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Second-half hitters
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We're coming up on this year's Summer Classic, the emotional halfway point to the baseball season although most teams will have played more than the numerical midpoint, 81 games.

It's a good time to step back and look at the big picture. Who on your team has played above and below expectations in the first half?

That's not too hard to answer.

But now comes a much harder step - evaluating who will improve in the second half and who will fade from view?

Unless you have a crystal ball or a DeLorean built by Dr. Emmett Brown with a working flux capacitor, one of the best ways to evaluate players is based on their past production.

It won't work for rookies like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper who have no history for evaluation, but for the majority of the major leaguers, it's the best way. There are some players who simply are better second-half hitters than in the first half.

The reason may be weather-related, or it may take them longer to find their swing, but whatever the case, you can benefit from knowing who will play better this summer.

New York Yankees All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano comes to mind. Over his first eight years, Cano is a .298 hitter with a .820 OPS before the All-Star game. Not bad. But it's after the break that Cano transforms into a fantasy monster. His career batting average jumps to .322, his slugging percentage is .531 and his OPS is 72 points better - .892.

Given the start Cano is on this season (.313, 20 HR, 47 RBI), a 72-point increase would likely make him one of the favorites for fantasy MVP.

But Cano's leap in production after the All-Star break isn't rare. Below are a handful of fantasy-worthy players, who if past history is any indicator, are going to significantly improve their value in the coming months:

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado - Tulowitzki is another "poster boy" for the guy you want in the second half of the season. His first-half numbers are .267/.459/.801, but his after-the-break statistics jump to .321/.555/.944. That's a 143-point jump in OPS from mid-July to the end of the season. Given that he's currently stuck on the disabled list, this is the perfect time to "buy low" on the Rockies shortstop.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado - "Cargo" is another second-half guy, and between him and Tulowitzki it's easy to see why the Rockies frequently make late-season runs to the playoffs. Gonzalez has a career second-half OPS of .932, 69 points better than the first half. And he's already posted pretty nice first-half numbers. He leads the NL in total bases (176) and runs (59) while batting .339 with 17 HR, 58 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington - Until 2012, LaRoche was usually a free agent heading into the second half of the season because his first halves were historically mediocre (.247/.442/.767). As a July-Oct hitter, however, LaRoche has a career.295 batting average with an .889 OPS. Unlike previous seasons, LaRoche is probably on a roster as he had a surprisingly good April. But he went into a June swoon (.182 batting average) and can probably be acquired for minimal costs.

Mike Aviles, SS, Boston - Aviles has been mediocre as the Red Sox shortstop this season, but if past history repeats itself, he's going to surprise fantasy owners. Over Aviles' career, he's gone from a .287 hitter before the break to a .319 hitter after with an .805 OPS. There are only three or four shortstops in the majors who will put up .800-plus OPS numbers, so to get that type of production from Aviles, even for just a couple of months, could be extremely valuable. Aviles is a free agent in about 20 percent of all Yahoo leagues and likely available for trade in most others.

Carlos Pena, 1B, Tampa Bay - Sure, he isn't currently batting his weight (.200 batting average vs. 225 pounds), but history says Pena's bat is about to heat up. When you have 12 years of data and those numbers say his second-half statistics jump through the roof, you should pay attention. In Pena's case, his OPS goes from .787 to .881, a 94-point improvement. His batting average will still be a drain, but he's going to produce power. He's owned in less than half of all leagues.

Other fantasy-worthy hitters with positive second halves: Shin-Soo Choo (100 points), Mark Teixeira (73), Adrian Beltre (71), Jacoby Ellsbury (71), Giancarlo Stanton (68), Jimmy Rollins (64) and Matt Wieters (59).

Don't be afraid to keep or trade for any of these hitters.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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