MLB barometer: forecasting the second half

July 19, 2017

Here are some hitters I’d be looking to trade for or add (where available) with expectations of solid second halves and assistance in categories you may need:

Catcher

For Average: Buster Posey, J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina

Posey and Realmuto should both end the year above .300, but Molina is the cheap buy-now as a career .284 hitter who is currently batting .265.

For Power: Evan Gattis, Yasmani Grandal, Welington Castillo, Gary Sanchez

Gattis has eight homers but has averaged 29.5 over his last two seasons. His ISO has dipped a bit as he’s hitting for more contact this year, but he should get to 20. Grandal ranked second behind Gattis last year with 27 -- he has 12 right now and hasn’t had more than a small hot streak this year. Meanwhile, Sanchez should smoke the competition in long balls from this point on.

On-the- cheap: Manny Pina, Cameron Rupp

Bounce-back: Jonathan Lucroy

I will quit fantasy if Lucroy stays healthy but doesn’t have a better second half.

Corner Infielders

For Average: Matt Carpenter, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Seager, Kris Bryant

You’re obviously getting much more than a power spike with these guys, who are all currently underperforming with regard to their career averages. Yes, players do have down seasons, but these three will certainly hit for higher averages than their current marks. Seager is warming up and will be back to his standard .265-.275 range in no time.

For Power: Freddie Freeman, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Adrian Beltre, Maikel Franco

Davis is as streaky as they come, but he’s a guy who smashed 47 and 53 homers in two of the last four seasons. Give him a few days as he gets his swing back coming off an injury, and get him on your squad before the first surge. Machado and Bryant are the two guys I’d be targeting in trades in advance of these monster 11 weeks to come. Beltre is behind the curve after missing a good chunk of the first half, but he’s not done yet. Expect a .295 August with six or seven homers.

On-the-cheap: Mitch Moreland, Kennys Vargas, C.J. Cron, Alex Bregman, Luis Valbuena (if you can stomach the average)

Middle Infielders

For Speed: Orlando Arcia, Tim Anderson, Whit Merrifield, Cesar Hernandez, Ketel Marte (on-the-cheap)
Arcia swiped three bags Monday and there will be more where those came from. At some point, he might even earn himself a spot higher in the lineup. Anderson has only stolen five bases on five attempts, so it’s strange that Rick Renteria doesn’t give him the green light more often. I do believe we’ll see an uptick in his attempts in the second half. Marte is fast and if you own him or are considering him, just keep watching those game logs to make sure he’s in the lineup. The window could close when Nick Ahmed — who’s better defensively — returns from injury , but Marte could earn full-time at-bats and literally “run” away with the job.

For Runs: Zack Cozart, Chris Owings, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jonathan Schoop, Logan Fortythe/Chris Taylor

Cozart has been cool at the plate since returning from injury, so perhaps he’s a bit undervalued to his owner in your league. If the opportunity is there, scoop up the guy who hits ahead of Joey Votto and run. Cabrera hitting second for the Mets is perfect for runs if Cespedes can ever stay on the field, but it’s nothing to worry about — Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda have no problem driving in runs behind him. Schoop is locked in as the team’s No. 3 hitter with a couple of mashers behind him (Mark Trumbo, C.Davis).

Outfielders

For Average: Ian Desmond, Tommy Pham, A.J. Pollock, Lorenzo Cain, Odubel Herrera, Hunter Pence

Besides Desmond, Pollock and Pham, the rest of these guys are currently batting .271 or lower and are all known to be solid contact hitters over the course of their careers -- .285 guys, if you will. If you can somehow finagle Desmond or Pollock out of an owner’s hands for a fair deal, it’s going to take you to the Promised Land. Health aside, they’re going to ball out over these final 11 weeks.

For Power: Ian Desmond, Joc Pederson, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Steven Souza, Kyle Schwarber

There’s Desmond again, and another month removed from wrist injury. He’s my top trade target overall when considering price, hence a hit to the pricey and tough-to-acquire Machado and Bryant. Pederson hit .300 in June and .304 so far this month with seven of nine homers hit since June 1. Joc hit 25 in 137 games last season and I think he’s going to be one of the on-the-field leaders of this offense down the stretch as he moves towards another 25 to end the year. Logan Morrison may slow on his homer pace or get hurt, but Souza is going to continually crush it this season, likely approaching the 35-HR mark. Don’t count out the older guys — Kemp and Upton — either, as we’ve grown accustomed to Upton’s streakiness and know when he’s in a slump, a streak is almost always around the corner.

