Implications of Second Half Performances (Fantasy Baseball)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Feb 15, 2018

Lindor’s star is just beginning to ascend

It is all too easy to get wrapped up in March Madness and suddenly realize your fantasy baseball draft is the next night. You’ll scramble to print off a cheat sheet or better yet, use our Draft Assistant, but more than likely, several, if not all of your picks will be influenced by just considering 2017’s final statistics. While the numbers do tell part of the story, it is nowhere close to all of the information you’ll need to make an informed draft pick. Second half splits are a healthy chunk of what you should consider and today, I’ll tell you about 15 players who’s numbers imply plenty about their 2018 fantasy campaigns.

It is worth noting that I left out players like Rhys Hoskins and Matt Olson who were bonafide monsters in the second half. The reason I did this is that their second-half numbers are all we have seen from them in the majors so there isn’t much to deduct from it. Likewise, Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez put up bonkers numbers, but that doesn’t mean there is much of an implication to draw from the fact. These players listed below will clue us in on information that isn’t publicly realized.

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Careful, they aren’t quite what you think

Aaron Judge (OF – NYY): ECR #20
Madison Bumgarner (SP – SF): ECR #25
Alex Wood (SP – LAD): ECR #116

When you see these names you likely think MVP Candidate and two aces, right? Perhaps you shouldn’t for 2018. Judge was phenomenal in the first half, but as is often the case with rookie phenoms, the league begins to figure them out and they slump. Many never bounce back to the level they held for several months. Judge seems likely to be one of those cases, as he was dreadful in July, August and October, batting .203 with 14 homers, 31 RBI and 107 Ks in 227 at bats. If you pro-rate that to a full season, we are talking about Todd Frazier numbers (plus 80 strikeouts). Granted, no one should expect him to continue that pace, but it is typically not a good idea to select anyone in the first two rounds who even has the possibility of three month stretches like that.

Mad-Bum carried a sparkling 3.32 ERA at the end of the season, but his xFIP, which is the all-encompassing metric of a pitcher’s performance, was 35th among qualified pitchers in the second half. That puts him near identical to Sal Romano, R.A. Dickey and Trevor Williams. His 7.8 K/9 were a full 2 hitters per game worse than what he was doing in previous seasons. It seems as though he was nowhere near the same pitcher, and you may not want to risk him taking the same metrics in 2018.

Wood is an interesting case study because everyone was screaming for regression after his 10-0 start with a 1.67 ERA, .173 BAA and 10.9 K/9 in the first-half. When the regression came (3.89 ERA, .262 BAA and 6.8 K/9), no one seemed to notice because the final numbers were those of an ace. The second half ought to concern you enough that you don’t even consider taking him within the first 10 rounds.

Their breakouts were the real deal

Tommy Pham (OF – STL): ECR #62
Luke Weaver (SP – STL): ECR #132
Charlie Morton (SP – HOU): ECR #193
Josh Hader (RP – MIL): ECR #331

After showing flashes of being a fantasy relevant asset in limited sample sizes, Pham completely broke out to begin 2017. Many expected him to fall off steeply in the second half, but he actually took it to another level, swatting 12 homers, swiping 14 bases and batting .313 with 53 runs scored and 39 RBI. If you pro-rate that to a full season, you’ll see why he was one of the top five fantasy hitters in that time (28 HR, 33 SB, 134 R, 92 RBI, .313 BA). His batted ball rates and Statcast measurements indicate that it is no fluke. So long as he can stay healthy, we are talking about one of the top 15 hitters in fantasy baseball this season.

Pham’s teammate, Luke Weaver, was a smashing success to close 2016, this proceeded to begin the year in Triple-A in 2017. Everyone was excited for him to be called back up, but few beyond his own mother perhaps, expected him to finish 6th in xFIP in front of the likes of Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Luis Severino. His 11.0 K/9 were elite, as was virtually every other underlying metric. The Cardinals have a legitimate ace on their hands, and you can too with just an 11th round pick this year.

Morton had a surprising start last year (3.82 ERA, .250 BAA, 9.7 K/9), but he never regressed back to his mediocre level we had seen for years. In fact, he kicked it up a few more notches, posting a .210 BAA with 10.3 K/9. In fact, he was among the best pitchers in the playoffs as well. He is going for cheap, but may just be one of the top 25 pitchers in all of baseball.

