Sorry I haven’t been around lately … World Cup fever has taken ahold of me something fierce. I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn and watching soccer until my eyes glaze over and that has left me precious little time to look at spreadsheets and crunch numbers for Twisting Oliver. Hopefully, you’ve missed me and I’ll do a better job of making more regular appearances now that the World Cup schedule has been dialed back significantly.
Anyway, I figured with All-Star teams being announced this week—and baseball hitting the official halfway mark—that this would be a good time to do something straightforward like pick Oliver’s second-half All-Star teams. I will choose both American and National league squads but won’t allow myself to be constricted by the need to find players from all 30 teams.
Instead, I’ll pick starters, one backup and one intriguing trade target for each position (three outfielders, five starting pitchers and two relievers).
I’ll start with American League this week and do the National League next week.
Mike Napoli: We’re still overestimating his playing time (no other catcher is projected to surpass his 327 plate appearances), but at least he’s the full-time starter for now. So, you do have to take his numbers with a grain of salt. Still, Oliver is projecting 18 homers, 45 runs and 54 RBIs with a totally acceptable .272 batting average from here on out. Believe it or not, using the Tom Tango formula, that would put him a significant tick above Joe Mauer in overall value.
Joe Mauer: In something I’d deem a rather significant surprise, the Twins catcher comes in a somewhat distant second in projected value. (It’s also worth noting that they are way ahead of No. 3 Victor Martinez.) Mauer’s numbers certainly aren’t bad (eight homers, 42 RBIs, 43 runs and a .322 batting average) and considering he’s projected to garner the same number of plate appearances as Napoli, probably a tad more realistic.
Matt Wieters: I’m sure a lot of people have started to give up on the man who was supposed to be the Orioles’ savior (he’s now below 60 percent ownership in ESPN leagues), but Oliver still thinks his season is salvageable. Oliver projects him to be the fifth-most-valuable catcher with seven homers, 32 RBIs, 31 runs and a .282 batting average.
Miguel Cabrera: There really isn’t any AL competition for second-half starter as the Tigers first baseman is far and away Oliver’s favorite going forward. His 60 projected RBIs are the most in baseball. Those will go along nicely with his 19 projected homers, 48 projected runs and .314 batting average.
Mark Teixeira: Oliver definitely considers the crop of NL first basemen to be significantly better, but the Yankees first baseman won’t exactly disappoint. His 17 projected homers, 55 RBIs, 47 runs and .284 batting average leave him as just the sixth-ranked player at his position overall, although quite a bit better than the No. 3 AL 1B, Justin Morneau.
Billy Butler: As you’d probably expect, most of the players Oliver likes at this position are the big names. The Royals 1B is the closest thing. His projected 44 RBIs and .297 batting average are his biggest strengths.
Robinson Cano: Even before Dustin Pedroia‘s injury was taken into account, the Yankees 2B was the better projected finisher. His 12 projected homers, 49 RBIs, 41 runs and .300 average would be acceptable no matter what position they were coming out of.
Ian Kinsler: There is always an inherent injury risk with the Rangers 2B, and we seem to have taken that into account with our projection (his 258 projected PAs are the lowest of any 2B in the top 20), but he still comes in as the No. 2 player at his position (once you also account for Pedroia’s injury). Despite somewhat limited playing time, Oliver projects eight homers, 32 RBIs, 10 steals and 35 runs.
Aaron Hill: Easily one of the bigger disappointments of the year, Oliver still thinks he can put together a decent finish, highlighted by 11 homers and 42 RBIs. He’s a little two-dimensional in that sense, but you could do a lot worse if you’re looking to upgrade.
Alex Rodriguez/Evan Longoria: There might not be two players at the same position that Oliver projects so similarly. In almost all the standard 5×5 fantasy categories, they are nearly indistinguishable. A-Rod gets the slight edge with three more projected steals (six to three). They are both projected to hit 16 homers, drive in around 50 (49 for Rodriguez; 53 for Longoria), score about 45 runs (46 for A-Rod; 45 for Longoria) and hit about .280 (.279 and .281, respectively).
