This is the weekly Fantasy Roundtable, where the writers of Rotoworld Baseball let the readers of Rotoworld Baseball in on a quick staff discussion. It's water cooler talk ... that we've decided to publish. Look for it every Tuesday.
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Drew Silva: It's the annual MLB All-Star break, a good time to do some looking behind and looking ahead in real-life and fantasy baseball terms. Give me a player who surprised you in the first half of the 2016 campaign, and do you expect that player's fantasy production to continue into the second half?
One that immediately springs to mind for me is Rangers outfielder Ian Desmond, who had to settle for a one-year, $8 million free agent contract this winter but will participate in his first All-Star Game since 2012 on Tuesday night in San Diego. Desmond batted just .233/.290/.384 with 19 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 156 games last season for Washington, snapping a stretch of three straight seasons with 20-plus homers and 20-plus steals. The 30-year-old is currently slashing .322/.375/.524 with 15 homers and 15 stolen bases through 89 games this summer with Texas. That is a 27-homer and 27-steal pace. He's back, and I think he keeps it all working down the stretch with half his games due to be played in the hitter-friendly Globe Life Park. Desmond has a 1.008 OPS this year at home, after posting a .775 OPS at Nationals Park in 2015.
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Ryan Boyer: Any first-half surprise list should probably begin with Eduardo Nunez. The 29-year-old wasn't even starting for the Twins at the beginning of the season, but here we are at the All-Star break and our Rotoworld Season Pass Player Rater has him ranked as the 10th-best fantasy hitter so far. Nunez has been a five-category stud, putting up a .321 average, 12 homers, 40 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 46 runs scored. I do think Nunez will continue to help fantasy owners out in the stolen base department in the second half. He averaged 12 steals per season over the last five years despite averaging just 238 plate appearances per season over that time. That he's been able to top 20 thefts in the first half isn't all that surprising since he's getting regular playing time and hitting leadoff for Minnesota. Nunez has also always been a guy who's had a high contact rate and who has hit for some decent averages in the past. So, while the .321 average is obviously going to come down as that .335 BABIP normalizes, I do give him a decent shot at maintaining a respectable batting mark. The power is the area with Nunez that screams "fluke." His season high in the majors and minors for home runs coming into this season was nine, and he's already topped that mark by three in half a season. Nunez has upped his flyball rate significantly this season compared to his last two years with the Twins, but the rate is only a hair above his career mark (34.8 percent versus 33.3 percent). He's just getting way more of those flyballs to leave the yard (12.6 percent versus 7.2 percent). I do think Nunez is more of a "hold" than a "sell," as what he could provide after the All-Star break might be more than what he'd fetch in a trade.
D.J. Short: After watching him terrorize the Mets once again over the weekend, I’ll go with Daniel Murphy. We all saw his historic power surge during the postseason last year, but many weren’t expecting that performance to translate in 2016. He ultimately had to settle for a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the division-rival Nationals over the winter after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Mets. That deal is obviously looking like quite the bargain for first-place Washington, as he’s going into the All-Star break with a monster .348/.387/.598 batting line to go along with 17 homers and 66 RBI. He has already hit three more home runs than his previous career-high, which was established last season.
There’s reason to believe what we’re seeing is legitimate, as the changes date back to the second half of last season when Murphy moved closer to the plate and began to pull the ball more often. He’s using the same approach this season while adding significantly more fly balls to the mix. According to FanGraphs, his fly ball rate has increased nearly 14 percent over the past two seasons. Meanwhile, he’s sporting a career-high hard-hit rate this season. And it’s not like he’s selling out contact for power, as he’s still among the toughest hitters to strike out in the game. In this high-velocity environment, Murphy is feasting on fastballs. It’s unfair to expect anyone to hit .350 going forward — and sadly for fantasy owners, he only has six games remaining against the Mets — but it’s clear that we are looking at a changed hitter.
Matthew Pouliot: It looked like Adam Duvall would go into the year on the bad side of a lefty-righty platoon with Scott Schebler in Cincinnati, and he started out quietly enough, hitting .226 with two homers in April. He followed that up by hitting 11 homers in May and nine more in June, and he made the All-Star team with a .249 average, 23 homers and 61 RBI. My guess is that we’ve seen the best of what Duvall has to offer. He’ll keep hitting homers at a nice clip, but the average will drop some and his run and RBI pace will slip, particularly if the Reds choose to trade veterans Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart. On the plus side, his defense in left field has been a nice surprise and he should settle in as a solid regular for a few years. It’s just that he’ll likely always be inconsistent on offense, occasionally hitting homers in bunches but more often just making bunches of outs.
