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By Moe Koltun, Matt Cott, and Matthew Schwimmer of Roto Analysis
As the All Star Game approaches, we at RotoAnalysis are going to bring you our “Fantasy All Stars” for the season so far. These aren’t necessarily the biggest names in baseball or the top performers, but the guys who have made the biggest strides in their game and provided the most bang for your buck in fantasy. This week we’re targeting the AL, and next week we’ll take on the NL.
Catcher: Jason Castro, Houston Astros
The newest addition to the American League brought with them a young catcher who has quietly put together a very nice season in his second year as a full time catcher in the bigs. His .272 average and 10 home runs are not going to wow casual fans, but it’s making owners who signed him for a very bucks very happy. However, fantasy owners should considering cashing in now as Castro’s increased strikeout rate and home run/fly ball rates suggest that Castro may be in for a second-half slump.
First Base: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Shocking right? Davis hit nine homers in April and hasn’t slowed down since as he leads the majors with 28. The former Texas Rangers prospect has made enough mechanical adjustments to let him sit back and work all parts of the field. Although his average’s sustainability can be questioned, few can question his natural power. Even with his natural power, Davis will continue to provide draft day owners with value and could easily lead the league in homers during the second half as well.
Second Base: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Although he wasn’t in anyone’s top 200 before the season, Kendrick currently ranks in the top five on the player rater at his position. Kendrick has decreased his strikeout rate to 16.8%, which has allowed him to hit for thirty points over his career average. Kendrick should continue to supply owners with another ten homers and ten steals and a beneficial average.
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Proponents call him consistent. Haters call him boring. And boringly consistent players have proven to continually be the most underrated players in fantasy baseball. Since Ramirez came into the league in 2008, he’s had less than 15 homers only once, and less than 13 steals only once. This year Ramirez is running more than ever, with 17 steals in 20 attempts so far, and if he keeps that efficiency up these stats could solidify even through the second half.
Third Base: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
As tempting as it is to just put Miggy in this spot for outperforming even what is expected from the #1 pick, Machado deserves high praise as well. His five homers and six steals aren’t flashy, but across the board Machado is a top performer. His 49 runs and 38 RBIs show how involved and effective he’s been in the Orioles lineup, and he should be an all star on the actual team for many years to come.
Outfield: Nate McLouth, Baltimore Orioles
One of the last guys I thought would make this list, McLouth emerged from being undrafted to be 2nd in the American league in steals. He’s also been a much improved hitter at the plate with a .283 average and walking as much as he strikes out. When you’re talking about bang for you buck, McLouth is the perfect example of why power hitters are so valuable in the early rounds. You see a lot more McLouth types than Davis-types when it comes to breakout players.
Outfield: Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics
When healthy, Crisp has always been a great source of steals but failed to bring his owners much batting average or power help. Nearing the halfway point of 2013 he’s been able to do both. His HR/FB rate has nearly doubled from his career rate but his nine homers so far are already the second highest total he’s had for a season since 2005. Crisp’s approach at the plate has also been fantastic with more walks than strikeouts for those of you in points leagues. Our outfield is full of surprising names, but also lots of help for your team at a minimal price.
Outfield: Nick Markakis
He’s been a full-time major leaguer since 2006, so it feels like we should know who Markakis is at this point. So what makes this year different than all other years? The rest of the Orioles lineup. Markakis is still the .290 15-homer guy we know and love, and his form 10 steal speed has actually evaporated up to this point in the season. The difference is in 2011 through 160 games Markakis drove in 73 runs and scored 72. This year, if he plays 160 games, Markakis is on pace to score 97 runs and drive in 84. The improvements in the lineup should sustain that pace, making Markakis a no-doubt top 35 outfielder who went in the 22nd round.
Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Scherzer was targeted as a sleeper before the season started due to a great second half last season, but a 9th round draft slot clearly undercut his value. Nobody expected Scherzer to explode like this. He is currently the best pitcher in the AL on the player rater with the second most strikeouts in the league and amazing control to boot. He’s the starter from this team and could lead it to victory just like he has the Tigers with his 11-0 record.
Starting Pitcher: Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Although he only started 50% of the games he appeared in last year, his 3.16 ERA put him on many sleeper lists to begin the season. Iwakuma has raised his strikeouts per nine from 7.25/9 to 8.03/9 this year in addition to lowering his walk rate from 3.43/9 to 1.43/9. While Iwakuma may regress a bit, he’s been a draft day bargain for owners and that should continue in the second half.
Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics
Colon has completely reinvented himself as a pitcher by becoming a guy who almost always throws strikes, to the tune of a 1.10 BB/9 rate, lowest in the American League. He pairs that with a really low home run rate, particularly at home where he’s let up only 12 homers since the start of the 2012 season. Colon isn’t going to contribute in the strikeouts category, but other than that he’ll be an across-the-board contributor as long as he stays healthy, and I’d start him regardless of matchup in all home starts.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems, Matt @KidCotti21, and Matt @Schwimingly. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.