There is not a better time during the baseball season to make a Fantasy trade than the All Star Break. We’ve got four “dark days” where no games are being played, thus giving owners extra time to view their roster and drool over numbers already accumulated. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times … those numbers are no longer going to help you. The same way your ex-girlfriend is now a super model or your former classmate is now a mayor, the past means nothing. Some of the great talents will continue to produce at a high-level, but it is rare that the same player leads his position in Fantasy production for both halves of the season. Below are my All Stars (a player not ranked atop his position in the first half of the season but could well lead the position in Fantasy production moving forward) and All Values (a player poised to improve significantly in the second half) for the final 10 weeks of the MLB regular season.
All Star Catcher – Salvador Perez (KC)
The Royals backstop is widely regarded as an elite defender and it won’t be long until he will be labeled the best two-way catcher not named Molina. His plate discipline is second to none at the position, as his ability to offer elite contact percentages along with a decreasing K-rate and an increasing BB-rate makes him a tough out every single time. At just 24 years of age, I’m amazed by Perez’s growth at the dish and in awe of his potential. During his first three seasons in the big leagues, he crushed left-handed pitching (.351/.384/.586), and while he was no slouch against righties (.283/.311/.402), it was still an area of weakness. Well, through 253 at-bats this season, it appears that Perez has adjusted (.308/.337/.478), making him a tough out no matter who is on the mound. In fact, his numbers this year would be even better if he had continued his success against southpaws (a mere .194/.301/.292 slash this season), but that has come in a small sample size of 72 at-bats and is something I expect to turn around sooner rather than later. The Royals play just one road series in a pitcher’s park and take 64 percent of their road trips to Top 10 hitter’s parks in the second half, making Perez my pick to be the only catcher with 20-plus homers and a .300 batting average when all is said and done.
All Value Catcher – Carlos Santana (CLE)
If you’re in an active league, you’ve likely heard the Santana owner complaining about the position change and insisting that it is affecting his performance at the dish. I didn’t play baseball at a high level and have no idea if that is true or not, but I’m confident that that owner is not grateful for the production he has gotten and is likely to sell him at less than face value: Explore this option before it is too late. Devin Mesoraco is the only catcher-eligible player with more home runs and more runs produced (RBI plus runs scored) than Santana. Not too shabby for a player who just endured the worst half of baseball in his big league career. His isolated power, contact rate, and line drive percentage are all near his career marks, hinting that once his BABIP rebounds (it currently sits 37 points below his career average and 63 points shy of last season’s mark) the already strong counting numbers could explode. The catching position has less than a handful of players that contribute good counting numbers and a good batting average, so even if Santana’s average is less than what you were expecting, you’re not losing a ton of ground as a result.
All Star First Baseman – Matt Adams (STL)
His swing rate this season rivals the career average of Carlos Gomez, but the free-swinging style has only helped his Fantasy value this season, as he is making contact at a very high rate and rarely comes up empty with his Herculean swings. If you read my material late last season or this preseason, you know that I loved Adams’ power upside coming into this season. If you took my advice on Adams, I apologize for the first half, but I am not backing off of my belief that this is a 30-plus home run player. Despite a home run pace that is well off of last season’s, Adams’ Isolated Power is actually a tick above his career average and is complemented by a continuously increasing line drive rate. Teams play more games at their home ballpark than any other stadium and face right-handed pitching about three-quarters of the time, so the fact that Adams is slashing .360/.367/.613 at Busch and .364/.378/.576 against right-handed pitchers this season makes me think that the elite power I projected isn’t all that far away. You want bold? I’ll give you bold. Matt Adams will lead the NL Central in batting average and home runs the rest of the season.
All Value First Baseman – Brandon Belt (SF)
If not for a broken thumb, Belt very well could have assumed the role of Top 10 young Fantasy first basemen that Anthony Rizzo has stepped into during the first three months of this season. The 26-year-old was in the process of blending power and batting average (.303 batting average and .520 slugging percentage from the All Star break last season to the thumb injury this year), a great Fantasy asset as only two true first basemen have at least a.280 average and 15 homers this season. The injury has affected Belt’s timing, resulting in an uncharacteristically low contact percentage and BABIP, but that should reverse course as he gains confidence in his health. Even with the recent struggles, Belt is on pace to increase his ISO for a second consecutive season, hinting that his elite power is still developing. For his career, Belt has been equally successful against both left-handers and right-handers, making him the sort of well-rounded hitter that I want in my infield. The Giants batting order is deeper than you think, and with him likely batting in the 2-hole, I like his potential to offer strong four category production moving forward.
