The high variability second half team

What will the second half hold for everyone’s favorite prospect? (Icon/SMI)

While it would be nice if we were all sitting with a comfortable lead in first place right now, I’m sure many readers don’t find themselves in that position in their fantasy leagues. If you’re in the middle of the pack, it might be time to embrace some risk. Making fair value trades likely won’t propel you the necessary distance in the standings, but trading for a player with high variability in his rest-of-season projection would provide big dividends if he hits the high end of the projection.

Today, I’ll be going position-by-position and picking out some players who could “boom or bust” in the second half of 2009. I’ll talk about each and then give my opinion on which way they’ll end up going.

Catcher: Matt Wieters

Coming into 2009, Wieters was the can’t-miss prospect of the century. That was until he was recalled and hit .259 with just three HRs, 10 RBI, and 10 runs in 108 at-bats. Still, this is the same guy PECOTA projected to have a .311/.395/.546 batting line (however ridiculous that may have been) and who all projection systems agreed would be at least a top 10 catcher, if not top five.

If there’s something the projection systems missed on Wieters, his owners could be in for a rough second half. Given the way he has severely undershot his expectations, however, he could come pretty cheap in redraft leagues, and there is monster potential here (and his MLB peripherals aren’t even that bad).

Which way am I leaning?: Very Positive

1B: John Bowker

Probably a name some of you are unfamiliar with, Bowker was just recalled by the Giants this week. He didn’t impress many people when he got a shot in the bigs last year, but his minor league numbers are good and the Giants have said they’ll play him every day for the forseeable future. If he finds a way to hit, he’ll stick with the team and provide nice value to his owners. If he can’t, he could be back at Triple-A within a couple weeks.

If he does hit, the upside looks like a dozen or so homers to match a handful of steals and a .270 batting average. The Giants have hit him fifth, sixth, and seventh so far, and if he finds a way to stick in the No. 5 slot he could provide decent RBI and runs as well.

Which way am I leaning?: Positive (in the interest of full disclosure, I did just purchase him in LABR NL).

2B: Kelly Johnson

Uggh. Coming into the season, Johnson looked like a pretty safe bet for a .280 average with double-digit steals and homers and the upside to pop as many as 20. That hasn’t panned out, and before he was placed on the DL before the All-Star Break, manager Bobby Cox announced that Martin Prado would receive the majority of the playing time at second base.

The positives here are that he has improved his contact rate and fly ball rate, and a potentially unlucky BABIP looks like the main culprit for his poor first half. If we plug in his simple xBABIP of .313, his batting average would be at .275 right now. I also hold some hope for his power, so the real concern now is the playing time. Unfortunately, Prado doesn’t look too much like a fluke, but if Johnson starts hitting, I have a hard time seeing him riding the bench the rest of the way, especially if the power comes back.

Which way am I leaning?: Somewhat positive

3B: Garrett Atkins

Atkins is probably the biggest name in baseball right now with boom or bust prospects for the second half. If he stays with the Rockies and hits like he did in the first half, he could be benched outright for Ian Stewart. If he hits like he did over the past couple weeks, he could justify his draft position and provide monster value to those buying low, whether he stays with the Rockies or is traded elsewhere.

There are both some good signs (improved contact rate, unlucky BABIP) and some bad signs (line drive rate well below established levels, not hitting his home runs as far as previous years), so it’s tough to say with any certainty what will happen. Let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic about Atkins. It isn’t often we see a 29-year-old with a good track record fall off a cliff like Atkins has.

Which way am I leaning?: Somewhat positive

SS: Stephen Drew

I wasn’t a big Drew supporter coming into the year, and he hasn’t been particularly good thus far. His line drive rate regressed and his BABIP followed suit, his contact rate has fallen a bit, and his power regressed to 2007 levels. His upside for the rest of the season looks like his 2008 rates (and at some point the upside may be well above that), but I think, over the next couple months, it’s more likely we see him cruise along at the rate he went in the first half.

Which way am I leaning?: Negative

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

OF: Chris Young

We’ve known he can’t hit for average, but .196? Eww. And worse, his power has evaporated. He was drafted high for a reason, though, and it looks like there’s some bad luck at play. His .250 BABIP compares favorably to a .283 simple xBABIP, and he’s still hitting the ball as far as he was last year, so the power could spike as well. With the speed still there, we could see Young post a .235-.240 average, 12 homers, and 10-15 steals the rest of the way. If that looks good to you, Young could be a worthwhile pickup.

Which way am I leaning?: Somewhat positive

OF: Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes

A couple of guys with high expectations who are now rotting in the minor leagues. With Pittsburgh out of contention (what else is new?) and unstable corner outfield spots, I think it’s quite probable that Milledge gets recalled before the end of the month and finds some regular playing time. Very good speed, pretty good power, decent enough batting average is better than you’ll find on most waiver wires. Of course, he could also struggle or pull some stunt and find himself back at Triple-A. Still, I think the time to move on him is now.

