Can Swanson & Albies Save Atlanta?

Batman and Robin. Peanut butter and Jelly. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (Err, wait, bad example. Nevermind). It’s rare to get the opportunity to see two separate pieces grow together to form a dynamic duo. It’s probably even less likely to see in baseball, as teams rarely have both a need and the time to allow prospects to develop at the same time and level. While it isn’t the norm, this is exactly what the Braves are doing with Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies.

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Breaking the First Half in Two: Part Two

This article is the second part of the “Splitting the First Half in Two” series. For simplicity’s sake, “first half”=April 1st to May 22nd, “second half”=May 22nd to July 14th.

Disastrous first half, solid second half

Russell Martin, .172/.180 vs. .273/.484

Seriously, a .180 slugging percentage? It’s almost hard to believe, but Martin had only  one extra-base hit entering May 25th. That was good for an, um, 12 wRC+ through 131 plate appearances.

Martin, thankfully, has been able to pull out of the slump, and less whiffs is a driving force behind the improvement. Normally a hitter who strikes out less than 20% of the time, Martin had a 33.6% strikeout rate in the ‘first half’ (complete with a poor walk rate, for good measure). He was swinging and missing at an uncharacteristic rate, and the lack of contact was an at bat killer. Martin has made improvements, allowing for a strong lead up to the All Star Break, but his average has been buoyed by a strong BABIP and the strikeouts are still higher than normal. The 33-year old catcher is much better than a .180 slugging percentage, but don’t count on Martin to repeat 2014 or 2015 in the coming months.

Logan Morrison, .176/.255 vs. .273/.472

Call it a cop out, but I’m only going to list a few statistics of note about Morrison and allow you to draw your own conclusions.

April: .100/.156/.133, .171 BABIP, -23 wRC+

May: .351/.455/.486, .411 BABIP, 162 wRC+

June: .229/.299/.429, .232 BABIP, 97 wRC+

July: .220/.273/.400, .231 BABIP, 79 wRC+

I’d like to add that Morrison had a .238 BABIP in 2015 and is not very good at baseball.

Corey Dickerson, .180/.451 vs. .275/.458

Once in a while, a player has a season like Corey Dickerson, just to remind us that luck rules all. Dickerson hit for solid power early in the season but hits were few and far between, leading to an abysmal .180 batting average and 76 wRC+. He made a few adjustments (namely whiffing less and hitting less fly balls), and suddenly had a solid .275/.321/.458 line in the ‘second half.’

The adjustments alone shouldn’t have taken him from well-below-average hitter to above-average hitter, so we have to look at luck for answers. And…yup, a .182 BABIP gave way to a .339 mark. Other than the incredibly low BABIP that is back to normal levels for Dickerson, a change in approach could shed some light on the stark difference in performance. The Tampa Bay Ray has traded away power for contact, which looks to be the right move on the whole. Expect middling power and middling average in the second half, which isn’t anything to get excited about, but an improvement over his early season performance.

Curtis Granderson, .200/.419 vs. .281/.497

Granderson’s turnaround is fairly straight forward—he experienced terrible luck early on, but otherwise looked pretty much like the same player he was in 2015. A few more strikeouts and a couple of less walks and line drives weren’t doing him any favors, but there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary going on other than a .222 BABIP. Granderson did the smart thing and remained steady, keeping his approach the same and waiting for results to eventually come. They did, with his BABIP improving to .322 and everything else following suit. Ignore the currently low batting average and expect Granderson to continue hitting like he has been recently.

Chase Headley, .213/.279 vs. .284/.453

Apparently Chase Headley likes to live on the wild side—whether that be in the form of a 145 wRC+ with the Padres in 2012, or no extra-base hits and a 23 wRC+ through May 11th of this season. Headley was, to put it lightly, a disaster at the plate early this year. He was physically incapable of driving the ball. Then, nothing short of a miracle happened, and Headley hit a home run. The next day, he hit another one. Suddenly, Headley remembered how to make hard contact with the baseball.

Headley is an extremely weird case, because ever since those home runs, he’s walked less, struck out more, and regressed some plate discipline-wise. Despite this, his 23 wRC+ has given way to a 117 mark, and Headley has remembered how to hit for power. The mediocre plate discipline numbers are cause for concern, though, as is the high BABIP. He should be able to hit at about a league average rate going forward, which is fine, but nothing very interesting for a third baseman.