On-the-cheap: Steve Pearce, Clint Frazier, Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier, Brian Goodwin, Yasmany Tomas

If I’m not Pearce’s biggest fan, then my League of Leagues partner Rob Silver is. We won’t drop him, and in fact, played him this week as our fifth OF in our first-place lineup (he went yard Monday). Frazier hitting second Monday was mostly due to Gardner and Sanchez being out of the lineup, but it’s a promising sign that he may stay up with the big club after all (and he rewarded them with two doubles). Margot is struggling again (as most rookies do) after an insane stretch of production before the break. He’s talented, quick on the base paths and is quickly adjusting to the big leagues in his first season. Goodwin will continue to play as long as Jayson Werth is out, and let’s not forget that he’s a first round pick with a nice power-speed combo (albeit, the power is only starting to show in the majors). Kiermaier is a stash if you can afford it — he’s eligible to return on August 9 — and you may want to wait a week and grab him early if you think no one’s watching. Tomas is the forgotten one since he’s still sidelined, but let’s not forget he smashed 31 homers in his first full season in the majors.

Feel free to reach out via the twitter (@rotogut) or the comments below if you have questions about players I didn’t list here.

RISERS

Anthony Rendon, 3B, WAS

Up until the second to last day of April, it was just another mediocre start for Rendon reminiscent of last season -- .226 with no homers and three RBI. The explosion occurred the following day with Rendon smashing three dingers against the Mets, driving in 10, scoring five and going 6-for-6. Since that time, few have been more valuable in fantasy. Rendon is hitting .472 with a .568 OBP in July and has 16 home runs since the beginning of May. He leads the National League in WAR (4.8) and has been among the hardest to strike out in the majors, entering Week 16 with a 13.8% k-rate. The Nationals’ offense has been other-wordly and there really isn’t much reason to expect them to slow down.

Rendon came affordably priced in drafts this season, begrudgingly getting taken around the seventh round in 12-teamers. He was a post-hype sleeper, if you will, despite putting up an incredibly solid line last season -- .270, 91 R, 20 HR, 85 RBI, 12 SB. It’s just another reminder of how important it is for us to get as many pieces of the best-projected offenses as we can. It’s almost somewhat of a stacking strategy found in DFS circles, but it seems to work over a full season if you nail the right teams. Rendon will likely command a second-round pick come drafts next spring, especially if he ends the year above .300 and can tack on some more steals. Rendon will probably be worth every penny of it too as he heads into his age-28 season.

Yulieski Gurriel, 1B, HOU

Admittedly, Gurriel wasn’t somebody on my radar last draft season. Sure, he was essentially free with an ADP of 268, but my expectations were low for the recently defected 32-year-old Cuban who finally made it to the U.S. after he appeared to be past his career arch. Given his ADP, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had doubts that his tremendous career in Cuba (and one year in Japan) would translate so splendidly.

Gurriel started playing ball professionally way back in 2001, and over 15 seasons, maintained an impressive .335 batting average. He started the 2017 season well, hitting .329 in 82 PA, but struggled in May hitting .200 despite increasing his RBI total from seven in April to 12 in May. The last six weeks have been extremely consistent and impressive, as Gurriel has hit .350 with seven homers and 26 RBI since the beginning of June. Age may be of concern to some going forward, but Gurriel has been exceptionally durable over his career. The main issue with Gurriel is his lack of walks (1.9%), but since he’s such a smooth hitter and great at making contact, we should consider anything he provides for us going forward as a gift — especially considering he was likely added for pennies on the dollar when folks dropped him in May. As long as he’s healthy and crushing, Gurriel needs to stick in our lineups, particularly when the Astros are playing at home or face a slew of right-handed pitchers.

Gerardo Parra, OF, COL

The 30-year-old lefty was a prescient addition to my NFBC Main Event team in desperate need of some batting average after stubbornly allowing Byron Buxton to drive it into the ground over the first half. There is little doubt that Parra will cool off this recent heater, but that will come more as a result of positional logjams, not because Parra will slump at the plate. A nine-year vet with a career .277 average who has two seasons north of .290, Parra was used a little more than sparingly (mainly against RHP) until he went down with a strained quad in early June. His injury took a bit longer to heal than expected, but he’s been booming since his return, hitting nearly .500 with two HR and 12 RBI over his last seven games. Parra has been doing his damage from the cleanup spot as the lefty bat between Rockies mashers Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds. The time may come soon where it will be difficult for us to count on everyday at-bats from Parra. Mark Reynolds’ continued production has kept him in the lineup, pushing Desmond back to the outfield. The outfield is simply a paradise of depth with Raimel Tapia producing when in the lineup, David Dahl working his way back up from Triple-A slowly (but with a most recent report that he may not play for them this season) and even the possibility of Carlos Gonzalez picking his season back out of the gutter like he did in the second half of 2015. Let’s enjoy what we get out of Parra for the time being and hope the hitter continues to get rewarded with at-bats.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Mike Clevinger, SP, CLE – Five consecutive outings with two earned runs or less, Clevinger now boasts a 3.00 ERA over 11 starts and has become a steady hand in the Indians’ rotation behind Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. He still has an issue with the free passes (12.9% walk rate) and has walked at least one batter in all but one start since joining the rotation in early May. We should still be careful with matchups, but we’re using him this week @ SF and for his dance next week, at home against the Reds and then on the road against the White Sox.