All Star Second Baseman – Anthony Rendon (WSH)
He was my All Star at the second base position in the first half, but since Jose Altuve’s stolen base/batting average combination is so valuable, Rendon qualifies to make my list, as he did not rank atop his position in the first half. The youngster’s ability to make contact (93.7 percent on pitches swung at inside the strike zone for his career) is at a level well beyond his years, and with his ISO increasing and his groundballs decreasing, the sky is the limit for Rendon. With a healthy and loaded Nationals lineup, the stars are aligning for him to surpass his very successful first half. Rendon is absolutely crushing fastballs, his runs above average on the heater is greater than that of Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera this season, but pitchers are forced to challenge him due to the protection around him in the lineup. I also am falling in love with his ability to tear the cover off the baseball against left-handed pitching (.360/.408/.562 slash this season and a career .325 batting average), as he is surrounded by left-handed hitters, which makes it more likely that he sees southpaws late in game. Rendon is just 24 years old and doesn’t have 200 career hits yet, making the occasional slump likely. With very few strong pitching teams left on the schedule and a strong lineup around him, look for Rendon to continue to exceed expectations.
All Value Second Baseman – D.J. LeMahieu (COL)
Miss out on Nolan Arenado this offseason? LeMahieu isn’t quite as good, but he is another young Rockies hitter without much fanfare. Over his abbreviated career, the second baseman has shown the ability to consistently hit both left and right-handed pitching, thus making him less prone to an extended slump. He also possesses the rare Carlos Gomez skill set: swing at everything and manage to make contact at a very high rate. I wouldn’t teach a young child to approach the game like that, but it’s Fantasy gold if sustainable. He’s proven to be a bit reckless on the bases, but with 40 stolen base attempts over his last 200 games, he is trying to give his Fantasy owners some value. Any hitter who hasn’t hit lower than .250 in a month over the last two years and plays half of his games at Coors Field is worth a look. When you consider that he is a .293 career hitter with runners on base, there is sneaky upside here if you have a hole in your middle infield.
All Star Shortstop – Ian Desmond (WSH)
Everything went wrong for Desmond in the first half of the season, yet he is currently sitting as a Top 10 shortstop on most every gaming site and a fringe Top 5 player at his position if your league uses OPS as opposed to batting average. So far this season, the 28-year-old Desmond has a career-low line drive percentage and batting average, a BABIP that is 15 points below his career average and 29 points below his mark from last season, an incredibly high K:BB ratio, an incredibly low contact rate despite a swing percentage that mirrors his career average, and he’s been in the middle of a lineup that has been greatly affected by various injuries. With all of those things working against him, the Nats shortstop is still on pace to produce, roughly, the counting numbers that you were expecting with the exception of runs scored. But with Bryce Harper back and Jayson Werth smoking hot, it isn’t difficult to imagine this Washington offense being among the game’s elite in the second half. In my opinion, true talent shines through in pressure situations, so the fact that Desmond is batting .284 and slugging .412 since the beginning of 2011 with runners in scoring position fills me with hope when thinking about the future. My money is on at least half of those things correcting themselves as the season progresses, which would put Desmond in line to challenge for the top spot should Troy Tulowitzki suffer an inevitable injury. They say you should trust the back of the baseball card, and at the end of the day, that’s what I suggest doing with Desmond. I’m betting primarily on the talent that we saw over the past two years more so than the flawed player with plenty of tools that we’ve seen thus far in 2014.
