We often hear of the All-Star break as baseball's midway point, but when it comes to fantasy baseball, the season is actually closer to 60 percent finished. On that note, struggling fantasy managers must act quickly. The strategy is simple: trade your overachievers for the underachievers. You can pinpoint the underachievers by grabbing the notorious slow starters and those with a solid track record and yet an inexplicable start to the 2008 season. On the other hand, overachievers are those who are hitting at a rate that's out of their ballpark. In addition, some hitters often struggle in the second half because of geography. Just as some players in the northeast struggle to overcome the frigid temperatures early in the season, some players in the south struggle against the heat found during the dog days of summer.
In this week's article, we combine last year's second half statistics of notorious slow starters with their current figures this season. The result should give you an idea of the potential value of some underachievers. Can you identify the fantasy stars based on their statistics alone? Feel free to Name That Game!
564 at-bats, 73 runs, 19 HR, 80 RBI, 2 SB, .278 AVG
Which first baseman is this?
A) Adam LaRoche, PiratesB) Derrek Lee, CubsC) Carlos Delgado, Mets
The player revealed: OPTION (A): Adam LaRoche, PIRATES
It's been an up and down career for the 28-year-old first baseman in Pittsburgh. Selected in the 29th round of the '0 draft by the Atlanta Braves, LaRoche enjoyed some success in the minor leagues leading to an opportunity to make his major league debut in '04. The left-handed power hitter found some immediate success, smashing 13 home runs in 110 games in his rookie campaign. LaRoche then followed with 20 home runs while earning the majority of the at-bats in a platoon in '05. By '06, LaRoche evolved into a team's starting first baseman and he established career highs with 32 home runs and 90 RBIs. The majority of those numbers were accumulated in the second half of the season, as LaRoche smashed a startling 19 home runs with 48 RBIs and a .323 average in the 66 games after the All-Star break.
The Braves were inspired to trade LaRoche while his value was high and landed closer Mike Gonzalez and prospect Brent Lillibridge prior to the '07 season. In his first season in Pittsburgh, LaRoche settled in with 21 home runs and 88 RBIs. Once again, the majority of his damage was done in the second half of the season, when he hit 8 home runs with a .312 average. In his prime, fantasy managers hope that LaRoche can finally put two solid halves together for production similar to his '06 season.
With just 13 hits and one home run in April (.163 average), the season once again commenced on a faulty start for LaRoche. LaRoche failed to hit .260 in any of the three months to start the '08 season, though he did blast 5 home runs with 19 RBIs in May.
Suddenly, though, the switch has turned on for the notorious slow starter. Through 11 games in July, LaRoche is hitting .405 with 3 home runs and 9 RBIs. The California native is a fine buy low option who is likely available on most waiver wires thanks to his current average of .251. LaRoche should approach 20-plus home runs and 80 RBIs this season. Playing in Pittsburgh always leaves the door open for a trade as we approach the trade deadline, as well. Worst case scenario has LaRoche heading to a contender in a platoon role as he is a much better hitter against right-handers compared to facing fellow southpaws. The good news is that the risk is minimized by his currently modest fantasy value.
635 at-bats, 89 runs, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 3 SB, .290 AVG
Which second baseman is this?
A) Luis Castillo, MetsB) Robinson Cano, YankeesC) Kaz Matsui, Astros
The player revealed: OPTION (B): Robinson Cano, Yankees
The Yankees signed Cano when he was 18 years old to a free-agent deal. A native of the Dominican Republic, Cano proved to be an above average hitter in the minor leagues, though his defense was shaky and his power was lacking. Nonetheless, the Yankees provided the young prospect with an opportunity to play everyday in '05, and he shocked them with a sensational performance as he finished second to A's closer Huston Street for Rookie of the Year honors. Cano smashed 14 home runs and scored 78 runs with a crisp .297 average. In '06, Cano offered some resilience as he overcame a hamstring injury that forced him to miss 35 games and batted a career-best .342 with 15 home runs and 97 RBIs. Last season, Cano struggled from the start, entering the All-Star break with a sub-par 6 home runs and .274 average. He then blasted 13 home runs with 57 RBIs and a .343 average in the second half of the season to finish with a career-best 19 home runs and 97 RBIs. Cano was a popular early round selection entering the '08 season in fantasy leagues.
The '08 first half was shockingly abysmal for Cano. The now 25-year-old second baseman hit just .246 with 6 home runs by the mid-season classic. The majority of these struggles took place in the opening month for Cano, when he hit a paltry .151 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the first 29 games of the season. Without accounting for that horrid month, Cano would currently boast a much more respectable .288 average with 31 RBIs in 64 games. Considering what we've seen from Cano in past second halves, this may be the perfect time to swoop in and trade an overachieving second baseman such as Dan Uggla for Cano and some additional talent. With youth on his side, it's difficult to imagine that Cano doesn't have a bright future ahead in pinstripes.
619 at-bats, 99 runs, 35 HR, 133 RBI, 0 SB, .288 AVG
Which first baseman is this?
A) Prince Fielder, BrewersB) Ryan Howard, PhilliesC) Mark Teixeira, Braves
The player revealed: OPTION (C): Mark Teixeira, Braves
Ranking as one of the best collegiate players in the nation, the Texas Rangers drafted Teixeira with the fifth pick of the '01 draft out of Georgia Tech. After blasting 19 home runs with a .318 average in his minor league debut, Teixeira reached the Big Leagues the very next season. The burly first baseman missed out on the Rookie of the Year award, ranking behind Angel Berroa and Jody Gerut among others, but he did impress the Rangers with 26 home runs and 84 RBIs. The next season, Teixeira reached superstardom with 38 home runs, 112 RBIs, and a respectable .281 average. His career season followed as he smoked 43 home runs, 144 RBIs, and a .301 average. Struggles followed early in '06, as Big Tex had just 9 home runs with a .275 average by the All-Star break. One of the most remarkable second halves in recent memory followed as Teixeira blasted 24 home runs with 61 RBIs in the final 74 games.
After another slow start last season with just 12 home runs at the All-Star break, the Rangers traded Teixeira to the Braves for catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Once again a strong second half followed with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs in 71 games. In a contract year, Teixeira has some pressure this season with the Braves, but most fantasy managers prefer when their players have the extra motivation.
At the age of 28, Teixeira should be in his prime. Despite a .271 average that sits below his career average, most fantasy managers have to be impressed with Teixeira's solid 17 home runs and 69 RBIs by the break. In fact, the majority of those home runs came in the month of June, as Teixeira powered 9 long balls and 23 RBIs in 27 games.
Unfortunately, there is some uncertainty concerning Big Tex. With a low payroll, the Atlanta Braves are not likely to keep Teixeira around after this season. In fact, if an offer is made that has greater value than the two draft picks the Braves would receive by keeping him on board for the remainder of the season and letting him leave via free agency, the smooth-fielding first baseman may be on the move. If Teixiera lands in a power lineup such as the Red Sox or Yankees, then all is likely to be well for fantasy managers. However, if Teixeira instead heads to an offensively inefficient team such as Arizona or Oakland, the production may go down. Obviously, with a sensational track record for his second-half production, the odds are in favor of a big second half. Consider sending a Chipper Jones or Lance Berkman in a move that nets Teixeira and maybe a closer or lower level fantasy producer.