Cole Hamels, SP, TEX – He was on my avoid list as I wasn’t interested in Hamels at his price (ADP: 82) this spring, but I had to pounce when he was dropped in my Tout Wars H2H league as I bid 45% ($113) of my remaining budget there. It’s a whole different story when you can claim him in FAAB. After serving up seven earned runs in a late-June start, Hamels has thrown three straight quality starts, allowing just two earned runs and two walks total. I’m still convinced that Hamels is on the decline and I worry about humid home starts against good offenses, but he’s healthy and rolling as his owners hope he finishes the season strong.

Whit Merrifeld, 2B, KC – Another waiver wire gem, Merrifield led all major-league hitters in stolen bases (seven) this month, through Sunday’s games. Merrifield hits lefties and righties equally well, and has similar splits at home and on the road. He adds value with a bit of pop as well (seven home runs) and is a legitimate candidate to end the year with an average north of .300 as he continues to lead off for the Royals.

Zack Granite, OF, MIN – The 24-year-old speed demon who swiped 56 bags in Double-A last season was promoted last week with Byron Buxton on the disabled list, and needs to be added in all 15-team formats where available. Granite tore it up at Triple-A over the first half, hitting .360 and 15 swipes in 259 plate appearances. We’re not sure how long he will stay up, but those in need of stolen bases should certainly acknowledge the fact that the Twins may continue to bat him second in the lineup behind Brian Dozier. I don’t expect Granite to steal the job away from Buxton, but crazy things happen in the majors.

FALLERS

Joey Gallo, 1B/3B, TEX

Sure, Gallo has done his part in the power department smashing 21 homers in a half season, but it certainly isn’t worth the hit we take in the batting average category. In fact, there are few guys worse at the plate. Gallo is a major liability to fantasy teams despite his obvious pop. His 38.6% strikeout rate is the worst mark in baseball and he is still under the Mendoza Line, managing just a measly 12 hits in 76 at-bats (.157) since the beginning of June. Worst of all, Gallo has been losing playing time of late, and when he does play, he toils at the bottom of the lineup in an awful run-producing spot. Even those of us needing some assistance in home runs don’t need to stoop so low. There’s always someone out there who can help us with homers if we dig into the numbers and upcoming matchups.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL

When considering non-DL’d fantasy busts among the top 100 overall this year, Jonathan Lucroy and Trevor Story come to mind. But CarGo’s lost season thus far has to have truly mystified us, especially when we realize that his 10.1% walk-rate would rank as his career best if the season ended today. Of course, a bit of extra plate patience is just one part of the equation -- what has been missing is everything else. Gonzalez is slashing a sad .214/.293/.328 with just six homers in 307 PA. He has only missed a handful of games due to minor injuries and has been taking a seat on the bench more often lately. We’d like to blame his drought on some sort of hidden injury to give us some justification for the disappointment, but we really don’t know. It’s too easy for us to say that CarGo is “done” as a major league hitter, as I just don’t believe that’s the case for the 31-year-old either. Call me crazy, but I’d definitely jump on stashing him on my bench if I had the available spot in 12-teamers (in leagues he was dropped in). It’s hard to forget his 27-HR explosion in the second half two seasons ago, which is the stuff we need to get us over the hump an into first place come late September. Taking the chance just really depends on if you have the roster spot and don’t mind leaving him on the bench until we see some signs of life.

Marco Estrada, SP, TOR

Some of us may have forgotten, but Estrada was a late-bloomer. After spending years in the Nationals’ minor league system and a couple of seasons as a reliever for the Brewers, Estrada finally got his shot in the rotation as a 29-year-old. Estrada has always had nasty stuff, but has long had a problem with walks and more so, the long ball (career 1.34 HR/9). He had some splendid results in his first season in the AL in 2015, posting a 3.13 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP and followed it up last season with respectable ratios (3.47, 1.14) despite a mediocre 9-9 record. He had a strong start to the season holding opposing batters to just a .225 average over 11 starts in April and May, but the wheels fell off last month. His ERA is nearly at double digits over his last eight starts and he has walked at least four batters in each of his last five starts after allowing more than two walks just twice over his first 14. To make matters worse, Estrada has made it to the fifth inning just once just twice in his past eight outings. The massive decline has become more than noticeable now and there really isn’t much of a scientific reason behind it other than the fact that he’s been wild and inefficient. With the tough state of starting pitchers in most 12-team leagues, I don’t think we’re ready to drop Estrada, but hopefully most of his owners caught on early and have been benching him. If you’re holding, there’s no choice other than to bench him for the time being. If you’re in desperate need for a starter next week and just hope to catch lightning in a bottle streaming, you can look to the following guys next week: Seth Lugo (@SD, @SEA), Chad Kuhl (@SD) and possibly Sean Newcomb (@PHI) if he doesn’t get demoted after this week’s tough matchups.

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

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