All Value Shortstop – J.J. Hardy (BAL)
Unless we are talking about Space Jam, professional athletes don’t just lose their talent. What? A movie starring Bugs Bunny isn’t enough evidence that you should buy into the O’s shortstop? Fine, let’s start with a little history lesson about Hardy and the scarcity of his skill set at his position. I could tell you that Robinson Cano was the only middle infielder to hit more homers than Hardy during his first three seasons in Baltimore (2011-2013), or that Hardy was responsible for 68 more runs on 20 fewer hits than Jose Reyes over that time period, but I prefer this statistical nugget: only three shortstops, from 2011-2013, played in at least 405 games and recorded at least half as many home runs as Hardy. So yea, the fact the he went more than 2.5 months without a tater and only has three at the break is disappointing, to say the least. That being said, the advanced metrics would suggest that the power is dormant, not lost. For one, you cannot overlook the fact that his batting average of .280 is 24 points higher than his average as an Oriole. Batting average is typically the ugly sister of Fantasy stats, but listen, the more hits you get, the better the odds that the Fantasy numbers will come around. Hardy’s line drive and fly ball rates are right at his career averages while his contact percentage is trending upward. He spent nine years accumulating a .162 ISO, so I’m willing to bet that his second half stat line reads closer to that then a first half in which his ISO was half that. In short, you drafted Hardy because of the power on his resume, and while it has been scarce this season, trust your preseason research enough to be optimistic about a strong second half that features just one trip to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in the final two months.
All Star Third Baseman – Adrian Beltre (TEX)
Nobody hits for a good average at third base. Other than Miguel Cabrera, who doesn’t really play third base, Beltre’s .337 average is 47 points higher than the next third baseman with at least 10 homers, a skill set that alone gives him tremendous value at the hot corner. He has proven capable of, and is doing so again this year, producing in all categories besides stolen bases, but that’s not a major concern at a position where only three players that are owned in the majority of Yahoo! leagues have at least five steals. Most importantly, Beltre is peaking at the perfect time. Over the past three seasons, his numbers have improved dramatically across the board after the All Star break, so the fact that he is batting .363 since Star Wars Day (May 4th) should inspire tremendous confidence.
All Value Third Baseman – Matt Carpenter (STL)
Nobody hits for a good average at third base. Even during a disappointing first half, the Red Birds third baseman was able to provide his Fantasy owners with a Top 50 overall batting average and was the only player at his position to reach base more than 140 times while scoring at least 40 runs. Carpenter has failed to generate much pop this season, as his ISO is down nearly 32 percent, but with very similar contact patterns, it may only be a matter of time until he starts racking up the extra base knocks. He may not be an elite run producer, although he does hit well with runners in scoring position, but he doesn’t need to be to become an elite Fantasy third basemen. Only Todd Frazier finished the first half as an average player in all categories and a “plus-player” (a Player Rating of at least 2.00 on the Player Rater) in two categories at third base, a feat that is well within Carpenter’s skill set over the final 66 games of the regular season. The Cardinals rank ahead of only the historically bad Padres in runs scored; a trend that recently showed signs of breaking, as St. Louis score five-plus runs in four of their last six games before the break. Assuming the offense bounces back and produces at even the major league average the remainder of the season, it is very possible that Carpenter repeats his second half from a year ago (54 runs and 33 RBI to go along with a .313 batting average in 268 at-bats) and provides savvy Fantasy owners with a nice boost when they need it most.
All Star Outfielder – Hunter Pence (SF)
Hunter Pence is doing what Hunter Pence does: produce. He enters the All Star break ranked as the 28th best hitter and 13th best outfielder on ESPN’s Player Rater, but there is reason to expect even more from him moving forward. His most glaring Fantasy weakness this season has been his uncharacteristically low RBI total of 33, despite a batting average that is 11 points above his career average. He has knocked in at least 91 runs in each of the last four seasons, and with an ISO that currently sits 21 points below his career average, it is reasonable to project more extra base hits in Pence’s future, thus allowing him to approach that pace for the remainder of the season (40-45 RBI second half). In addition to advanced statistics regressing, there is the matter of opportunity. From 2011-2013, 49.1 percent of the outfielder’s at-bats came with runners on base, but only 37 percent have this year. Pence has proven capable of producing runs and with the Giants batting order, specifically Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan, getting healthy, the time to pounce is now. The fact that he is the only player in the big leagues to rank in the Top 10 in both hits and runs while drawing more than 30 walks speaks to his top shelf approach at the dish, something I’m willing to bank on as summer wears on. You’ll have a difficult time finding a hotter hitter (.324 batting average since April 21) that is as durable as Pence (154-plus games played in six straight seasons), a lethal combination that should give you faith for the remainder of the season.