Dukes will need to do more to prove himself, especially with such a crowded Nationals outfield now that Nyjer Morgan is on board. He’s hitting pretty well in Triple-A thus far, but if he isn’t recalled until mid-August there might not be much time for him to help fantasy owners (and that’s assuming some of his early 2009 struggles were luck-related). There is talk of a trade, which could really jumpstart his value if one were to go down. He’s got great power and speed potential, but going 2-for-9 in steals with a HR/FB that was half of what it was in 2008 isn’t exactly a good sign.

Which way am I leaning?: Positive on Milledge, somewhat negative on Dukes

OF: A few more

Lots of these high-variability types in the outfield, so here are some quick thoughts on a few more:

Delmon Young: I wasn’t a fan coming into the year, hasn’t performed very well, and the Minnesota outfield is still crowded. Very negative

Carlos Gomez: SB potential is still there, but the power hasn’t developed as I was hoping, the BABIP doesn’t look very unlucky, and the outfield is crowded. Somewhat negative

Ryan Spilborghs: Love his skills, but he’s a fifth outfielder in Colorado without much hope for regular playing time unless he’s traded. Unfortunately, the team doesn’t seem to want to do that, and not all of the teams interested would use him as a regular anyway. Poor Spilly. Negative

SP: Francisco Liriano and David Price

Two pitchers I’m sure many fantasy owners are unsure what to make of. We’ve seen Liriano’s monster potential in 2006, but he’s been unimpressive since his return from Tommy John surgery, culminating in a first-half ERA of 5.47. While we may never see the old Liriano, I am somewhat bullish on him. Despite a BB/9 over 4.0, his LIPS ERA is a respectable 4.26, and his numbers have been quite good over his last nine starts: 9.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9. Of course, that means the downside could be his first nine starts: 7.3 K/9, 4.6 BB/9.

Price is a player I’ve never seen all the hype about. I suppose it comes from scouts who see the long-term potential and the possibility of him harnessing that potential at any time, which I won’t argue with, but on a single-year basis he just wasn’t deserving of such a high draft position. His starts have either been boom or bust this year (either 1 ER or 5+ ER), and some are pointing to those flashes of brilliance and his 9.6 K/9 as reason for optimism. Me? I point to his 6.3 BB/9, 35 percent ground ball rate, and unimpressive minor league track record and call him a terrible play for the rest of 2009.

Which way am I leaning?: Positive on Liriano, very negative on Price.

RP: Chad Qualls and Huston Street

High-skill, trade candidate closers. If traded, they’d lose most of their value. If not, they keep it all and could come cheaply for the time being from a nervous owner. We’re hearing that the D’Backs are getting offers on Qualls that could be too good to pass up, while it’s been relatively quite on the Street front (no pun intended).

Which way am I leaning?: Somewhat positive on Street, somewhat negative on Qualls.

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Good stuff. Mostly guys who can be had cheap and might even be available in mixed leagues. Wieters and Liriano stand out as the main Buy Lows.

So torn on what to do with Qualls and Street. I guess all an owner can do is to be sure to have the handcuffs.

Odd that so many come from the NL. I think you’ve been spending too much time analyzing LABR, Derek. Haha


What about Alex Gordon? He has torn up AAA in his rehab stint and he gets activated on Friday.  He is probably available on the waiver in a lot of leagues.

Granted, he has never been able to translate minor league success to the big league but the absence of pressure in the second half could give him the breathing room to make a name for himself.

Toffer Peak
Toffer Peak
Seeing as so many of these players are/were on my my team maybe you can give some input to my situation. I had Wieters/Martin, Rollins, Kelly Johnson, Atkins, Chris Young, Dukes, Sizemore and others to start the season. These are all players who have fallen way below their preseason projections. I’ve made a large surge in the last week or two but am still only in the middle of the pack. Since this is a keeper league I could probably reap some pretty decent long-term keepers by dealing off some of my expiring-contract studs and throw in the towel for… Read more »
Chad Burke
Chad Burke

Would Bowker have a higher upside for this season than Giambi?  I’ve tried to deal the golden thong but haven’t been able to do so thus far.  I have Swisher, Votto, and Morales that are 1B/CI eligible so I don’t really need him except for emergencies.

Derek Carty
Derek Carty
Toffer Peak, To be honest with you, I always play for first.  Anything less and I call it a season.  While 20-25 points is nowhere near insurmountable in the second half, if it means you’re trying to gain that many just to get into third, it’s not going to be difficult to fall short and end up in fifth.  While it really depends on how the categories stand and how easily you think you can make up the points, if it were me, I’d probably set myself up for next year.  You’ve got some pretty good chips, it looks like.… Read more »
Derek Carty
Derek Carty

Gordon would definitely be another one who could be on this list.  I really like his power, and he’s got some speed.  All he needs is to make some gains with his contact skills.

Chad Burke,
Since it’s a situation with little risk for you, I think Bowker could be a worthwhile pickup over Giambi.  There’s much more downside, but the upside could be a little higher if you can’t manage to deal Giambi.