Notable First-Half StoriesTrevor Plouffe as a Poor-Man's Jose Bautista
Plouffe was hitting .138 on May 15, and since then has hit 18 home runs, giving him 19 on the year. He qualifies at shortstop, among other places and has an .873 OPS despite the slow start. In 192 Triple-A at-bats in 2010, Plouffe had a 1.019 OPS with 15 HR, so the power surge wasn't entirely out of nowhere. Even last year, when he struggled with a .697 OPS, he had eight homers in 286 big-league at-bats.
The 37-year old Dickey has 12 wins at the break and a 123:26 K:BB ratio in 120 IP. Moreover, he's got a 1.78 GB:FB rate and 0.93 WHIP. Knuckleballers are not easy to project, and it would be hard for any pitcher to sustain this pace, but the results are supported by the peripherals (especially when you take into account the BABIP advantage enjoyed by most knuckleballers).
Tim Lincecum's Crash
Strikeouts aren't everything apparently as Lincecum has 101 in just 93.1 IP, but still sports an ERA of 6.08 in a pitcher-friendly park. His problem is three-fold: terrible BABIP (.349), terrible control (49 walks) and a tendency to allow base runners to score at an unusually high rate (.60 strand rate). If he's not hiding an injury - and so far there's been no report that he's anything but healthy - it would be one of the more precipitous falls in recent memory for such a consistently dominant pitcher in the prime of his career.
Catcher Crap Shoot
With five home runs and a .222/.341/.339 line, Carlos Santana - the top catcher on many boards - has been disastrous for anyone who invested. At .229/.341/.424 and 12 home runs, Mike Napoli has been a little better, but a far cry from his 1.045 OPS and 30 homers in 369 at-bats last year. And Matt Wieters (.762 OPS, 12 homers) and Brian McCann (.718 OPS, 12 homers) haven't exactly set the world on fire, either. Joe Mauer and Buster Posey have held their own, but neither has delivered the value of late-round options like Carlos Ruiz (.348/.411/.585 with 13 homers), A.J. Pierzynski (16 homers, 49 RBI .286) or Yadier Molina (.304/.357/.500 with 13 HR and eight steals).
Adam Dunn's Resurgence
After one of the worst 415 at-bat seasons in major-league history last year, Dunn has a .211/.359/.509 line with 25 homers, 60 RBI and 47 runs scored. He's on pace to set a new record for strikeouts (131 in just 289 at-bats so far - even worse than in 2011), but he's walked 67 times and when he does make contact it typically goes a long way.
At 20, Trout is a real-life MVP candidate with a .343/.399/.555 line to go along with stellar defense and 26 stolen bases in 29 attempts. But in fantasy, he's been even more valuable with 11 homers and 56 runs in just 63 games. At 19, Harper has a .283/.355/.475 line in 62 games, with eight homers and eight steals. While he's not a game changer on the level of Trout right now, he's on a full-season pace for a 20/20 season with 100 runs scored.
(1) Bet on first-half bums:
The obvious - Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Upton, Santana, Eric Hosmer - won't come at a huge discount, but maybe Alex Gordon, Rickie Weeks, Ricky Romero and even Lincecum will. As with Dunn, Jake Peavy, Rafael Furcal, Colby Rasmus, Jason Heyward, Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez, who all have had awful stretches recently, dramatic turnarounds are a routine part of baseball and don't always announce themselves with much notice.
(2) Consider the magnitude and not just the size (duration) of the sample:
Don't write off Trevor Plouffe, Bryan LaHair, R.A. Dickey or other non-prospects as flukes when they sustain a run of substantial production for even a month or two. The sample?s duration isn't everything - the magnitude of the production also matters, too.
(3) Elite prospects break the rules for ordinary top prospects
While 19 and 20 year olds rarely produce at an star level, all-time greats are exceptions to every rule. Don't expect run-of-the mill top prospects in a weaker crop to perform at young ages, but with the ultra elite, all bets are off. (How to sift through the hype and decide which players are once-in-a-decade types rather than simply the best of a particular crop is probably a topic for an entire separate blog).