brignac has the power to near 20 HRs. His average won’t wow you, but when you talk sleepers, very few do.
Brignac looks as though he forgot how to hit… at all. The owner of a .193 AVG, Brignac is now losing time to Elliot Johnson. Even as an AL-only sleeper, Brignac let us down. Chip Down
J.J. Hardy – SS, BAL: Much of his power and performance was limited by wrist problems, but once he moved past them, Hardy hit .304 with a .442 SLG in the second half of 2010. He is more than worth the late-round risk.
Hardy has been worth the cost and more – so much so that Baltimore just gave him a three-year, 22 million-dollar extension. Why not? He’s hitting .278 and on pace for 23 HRs, 60 Runs and 60 RBIs. Chip Up
Mark Reynolds – 3B, BAL: [Last year’s] disappointment was a result of his sub-.200 AVG (.198). Given that Reynolds still hit 32 HRs with a .198 AVG, there is a good chance he could near or eclipse 40 HRs once again.
Reynolds’ average is over .200; time to celebrate! On the serious side, he’s looking at 35-40 HRs along with over 80 Runs and RBIs. It only takes a minor boost in AVG to get Reynolds back on track. Chip Up
Travis Snider – OF, TOR: Snider has power, and is set to receive a season’s worth of games. Over his 612 major-league at bats, Snider has 25 HRs and 40 doubles. Snider is one of the higher upside, late-round picks for outfielders.
Snider was set for a full slate of games, but he was awful in April. The Jays sent him down to Triple-A, where he refined his plate approach. It’s worked and then some. Since returning, Snider is hitting .421 with a .711 slugging percentage. We’ll have to wait to see if this new style results in long-term success. Push
Ryan Raburn – OF, DET: Raburn has Snider-like potential, as he hit 13 of his 15 HRs in the second half and will total solid numbers in doubles, runs and RBIs. However, Raburn is more slump-prone, and there is a risk he could end up in a platoon role.
What happens when you slump, at all, and you play for Ozzie Guillen? You are benched and then shuffled in and out of the lineup. Raburn was an AL-only sleeper if he avoided the slumps, which he didn’t. Chip Down
Curtis Granderson – OF, NYY: After he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson started hitting left-handed pitching [and hit] 18 HRs in his last 81 games. With his new focus and ability to steal 15-20 bases, Granderson could easily finish in the Top 10 for AL-only OFs.
I just talked about selling high on Granderson for the second half last week, but that’s because he’s regressed from his torrid start. He won’t revert to his old self, but rather somewhere in between his struggles and amazing, early-season production. Either way, major “good call” to finish the list. Chip Up
Make your own conclusion, but with Chip Up (19) topping Chip Down and Push combined (seven each) I’d say the results are quite good. Now if I could only find somewhere to cash in these chips.
Second Half Awards
MVP: Albert Pujols, STL
Here are some things Pujols has never done: Have an AVG under .312; Hit less than 32 HRs; Had an OBP under .394; Scored less than 99 Runs or driven in less than 103; Lost to Chuck Norris. If anyone can make sure none of that happens, it is Prince Albert… although, he might lose a fight to Chuck if that ever went down. For Pujols to hit these numbers, he’ll need a MVP-level second half. I wouldn’t bet against it.
Also in Contention: Ryan Braun, Adrian Gonzalez
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, DET
I know Jered Weaver is one of my AL Cy Young candidates, but he’s a candidate, not the favourite. There are signs of regression for Weaver going forward, but Verlander looks unstoppable. With outstanding numbers and a solid lineup helping his win total, Verlander is the lead dog in this race.
Also in Contention: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee
Bounce Back Hitter: Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
Zimmerman had a hit in eight straight games before that streak was snapped July 16 in Atlanta. That is a great sign that Zimm is regaining his form. He only returned from the DL in the middle of June, so it was expected that he’d need some time to shake the rust. Zimm’s normal numbers are .280-.300 for AVG with 20-plus HR power. Given how thin 3B is this year, expect him to jump back into the Top Five before the season is over.
Also in Contention: Colby Rasmus, Jason Heyward
Bounce Back Pitcher: John Danks, CHW
Before Danks hit the DL, he pieced together three straight Quality Starts while allowing just three ERs in 21.1 IP. Danks also struck out 17 over those starts, which is the other factor to his value. Over the past three seasons, Danks won at least 12 games, had an ERA of 3.77 or less and struck out 149 or more. He’s not a top tier starter, but you won’t find more value from someone who was likely dropped in many leagues.
Also in Contention: Mat Latos, Brandon Beachy
Disappointment Hitter: Curtis Granderson, NYY
I touched on Granderson earlier, but you had to expect him to take a step back after his ridiculous April and May. If you look at this overall numbers, you will be wowed: .268 AVG, 25 HRs, 81 Runs and 65 RBIs. Look closer and you will see a .256 AVG and four HRs in June and just a measly .214 AVG in July. Don’t bail on him, but certainly don’t expect a high AVG with 45-plus HRs.
Also in Contention: Michael Morse
Disappointment Pitcher: Dan Haren, LAA
Pulling straight from last week’s piece: “Historically, Haren doesn’t perform as well after the All-Star Break. Here are his pre and post All-Star splits: 2006, 3.52/4.91; 2007, 2.30/4.15; 2008, 2.72/4.18; 2009, 2.01/4.62; 2010, 4.36/3.34.” Last season was the anomaly and was the only one where Haren had an ERA over 4.00 in the first half. Given his current, low HR/FB rate and history of second-half swoons, you should expect problems for Haren going forward.
Also in Contention: Yovani Gallardo
*All stats through July 16
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