Ah, the mid-summer classic. The time to watch the home run derby, debate if it has an impact on the players and discuss who the biggest snubs were that got left out of the All-Star game. It’s also a time to reflect on the first-half of the season to identify the standouts in a good and bad way so that players in your league can finally stop saying “it’s still early.”
Since I’m in the giving mood, let’s pretend it is Christmas in July and give away some midseason Fantasy awards and see if these players will keep up their current play heading into the second half of the season.
Rookie of the year: Michael Fulmer. It’s funny looking back, because when Fulmer got the call to the big leagues, it was the same day that Sean Manaea was arriving, too. All of the FAAB and attention went to Manaea, while Fulmer quietly had an above-average debut.
The knock on Fulmer when he first came up was that he was a two-pitch pitcher. That was until he unveiled the changeup. So, umm, why wasn’t he using this pitch before he got called up?
Fulmer’s change has arguably been his best pitch since he added it to his repertoire. He’s generated 14 strikeouts with the pitch, holding the opposition to a .111 average against. .
That’s lit, as the kids would say.
Fulmer is also getting the opposition to chase the pitch outside of the zone, as he has a 38.4 percent O-Swing% and a 21.2 percent whiff rate with the changeup.
On the season, Fulmer has an 8-2 record with a 2.17 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.090 WHIP and posting 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
What’s interesting with Fulmer is looking at his game log and how it correlates with his changeup usage.
In his first four starts, he gave up 2, 5, 3 and 4 ER, respectively. During those games, Fulmer threw his change 6.5, 7.6, 6.5 and 4.1 percent of the time.
In his next start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Fulmer threw his changeup 27.4 percent of the time and didn’t look back. The lowest usage from that start until now has been 11.4 percent. Over those eight starts, he’s thrown the changeup an average of 17.9 percent. In those starts, Fulmer has allowed a total of three earned runs.
Can he keep this up? If he continues to utilize the changeup, yes. Will he allow more than three earned runs in each eight-start stretch? Of course he will, but he’s an underrated Fantasy asset who is a Top 40 option the rest of the season. If it wasn’t for an innings limit, he would be a Top 30 arm.
Other choices: Corey Seager, Nomar Mazara, Kenta Maeda.
MVP: Ian Desmond. We missed on him, plain and simple. But really, can you blame us as an industry? Desmond’s numbers were trending down over the past few seasons, so thinking he would rebound in Texas, especially as an outfielder, wasn’t predictive.
All he’s done is dominate this year, posting a line of .319/.372/.521 with 15 home runs and 15 steals. Forget being the Fantasy MVP, he’s the American League MVP. Hot take city here, folks.
During the first two weeks of the season, it looked like we were right on Desmond, as his struggles carried over from the majority of 2015. However, he’s proven that the 118 ADP that he had coming into the season wasn’t justified, as he’s a Top 20 overall player, and his dual-eligibility at shortstop and outfield only helps to increase his value.
Can he keep this up? Yes, well, to an extent. His wRC+ is 133, which is bound to come down, as is his .396 BABIP. I don’t care who you are, you can’t sustain that. Can I see him hitting .320 the rest of the way? Well, no. However, I don’t doubt that he’ll be able to keep his average at around .300 with his decreased strikeout rate.
In the past, you paid for a 20/20 season from Desmond. At this point, 30/30 shouldn’t be expected, but if it happened, don’t be surprised. Don’t sell high on Desmond. Ride it out and enjoy owning the Fantasy MVP.
Other choices: Jonathan Villar, Jake Lamb, David Ortiz.
Biggest bust: Andrew McCutchen. Is there another option? With Giancarlo Stanton seemingly back, that leaves McCutchen as the biggest bust from the first half. In 2015, we saw McCutchen get off to a slow start with a sub-.200 average in April, but he came out firing the rest of the season. This year, not so much, outside of a couple multi-home run games.
On the year, McCutchen has a .240/.311./.407 line with 12 homers and just two steals. McCutchen’s BABIP is a career low at .290, and his strikeout rate is a career high at 24 percent. His previous high was 19.6 percent.
Entering this season, McCutchen was ranked as the top Pirates outfielder. If you’re re-drafting right now, there’s no hesitation in taking Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco ahead of him, right?
What’s causing the struggles and resulting in McCutchen posting a less-than impressive .307 wOBA and a 92 wRC+?
Look no further than how McCutchen is doing against the fastball. Against the pitch this year, McCutchen is posting a 0.1 grade according to FanGraphs. In the past four years, McCutchen has posted values of 25.5, 32.2, 26.3 and 34.4 against the pitch. He’s not seeing it any more or less, as pitchers are throwing it 53.7 percent of the time against him, which is down just 1 percent from 2015. The only pitches that McCutchen struggles against more this year are sliders (-4.2) and cutters (-0.8).
McCutchen’s hard hit rate has dipped from 39.4 percent to 32.6 this year, and his soft contact rate is at a career-high 21 percent.
Will he keep this up? The answer is the same as it was for Desmond. He won’t be this bad the rest of the season, but he’s not going to come close to returning the value that you drafted him for. I was asked earlier this week if I would trade Mark Trumbo to get McCutchen. As weird as it sounds, I wouldn’t. If you can still sell him on his name and for the value you drafted him at, do it. He’s barely a Top 30 outfielder for me the rest of the season.
Other choices: Jose Abreu, Matt Harvey, Justin Upton.