Will Tim Lincecum fall off track after his 148-pitch no-hitter? Which players will make a rebound in the second half of the season? Who are some sell-high candidates? Our fantasy experts Michael Beller and Eric Mack have answers.
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1. Did Tim Lincecum and the Giants put his season in peril stretching out to 148 pitches in a no-hitter?
Beller: I'm not going to get too worked out about one outing, even if it did push Lincecum to the max. I'd be a lot more worried about him making a habit of going 120-plus pitches in start after start, but the no-hitter was the only time this year he's surpassed that mark. Thanks to the All-Star break, he'll get more than a week off between starts. I'd expect a veteran like Lincecum to be able to tax himself to the tune of 148 pitches once and be able to bounce back from it without ill effects.
Mack: Yes, Johan Santana completely collapsed after his heavy work in his no-hitter a year ago; it might have marked the end of his career. But Lincecum is 29 and hasn't had the same shoulder woes as Santana. Beller is right, too: The All-Star break was conveniently timed. The offseason free agent could have a solid second half as he's motivated to prove he doesn't belong in the bullpen long term, and is worth top dollars on the market.
2. Who are some of your second-half rebound candidates?
Beller: Let's start with Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes. He has earned every bit of his .251 BABIP, thanks to a 16.1-percent line-drive rate and a ground ball/fly ball ratio that sits at 0.75. However, there are signs he's turning it around. His line-drive rate in June was up to 21.2 percent, his highest for any month. In 49 plate appearances in July, he has six walks and just six strikeouts, a huge improvement in both categories over the season's first three months. He's primed to break out in the second half.
Starlin Castro finally appears to be emerging from the nightmare that was the 2013 season for him for most of the first half. In 57 plate appearances in July, he's hitting .308/.368/.500 with two homers, two doubles and a triple. As mightily as he struggled all season, we're still talking about a supremely talented 23-year-old who barely missed posting his second 200-hit season last year. Expect the July version of Castro to stick around for a while.
It's a bit of a misnomer to call Matt Cain a rebound candidate, since most of his 2013 numbers are in line with his career. But the bottom line is that unsightly 5.06 ERA has taken a toll on his fantasy ranking. However, his FIP is 4.18 and his xFIP is 3.90. He has the eighth-widest positive ERA-FIP spread in the league. That is bound to normalize. In the meantime, he's posting the best K-rate of his career. If you can convince his owner to deal, now is your time to act.
Mack: I am all-in with Beller on Castro and more moderately onboard with Cespedes and Cain. The latter two might not be appreciatively better in the second half, no matter what data Beller regurgitates to support it. Castro, 23, is supposed to emerge as one of the great young stars of the game. Instead, his first half has represented two steps back. His improving numbers of late should only be the start of things to come.
I will add Jedd Gyorko, Josh Hamilton, Cole Hamels and Victor Martinez to the list of players expected to improve in the second half. Gyorko was red hot before he was injured, and he could still reach the 20-homer plateau among second basemen. Hamilton has gone through his frustrating adjustment period in Anaheim, while Hamels just can't pitch into bad luck much longer and V-Mart has kicked the rust of having missed all of last season. Consider all of these guys solid buy-low candidates right now.
3. Who are some of the hot first-half stars you expect to tail off? Who should you sell high on?
Beller: One guy who has already started to stumble is Hisashi Iwakuma. It was hard to believe he'd sustain such a high level of performance with so few strikeouts, and that is finally starting to manifest itself in his results. In his last six starts before the break, he had a 6.25 ERA, allowing 25 runs on 40 hits in 36 innings. In his defense, he faced the A's twice, Rangers, Red Sox and Angels during that stretch, but the fact remains he was pitching over his head for most of the first half.
I don't mean to pick on the Mariners, but it's hard for me to believe that 27 percent of the fly balls hit by Raul Ibanez will continue to leave the yard. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, the average true distance of Ibanez' homers is 386.1 feet, which ranks 91st for hitters with at least 10 homers. In addition to that, the tool classifies eight of his homers as "just enoughs." Part of that is simply by virtue of hitting so many homers. After all, Carlos Gonzalez has 11 just enoughs, Miguel Cabrera has 10 and Chris Davis has nine. But they all lap Ibanez, and then some, in terms of averagetrue distance.
Mack: I will add a few more: Jean Segura, Josh Donaldson, Patrick Corbin, Bartolo Colon and Jason Grilli. You have come a long, long way with all of these guys on your roster and you have done it with a modest draft day investment -- if you didn't pick them up off the waiver wire.
Segura and Donaldson are solid players but not great ones if you look at all their numbers before their smashing first halves. They just aren't that good, so if you can get a steadier veteran in their prime for them, it would be advisable.
Corbin cannot be expected to sustain this kind of success in his first full season in the majors -- and neither can All-Star Game starter Matt Harvey for that matter.
Colon is more likely to succumb to some kind of injury and a DL stint, even if he doesn't lose his effectiveness, while the pressure of closing in a pennant race for the first time should fry Grilli (weak pun intended). In general trading a hot first-half pitcher for a hitter is advisable down the stretch, because hitters can impact your standings more quickly than pitchers in smaller sample sizes.
4. I just traded Ryan Braun straight up for Yasiel Puig. I'm really nervous about Braun's possible suspension. Was it a bad move?
-- Daniel B, Melrose, Mass.
Beller: Bud Selig and the powers that be in the MLB home office may want to chase after the Biogenesis allegations with everything in their arsenal, but I don't see how they could possibly justify a suspension for anyone involved, Braun included. There just isn't enough evidence to prove there was any wrongdoing, no matter all the circumstantial bits they might have. Even if they suspend Braun, the players association will certainly appeal, and that will take time. I wouldn't have made this deal.
Mack: Agreed with Beller here. Daniel, are you also one of those people that thought the world was ending last December because of the Mayan calendar snafu? The media has you in full panic mode! Don't believe the hype. The news keeps making it sound like suspensions are imminent, but the appeals process still has to take place, which tends to take months. The players association won't stop to defend the players here when they need it most. You sold low and bought high, a terrible strategy in fantasy. In hindsight, too, I should have listed Puig as one of the players who will tail off in the second half. He will remain a viable fantasy starter, but expecting him to produce on Braun's level is a bit outrageous.