All Star Outfielder – Brett Gardner (NYY)
You’re going to get the idea that I love me some speed/power guys in favorable situations, and Gardner has proven to be just that in the Bronx this season. The speedy lefty has already set a new career high in home runs with nine, and given his .523 slugging percentage at home (the same home SLG as one of the games most promising power hitters in Anthony Rizzo), I feel confident in saying that he is far from finished in the power department. The spike in power has not come with an unreasonable jump in ISO, thus making it reasonable to think he is simply adapting to his environment as opposed to performing beyond his skill set. It also doesn’t hurt that Gardner and the Yanks will play 85.3 percent of their remaining games in ballparks that have ranked in the Top 10 in park factor since 2011. His Fantasy excellence this season has come with a career-low contact rate, indicating to me that he has yet to reach his ceiling. If you project his current numbers for a 600 at-bat campaign, you’re left with a 16-homer, 26-steal, and 98-run season with a .279 batting average, plateaus that only the great Mike Trout reached last season. As good as Gardner has been, he’s not the only speed outfielder who has flown a bit under the radar that offers power and batting average as well …
All Star Outfielder – Coco Crisp (OAK)
For my money, the Athletics have the best lineup in all of baseball, as they rank sixth in homers, fourth in contact percentage, second in runs scored, and first in BB/K percentage. So why is it that their scrappy leadoff hitter is constantly overlooked when discussing do-it-all Fantasy options you can build an outfield around? His stats (advanced or standard) show no sign of the 34-year-old slowing down, in fact, just the opposite is true. His ISO over the last 2.5 seasons has been significantly better than the previous decade, and with an increasing line drive rate and FB/GB ratio that is at an all-time high, there is no reason to think that his power will evaporate any time soon. In addition to strong power numbers from his perch atop an elite offense, his 80 percent stolen base success rate tells us that he found a way to maintain his well-above average speed into his mid 30’s. As encouraging as the consistency of his skills is, Crisp has made a major adjustment in the first half of this season that, if he can maintain it, figures to lead to a strong finish to 2014. From 2011-2013, he was a switch-hitter in title only, as his left-handed slash (.281/.345/.451) was far superior to his right-handed batting line (.221/.287/.343), but he is seeing the ball well from both sides this season and has a nearly identical batting average and slugging percentage against pitchers from both sides. Crisp has proven to be a health risk in the past, but given that he would reach the 600 at-bat plateaus that Gardner is on pace for in just 565 at-bats, I’d be happy to trot Crisp out there as my top outfielder when he’s healthy, and piece it together with a certain Angel who remains un-owned in 29 percent of Yahoo! leagues and five percent of ESPN leagues.
All Value Outfielder – Kole Calhoun (LAA)
His counting numbers may not overwhelm you (49 runs, 10 homers, and 25 RBI), but he only has 215 at-bats this season and struggled mightily out of the gate (.227 batting average with as many strikeouts as hits through May). He’s batting .341 and slugging .597 since that point in time, an improvement that should be viewed as sustainable, as he has made a serious adjustment as to how he approaches at-bats. Early in the season, he was taking a lot of pitches and waiting for “his pitch”, but since the beginning of June, he has taken what the pitcher has given him early in the count. For the season, he’s batting .368 with less than two strikes on him, a skill that he has taken advantage of more and more as the season has progressed. His ISO has risen over the small sample size of his MLB career, a very positive trend when you consider that his fly ball percentage is headed in the same direction. Calhoun is a strong contact hitter who bats atop the top scoring offense in baseball, a situation that very much mirrors that of Crisp, and one that has me pushing my chips all in.
All Star Starting Pitcher – Stephen Strasburg (WSH)
Chris Sale is my choice to lead all starting pitchers in value moving forward, but Strasburg’s ceiling might be just as high. There are 79 pitchers who have thrown at least 104 innings this season and not a one of them has a higher BABIP than the Nationals ace (.347). This is the third time in his career that Strasburg’s BABIP has been very high, but through 20 starts in 2014, we are looking at a 14.9 percent spike from his career average. For a strikeout pitcher who is on pace to set a career-low in BB%, a regression to the mean in BABIP would directly impact his Fantasy value in a massive way, as there simply aren’t a ton of balls being put in play against him. I’m very much buying the improvement in fly ball rate we’ve seen since he had Tommy John surgery (has dropped every season since 2011 and is currently 18 percent lower than what it was then) and believe his recent spike in line drive percentage is due to fall back in line with his two-year trend of decline sooner rather than later. What’s all this mean? Strasburg is going to continue to miss bats at a high-level, but when he doesn’t, the odds are in his favor to see less damage done. The fact that the Nationals play 35 of their final 69 games against teams ranking in the bottom third of the league in team batting average, and 43 games (including the final 24 of the season) against offenses that rank among the 10 most strikeout prone lineups in baseball doesn’t hurt.
