Halpin’ Hand: Now and future MVPs

Tonight is the All-Star Game — right here on FOX! — so there’s no better time to recognize the fantasy stars from the first half of the season and predict the big-time players for the second.

Sure, the season is technically more than half over, but who wants to nitpick? Not me.

Catcher

First-half MVP: Joe Mauer, Twins

Hey, didn’t someone around here write that Mauer’s offseason inactivity would likely prevent his long-awaited power surge this year? Oops.

Second-half MVP: Mauer

This guy is 26 years old, already owns two batting titles and is hitting .373 with big-time power. If you thought I was going to pick Victor Martinez or Brian McCann over him, you’re crazy.

First baseman

First-half MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals

I love when people try to find reasons to pick Ryan Howard over Pujols every March — it cracks me up beyond belief. Pujols is on pace for some career-best numbers in home runs, RBI and OPS — any of which would be quite a feat considering his awesome track record — and he has 10 stolen bases as well. Phat Albert is one of the 10 best hitters of all-time — with that number shrinking every year — and he’s as money as money gets at this position. You will probably never own a fantasy hitter who will deliver as reliably and spectacularly as he will.

Second-half MVP: Pujols

I was thinking that maybe Howard will … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I couldn’t even finish that sentence with a straight face. In case you haven’t noticed, we are a Hanley Ramirez mini-slump away from the “Pujols Triple Crown Watch” story taking over the second half of the 2009 baseball season. I really, really, REALLY hope it happens.

Second baseman

First-half MVP: Chase Utley, Phillies

I tabbed Ian Kinsler as fantasy’s top second baseman prior to the season, but so far I’ll give the edge to Utley by a razor-thin margin. Utley and Kinsler are dead even in both homers (20) and runs scored (62). Kinsler has 18 stolen bases to Utley’s nine, while Utley has the edges in RBI (61-55) and batting average (.313-.250). The BA advantage is pronounced enough to make Utley the first-half choice.

Second-half MVP: Ian Kinsler, Rangers

Kinsler’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is an extremely unlucky .241. When that number inevitably goes up, it’ll take all the other non-homer numbers with it. If you drafted Kinsler over Utley, I think you’ll be happy with the end result.

Third baseman

First-half MVP: Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks

Twenty-four homers and 15 steals in 87 games? Are you kidding? Whatever Reynolds is taking, I want some of it! On second thought, forget I wrote that sentence. You can’t make jokes like that anymore. Also, as I wrote last week, don’t bet your house on another half season of these numbers from Reynolds.

Second-half MVP: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Since returning from hip surgery in May, A-Rod has 17 homers in 58 games, and his batting average has been held down by an unlucky BABIP of .236. Before his injury, I thought he was going to have a monster year, and I still think that.

Shortstop

First-half MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

Ho-hum — Ramirez leads all shortstops in batting average (.349) and RBI (61), is second in home runs (14), third in runs scored (53) and sixth in stolen bases (13). With Jose Reyes hurt, Ramirez could probably bat lefty and still be fantasy’s top shortstop.

Second-half MVP: Ramirez

As the great philosopher Ralph Kramden once said, “I’m the king! Remember that! King, king, king! You are nothing, a peasant! This is my house, my castle! I’m the king!” In this case, the fantasy baseball peasants are Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter.

Outfield

First-half MVPs: Torii Hunter, Angels; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

There are many ways by which we can figure out the best fantasy outfielders, but for this article, I decided to rank them by first-half stats in all five categories, with equal weight given to each of the five and no extra weight given for extreme performance (like Carl Crawford’s 44 stolen bases). I was surprised — shocked, even — to see Hunter lead the way at the position, but he’s been terrific across the board. Too bad he’s going to be on the DL for a few weeks.

Braun doesn’t have Hunter’s speed, but he’s got some, and he’s very strong in the other four categories. For Upton to reach this level so early in his career is ridiculous. We’re looking at a potential first-round fantasy pick at age 22 in 2010. The sky’s the limit with him.

In case you’re wondering how some of the other outfielders fared in the rankings, here are Nos. 4-10 in order: Jayson Werth, Phillies; Jason Bay, Red Sox; Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Raul Ibanez, Phillies; Carl Crawford, Rays; Nelson Cruz, Rangers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians

Second-half MVPs: Braun; B.J. Upton, Rays; Grady Sizemore, Indians

If you didn’t think Bossman Junior would be one of my top three second-half outfielders, you need to read my columns and blog more often. He’s stealing and scoring plenty, and the power is going to come soon, dammit!

Sizemore’s elbow appears to be OK, so rest easy. In his last 10 games before the break, he batted .308 with three homers, eight RBI, eight runs and a pair of stolen bases, along with a 1.041 OPS. There’s a reason why most people had him ranked at the top of preseason lists at this position.

Starting pitcher

First-half MVP: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks

And you thought I was going to pick Tim Lincecum or Zack Greinke. Haren’s numbers are sick — in addition to his solid nine wins, he leads major league starters with a 2.01 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP and is tied for fifth with 129 strikeouts. Haren’s WHIP is so amazing that the next best is Lincecum’s 1.05. Wow, wow, wow.

Haren probably won’t keep up this level of excellence, but he’s one of the top half-dozen starters in the majors. Whoever thought Brandon Webb was Arizona’s ace wasn’t looking closely enough.

Second-half MVP: Tim Lincecum, Giants

Lincecum is baseball’s best starter. The reasoning is pretty simple: He racks up boatloads of strikeouts and doesn’t give up any runs. If you have an argument, take it up with me in the Member Comments section at the bottom of the page.

Relief pitcher

First-half MVP: Joe Nathan, Twins

Brian Fuentes leads the majors in saves, but I thought we could do better than his solid-but-not-great 3.23 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Nathan is one of six closers tied for second place with 23 saves, and his 1.31 ERA and 0.73 WHIP put him over the top for me.

Remember when Nathan was a failed starter before the Giants made him a reliever at age 28? Closers are made and not born, folks. Almost any good pitcher can save a bunch of games if given the opportunity.

Second-half MVP: Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

As always, looking for fantasy success at this position is a crapshoot. Papelbon’s walk rate is higher than normal this season, but he has a 1.84 career ERA and has averaged 38 saves over the last three seasons. He’s as safe a choice as anyone else. I hope I don’t have to turn in my membership as a Yankee fan for making this selection.

Note: “The Lower Half” will return next Tuesday.

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