Yes, I know that title doesn’t really make sense, but my mind is clouded by the lack of meaningful box scores. I normally like to be on vacation during the All Star Break, especially ever since Major League Baseball cruelly lengthened it from three to four days. In my opinion, the only thing worse than having no baseball for four days in the middle of the summer is having fake baseball and something called the ESPYs on for three days in the middle of the summer, and I’d rather be as busy as possible during this time. Sure, every once in a while something interesting will happen during the Home Run Derby, and occasionally the actual game is watchable, I suppose. But seeing Yadier Molina hit a bomb that doesn’t count for any of the fantasy teams I own him on just makes me, well… sad.
Basically, watching baseball the last two days was just a few hours of waiting for things NOT to happen. It was worrying that a player crucial to one of my teams would screw up his swing trying to hit pretend homers, or pull a hammy running out an infield hit that wouldn’t even help his own batting average, let alone my fantasy team’s. It was also a painful reminder of why I’m not doing well in certain leagues – namely, having to watch the players I don’t own anywhere who came out of nowhere (and by nowhere, I mean the late rounds of a fantasy baseball draft) to become bona fide 2017 all stars, often leading their fantasy team owners to the top of the standings.
Drafting players in the middle and late rounds who outperform their draft position or auction cost is important in any fantasy league regardless of structure, but it is absolutely crucial in NL-only, AL-only, and other deep leagues. I’m sure Clayton Kershaw and Jose Altuve are on plenty of first place fantasy teams, but I suspect the real names you’ll find over and over again when looking at the top of the standings are more like Ryan Zimmerman, Ervin Santana, and Jason Vargas. With that in mind, and with no fringey deep league player playing to talk about picking up, I thought I’d use the break to take a look at the players who are some of the first half MVPs in deep fantasy leagues: those that have outperformed* their 2017 pre-season ranking** by the widest margins. We’ll also take a look at their second-half futures via Steamer projections for the rest of the season (with some completely unscientific, woman’s intuition-style guesses from me as to whether or not I agree). Obviously none these guys is likely to be available in a shallow league, let alone deep formats, but with most of us facing a fake baseball trading deadline around the same time the real one hits, we’ll need to be thinking about whether any of these players are worth buying… or selling, at the right price.
* Performance rankings reflect current overall 5×5 AL-only or NL-only value (hitters and pitchers combined), as per CBS Sports, and I’ve only included players in the top 25 overall for their respective league
** 2017 Fantasy Pros consensus AL-only or NL-only rankings as of April 2nd, which included 58 ‘perts
5. Steven Souza: April rank: 180; current rank: 20; difference: 160 spots
2017 Rest of Season Steamer Projections: .243 AVG, 31 R, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB
10 more bombs sounds about right, and I also agree with Steamer’s notion that there will be some significant average regression (Souza is currently hitting .271). Gonna have to take the under on the four steals though.
4. Aaron Judge: April rank: 162; current rank: 1; difference: 161 spots
Goodness, I knew about the 30 homers and 66 RBI, but didn’t realize Judge has scored 75 runs. Hot damn, that’s ridiculous. The most brilliant thing about Judge’s pre-season expert ranking is that, when you combine leagues, he comes in exactly one spot behind Bartolo Colon. Just remember that next year when you’re stuck in the middle of a draft and feel like the pickings are getting slim.
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .263 AVG, 38 R, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 3 SB
I’m starting to think this fella might be the real deal. I’ll buy an average drop-off from his current .329 mark, but I think it’ll be a good 10-20 points higher than Steamer predicts for the rest of the year. And I’ll go 40 R, 19 HR, 45 RBI, 4 SB for his ROS counting stats.
3. Justin Smoak April rank: 247; current rank: 10; difference: 237 spots. And now we come to the only player on this list who has had the great honor of being the lede in one of my columns this year.
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .246 AVG, 33 R, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 1 SB
Steamer’s average projection is almost 50 full points off his current .294, and I’m going to have to agree for the most part… I’ll say .255 ROS. The counting stats look about right to me. He’s one of those guys that might be difficult to get a good deal on on either side of the coin: I think everyone expects him to drop off fairly significantly so if you’re selling you won’t feel like you’re getting fair value in return, but he’s also a scary guy to buy at this point unless you have an excess somewhere and can get him for cheap.
