July 16, 2009

Even though it's played on a Tuesday, the All-Star break is the "Wednesday" of the baseball season. Baseball's "hump day" is roughly the middle point and a good time to check the pulse of your fantasy team. Projections are easy to make -- Just double the homeruns, RBI, runs, steals, wins, strikeouts, etc. Those projections can often produce spectacular final totals. Albert Pujols has already had a great season based on first half numbers alone: 32 HR, 87 RBI, 73 runs and 10 steals. Double those numbers and his year-end projections are Ruthian. We haven't seen anything like that since the pre-BALCO days.

Let's take a sampling from around the majors of first half overachievers, with help from the Sports Grumblings' supercomputer, Mighty Max. Players with a sustainable first half are for better. Players with unsustainable first halves are for worse.

Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies: Werth's 20 HR at the break are only four less than he had all of last season. However, Werth could have had 30 HR if he started from Opening Day. So another 15 HR in the second half would not surprise and 20 is achievable. Werth, 30, is a late-bloomer who has found the perfect situation: a right-handed bat in the middle of a lethal lefty lineup. Playing half his games at Citizens Bank Park doesn't hurt either.

Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers: Verlander had a crazy start to the season. He was terrible in April (1-2, 6.75 ERA) and fantastic in May (5-0, 1.52 ERA). Verlander settled down in June and July and was 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA. By the way, he has 149 strikeouts, which ties him with Tim Lincecum for the MLB lead. The 26-year old Verlander is entering his prime and has plenty of upside. He should finish 2009 with close to 300 strikeouts.

Brandon Inge, 3B/C, Tigers: Inge is having a career year, with 21 HR, 58 RBI and 51 runs at the break. He is only 6 HR behind his career-best mark. Inge does have a history of fading in the second half of the season. Inge's career OPS is .754 before the break and .657 after. Over his career, Inge has hit 79 homers in the first half of the season and only 38 in the second half. All indicators point to a second-half fade for Inge.

Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays: Rolen's .320 average is 5th in the AL. That's good. Rolen has 6 HR and 35 RBI, which project to only12 HR and 70 RBI. That's bad. He is like Ichiro, but without the speed. That high average plus his prior history as a homerun hitter make Rolen a sell-high commodity. Get rid of him now before he gets hurt again. Rolen, 34, has missed 97 games over the past two seasons.

Tim Wakefield, SP, Red Sox: How can a pitcher lead the MLB in wins and still be available in half of fantasy leagues? It happens when the rest of your stats are weak, as are Wakefield's: a 4.31 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and only 61 strikeouts. Wakefield's success is not sustainable. He has never won more than 17 games in his 17 seasons; so don't expect him to win 20 in 2009.

Jason Marquis, SP, Rockies: In some respects Marquis is a younger version of Wakefield. He is tied with Wakefield and Josh Beckett for 11 wins -- the most in the majors. The rest of Marquis' line is ordinary: a 3.65 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and only 58 strikeouts. Marquis tends to decline after the All Star break. Over his career Marquis is 60-39 in the first half, but only 30-37 after that. Marquis, 30, is riskier than the 42-year old Wakefield.

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