Each week of the baseball season a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Who is your fantasy MVP of the season's first half?
Will Carroll: I'll come at this two ways -- the easy one is Joey Votto, who's been amazing if unnoticed by many. He's quickly making a case for being the best hitter in baseball. Still, there should be a value component to this answer in fantasy. I don't think Mike Trout is an unknown to most -- he was a highly ranked, widely touted prospect -- so he didn't go very low. R.A. Dickey is a luck pick -- no one thought he'd do this. Even Michael Bourn is overvalued (or this year, fairly valued) in fantasy because of the steals. My MVP would have to be Austin Jackson. Even with the Tigers down and with an injury, Jackson's among the league leaders. He's still unknown enough to slip down the board -- or was. It won't happen again next year.
Eric Mack: You have to go with Dickey, because he was undrafted or picked late in many leagues, yet has proved to be the highest-scoring player in standard, head-to-head points-based leagues. That is remarkable production relative to draft position. If you're talking rotisserie leagues, it would be Mike Trout, a five-category player who has 22 steals, nine homers and a .339 average.
Sabino: In the AL it's virtually impossible to go with anyone besides Josh Hamilton. The guy has hammered pitching throughout the entire first half and leads the majors in RBIs and slugging and was just passed by Jose Bautista in home runs. He was also a bargain in most drafts as many feared a possible relapse stemming from a well-publicized offseason drinking incident.
In the NL I'll go with Carlos Beltran, who has been having one of those best-case-scenario years, which is just what the Cardinals needed in the wake of Albert Pujols' departure. He has the highest OBP (.396) among those with 20 home runs and joins only Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera in the .300-20-60 club through the first half of the season.
2. Who is the most disappointing fantasy star of the first half?
Carroll: Remember when everyone was asking what was wrong with Albert Pujols? His numbers look fine, even with that terrible April. The easy pick here is Tim Lincecum. He's gone from staff ace, first tier lock to an absolute mess. He could turn things around just as fast -- or not. He's someone I'm targeting in most leagues, but even now he's tough to pry away!
Mack: This is another no-brainer: Lincecum. He went from being arguably the best starting pitcher in fantasy to being one of the worst among pitchers with as many starts. As much as Dickey is surprisingly good, Lincecum has been surprisingly bad. You could switch the numbers of these two and go back in time to March and show them to fantasy drafters. No one would bat an eye. If you told them the truth, no one would believe you.
Sabino: Although he's no longer having an awful season, nobody who selected Pujols expected him to have worse numbers across the board than Nationals surprise Adam LaRoche, but that's where things stand. There are plenty of others who have been major disappointments (hello, Rickie Weeks), but none was expected to have the impact of Pujols.
3. Who is the biggest surprise of the first half?
Carroll: Easy answer here is Dickey. I'm going to go with Carlos Beltran. Not only is he playing well, he's playing regularly. The knee that was so close to being a career ender has been maintained well through three medical staffs in the last three years. Something changed and I'm not sure just what, but Beltran maintained his stroke. I think he could actually get better, though he's still risky.
Mack: Well, this analyst's first two answers above outline both the good and bad of Dickey and Lincecum, easily the two biggest surprises in opposite directions. If you want to dig deeper than the most obvious -- or you're a compulsive liar and think Dickey and Lincecum haven't surprised you at all -- Edwin Encarnacion's emergence into the elite has been surprising. He out Jose Bautista'd Joey Bats himself for most of the first half. Among pitching surprises outside of Dickey, Chris Sale, Gio Gonzalez, James McDonald and Jake Peavy have been sleeper/breakout gems.
Sabino: This leads me to another two-pronged answer. First, congratulate yourself if you were one of the few people who drafted Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe. Now kick yourself if you were one of the many who cut the Twins utilityman (now-regular third baseman) extraordinaire when he was hitting but .103 with one home run and two RBIs at the end of the first week of May. Since then, he's third in the majors in home runs, seventh in slugging (.645) and has raised his batting average .146 points. And if it seems like he hits a home run every day, you're not far off. Since mid-May he hasn't gone more than a week without going yard. All that could have been yours in the waning moments of almost every draft.
On the senior circuit side there's no better story than Dickey, who entered the 2012 season with a career winning percentage of .451 but has turned in one of those legendary seasons reserved for the likes of Doc Gooden, Ron Guidry and Tom Seaver in New York. Using his hard knuckleball, Dickey has baffled hitters to the tune of a 2.15 ERA, a .190 opponents batting average and 0.88 WHIP, the lowest in the first half for a pitcher with 100 innings since Pedro Martinez's 0.84 in 2005, also for New York.
4. What player do you think might have the biggest change of fortune in the second half?
Carroll: With Cole Hamels evidently on the market, he could see a huge change as a hired gun, but it won't change expectations. His teammate Cliff Lee should get a bit better luck and some wins. He's pitched well and the win stat is a mess. Really, that whole Phillies team should get better with Utley, Howard, and Halladay ready to return soon.
Mack: It is no longer wise to predict a complete collapse of Dickey, or revival of Lincecum. There's too much information to suggest otherwise. So, let's go with a couple of potentially great fantasy outfielders who provided nothing in the first half and can be great again: Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Going from no value in the first half to even Top-25 among outfielders for the second half would make each of these guys the largest changers of fortune -- albeit due to injury.
Sabino: Ellsbury has given his owners virtually nothing after separating his shoulder sliding into second base in April. Not only has that created a void on many fantasy rosters, it also created a never-before-seen game of musical chairs in Boston's usually stable outfield. Now he's on a rehab assignment and is expected to rejoin Bobby Valentine's lineup right after the All-Star break, which should put smiles on a lot of faces, both in Beantown and in fantasy leagues all over. Valentine's rumblings about batting order doesn't mean anything, so while he's likely play most of his games hitting at the top of the order, it's quite possible that Ellsbury, a leadoff hitter for most of his career, could hit further down in the Red Sox order in a more run-producing slot.