2. Logan Morrison: April rank: 279; current rank: 15; difference: 264 spots.
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .245 AVG, 28 R, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 2 SB
I really had no idea Morrison was anywhere close to the 15th most valuable roto player in the AL, and his 24 home runs seems like one of the bigger anomalies of the first half. I’m going to take the over on his rest of season homers and the under on everything else.
1. Jason Vargas: April rank: not ranked, current rank: 25, difference: 275+ spots
That’s right, the guy who is currently the 25th most valuable fantasy player in the American League was not ranked in the top 300 back in April. I think he’s the only player on this list that wasn’t drafted at all in my deepest AL-only league, and it pains me to think about how much better off my team would be if I’d gone the extra dollar on him our first week of FAAB pickups.
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: 4.58 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 5 W, 61 K
I have absolutely no idea how he’s doing it; dude currently has exactly 100 FEWER Ks than Sale. Steamer doesn’t love his rest of season much, and for my own sanity I’m going to have to agree and predict that Vargas’s numbers will be at least as bad — and probably worse — than Steamer fears, and should be sold wherever possible. And if he winds up being a consistently valuable fantasy contributor in the second half, I think it would be the most impressive dodge of the regression fairies in recent memory.
5. Travis Shaw: April rank: 158; current rank: 8; difference: 150 spots
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .257 AVG, 31 R, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB
I’ve liked Shaw all year, and would continue buying if given the opportunity. I’ll say his ROS numbers are a bit better than these across the board.
4. Alex Wood: April rank: 174; current rank: 16; difference: 158 spots
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: 3.11 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 4 W, 67 K
I’m buying in to Wood as one of the players on this list whose 2017 value isn’t a fluke, and clearly so does Steamer. Don’t get the only 4 wins thing, though. I actually had Wood in two different NL-only leagues and dropped him in both after two bad starts at the end of April/beginning of May, so what do I know. I can’t really talk about this any more or there might be crying.
3. Ryan Zimmerman: April rank: 172; current rank: 12; difference: 160 spots
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .275 AVG, 31 R, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB
Zimmerman could do half of what he’s done so far (which, as it turns out, is not ALL that far from what Steamer is predicting) and still be valuable in an NL-only league, so at this point I would actually consider buying him if an owner is panicking about regression and I could get a really good deal. And if the day I finally own him this season is the day he finally gets hurt, sorry Zimmerman owners!
2. Cody Bellinger: April rank: 238; current rank: 17; difference: 221 spots
‘Member that time Dave Roberts swore for two weeks that Bellinger was only up for a cup of coffee?
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .249 AVG, 37 R, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 5 SB.
Because he’s only played in 70 games, his first half was actually a first half, so if he replicated his numbers after the break, they’d be about double his current stats, which would be insane. That means Steamer is projecting him to be about two-thirds as productive from here on out as he has been up until this point, which would still be pretty damn good. Even in a re-draft league, I don’t think anyone is likely to be selling him at anything close to a decent price, so if you own him, congratulations, and if you don’t… maybe next year.
1. Mark Reynolds: April rank: 245; current rank: 21; difference: 224 spots
2017 ROS Steamer Projections: .264 AVG, 27 R, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB
Reynolds seems like an obvious sell-high candidate, but sometimes the obvious sell-high candidates are the guys you should actually hold on to, since you may not get close to the value you should in return if the rest of your league-mates agree his production is likely to fall off drastically in the second half. I wrote an article about him last year that involved charts and graphs and stuff, and the main thing I remember the research I did is that it convinced me that Reynolds made some significant changes to his approach that have made him a better hitter. While I don’t think he’ll match his first half numbers, I’m going to optimistically predict that his second half will look about 20 percent better than Steamer thinks it will be.
Final note: one thing I just realized is that not a single player on this list is a big speed guy or has more than a handful of steals – not exactly sure what this means, but hopefully I’ll figure it out before 2018. Enjoy the break, and good luck to all, both in fantasy and real life, in the second half!