At this writing, we sit at the unofficial halfway point of the season. At the season's midpoint, it's a good time to assess a few things in the first half that have surprised us and evaluate whether those can continue in the final three months, or whether perhaps we're victims of drawing conclusions on small sample sizes.
Here are 10 numbers I certainly didn't see coming when evaluating my draft board in March:
Except where noted, stats are current through Monday's games.
Dee Gordon's .344 OBP and 40 stolen bases
Gordon's 2.4 WAR ranks third in the NL, just behind Daniel Murphy (2.6) and Chase Utley (2.7). A strong finish this week leading up to the All-Star reserve selections gives Gordon a good chance at going from a guy who appeared headed for Quad-A career to a National League All-Star second baseman. Entering the year, we knew that Gordon could run, but could he get on base enough to function as an everyday player and could he even beat out Cuban signee Alex Guerrero for a job? Apparently "yes" on both accounts. Gordon's 7.0 BB% could be two to three points higher, but compared to the last time he had more than 300 MLB at-bats in a season (2012), it's an improvement (6.1 percent). Gordon strikes out in just over 14 percent of his plate appearances, and the offseason weightlifting has seemed to help, as he's able to muscle the ball into the gaps with more frequency. I've seen a confidence from Gordon that I never saw in 2011-2013, as he now knows this job is his. He may not learn enough this year to post a .370 OBP the rest of the way, but sons of former big leaguers have been known to have high baseball IQs, and it would not surprise me to see Gordon swipe 100 bags in the coming years.
Victor Martinez's 20 home runs
It's not necessarily a shocker that Martinez is batting .323, as he hasn't hit below .300 since 2008. It's the 20 home runs, a number that he hadn't even reached in a full season since 2010. What's really standing out is the power and the way Martinez is seeing ball. Back in his salad days in Cleveland, Martinez was strikeout out around 12 percent of the time, a very good number indeed for a power hitter. This year? Just 6.9 percent while walking in 9.6 percent of his plate appearances. His BABIP is a reasonable .295 and he's getting under the ball more - uptick in FB% of about five points. Just under 18 percent of Martinez's flyballs have gone for home runs versus a career mark of 10.5 percent, so there's an opportunity for some regression there. Assuming his body holds up at 35, the floor for Martinez this year looks to be .310-32-95.
Rick Porcello's 10 wins
From an ERA vs. FIP perspective, Porcello has actually taken a step back over last season:
2013: ERA - 4.32, FIP - 3.68
2014: ERA - 3.41, FIP - 3.90
He's still showing his normal excellent control with a 2.2 BB/9, but the K/9 has taken a step back from 7.2 to 5.7, though at 10-4 with a 3.41 ERA, Porcello's fantasy owners aren't complaining. Do they have anything to worry about, though, in the second half? I could see an ERA in the high 3.00's the rest of the way, but with his control and groundball tendencies, he's not going to fall off the map. The Tigers defense has been above average on the right side of the infield, but well below average on the left with a revolving door at shortstop currently headed by Eugenio Suarez and rookie Nick Castellanos at third. Addressing this deficiency could very well happen later this month.
Jake Odorizzi's 97 strikeouts
A 3.7 BB/9 is mostly to blame for Odorizzi averaging little more than five innings in his 16 starts, but the surprising 10.6 K/9 rate is also a contributing factor. At RotoWire, we predicted Odorizzi would finish with 95 strikeouts for the entire season, so this one is a bit of a shocker. Odorizzi, between multiple minor league levels and cups of big league coffee, posted an 8.2 and 8.5 K/9 rate the last two years, so the huge bump this year is worth noting and perhaps worth being skeptical about. Odorizzi's fastball averages a modest 90.7 mph. He has a 2.7 BB/9 in his last six starts, so if he can keep that up or even improve upon it, fewer walks should help offset the likely second-half strikeout rate decline. He'll continue to be a solid starter, but if you were to predict a second-half K/9 rate in the 7.5 range, I would not argue.
Brian Dozier - on pace for 30/30?
In a 1-for-24 skid entering Tuesday's action, Dozier's production has dropped off in recent days, but he's still sporting 15 homers and 15 stolen bases at the season's midpoint, making him one of the big bargains in fantasy baseball. He's also batting just .235, but with a whopping 13.9 BB%, that's coming with a .350 OBP and his .187 ISO is well above average for a second baseman. Dozier didn't show much power in the minors, but he did homer 18 times for the Twins last year in 622 at-bats, so we knew he at least had above average pop for a second sacker. With just one home run since June 10, Dozier is coming back to earth a bit, but he should be good for another 7-10 homers the rest of the way. 30/30? Unlikely at best.
Brandon Moss' 60 RBI
Moss had been in a June swoon, but he finished strong with 10 hits in his last seven games to give him a solid .268/.355/.531 line headed into July. His numbers versus RHP this year are nearly identical to 2013's, but he's hitting lefties to the tune of .271/.358/.458 compared to 2013's .200/.271/.388, allowing him to stay in the lineup more often against southpaws than in previous seasons. He'll easily top 500 at-bats for the first time in his career, so more AB's equals better counting stats, and Moss is on pace for a 36-120 season at the midpoint. His strikeouts are down and walks are up, and with players like Coco Crisp (.377 OBP) and Josh Donaldson hitting in front of him, RBI chances have been numerous for Moss this year. The A's are second in team OBP and first in runs, and with Moss's power and OBP ability, 120 RBI is a reasonable prediction.