Normal ‘first half’, WTF ‘second half’

Ian Desmond, .271/.452 vs. .370/.587

Considering how poorly 2015 treated Desmond, calling this ‘first half’ normal may be understating things. In reality, Desmond had an exciting (and surprising) start to this season…and then went crazy. The 30-year old is on his way to setting a new career high in stolen bases, home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and walk rate. Desmond’s ‘second half’ featured a 162 wRC+, and he’s started off the real second half with three home runs in six games.

Obviously, there’s some batted ball luck to take note of, especially Desmond’s .445 BABIP from May 22nd on. This probably means a .370 batting average isn’t sustainable, but you already knew that. The .389 BABIP he has on the season is nothing to be terrified by, though—regression is, of course, going to come, but Desmond’s always had a high BABIP. Desmond’s always been a free swinger, but he’s cut down on those tendencies a bit and the improvements look sustainable. Maybe Desmond won’t continue hitting this well, but he’s had a monstrous bounce back year and is capable of being an excellent source of power and speed (with a little bit of average thrown in for once) for the rest of 2016.

C.J. Cron, .252/.374 vs. .305/.580

I like Cron and was happy to see him appear on this list, but there’s two things we need to address with him. The first of which is a broken hand that will keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks. The second is a five game stretch leading up to the end of the first half when he went 11-24 with five home runs and a double. If we remove that ridiculous run, Cron’s ‘second half’ line is only .286/.330/.480…significantly less impressive and possibly not enough to make this list.

Despite these disclaimers, Cron deserves some recognition. Going into this season, the biggest knock on the first baseman was his poor plate discipline—too many strikeouts and not enough walks. Naturally, the 26-year old has bumped his walk rate up by 1.7% (to 5.9%) and cut his strikeout rate by 6% (to 14.3%). Cron’s swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone than ever before, and his hard contact rate is vastly improved from last year to this. Cron’s mini-rampage may inflate his numbers a bit, but he’s also having one of the most understated breakouts in baseball this season. It’s a shame this injury will keep him from building on the successful campaign for now, but Cron is an excellent target in all fantasy formats once he’s 100%.

Matt Carpenter, .258/.522 vs. .349/.620

Believe it or not, Matt Carpenter has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. He was always pretty good (note the career 136 wRC+), but this season’s .298/.420/.568 performance is something special. Carpenter’s ‘first half’ had a mediocre .258 batting average, but he also had a 141 wRC+ and .522 slugging percentage that would have been a career high. Naturally, he improved across the board in the ‘second half.’

Now, we’re left to figure out whether Carpenter’s dramatic improvements (most notably the increase in walks from 12.2% to 16.5%) are real.  The plate discipline metrics paint an interesting story—compared to last year, he’s been more selective at the plate, allowing for more contact and less whiffs, but in 2015 his approach regressed some, meaning the ‘improvements’ are simply on par with career averages. With that in mind, the walks will probably taper off a bit, but should still allow for a near-elite on base percentage. On the other hand, the power looks real—his hard hit rate has soared to 44.5%, his fly ball rate is at a career high, and Carpenter—once he gets back from an oblique injury—should be able to continue on a career year. Just be careful about buying into his stock right now, as oblique issues can be challenging to make a quick and full recovery from.

Seth Smith, .236/.364 vs. .311/.525

You may be a bit confused as to why I have both Seth Smith and Matt Carpenter in the ‘normal first half’ group, considering the differences in their numbers, but it’s all about context. Carpenter has been a top shelf hitter for years, while Smith has been surprisingly solid, but still nothing special. This makes Smith’s ‘second half’ outburst—a .311/.368/.525 line complete with a 142 wRC+ all the more noteworthy.

Smith doesn’t really have any standout tools—he used to be able to hit home runs in the high teens at Coors, but Safeco Field is quite different—but happens to be a solid pure hitter. This is important to remember because while the newfound power and high average from the ‘second half’ isn’t real, the early-season struggles can also be largely disregarded. Smith is going to settle in between the two halves, most likely as a boring outfielder that doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t steal many bases, and doesn’t have a great batting average. Nothing overly fun, but at least he walks at a decent clip and has some pop.

Didi Gregorius, .259/.370 vs. .333/.548

When Didi first came to New York in the offseason before the 2015 season, there was talk that he would platoon and cede at bats against southpaws to Brendan Ryan. This was backed up by his .137 batting average against left handed pitchers in 2014, and his .247 mark the following year didn’t alleviate many concerns. This season, Gregorius has a .366 batting average against lefties. Seriously.

