"We were on a break!" -- Ross from "Friends"
In every relationship, there comes a time when it makes sense to take a step back from things and honestly assess where things stand. And for fantasy baseball owners, the four days of inaction that accompany the All-Star break was a perfect time to figure out exactly how you feel about your current lineup of players. Do you indeed need to look for greener pastures, or should you hold out hope that things may well get better by sticking with what you've got?
In order to help you make up your mind, the ESPN Fantasy staff individually ranked our top 250 players for the rest of the season. Combining those ranks into a single list can help fantasy owners see what the consensus opinion coming out of Bristol may well be on the matter, but that doesn't mean you have to take it as gospel. Heck, I think I can speak for all of us who participated in this exercise that not one of us agrees with the consensus completely.
In many cases, a quick sorting of the list will show that I was alone on an island with my opinion on how certain players are going to perform from "this point forward." Certainly, I was not doing so just to be different. After all, it's not as though I saw everybody else's list and decided to wreak some havoc just for the sake of chaos. My list was based on my own opinion and research and analysis. Some of my outliers may prove to be accurate, while others may leave me with egg of my face. In either case, I have my reasons for ranking the way I did, and this article will attempt to explain some of my reasoning for picks in which my esteemed colleagues and I simply do not see eye to eye.
Before I get started, though, a quick reminder that just because two players may be separated by 20 to 30 spots in the rankings, that doesn't mean the gap between their statistical output is necessarily that great. In the vast majority of cases, we're all thin-slicing between very close calls, so there's no need to get too hung up over these educated guesses.
After all, compare the current stats of the No. 25 overall hitter on the ESPN Player Rater (at the time the list was compiled) to the No. 50 hitter:
Throw a couple of home runs to Freeman, in the midst of a season with a career-low HR/FB rate and take a few from Beltran, who has seen his second-highest HR/FB rate since 2006, and we're looking at a virtual dead heat from these two players. It's not that huge a gap.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some players I clearly don't like as much as do my peers:
Chris Davis, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles (My rank: 24, Overall rank: 8): It's not that I think Davis is a fluke. But take another look at Beltran's numbers above. Davis could well post second-half numbers in that general neighborhood and still end up exactly where I ranked him. Nobody would cry over that, right? I do think his HR/FB rate of 34.6 percent is a tad bit ridiculous and given the large increase in his overall fly balls hit, that batting average is sure to regress, but just because I don't have him in the top 10 doesn't mean I'm screaming for you to make a trade here.
Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles (36, 15): Chill out, Baltimore. I'm not hating on your team. However, if I'm going to predict a slowdown in production in Davis, then a Jones decline kind of goes hand in hand with that, doesn't it? Certainly if Jones isn't getting driven in, then the lower yield in runs scored -- which has been the biggest driver of his fantasy value thus far -- is going to have impact. Plus, with his walk rate way down this season, along with a slight rise in his strikeout rate from 2012, he may not be on base as much as you'd like the rest of the way.
Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers (68, 33): I will buy in that we're looking at a .300 hitter in the Milwaukee shortstop, but he does play for the Brewers, a team ranked 23rd in the majors in runs scored. That cuts down on runs and RBIs, and when you throw in his current 28-day home run drought, all that's left is the steals. Oh, about that. He'd been thrown out in half of his six attempts dating back to June 27 prior to this weekend. (Yes, he went 3-for-3 in steals against Miami, but that post-dates our rankings. But it's not as though we thought he would steal zero bases the rest of the way.)
Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (85, 39): I'm still not convinced that playing on the Toronto turf isn't going to send him back to the disabled list at some point over the rest of the season, so there's that fear behind some of my lack of confidence in Reyes. And no, seeing that painful pickoff attempt didn't exactly assuage those fears. Plus, since he returned from his ankle injury up until the break, his batting average fell 73 points all the way to .322, meaning he hit just .286 over that stretch. Entering this weekend, he'd also walked just once in July. Color me concerned.
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (162, 69): Remember when Brown went on his home run hitting tear? From May 25 to June 8, over 15 games, Brown hit .404 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs. Talk about a small sample size driving a player's value. In his other 80 first-half games, we're looking at a .248 batting average, 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. Nothing to sneeze at, but certainly more of "the same" from Brown based on prior seasons. Plus, he hasn't even attempted a stolen base from June 16 to present, and if the Phillies start selling off parts, who knows how many good pitches he'll see the rest of the way?
Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres (141, 73): Yes, he made the All-Star team, though one could argue that it was by default. Certainly his glove was a big reason for the midseason kudos, and we all know how much that's worth in fantasy. Run production for San Diego? It's not going to happen, and if he were to suffer any further trouble with a hamstring injury that already caused him to miss time, there go the steals as well. He's hitting just .200 since his return, and it's hard for me to see a silver lining here.
No, I don't have to always see the negative side of things. Here's a few cases where the rankings find me singing the praises of players far louder than the grumbles of my peers:
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies (5, 15): I don't think there's anybody who doubts his bona fides when he's at 100 percent, so to me this comes down to whether you think his ribs are going to be a problem. To me, a team that still considers themselves to be in the playoff hunt that brings back a star player just before the All-Star break and allows him to play in the "exhibition game" has no concerns. So who am I to argue?
Relief pitchers in general: I don't think there's a whole lot of difference between the rest of the gang and me when it comes to the overall pecking order among closers, but I did notice that my ranking had relievers a good 20 to 30 spots higher relative to the player pool at large. This, to me, speaks to a philosophical difference in terms of valuation. Let's face it; any hitter has the potential to steal a base, even by accident. Heck, Adam Dunn managed to swipe a bag already this season. But when it comes to saves, there's a select pool of players who can contribute to just one category, one that is given equal weight to every other. I think the value in that gets very short shrift.
Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals (23, 43): A key stat to take notice of when a pitcher's ERA drops from one year to the next is the strand rate. Before Sunday, Zimmermann was actually allowing 3.2 percent more base runners to score in 2013 than he did last year, meaning that this improvement is not the result of "luck." No, his control has been phenomenal and while he may not fan a ton of hitters per game, you can't argue with a 5.3 K/BB rate. Do the seven runs allowed in two innings during Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers help the argument any? Of course not, but we weren't ranking for "next start only." Baseball behooves you to have more patience than that.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (35, 51): This one is also one of those "guilt by association" calls, but this time in reverse. At the time of my rankings, in 24 games slotted between Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez in the Los Angeles lineup, Gonzalez had hit .296 with six home runs and 14 RBIs. If you're buying in on Puig (even with a hefty regression from his over-the-top start) and Ramirez, then there's no way you shouldn't also buy in on Gonzalez.
Carlos Santana, C/1B, Cleveland Indians (51, 74): This one is a little bit based on optimism, and a little bit based on the fact that if someone reads this and can tell Santana that entering second-half action, he was hitting just .217 when swinging at the first pitch and.280 on all other counts, maybe a little more selectivity at the plate will get him on track for a late-summer surge that will get him back into the top five at this fairly thin position.
Doug Fister, SP, Detroit Tigers (74, 132): The argument against Fister that I tend to hear most frequently is that his ground ball rate (54.9 percent) is way too high, given the extreme awfulness of the infield defense behind him. Look, I get that he doesn't strike out as many hitters per game as teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but nobody worries when they're on the mound. Besides, before beating the Kansas City Royals 4-1 on Sunday, Fister had a 16-7 record with a 2.58 ERA and .216 BAA in the second half of the season since 2011. Have a little faith.