At this stage of the season, there are more fantasy baseball owners out there worried about who they are going to keep around for their 2009 team than there are those worried about how the next few weeks of the season are going to unfold. Looking toward that end, this week we will cover a few young players who saw their stock rise again in the second half of the season, after a less appealing first half. Figuring out whether these players adjusted and improved their games or simply had a stretch of luck can be key to your team's future as you wait till next year.
Since the sample is small, it may be too early to draw any concrete conclusions from it, but there are a few things to consider when evaluating Milledge for '09. First of all, those second-half numbers aren't unrealistic, as they match up
If Milledge hits that for the year instead of just during the second half, and steals bases as successfully as he has this season, you're looking at a 20/20 outfielder with potential for 25/25. The lesson -- one we should keep in mind more often -- is that when they are learning on the job, and you shouldn't give up on young players just because of a stretch of poor plate appearances. It's fine to cut bait in a one-year league with a struggling player like Milledge, but don't forget to check up on him next time.
Rios has hit .312/.343/.589 in his 202 at-bats since the All-Star break, with nine homers, or one every 22.4 at-bats as opposed to one every 90.5 before. His season line is up to a respectable .294/.339/.468, and he's even managed to swipe 30 bases in order to boost his fantasy value. Part of the reason for the return of his production was putting the loft back into his swing; early in the year, Rios saw his G/F ratio and ground-ball rates approaching those of his first few seasons in the majors, when he was a punchless outfielder showing little of his power potential. He's seen things level out somewhat since then -- his current 1.1 G/F rate is around the league average and trending downward towards fly ball-heavy, while his ground-ball rate has dipped to 40.8 percent, closer to his recent performances. If he can keep his swing in order through all of '09 without the first half missteps of this year, you may have yourself a 25/25 player that some owners aren't looking at as greedily as they had in the past.
Young is now hitting .244/.307/.437 for the year, which isn't pretty, but it is an improvement thanks to a second half that has seen the 24-year old hit .277/.332/.511. He hasn't cut his strikeouts down -- in fact, he's punching out more often at 26.1 percent during the stretch -- but he has put the ball in the air more often, as shown by his increasing liner rates and the fact that he's grounded into just one double play since the All-Star break after hitting into eight beforehand.
Young's far from a finished product at his age, but his second-half surge resembles his weighted mean forecast of .274/.353/.524; if he is able to keep things up, and is able to live up to the potential that PECOTA sees in him for more than just short stretches, there aren't going to be many options better than Chris Young in your outfield. The one negative this season has been his lack of steals; whereas he looked like a candidate to hit 30 homers and swipe 30 bags prior to the season -- he had 32 homers and 27 steals a year ago, after all -- he's snagged just 11 bases in 16 attempts this year. He's a quality player even without the steals (though 15 a year would be helpful), but he's obviously a much more valuable fantasy contributor with them in tow. Adjust his value in your head accordingly.
Here is where things get weird though, as Lopez shows an odd split. Despite Safeco's tendencies to favor pitchers, Lopez has been far more productive there, slugging .475 (.164 ISO) this year. Drilling down further still, that's despite his slugging barely .400 there in the first half of the season; he has hit a ridiculous .343/.362/.598 there in the second half. Lopez has hit just .264/.301/.346 on the road fin '08, continuing a stretch of futility where he hit .275/.294/.370 outside Seattle last season. For '06, the split was the opposite, with Lopez hitting well outside the expanses of Safeco and struggling at home.
The second baseman has 11 of his 14 homers at Safeco, and all of them to left field. According to