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MLB Barometer: Return of the Mac

Vlad Sedler

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

MLB Barometer - Return of the Mac
Starting pitchers are a delicate breed. Come the All-Star break, some of us may feel that our roto pitching categories have already sunk our teams into the league's basement, while great first half pitching stats would have us believe we're running away with our leagues. But things can change in a hurry - it ain't over 'til game 162. Pitchers wear down as the season moves deep into the summer and DL stints occur out without warning. On the flip side, a first half disaster can turn into a second half treasure, and before you know it, those pesky ratios, win and strikeout totals are competitive again.
Last season, there were several first half gems that were either available late in drafts or were plucked off the waiver wire. But come the second half, these guys became unreliable and once again reminded us that fantasy baseball is a tough nut to crack. Here are a few (with pre-ASB and post-ASB ERA's):
Jeff Locke, PIT - Pre: 2.15, Post: 6.12
Patrick Corbin, ARI - Pre: 2.35, Post: 5.19
Mike Leake, CIN - Pre: 2.69, Post: 4.42
John Lackey, BOS - Pre: 2.78, Post: 4.35
Jorge De La Rosa, COL - Pre: 3.21, Post: 4.01
Though it's certainly possible that this year's crop of surprisingly dominant starters maintain their first half numbers, it's all the more likely that they'll see a drop over the second half - most likely ERA/WHIP regression and quite possibly lower K/9. Here are a few first half studs that may very well see ratio regression (listed with W-L, ERA, WHIP, IP, K):
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY: 12-3, 2.27, 0.97, 122 - 130
Johnny Cueto, CIN: 8-6, 1.99, 0.87, 131 - 130
Josh Beckett, LAD: 6-5, 2.26, 1.03, 103 - 95
Jake Arrieta, CHC: 5-1, 1.78, 1.02, 71 - 79
Scott Kazmir, OAK: 10-3, 2.53, 1.01, 110 - 99
Tanaka should finish the season as a top 10 (and quite possibly top five) starter this year, but his incredible first half numbers should, in fact, correct as he starts to see teams for a second and third time around. His latest start against the Twins was the first time he's allowed more than 3 ER all year, and we may see these type of outings a bit more frequently. As for Cueto and Arrieta, I'm willing to bet you absolutely anything that they don't end the year with ERA's under 2.00 and that Arrieta won't finish 2014 with a strikeouts-per-nine rate higher than 9.0.
On the other end of the spectrum, here are 10 starters who I'd bet will improve upon their first halves:
Gerrit Cole, PIT: 7-4, 3.78, 1.31, 85 - 78
Zack Wheeler, NYM: 4-8, 4.07, 1.38, 101 - 99
Justin Verlander, DET: 7-7, 4.71, 1.49, 116 - 89
C.J. Wilson, LAA: 8-6, 4.23, 1.28, 113 - 106
Jake Odorizzi, TB: 4-7, 4.18, 1.35, 88 - 101
Yordano Ventura, KC: 6-7, 3.07, 1.24, 96 - 80
Homer Bailey, CIN: 8-5, 4.15, 1.35, 112 - 102
Ian Kennedy, SD: 6-9, 3.87, 1.23, 109 - 116
Brandon McCarthy, NYY: 3-10, 5.01, 1.38, 110 - 93
Yovani Gallardo, MLW: 5-5, 3.45, 1.23, 109 - 83
I won't touch on all of them, but for instance, Gallardo's ERA over the last three years is almost a full point lower after the All-Star break (ASB), and the sample size isn't small - from 2011 through 2013, a 4.11 ERA in 339 IP before and 3.35 in 252 IP after. Sure, the ASB usually falls a couple of weeks after the midpoint of the season and his difference in innings over the last three years before and after the ASB is notable, but he did manage almost as many wins after the ASB (24 before, 21 after). For whatever reason, Gallardo is simply a second half guy. Odorizzi might see a decrease in his wicked 10.3 strikeouts-per-nine rate, but based on what you've seen, do you not think he can pull that 4.15 ERA to a sub-4.00? Wilson has never had a sub-4.00 ERA in his 4.5 seasons as a starter, and I don't believe he falls off the map like CC Sabathia did last year. Same with Verlander - sure, he's not a SP1 anymore, but his base skills, velocity and simply just watching him tells me the 4.71 will correct over the second half. McCarthy may very well benefit from a change of scenery - and the 2.89 xFIP illustrates just how unlucky his 5.01 ERA is. Finally, Yordano Ventura appears to be the guy who does not belong on the list. It's his first full season and expecting any further reduction in his 3.07 ERA might be considered ludicrous, but Ventura appears to have given up some strikeouts in exchange for better control, plays in a great home pitchers' park and seems to have the maturity of a veteran pitcher.
With the All-Star break upon us, we have a chance to reflect on the first half of the season, look up some numbers and prepare for the remainder of the season. It's a good time to look at examples of extreme splits from starting pitchers over the last few years to make some educated assumptions on what we can expect from here on out - and while you're at it, go ahead and grab Danny Salazar and Francisco Liriano off waivers if they're available. That's some first half junk that has good potential to be second half treasure.