All Star Starting Pitcher – Garrett Richards (LAA)
If you want to talk about a pitcher who looks the part of a Fantasy ace, Richards is your man. As good as his numbers are (11-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 127 strikeouts), watch him pitch and you’ll wonder how an offense ever manufactures a run against the 26-year-old. His lone flaw has been occasional bouts of wildness (he is walking 60.2 percent more batters than the average pitcher who ranks in the Top 10 in season ERA), but his ability to dominate when ahead in the count (.152 batting average against with two-strikes) has allowed him to minimize the damage done to his ratios via the free pass. Another positive note regarding his occasional lapses in control is the fact that the Angels second half slate includes 29 games against the 10 teams in baseball that are least likely to take a walk. Richards has proven to be a workhorse this season, pitching at least six innings in 17 of his last 18 starts, a trend that doesn’t make it seem as if the Halo’s are going to cap his innings this season while they make their postseason push. While he has never thrown more than 157 professional innings in one season, the fact that he has gotten stronger as the season has gone on (7-0 with a 1.27 ERA since June 1) should serve as a confidence builder for his Fantasy owners.
All Value Starting Pitcher – Zack Wheeler (NYM)
He had a nice first half of the season (3.90 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 108.1 innings pitched), but his numbers fail to highlight the tremendous upside that this 24-year-old righty comes with. In his best seven starts this season, Wheeler has amassed 51 punch outs in 47 innings of work, and recorded a 0.77 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in the process. Those are pretty impressive numbers, and 38.8 percent of New York’s second half schedule consists of opponents that Wheeler shut down in at least one of those outings. His walk rate is down, strikeout rate up, fly ball rate down, ground ball rate up, home run rate down, swing and miss rate up, and contact rate down from a season ago, yet his Fantasy numbers are bit a down. That trend should correct itself, as his FIP has dropped 18 percent from 2013 and he has shown significant growth when it comes to keeping the hitters off balance at the plate. Look for Wheeler to continue to grow, and while the occasional stinker is to be expected (he’s walked five-plus batters three times this season and allowed five-plus runs three times), the patient Fantasy owner who plays the matchups has a lot to gain from this impressive youngster moving forward.
10 – The number of consecutive starts made by Wade Miley that have been decided by two or fewer runs. He has won his last two starts after going 0-2 during the first eight starts during this stretch.
9 – The advantage in home run total that Jimmy Rollins holds over every middle infielder that has more stolen bases over this season.
8 – The strikeout total that Stephen Strasburg has reached in each of his last three starts, a feat he had not accomplished in over two calendar years.
7 – The number of players that rank ahead of Chris Carter in ISO this season. It may not be pretty (.216 career average), but it is impossible to ignore his raw power.
6 – The number of hitless streaks that have lasted at least two games (minimum of one at-bat in each game) for Freddie Freeman over the last calendar year.
5 – Starts this season in which Mike Minor has had a WHIP of at least 2.00. In 2013, Minor had a better WHIP than Felix Hernandez and David Price.
4 – Starts this season in which Rick Porcello has given up at least five earned runs. It is also the number of starts that the Tigers 25-year-old has pitched at least seven innings and given up one or fewer runs with a WHIP under 1.00.
3 – Consecutive seasons Marlon Byrd has slugged at least .526 against LHP (minimum 160 at-bats).
2 – Number of starting pitchers that have struck out more left-handed batters this season than Jake Odorizzi. No pitcher (minimum of 35 innings pitched against lefties) have a higher K% against LHB than the Rays righty.
1 – The rank of Josh Donaldson in terms of runs produced (RBI plus runs) per hit among regulars. The Athletics third baseman is averaging 1.45 runs produced per hit this season (Miguel Cabrera’s rate was 1.24 last season).