Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Nothing is more disappointing and frustrating than your fantasy baseball team getting off to a very slow April and facing a six-month uphill battle to become competitive.
To combat this problem, what you need are hitters and pitchers who start their season with a bang. Toward that end, we have compiled a list of players whose history says they will get off to a flying start, that they are at their best in the first half of the season.
For our analysis, we will use statistics up to the All-Star break as "first half" and post All-Star break as "second half." And instead of simply using batting average for hitters, we use OPS (On base Plus Slugging), which provides a much more accurate display of a player's production.
In later pieces, we will analyze pitchers by their first-half and second-half SSRD360 number - a new statistic which measures a pitcher against the league average in four categories - wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
We know from past history that hitters like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre and Carlos Pena are not players you want on your roster if you expect to hit the ground running in April.
Cano's OPS is 92 points higher in the second half (.892 versus .800) while his New York Yankees teammate Teixeira is 65 points better after the break. It's no wonder the Bronx Bombers offense really begins to percolate during the heat of July, August and September - scoring 5.57 runs per game in the second half.
In Part II of this series, we evaluate American League hitters.
There were a total of 109 players analyzed with 48 having better first halves than second, 59 better second halves and two - Miguel Cabrera and Chris Iannetta - having identical OPS numbers in each half.
Of course, some of the hitters who are better in the first half are still not fantasy-worthy, so let's see which of the AL hitters would give you an advantage if you have them in your Opening Day fantasy lineup:
Brennan Boesch, Detroit - The Tigers outfielder has played two full seasons in Detroit's outfield and has some interesting first half-second half splits. Before the break, he is an absolute fantasy stud, batting .321 with 24 homers in 557 at-bats (1:23), 93 RBIs and a .911 OPS. In the second half, his numbers drop faster than the stock market with oil priced at $150 per barrel, batting .182 with a .526 OPS, a difference of 385 points. The good news is he's starting to hit this spring and is scheduled to bat second in the powerful Tigers' lineup. Boesch could be ready for another fast start and worthy of our "play until the All-Star break and trade to an unsuspecting owner" strategy.
Kevin Youkilis, Boston - Youkilis has most recently offered up a couple of mediocre seasons to fantasy owners primarily due to injuries, but he's a top fantasy third baseman when healthy. This spring, he's missed only little time with a little soreness - nothing serious. With an OPS 104 points better in the first half, he has one of the largest splits in the AL and will almost certainly give you a fair market value for the end-of-the-fifth-round pick it will take to get him. Keeping him for the entire season, however, is another story. His recent injury history plus his second-half production screams "play and trade."
Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay - Zobrist is one of those players who fantasy owners and sabermetricians know well, but who plays in relative anonymity for most of the country. How many know that he's received MVP votes in two of the last three seasons? A second baseman who can post 90 runs, 90 RBIs and 20 homers and also is eligible in the outfield is a valuable property. He's not had a good spring and he's not a great April hitter, but May and June are when he gets it going and Zobrist ends up with an OPS 89 points better in the first half than second. If you have Zobrist on your roster, be patient. If he's not on your team, be prepared to make a trade offer if he starts slowly and enjoy the rewards in May.
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees - Gardner is primarily known as a speed guy, giving little value except for stolen bases. But historically his first half OPS won't kill you (.756) and he does have a career .280 batting average before the break. Be prepared to jettison him via trade right after the "Summer Classic."
Ian Kinsler, Texas - Kinsler has produced 30-30 seasons in two of the last three years and only failed in the other season due to injuries, which cut his season to 102 games. He's a fast starter, but even his second-half numbers are top-notch. Barring a serious injury, you should plan to keep him on your roster all year long.
Jose Bautista, Toronto - Bautista produced ridiculously good numbers last spring with 31 homers, 65 RBIs and an out-of-this-world 1.170 OPS before the break. This was in contradiction to 2010, when he was much better in the second half (.903 versus 1.099). Either way, he should be on your "no-trade" list as he's been the best home run hitter in the majors over the past two seasons.
Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox - Dunn was probably the biggest fantasy disappointment of 2011. From 2004-2010, the slugger hit between 38 and 46 homers every year, but in his first season with the White Sox he batted a below-the-Mendoza-Line .159 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. History says Dunn is a better first-half hitter than second - 56 points better - so we should know whether he will rebound very quickly in 2012. Dunn has hit four homers with a 1.049 OPS in spring training and is definitely worth a 15th-round gamble. If he doesn't give you a fast start in 2012, send him packing.
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