Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fantasy owners: Beware of second-half swoon

July 15, 2007


There's a reason they don't hand out year-end awards at the All-Star break.

It sounds obvious. But ask any baseball fanatic who will win the American League MVP award this year, and a serious debate about Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez surely will ensue.

There's a lot of baseball left, and we don't know everything we think we know. Not yet.

Take Pedro Feliz as an example. At the break last season, the Giants third baseman was hitting .274 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs. While not MVP numbers, he certainly looked like a breakout star. Then he hit .202 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs the rest of the way.

Other first-half stars who fell apart in the second half last year:

¢ Adam Dunn, OF, Reds: .229-12-32 after 28 homers in the first half;

¢ Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers: .237-4-29 after a .287-12-60 start.

Some swoons are blatantly obvious. After Ben Broussard hit .330 in the first half, we were so certain of his fall that at last year's All-Star break we created a word - Broussardian - to describe it. It means "glorious at first, followed by a precipitous fall from grace." Alas, Broussard hit a Broussardian .243 the rest of the way.

Here are a few players you might want to trade soon.

Reality bites

Jorge Posada, C, Yankees

It's been a pleasure to watch Posada (.326-9-48) swing this season, but history tells us not to expect him to keep this up. He'll be 36 in August, and has never hit higher than .287 in a season. That was in 2000, and how often do players over 35 have career years in which they hit more than .50 points above their career averages? Expect the catcher to improve his power totals, while his average drops to a more typical level. A .290-22-90 season is likely.

Jack Cust, OF, Athletics

Cust's emergence has been among the best stories of the first half. A longtime power prospect, Cust (.267-15-42 in 178 at-bats) has finally come through after a half-decade of missed chances. The A's are sold on him; they've asked veteran Mike Piazza to go back to catching to allow Cust to keep the starting designated hitter job. They need to be careful about their expectations, and so should you as a fantasy owner; he went 6-for-29 to start July with 13 strikeouts, and his total strikeouts (72 in 180 at-bats) show the potential for a major summer swoon.

Brad Penny, RHP, Dodgers

Penny (10-1, 2.39 ERA) has been better than ever in the first half this season, but don't forget that he's done this before; Last year, he was 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA at the All-Star break, and couldn't do anything right in the second half, going 6-7 with a 6.25 ERA. In 2005, he had a 3.43 ERA before, and 4.48 after. His health has been an issue late in the season; from 2003-06, he had 70 starts prior to the break and 48 after. Don't expect a dropoff quite as extreme as last year's, but it wouldn't be shocking if his ERA jumped a full run by the end of the season.

Hunter Pence, OF, Astros

Granted, I've been wrong all year about Pence. I thought it was unlikely he had elite value as a rookie, and now he's leading the NL in hitting at the break. Here's the problem: Pence (.342-11-42) has walked 10 times in 285 plate appearances, or about 3.5 percent of the time. That's among the eight lowest walk percentages for qualifying players, and that's not a good sign. The last rookie to perform at this level for an entire season was Albert Pujols in 2001, and he walked 69 times that year. Pence doesn't yet have the kind of eye necessary to hit above .333 for an entire year.

Quick hits: Royals OF-DH Billy Butler is the real deal, and now he has a job because Mike Sweeney (knee) is expected to be out until August. Butler is unpolished, but he has nothing else to prove in the minors and has the power to hit double-digit home runs this year. ... It's a shame the All-Star break is getting in the way of Rangers OF Brad Wilkerson's power surge. He's the kind of streaky player you ride for a few weeks once he heats up. He has five homers and 13 RBIs in his first 25 July at-bats. ... Perhaps it's time to give Jeff Weaver a shot, after all. The Mariners right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA in six starts since returning from the disabled list June 9.


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