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MLB Barometer: Smoak On Fire

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.


While the All-Star break is a time for most of the baseball community, both real and fantasy, to stop and take a breath, it is the smart and savvy GM who uses this time to study the numbers, examine any potential position battles and do some scouting for the second half. You've got just two and a half months remaining and the last thing you want is for all that spring prep work and first-half roster tinkering to go to waste. You need to study your league standings, note your place within each category and learn where the best places are for improvement. No rest for the weary.

You're going to get bombarded with numerous puff pieces highlighting first half success and which bargain players have earned more than their fair share of fantasy value but you don't need me to tell you that Chris Davis was a beast or that Jean Segura has been a huge bargain. That's just common sense. So we're going to stick with what's worked here at the Barometer and continue to look at the potential risers and fallers in the fantasy world. Sure, the break can either be a momentum-breaker or a solid respite to clear the mind, but highlighting players who are either finishing the first half with a roar or a whimper is going to be paramount to your second half scouting. So without further ado, let's just get to the players.

Rising

Tim Lincecum, SP SF - Having thrown the first no-hitter of his relatively short, but illustrious career, Lincecum's value immediately spikes in the fantasy community. Forget about the fact that he remains a player who can still be traded on name alone, his no-no Saturday coupled with his previous start where he went seven innings, gave up three runs and struck out 11 batters, gives him a great stat boost here at the end of the first half. Personally, I'm not buying, but with a steady improvement in numbers over these last two months, he becomes a much easier sell despite the fact that his ERA is still over 4.50 and his HR/FB is still in the double-digits. Focus on his playoff performance from last year, his last two starts and your opponents' desire for a high-strikeout ace. You might not find a sucker to richly overpay, but you'll certainly find someone who will give you more than they probably should.

Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B CLE - Through his first 26 games of the season, Chisenhall was batting just .213 with three home runs and 11 RBI and the Indians felt that some time spent in the minors would inspire him to improve his plate discipline and become a better, more patient hitter. The move proved positive as Chisenhall hit .390 with six home runs and 26 RBI for Triple-A Columbus and posted a posted a still too high, but much improved 20.5-pecernt strikeout rate. And since his return to the majors back on June 18, Chisenhall is batting .292 with three home runs, 14 RBI, and just a 15.6-percent strikeout rate. You're not looking at a huge return in the counting stats, but he's still going to remain helpful and be the type of stable role-player you seek.

Sonny Gray, SP/RP OAK - His value already gets a boost with his promotion from Triple-A Sacramento and could increase even further in the second half should he get the opportunity to join the rotation. Gray was a dominant force for the RiverCats this season, posting a 2.81 ERA with a 107:34 K:BB over 102.1 innings (16 starts). He was holding batters to a .249 average and had a ground ball rate just over 45-percent. So far in the majors, he's made just one appearance, but he looked unbelievably dominant throwing two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. With Bartolo Colon still possibly dealing with Biogenesis backlash and a back-end of the rotation still somewhat in question, Gray could find himself in a rotation spot in the second half and putting up strong fantasy numbers for a second half surge.

Eric Young, Jr. OF NYM - We always hear about how a change of scenery can benefit a player and in Young's case, truer words were never spoken. Since joining the Mets, Young has been a fixture atop the lineup and is batting .304 (34-for-102) with 16 runs scored, 10 RBI and eight stolen bases in just 23 games. Small sample size? Of course. But so long as he continues to steal bases, he will be a huge contributor to fantasy teams. He's got a career success rate of 77.2-percent on the bases and let's face it -- it's a super-easy category in which to move up.

Justin Smoak, 1B SEA - When I first took over this column back in late March, I warned you of Smoak's hot spring and to be wary of the numbers given his track record. But I also noted changes he made in his approach late last season, cited the fact that he's just entering his physical prime at age-26 and said to keep an eyes on his progress. Well, in looking at his numbers, Smoak has made gradual offensive improvements each month and is now batting .366 with a pair of home runs and nine RBI over his last 11 games. Steady progress with very few setbacks (batting just .191 against lefties is still a bit of a bummer) is a huge plus when scouting for the second half and while I will always be wary of a job well done by him, Smoak just might be a strong trade target for you.