Jesse Pantuosco: The first half has been full of surprises but I don’t think anyone has overachieved quite like Steven Wright. In spring training, it looked like Roenis Elias would win the fifth spot in Boston’s starting rotation with Wright destined for either the bullpen or Triple-A. Now Elias is in Pawtucket while Wright leads the AL in ERA. Somehow a 31-year-old knuckleballer has been the best starting pitcher on a team with a payroll north of $200 million. Go figure.
With that said, Wright’s first-half resume is a bit deceiving. His ERA would be more than a full run higher if we counted all the unearned runs he’s allowed (15, if you’re keeping track). Wright has really labored over his last three outings (8.04 ERA) and his gaudy win-loss record is partially inflated by all the run support he’s gotten (5.24 runs per game, 21st out of 96 qualified starters). Wright has been a great story but knuckleballers are always unpredictable and I think we’re bound to see some regression in the second half. In fact, we’re already seeing it as Wright’s ERA has jumped from 2.01 to 2.68 over his last three starts.
David Shovein: Melvin Upton Jr. had been an abomination at the plate since he left Tampa Bay after the 2012 season. From 2013-2015 he hit a ghastly .209/.287/.335 with a 386/122 K/BB ratio over 354 games with the Braves and Padres. He showed some signs of life near the end of the 2015 campaign with the Padres, but really the only thing keeping him employed heading into this season was his $15.45 million salary. Even his most ardent supporters (myself included) thought a best case scenario for Upton in 2016 was that he might carve out value in NL-only or deep mixed leagues with what little power and speed he had left in the tank. Many thought that he would lose out on a starting job to Travis Jankowski, and his average draft position in NFBC leagues finished around 526. Meaning on average, in 15-team mixed leagues, he was selected in the 36th round. Fast-forward four months, and my how the tables have turned. The 31-year-old is on pace for perhaps the finest season of his career, which is an impressive feat considering he has three 20/20 seasons under his belt. Upton was a maniac on the basepaths in the first half, successfully swiping 20 bases in 25 attempts -- good for the seventh highest total in all of baseball. Combine that with an impressive power stroke that saw him mash 16 balls over the fence (while playing half of his games at Petco Park), and you’re looking at a true difference-maker in mixed leagues. And that’s before factoring in his solid counting stats (45 runs and 44 RBI) and an acceptable .262 batting average. So is it sustainable? I’m of the belief that it is. He’s got a .325 BABIP, which isn’t far off from his career mark, and is supported by a hard-hit rate of 34.6 percent, his highest since 2007. The Padres as a team love to run, so there’s no reason to think that Upton won’t continue to have the green light in the second half. The one area where a correction looks imminent is his HR/FB rate of 20.3 percent, which dwarfs his career mark (12.2 percent). He has flashed impressive power in the past, though, with three seasons of 23 or more home runs, including a high-water mark of 28 in 2012. He appears fully happy and motivated in San Diego this year, so as long as he remains there through the trade deadline, he should continue to be a tremendous source of all-around fantasy value, even if a couple fewer baseballs leave the yard in the second half.
Nathan Grimm: It's not a surprise that Drew Pomeranz is capable of this kind of season -- it wasn't long ago he was the No. 5 overall pick in the MLB Draft -- but ability and results don't always go hand in hand. The fact that he's already on his fourth organization at the age of 27 lent credence to the idea that perhaps Pomeranz was just one of those guys whose natural talent would never match his statistical output. But he's found success as a starter in San Diego, posting a 2.47 ERA through 17 starts while striking out 28 percent of the batters he's faced. He mixes four pitches well, with all four ranking as plus pitches, per PITCHf/x. There's some talk that his success in the first half could make him a popular trade candidate later this month, but even a move from Petco Park wouldn't present a huge concern -- he's actually pitched better on the road than at home this year. There are no guarantees, obviously, but Pomeranz is as good a bet as any upstart to continue his success in the second half.