Kole Calhoun, OF LAA - After a decent contribution in 58 games last year (8 HR, 32 RBI, .282), Calhoun was a popular March draft selection (NFBC ADP of 184). Calhoun is 26 years old, with great minor league numbers (.354 BA, .431 OBP in 59 Triple-A games in 2013) and reached double-digit homers/steals in three consecutive minor league seasons. With Calhoun in the leadoff slot ahead of studs like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the sky was truly the limit, but an ankle injury a couple weeks into the season cost Calhoun a month of playing time. Though Colin Cowgill has been leading off against LHP, Calhoun is putting up numbers in the games he plays. Over the last two weeks, Calhoun is hitting .460 with 3 HR, 8 RBI and leads all of baseball with 14 runs over that span. Calhoun isn't running much (3 SB) but is capable of doing so. Now hitting .301 on the year, Calhoun has the opportunity to lead the AL in runs after the All-Star break and is a valuable fantasy asset as he slowly earns the opportunity to play against lefties as well.

Casey McGehee, 3B MIA - Many are still waiting for C-Mac to turn into back into a pumpkin and head back to Japan, where he rediscovered his swing last year, swatting 28 HR with 93 RBI. McGehee has settled in nicely in Miami, hitting cleanup behind super slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Though McGehee has hit only one home run on the year, he has more than proved his first half value (.320 BA, sixth in the NL with 53 RBI). McGehee does have a brief history as a run-producer, knocking in 101 RBI as a 27-year-old with the Brewers in 2010. Now, a 31-year-old veteran with a sweet and steady swing, McGehee is on pace for his second career 100 RBI season. The .370 BABIP portends to a lucky batting average that will be tough to repeat in the second half, but perhaps there will be a tradeoff for power. 10 HR and .280 with 50 more RBI would be my guess from here on out - not too shabby. He's on a 13 game hitting streak heading into week 15.

Marlon Byrd, OF PHI - Raise your hand if you questioned the Phillies' offseason signing of a 36-year-old Byrd coming off a career high 24 HR year. It was definitely a curious move given the fact that the team's star players (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard) were well in their 30's and that there were several younger, better free agents available. Not only has Byrd not lost a step, but he actually appears to be getting better. He's tied for second with Troy Tulowitzki with 18 NL home runs and looks like he might hit 30 for the first time in 12 big league seasons. Byrd continues to strikeout often (29% this year, 25% last year) and is hitting below his career average (.279 career, .266 in 360 PA), but as long as he continues his power pace, Byrd can place among the league leaders in home runs this year.

Jeff Locke, SP PIT - Locke owners who nabbed him off free agent lists last month are hoping that this year isn't a repeat of last. Before the 2013 All-Star break, Locke was 8-2 with 2.15 ERA and 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA after. Through seven starts, the southpaw holds a WHIP under 1.00 (0.93 to be exact) and has thrown eight solid innings in each of his last two starts (3 ER, 11 H, 2 BB, 7 K in those 16 innings). Locke has a modest fastball that tops out at 92.7 mph and a baffling change-up that he uses to send hitters back into the dugout. Locke is a solid ground ball pitcher (49% GB%) in fly ball PNC Park and has done a great job limiting home runs (0.43 HR/9). Francisco Liriano returns to the Pirates rotation after the All-Star break and Locke will battle with a revitalized Vance Worley to hold on to that final rotation slot. Locke won't overpower with strikeouts (5.6 K/9 this year, 6.9 last year), but gets the job done and plays for a playoff-worthy Pirates squad that should provide him with ample run support in his outings.

Zach Britton, RP BAL - It appears that the Orioles have found their Jim Johnson replacement from right within their organization. Britton has more than solidified the O's ninth inning gig, leading all closers with four saves in five scoreless innings last week. A former top starting pitcher prospect, Britton is an enigma among major league closers - he's one of the only lefties and has never been a big strikeouts guy (7.0 K/9 this year, 6.5 K/9 in 103 Triple-A innings last year). Britton boasts excellent ratios (1.36 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) but has a history of bad control. He seems to have figured it out, only walking six in 25 IP since taking over the role in mid-May. Britton now has 14 saves on the year and has blown two of them - most recently 4 ER in Yankee Stadium including a 3-run bomb to Carlos Beltran. With Tommy Hunter truly inferior and Darren O'Day firmly entrenched in the setup role, it would likely take several blown saves to put Britton's job at risk. Though the ratios won't be Kimbrell-like all year, Britton looks like the real deal and should hold the job for the rest of the season and hopefully beyond.