This incredible turnaround (which doesn’t seem to be as fluke-y as you may suspect) has been present since the start of the year, but didn’t initially show up in the overall statline because Gregorius struggled against right handed pitchers. A slow starter in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, it was really only a matter of time until he started to hit righties again and put up improved numbers. Now, he’s hitting against both sides, while also flashing uncharacteristic power. It’s hard to see the home runs continuing at this rate, but his average is real, making him a solid fantasy shortstop that can chip in a handful of home runs and stolen bases with a helpful batting average.

The Rocky Mountain Highs and Lows

It’s not just drafting, pickups, and trades that make a dynasty league champion. It’s also the small week-to-week roster management decisions that add up over the course of the season. Beyond the must-start players, dynasty owners need to break down each player’s schedule, taking a look at how many games they play, where they are, and against whom. When it comes to pitchers, where the games are played often takes center stage, and in no place is this more evident than when Coors Field is involved. With the biggest effect on run scoring of all of the MLB stadiums, Colorado’s field poses the question: should owners sit almost all pitchers when they play in Denver?

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Breaking the First Half in Two: Part One

One of the more popular exercises after every season is to look at players with significant variance between their first and second halves. Given the sample sizes, this can be a very useful way to evaluate players, often better than looking at the season as a whole. Injury, luck, mechanical adjustments, and a host of other factors can impact individual halves, distorting the statistics over a full season. Breaking down each part of the year can reveal much about players, providing valuable information for the following campaign.

But many forget that this process is just as useful during the season. Taking a look at first and second half performance doesn’t need to be restricted to a full season—it can also be done in a more limited size, such as the first half alone.

With this in mind, I compared every player in the league between a so-called ‘first’ and ‘second’ half, split up May 22nd, or the midpoint in the season thus far. I gathered the twenty players with the biggest positive changes in their batting average and slugging percentage, and noticed they fit into four basic groups (considering the sheer number of players involved in this, I’m going to make the article two parts, each involving two of these ‘groups’). Without further ado, here are those aforementioned players. Continue reading

The Cubs Are Creating A Monster

“We need a Ben Zobrist-type,” is a phrase uttered by countless front office executives and fantasy owners alike since Zobrist’s 8.6 WAR breakout campaign in 2009. Ultimately the phrase relates to teams targeting and developing players capable of fielding multiple positions, thus creating positional flexibility while using fewer position player roster spots to do it. It’s imperative in an age with most front offices electing to carry 13-man pitching staffs.

Take the Chicago Cubs for example. Heading into the season, the Northsiders looked to add to their loaded roster by acquiring a Swiss-Army knife, “Zobrist-type” player that could play multiple positions. The Cubs seemingly addressed the need by, well, signing Zobrist himself. While Zobrist has been outstanding thus far this season, he has started all but five games at second base. Instead of casting Zobrist in his traditional role, the Cubs have elected to create their own utility man out of Javier Baez.

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In my real job as a teacher, and I imagine in most jobs, reflection is a useful if not necessary tool for self-improvement. In my first half-season writing about fantasy baseball I have made numerous predictions regarding the value or worth of various players ranging from resurgent former stars, slumping former stars, well-known minor leaguers, to obscure minor leaguers. I will use this week’s entry to analyze and evaluate my own predictions.

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The Top 500 Dynasty League Players – July 2016 Update

Let’s start by stating the obvious. There’s a lot of young talent in the majors. The top of this list is littered with recent top prospects and players who are poised to be fantasy stars for the better part of the next decade. We’ve seen the emergence of Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager, Gregory Polanco, and many more. We saw the early arrival of Nomar Mazara, one of the few high-impact prospects who was set to show us what he could do in 2016 (and boy has he).

The flip side of this is that not everything can be on the rise. This isn’t one of Barney Stinson’s mix tapes. The landscape of the minor leagues is very bleak right now compared to what we’ve been accustomed to over the last five years, and it’s going to cause some value displacement. In fact, as opposed to previous years where there have been multiple prospects in the top 50 or 60 of this list, the sole minor leaguer to crack the top 70 on this list is future superhuman Yoan Moncada. And the next wave of prospects behind him include a few teenagers who have only played in A ball. So minor league investment is questionable—especially with a relatively poor incoming draft class. Speaking of them, this list came out much later than I anticipated, so I included 2016 draftees as an early birthday present.

By now you know the drill with the background and disclaimers. Blah blah, 14-16 team mixed leagues, blah blah, this is a fantasy list, blah blah, keep forever with farm system, blah blah, one catcher, blah blah, park/team factors included. I don’t need to repeat myself. You also know that donations are very much appreciated and can be made here (or at the top-right corner of the site). But you didn’t come here for the intro, you came here for the camaraderie and the exquisite web design.

Oh, and the list. Your brand new #Dynasty500 awaits:

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