Michael Brantley's .887 OPS
That's right, Cleveland OF Michael Brantley has a higher OPS than that of Ryan Braun, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman among others. Brantley has always had good speed and has shown elite contact skills (9.0 K% this year), but the big surprise is the power, as evidenced by his yearly ISO totals:
So did he just start eating his Wheaties more this year? Brantley tallied 39 XBH in 151 games last year and already has 32 through 78 games in 2014, so it's not just that more doubles are going for home runs. He's hitting balls further. Brantley's 17.8-percent HR/FB rate could be tough to maintain, as it's far and away a career-high (6.5 percent career mark), but some of this improved power has to be real, as he's also turning singles into doubles. According to baseballheatmaps.com, the average distance of Brantley's flyballs has risen 10 feet over last year to 288 feet in 2014. Paul Goldschmidt's 317 tops the charts, but a 10-feet average improvement is going to lead to more XBH. The HR rate may come down in the second half, but Brantley also is not going to regress to his 2011-2013 power numbers.
Allen Craig - .255/.305/.368
Craig had been a steady force in the St. Louis lineup the last two years, driving in 189 runs while averaging just 126 games a season. He hit above .300 in each year while scoring 70-plus runs in both seasons, but 2014 hasn't been kind to Craig. BABIPs of .341 and .372 in 2012/2013 helped Craig no doubt, as that metric has normalized this year to .302. Craig is walking in just 6.1 percent of his at-bats, and even the power isn't there, as his .113 ISO is a far cry from the .215 mark he put up a scant two years ago. Matt Adams should start against right-handers most days, and with Oscar Taveras back from Triple-A to try and jumpstart the offense, Craig's playing time could potentially begin to be squeezed unless he starts showing more consistency. He's 29, so I'm not ready to say he's already had his career year, but before we predict any sort of turnaround, let's first see if Craig can begin to show more patience at the plate.
Jedd Gyorko redefining "sophomore slump"
Gyorko's timetable for a return from a foot injury is estimated at Aug. 1, so is he worth a DL spot in mixed leagues? Gyorko will have a lot of ground to make up upon his return, as he's batting just .162/.213/.270 in 204 at-bats with five home runs and a 56:13 K:BB. Gyorko slugged 23 homers as a rookie a year ago, so we know he has some pop, but an already low 6.3 BB% that limited Gyorko to a .249 BA has regressed to 5.4 percent this year. Gyorko's .196 BABIP should improve and positively impact his BA, but any of that impact could be blunted by a low 16.6 line-drive percentage. Gyorko is making poor contact, not drawing enough walks and the power hasn't been there. There's a chance during his rehab that the coaches will notice some things with his swing and work them out, but this is already looking like a lost season. The Padres aren't exactly known for developing hitting talent, and Gyorko has a lot of work to do to make himself an exception to that.
Sean Doolittle's 57:2 K:BB
Dramatic Rajai Davis walk-off grand slams aside, Doolittle joins L.A. closer Kenley Jansen as two of the most successful hitter-to-closer conversions in baseball history. Doolittle's five-year $10.5 million contract signed over the winter is looking like one of the better bargains in the game, as hitters are batting just .174 against him while he's striking out a whopping 39 percent of batters faced. Doolittle averages 94.1 mph with the fastball, and he's throwing his slider 13.5 percent of the time versus last year's 8.8 percent, indicating more confidence in his second pitch. Scary thought for hitters. Doolittle had a 2.08 ERA prior to Davis' home run in his last outing, and it would be a surprise to see him above 2.00 the rest of the way. Just for fun, if you were to project Doolittle's K:BB over 200 innings, it would a head-shaking 292:10. He's easily a top-three closer, behind perhaps only Jansen and Craig Kimbrel.
Pitching in Rookie ball, Dylan Bundy has made a nice return from Tommy John surgery, allowing just one run in 15 innings with an impressive 22:3 K:BB. He'll advance to Double-A for his next outing, with a July return to the Orioles looking more and more likely. He looks to be a nice add for the second half for fantasy owners. ... Kris Bryant is up to 28 homers and a .450 OBP, but at this point, are the Cubs going to even bring him up at all outside of a September cup of coffee? ... Addison Russell is batting just .206 in nine games since a return from a hamstring injury, but he's the best hitting prospect still in the minors who has a chance to debut this year. ... Alex Guerrero last played in a Triple-A game on May 20, but he's closing in on a return from the whole ear thing. Guerrero could be an impact player for the Dodgers in the second half, as he's batting .376/.417/.735 for Albuquerque. ... Jonathan Gray may not be a finished product, but he's certainly one of the Rockies' top five starters, right? I'll go out on a limb and say he's better than Franklin Morales and Yohan Flande (yes, a real name). ... Henry Owens has a 1.43 ERA in his last 10 starts for Double-A Portland. He could make an impact for the Red Sox in the second half, but he's got several guys to leapfrog first.