We try not to get too excited about fast starts, strong finishes or impressive middles for fantasy purposes. The beauty of baseball is that over 162 games, players usually show that they are what their numbers say they are.
However, sometimes there are things to learn from how a player closes out a season. Maybe he got over an injury, or made a change, or simply found something. The players below had second-half performances in 2016 that have us thinking positively about how they’ll play this year.
Note: Brian Dozier is pictured above because he led the majors with 28 second-half home runs last season. That’s pretty good.
Upton’s 2016 season was his worst as a big leaguer, as he batted just .246 with a .775 OPS. However, he hit 18 home runs over the season’s final two months, including 13 in September. That closing kick reminded us that Upton is still a serious power hitter, and should be counted on for 25-30 homers even if he’s not the MVP we all hoped he’d become.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
Buxton struggled with the Twins early last season, getting demoted twice and striking out a whopping 59 times in his first 146 plate appearances (40.4 percent). Then September came, and while Buxton kept whiffing at a prodigious rate, he batted .287 with nine home runs and 1.011 OPS to close out the campaign. Buxton certainly has flaws, but it looks like his attractive power/speed package is about to be of good use to fantasy owners.
Jung Ho Kang, 3B, Pirates
Assorted injuries limited Kang to 103 games last season, but he packed plenty of production into those appearances, with 21 home runs, 62 RBI and an .867 OPS. Ten of those homers came in August and September, as Kang lowered his strikeout rate, raised his walk rate and posted an excellent 1.019 OPS. Even if he misses some time as a result of an offseason DUI charge, 25 homers seem likely.
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Curtis Granderson, OF, Mets
In the latter half of his career, Granderson has been all power and no batting average. He homered 30 times in 2016, including 14 over the season’s final two months. Maybe it was just a hot streak, but if you need power late in your draft and can withstand a BA in the .230s, the Grandyman can help you.
Ryon Healy, 3B, Athletics
Healy’s hot finish to 2016 was more a continuation of his minor-league performance, but it’s notable that he hit 11 homers as an Athletic in August and September, and had a .964 OPS over the final month of the season. He’s been a trendy late-round pick at the hot corner, and we can’t really disagree with his popularity. Projections have Healy in the .270, 20-homer range.
Getty ImagesJason O. Watson
Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays
Last year’s breakout didn’t materialize, as Stroman went 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and a subpar strikeout rate. But look a little more closely, and you’ll see that Stroman started to miss more bats late in the season, whiffing 83 batters in 88 innings after the All-Star break. Yes, we know he racked up a quarter of those Ks in two starts against the whiff-happy Astros. He was still impressive, dammit!
This FanGraphs article dissects how Stroman improved in the second half of 2016. The bet here is that he’ll pick up where he left off, and be a solid investment as your mixed-league SP4.
James Paxton, SP, Mariners
If everyone calls Paxton a sleeper, is he still a sleeper? Maybe not, but his 2016 improvement is worthy of discussion. A mechanical fixled to Paxton throwing harder than ever before, with an average fastball velocity of 96.8 mph that ranked behind only Noah Syndergaard and Nathan Eovaldi.
Over the season’s final two months, Paxton posted a 3.23 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. If he stays healthy - which has always been his problem - he can be a top-20 fantasy starter. Unfortunately, by the time you draft, everyone else will want Paxton as much as you do.
Carlos Rodon, SP, White Sox
We’ve written about Rodon already this spring, but we’re excited enough to do it again here. The 24-year-old southpaw had a 4.04 ERA with an unsightly 1.39 WHIP last season, but those numbers improved to 3.11/1.19 over the final two months of the season. Also, his walk rate was vastly improved, dropping from a terrible 11.7 percent in 2015 to a below-average 7.6 percent last year.
Hey, it’s another young lefty! Rodriguez won’t turn 24 until April, but he’s fallen off everyone’s radar after posting an ugly 4.71 ERA over 20 starts in 2016. He’s currently on the outside looking in for a rotation slot in Boston, but with Steven Wright (shoulder) and Drew Pomeranz (forearm/elbow) coming back from injuries, there’s a chance for Rodriguez to kick in the door.
The silver lining is the way Rodriguez closed out the season, with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings after the All-Star break. He might start the season in the minors, and his offseason knee injury (not serious) could help that decision. However, if you’re in a deeper mixed league or a format in which you can stash someone on a bench, there’s sleeper potential here.