Michael Young: The Rangers 3B has quietly had a very good fantasy season and Oliver projects that to essentially continue. None of the numbers really jump out (seven homers, 38 RBIs, 38 runs and a .299 BA), but they are solid across the board.
Derek Jeter: I don’t know about you, but I just keep waiting for the Yankees SS to hit the wall. Oliver certainly doesn’t seem to think it will be now. He wouldn’t even be the backup on the NL side, but those six homers, 35 RBIs, 39 runs and .294 BA are good enough to start in the AL.
Elvis Andrus: Oliver’s outlook for the Rangers youngster has steadily improved to the point that he’s almost pulled even with Jeter in overall projected value. That’s mainly on the strength of those 18 SBs and 41 runs, but the .274 BA doesn’t hurt.
Alexei Ramirez: Not exactly a breakout candidate or a bonafide sleeper, he’s the kind of guy many owners just don’t get excited about. Those eight projected homers and 37 RBIs are nothing to sneeze at, though, and could probably be had relatively cheap.
Ichiro Suzuki, Nelson Cruz and Ben Zobrist: Whatever I may have said about Ichiro in my first column, you can totally ignore that. I’ll just say my calculations were bad and were properly derided. In any case, Suzuki’s projected .322 BA is tied for the best in baseball and his 11 steals give him a nice boost in the value department. Cruz, who is now healthy, is expected to pick up where he left off with a closing kick of 16 HRs, 47 RBIs, seven SBs and 41 runs. Zobrist takes over for Shin Soo-Choo, who’s projected well but won’t come close to meeting his playing time projections if he misses six to eight weeks as believed. Zobrist has rebounded nicely from a slow start and should continue along at his current rate, with 11 projected HRs, 41 RBIs and seven SBs.
Nick Markakis: You can do a lot worse than this for a fourth outfielder and he’s actually been pretty decent since a horrible first few weeks. Oliver doesn’t foresee him magically regaining his power or anything (just eight more HRs) but it does seem him picking up the RBI pace (40 more) and continuing to hit for a decent average (.294).
Carlos Quentin: The White Sox outfielder’s batting average (.229) has really dragged down his value, but his power is still there. If Oliver is right and he can essentially maintain his power numbers (projected 15 HRs, 45 RBIs) and get his average up just a bit (.253) he’ll be considerably more valuable.
Colby Lewis, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez: If you’ve been following this column, you no doubt realize that Oliver is in love with Lewis. Nothing he has done up to now has dissuaded Oliver from that point of view as it projects a 7-3 record, 3.05 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 86 Ks. Greinke is projected to toss more innings (104 to 94) and strike out more batters (98), but is not quite as strong in WHIP (1.16) and ERA (3.34). Sabathia is in essentially the same boat (3.22 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 91 Ks). Verlander’s value is mainly derived from his strikeouts (110) as his WHIP (1.24) and ERA (3.60) are not as impressive. Fernandez comes in just a hair ahead of teammate Cliff Lee, mainly as a result of more strikeouts (96 to 76), but a higher ERA (3.34 for Felix; 3.07 for Lee) and higher WHIP (1.21 and 1.11, respectively).
Max Scherzer: This is the player I’d target for acquisition as his disastrous start has already shown signs of being forgotten. His projected ERA of 3.74 and 1.25 WHIP won’t win categories, but are plenty good enough when you consider his projected K/9 rate of 9.15.
Jose Valverde and Rafael Soriano: Oliver doesn’t seem too high on any of the AL relievers, but both of these guys are certainly solid. Valverde is projected to come back to earth, but that 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 8.68 K/9 are still the best projected numbers for AL relievers. Soriano’s rate numbers are actually better (3.32 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.47 K/9), but is beaten out because of IP projections (32 to 37).