Bargains for the second half

Following Troy’s format from yesterday, today I am going to name a player from each position I feel will play the best relative to his first-half performance. Note that this list will not consist of which players will play the best in the second half, but rather those who will the furthest outperform their first-half performance.

Catcher: Kelly Shoppach

Shoppach somewhat lived up to his home run-hitting reputation in the first half, belting a decent seven home runs with a more impressive 20 percent HR/FB rate. No one expects him to be a .300 hitter, but the miserable .194 batting average he currently owns is unexpected too. His plate discipline stats have remained in line with last year’s; the main thing that changed has been a .256 BABIP, well below his career average of .350. As long as he keeps getting a decent share of the playing time—which he should—then a second half of a .260 batting average and about 10 home runs is a very plausible forecast. If you are looking for help at catcher, Shoppach is a good guy to take a chance on.

First base: David Ortiz

Through the first two months of the season, Big Papi was one of the most disappointing players in the majors. He had one home run to his name and was batting near .200. He was striking out at an abnormally high rate and fastballs were routinely being blown by him. Then in June he started catching up to those fastballs and hit seven home runs in the month and so far in July he has added four more. In the second half, he should play more like the Ortiz of the last two months than the one who struggled throughout the first two months. A second half consisting of a respectable batting average in the high .260s to low .270s with around 15 home runs and plenty of RBI opportunities seems reasonable.

Second base: Howie Kendrick

Howie Kendrick has not yet become the batting title champion that his name was once synonymous with, but he is still an accomplished major league ballplayer. In both 2007 and 2008 he played about half a season in the majors and both times he finished with batting averages above .300 and decent stolen base numbers. It came as a surprise, then, that Kendrick would bat so poorly to start 2009 and ended up being demoted to Triple-A with a batting line of .231/.281/.355. In Triple-A something changed—be it luck, mechanics, or confidence—and he ended up batting .346 in 78 at-bats. Now back in the majors, I expect Kendrick to have a solid second half, something around a .290 average, a handful of home runs, and about 10 steals. From a second baseman, I’ll take those numbers.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy

Hardy struggled mightily in the first half, finishing with a .232/.301/.379 slash line. Part of it was bad luck; his .260 BABIP is lower than expected, but I also believe part of it was mental and/or physical. With some rest (he recently hurt his shoulder, nothing serious though) and better fortune in the second half, Hardy has a good shot to put up similar numbers to last year’s second half: a batting average in the high .270s with 10-12 homers. He is currently playing for mostly disgruntled owners so you may be able to acquire him for less than you would normally pay for that type of production.

Third base: Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion, through April, was batting .127 with a slugging percentage not much higher at .190. To put him out of his misery, he fractured his wrist near the end of the month and recently returned in the beginning of July. Since returning Encarnacion has played decently, showing some consistency with a six-game hitting streak that was recently snapped. My expectations are not very high—a .260 batting average and around eight home runs is all—but if you start him against only righties, he should bat closer to .290 off them. For someone who is probably available in a number of leagues, he could offer good value in the second half.

Seth Smith is a player you should start seeing more and more of at the plate. (Icon/SMI)

Outfield: Seth Smith and Chris Dickerson

Unlike the other players on this list, Seth Smith did not play poorly in the first half. In fact, judging by wOBA he was one of the top 20 hitters in all of major league baseball. Regardless, Smith is barely owned in any leagues because he is caught up in the Rockies outfield logjam and as a result has stepped to the plate a mere 181 times in 2009. In the second half I expect Smith to receive much more playing time because his great play warrants it, and also because either Smith himself or Brad Hawpe is likely to be traded before the deadline, freeing up at-bats. Smith can do it all—hit for average, power, and swipe a few bases—so even in shallow leagues I would consider owning him as I do in three of my four leagues this year.

In the first half of 2009, Chris Dickerson struggled to be effective at the plate and also to find playing time. After a rough April, he heated up in May and then exploded in June, batting .333 with four steals in the month. With his performance Dickerson earned himself more playing time but now with the news of Jay Bruce‘s injury, Dickerson’s playing time became that much more secure. Expect Dickerson to play at a similar level to his first half, a .280-.290 batting average with mild power and close to ten steals. With his on base skills, he could push fifteen steals and be a surprisingly valuable player.

Starting pitcher: David Price

This 2007 1st overall pick has not been particularly impressive so far in 2009 with a 1.64 WHIP and 4.70 ERA. His struggles are not from giving up too many hits; he has allowed only 41 hits in his 44 innings. The problem has been avoiding ball four as he has given up 31 free passes, good for a BB/9 rate above 6.00. When he limits his walks he gives flashes of his brilliance, which he displayed in his last start in which he limited the Blue Jays to one run in six innings, walking just one and striking out seven. Price has stated he is determined to limit his walks in the second half and because of his potential, the price may be right to see what it will take to get him.

Relief pitcher: Phil Hughes

Right now the future-starter Hughes is acting as a reliever, and doing a very good job at it. As I discussed in my last article, he has a good situation going as the Yankees set-up man, earning plenty of holds by allowing runs in only one of his 13 appearances. His real value, however, will come as a starter and there remains the possibility he transitions to the rotation later in the season. Because of that possibility, I would prefer to own Hughes over many middle relievers, except the ones with good chances to become closers.

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Hoping for Soppach to perform a bit better, but enough with Kendrick.  He is the most overrated player in fantasy the past few years.  All he brings is a high avg, and most of the time he can’t even do that.  I like a lot of your other picks, especially in the OF, but Kendrick is horrendous.