Hitters: David Freese, 3B LAA, Jayson Werth, OF WAS, Justin Ruggiano, OF CHC, Christian Yelich, OF MIA
Pitchers: Jose Quintana, SP CHW, Tim Lincecum, SP SF, Wade Miley, SP ARI, Carlos Martinez, SP STL
Not Falling For It: Steve Pearce, OF BAL, Jesse Hahn, SP SD

Aaron Hill, 2B ARI - Hill was the tenth 2B taken in drafts this year (ADP of 116) after two consecutive seasons of .290+ with the Diamondbacks. Hill's 2013 was cut short due to injury (87 games) but he was on pace for a repeat of his fabulous 2012 season (.302, 26 HR, 85 RBI). With a nice home park and a star player to drive in (Paul Goldschmidt), a 15 HR - 75 RBI - .280 BA baseline wasn't asking for much. Though his 41 RBI to date is solid, Hill has disappointed overall, scoring only 25 runs and is hitting .241. His power has been dropping steadily - .119 ISO this year, .171 last year, .221 in 2012. Hill is also striking out more than he ever has in his career (17.6%) and has only three hits in 17 at-bats this month. Though Hill's numbers stabilized in Arizona, his current ineptitude quickly reminds of his last two seasons in Toronto (a .213 BA over 242 games). Hill is 32 years old now and his best years may have already passed.

Charlie Blackmon, OF COL - The waiver wire darling of April is proving the cautionary annual tale that what goes up must eventually come down. After an incredible first month (.389 BA), Blackmon has hit .260 over the past two months. His runs scored have decreased each month (23, 13, 11) despite rising at-bats (95, 100, 111). His home/road BA splits (.348 home, .248 road) once again illustrate the advantage of Coors Field and makes us wonder how Blackmon would fare calling say Dodger Stadium his home. With injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez, baseball fans get the chance to witness Corey Dickerson in the outfield as well - and Dickerson may indeed be better than Blackmon long term. Don't get me wrong, Blackmon is still a fantasy asset - he looks like a lock for 20 HR / 20 SB and is a must-play on all-home and split weeks - he just won't be the top 15 hitter we all expected him to be back in April.

Billy Butler, DH KC - Butler just flat out stinks this year. He's hitting .138 over the past week and his empty .267 seems generous for someone whose only task is to hit the ball. Butler has yet to play a position this year and looks to be set as Utility-only all season long. You could pretty much plug anyone in off the waiver wire and receive more fantasy production than Butler has provided in any given week. It's also pretty amazing that Butler is two seasons removed from 29 home runs considering he's stuck at only two homers as we head into the All-Star break. Butler is striking out at a higher clip than any previous season (17%) and all signs point to career low statistics across the board. What's scary is that it's difficult to cut bait with Butler, knowing that it's quite possible that he turns his season around at any time. That's a decision each Butler owner will have to make on their own, and of course it depends on the alternatives. This past weekend, I cut Butler for Marlon Byrd in one of my NFBC 12-teamers, but drew the line there. Steve Pearce and Dayan Viciedo were available but don't inspire as much long term confidence. It would be difficult to project anything but improvement for Butler in the second half of the season - unfortunately, he may already be on the downturn of his career at age 28.

Dallas Keuchel, SP HOU - Keuchel is another one of those early season darlings whose actual skills are beginning to come to the light. Keuchel has been atrocious over his last three starts (18 ER in 13 IP) and last week's start against the Angels was his worst of the season - 5 IP, 5 ER, 13 H, 1 K. It could very well be that his recent minor wrist injury has impacted his effectiveness. So what kind of pitcher is Dallas Keuchel? He's probably somewhere right in between his early season dominance and recent struggles. Keuchel is an extreme ground ball pitcher (63%) who has been lucky with run support and should expect some regression with his current ratios (3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP may end the year at 3.40, 1.28). He's not overly dominant (7.0 K/9), but is the safest weekly bet in a very unintimidating rotation.

Phil Hughes, SP MIN - Just a few weeks ago, Hughes was widely discussed as one of the feel-good stories of the baseball season - a player freed from the chains of Yankee Stadium, able to find success in a smaller, less pressured city. Hughes was simply unhittable in May - 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA and ZERO walks in 33 innings. But the wheels have fallen apart over his last three starts - 17 ER over his last three starts (19 IP). Like Keuchel, Hughes is neither superstar, nor bum. He's been the victim of bad team defense (3.95 ERA, but 2.79 FIP) and should improve at Target Field in the second half - his home ERA is incredibly 5.37, compared to 2.59 on the road. Hughes' month of May won't be repeated but Hughes is better than what we've seen over the past few weeks. The All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time.


Hitters: Mark Reynolds, 1B MLW, Jon Singleton, 1B HOU, Oscar Taveras, OF STL, Ryan Ludwick, OF CIN
Pitchers: Dan Haren, SP LAD, C.J. Wilson, SP LAA, Drew Smyly, SP DET, Roenis Elias, SP SEA
Not Falling For It: Bryce Harper, OF WAS, Anibal Sanchez, SP DET