You may not know the final name on the list above, and that’s precisely why I am here. Hader is a former top prospect for the Brewers who was stuck in the bullpen last year. Now, that may happen again, but even if it does and he doesn’t find a way to steal the closer job from Corey Knebel, Hader is dominant enough to be owned in even standard leagues. Over the second half of the season, he was better than Craig Kimbrel, Edwin Diaz and a host of other top closers. This season, you can expect him to strike out near 100 hitters with a great ERA and WHIP. Don’t sleep on the idea that he ends up as the Brewers closer if Knebel stumbles, or better yet, gets his crack in the rotation where he just may be a future ace.

Be warned about sharing these super sleepers with friends

Jorge Polanco (SS – MIN): ECR #259
Chad Green (RP/SP – NYY): ECR #339
Dominic Leone (RP – STL): ECR #419

Al Melchior recently made the mistake of telling me and my podcast audience all about his super-sleeper. Polanco’s under-the-radar breakout after the all-star break has me screaming from the rooftops that you can get this season’s Chris Taylor in the last round of your fantasy drafts. Sorry, Al! If you pro-rate his second-half production out to a full season, we are talking about a .293 hitter with 23 HR, 18 SB, 85 R and 95 RBI. Send your thank you letters to @almelchiorBB.

Really, this entire article could have been about why you need to draft Chad Green. Apologies to Kenley Jansen, but Green was the best reliever in baseball during the second half after a rather dominant first half. Batters hit just .147 off him over the entire season and struck out in 45% of their at-bats. That is not a typo! The Yankees finally got wise and decided to put him in the rotation for 2018. There is, of course, some risk here, but he is going undrafted in most leagues. Buy yourself a lottery ticket and maybe just maybe you will end up with this year’s breakout starter of the year.

Oh, you actually believed the rumor that Luke Gregerson (4.57 ERA, 13 HR allowed) was going to be the Cardinals closer over Leone? It is only a matter of time before the entire fantasy baseball community catches wind of the fact that Leone is far and away the best reliever in St. Louis. Over the second half, he morphed into a force of nature for the Blue Jays, posting a 2.05 ERA with 11.5 K/9 and a .205 batting average against. This is the cheapest closer you can find right now, and he may just end up top 10 at the position this year.

Don’t worry about the slow starts, they are still studs

Francisco Lindor (SS – CLE): ECR #21
Masahiro Tanaka (SP – NYY): ECR #85
Carlos Gonzalez (OF – COL): ECR #197

Lindor lit the baseball world on fire two years ago as a breakout rookie. He stumbled to begin the 2017 season, however, with a BABIP driven .252 batting average and just 4 stolen bases. He surged back in the second half showing his true colors with a .298 average, 11 stolen bases and a whopping 19 homers. Don’t be shy about adding the MVP candidate in the late second round this spring.

Every year, there are a handful of quality starting pitchers who completely bust for whatever reason. Last year, it seemed as though Tanaka would be another example when he posted a 5.47 ERA in 102 first half innings. In the second half, however, everything turned around. Sure, his 3.77 ERA was pedestrian, but his underlying metrics lined up with the best in all of baseball. In fact, his 2.83 xFIP was third behind only Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. While there is a chance Tanaka falls back into whatever funk he was in a 10 months ago, you’ve got to be encouraged as a potential fantasy owner at the filthy metrics he posted to close the season.

Ok, so maybe Car-Go isn’t quite a stud anymore, but he is significantly better than his overall 2017 numbers indicated. Apparently, he was playing through an injury to start the season, but once he got right, we were looking at the same ole’ numbers. He batted .314/.390/.531 over the second half, thanks primarily to a September in which he was the best hitter on the planet. If he re-signs with the Rockies and carries over that strong performance, we may get a top 50 fantasy player 150 picks later.

The future of fantasy baseball is upon us

Alex Bregman (3B – HOU): ECR #49
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN): ECR #63

I hope you were wise enough to scoop Bregman up off the waiver wire the minute he was released last year. Fantasy owners were in panic after he started the season hitting just .256 with a handful of homers and steals. We saw the true Bregman in the second half, however. He batted .315 with 11 bombs and 9 steals to go with 48 runs and 44 RBIs. The former top-five prospect will look to further improve on his breakout in the 2018 season and may potentially be a first-round pick this time next year.

Boy oh, boy did it look like I whiffed when I was proclaiming Buxton to be 2017’s breakout player of the year. It just so happens that he needed a few months to figure the league out like another former top overall prospect, Mike Trout. Now clearly Buxton is not nor will ever be on Trout’s level, but he was superb in the second half, batting .300 with 11 homers, 13 steals, 40 runs and 35 RBIs in just 207 at bats. We have not even seen the youngster in his prime. Perhaps this year he stretches it out to 25 HR and 40 stolen bases.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro

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