Staying the Course

Brett Lawrie, 3B TOR - After missing more than a month with his high-ankle sprain, Lawrie was finally activated from the disabled list Saturday. And while that alone should increase his value, the fact that he batted just .209 for the first two months and didn't exactly show much at the plate during his rehab work, maintains that level of hesitation when you've been burned by the hype machine. But for every point there's a counterpoint and while being wary is being a responsible fantasy owner, the fact that Lawrie appears to be gaining second base eligibility adds to his appeal. His value stays the same right now, but with a strong return and added positional eligibility, he could be a riser by this time next week.

Falling

Alex Rodriguez, 3B NYY - It's really not as if his value these days remains particularly high, but given his obvious power potential, A-Rod was being stashed by many hoping for a second-half power surge upon his return. But with the re-emergence of the Biogenesis talk, rumors of a possible 150-game suspension for the former MVP, and word out of the Yankees organization that he was a no-show for his rehab game in Tampa on Saturday, there's a very strong possibility that he doesn't play a single game this year. There's also a strong possibility that he doesn't ever play another major league game.

Lance Lynn, SP STL - Through his first 13 starts this season, Lynn was incredibly dominant, posting an 8-1 record with a 3.00 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He also averaged a little more than a strikeout per inning as he tallied 82 over 81 innings. But midway through June, the luck started to run out and over his last six starts, Lynn is stumbling into the break with 3-3 with a 6.00 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and just 32 strikeouts over 36 innings. His peripherals still jibe with his current ERA and other totals, so it could just be a matter of tiring out at the tail end of a strong, but if that's the case, then you're going to have to keep that in mind when you're exploring trade options closer to the deadline.

Carlos Gomez, OF MIL - Talk about stumbling at the finish, Gomez is one serious, ice-cold disaster here at the close of the first half. From the start of the season through the fifth of July, Gomez batted .319 with 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases, easily proving that last year's dominant second half was more representative of his skill level than it was fluke. But was it? Over his last eight games, Gomez has just one hit in 28 at-bats. Granted, his one hit was a home run and he's also added in five stolen bases in that span, but he's also seen his strikeout rate take an increase while his batting average has now dropped more than 20 points. He's going to need to come out of the gate white-hot in the second half to ensure his owners a positive draft value return, but should he continue this slide, the fantasy community won't be shy about letting him have it.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF MIN - If you're looking for the poster child for stumbling into the break, then look no further than the Twins rookie. He has just three hits in his last 33 at-bats and is currently in the midst of a 0-for-18 slide over his last four games. He hasn't hit a home run since June 22, a span of 19 games and he hasn't had a single RBI since July 1. He's obviously also seen a tremendous loss in the batting average department as his current .257 mark is the lowest it's been since May 24 when he was sent down to the minors temporarily. Ron Gardenhire is a huge Arcia fan so he'll hopefully get another shot when we come back from the break, but if he starts out of the gate slowly, he could risk losing his starting job.

Kris Medlen, SP ATL - Everyone's darling last year when he posted a 0.94 ERA with a 95:14 K:BB over 95.1 innings in the second half, but is suddenly looking at being the odd man out of the Braves rotation should he not turn things around for the better. In actuality, he's not pitching all that poorly with his ERA of 3.64 and 1.37 WHIP, but he certainly isn't living up to last year's standards and he's now given up 10 runs over his last two starts, a total of 9.1 innings. With 12 quality starts out of 19 outings, he's been good more than he's been bad, but with the potential return of Brandon Beachy, the Braves might consider throwing him back into the bullpen to make room since he thrived in that role last season.