When All-Star voting opened in April, I saw it as a great opportunity to start handing out hardware. In retrospect, it appears I was a bit hasty in naming Johan Santana the NL Fantasy Cy Young, among others, but at least my two fantasy busts of the year, Chien-Ming Wang and Jimmy Rollins, finally turned it around. What’s that? They’re still performing terribly? Well, at least that’ll make some of these awards a bit easier. I present you with the 2009 Fantasy First-Half Award winners.
National League Hitter of the First Half
Albert Pujols, 1B, St Louis
After smacking 14 HRs in June, Pujols sits at 30 dingers in 78 games, making a run at 60 very much a possibility. His OPS is near 1.200 overall, he’s slugging over .800 at home, and if he continues to rake and if a few guys’ averages start regressing a bit, Pujols could win the NL Triple Crown. Oh, and he threw in nine SBs for good measure. He’s progressively ran less as the season has gone by, but what’s to say Pujols doesn’t get bored mashing and decides to make a run at 20 SBs? Who could stop him?
American League Hitter of the First Half
Carl Crawford, OF, Tampa Bay
With fantasy owners souring on Carl Crawford’s power potential, his draft stock slipped a bit heading into 2009. All he’s done is steal 40 bases in his first 78 games, hitting .321 in the process. He’s also added eight homers, matching last year’s total and giving himself an outside shot at 20 homers. Unlike Albert, Crawford is likely to be usurped for the season award, but you can’t argue with his first-half production.
National League Cy Young of the First Half
Dan Haren, SP, Arizona
This is a very tight battle between Haren and Tim Lincecum. Lincecum checks in with an extra win and several more strikeouts, but Haren’s control has been better, and he’s allowed fewer hits. Haren’s 2.19 ERA and 0.81 WHIP are the top marks in the National League among starters. And while his 113 Ks don’t match up to Lincecum, they do place him third in the NL (Javier Vazquez is second). Several owners are scurrying to sell-high before Haren’s perceived second-half meltdown — while I don’t buy it myself, it will be interesting to see if they were right to sell.
American League Cy Young of the First Half
Zack Grienke, SP, Kansas City
Our first repeat winner from the UEFBAs, Grienke has overcome a few June setbacks to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA. His ERA was actually under 1.00 up until May 31, when a quality start against the White Sox (seven innings, three earned runs) pushed Grienke’s ERA up to 1.10. He currently has a sparkling 1.95 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, while striking out 114 batters in 115.1 innings and winning 10 games. Roy Halladay is lurking in the shadows, but with the unbelievably great start to the season still fresh in our minds, this looks like Grienke’s award to lose.
National League Rookie of the First Half
Randy Wells, SP, Chicago
Wells virtually came out of nowhere to take the NL by storm, tossing 11 shutout innings against the Brewers and Astros. He followed up those two excellent performances with quality starts in seven of his next eight appearances, including last night’s seven-inning gem against the Pirates. He keeps the ball in the park (four HRs allowed), doesn’t issue many free passes to batters (14), and strikes out a solid number of batters each game (45 Ks in 63 IP). It will be interesting to see if he can maintain this pace as his innings count climbs.
American League Rookie of the First Half
Andrew Bailey, RP, Oakland
Bailey was quick to place his name on the radar, winning two games and striking out 11 batters in his first six appearances, while only giving up one hit and walking two. He picked up his first save on May 8; by the start of June, Bailey was in the ninth-inning role more often than not, picking up six saves while tossing scoreless outings in all but one of his appearances last month. Add it up and Bailey has amassed a 4-1 record and eight saves in the first three months, while posting a 2.14 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and striking out 54 batters. He had another great outing last night, striking out three while allowing only a walk in a non-save opportunity.
National League Breakthrough Players of the First Half
Mark Reynolds, 3B, Arizona
With apologies to Arizona teammate Justin Upton, Reynolds has been the biggest fantasy value of the 2009 season. While we’re looking at each other waiting for his average to inevitably fall off a cliff, he throws up another multi-hit game to keep it in the .270 range. He’s already hit 21 home runs, putting him on pace to exceed 40 dingers on the season. And don’t forget the 13 SBs, a number that’s a bit skewed by that four-steal game he had in May. Reynolds is more likely to finish with 20 SBs than 30, but any of us will take a 40-HR, 20-SB hitter at third base, regardless of his average at the end of the season.
Josh Johnson, SP, Florida
After a very successful return in the second half of 2008 — a 7-1 record and 77 Ks in 87.1 IP — many astute fantasy owners were salivating at what Johnson would do in his first full season since 2006. Johnson not only lived up to expectations, he shattered them. He’s got a 2.76 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his first 16 starts, as well as a very familiar 7-1 record. We’ll all be watching with baited breath to see if Johnson’s arm can handle a 200-inning workload. It might be wise for fantasy owners to consider dealing him now and let someone else gamble on his arm holding up.
American League Breakthrough Players of the First Half
Jason Bartlett, SS, Tampa Bay
Before heading to the DL in May and missing three weeks, Bartlett had seven HRs and 14 SBs with a .373 in 161 ABs. That’s not just a breakthrough, that’s an MVP-type pace. He still hasn’t went deep since returning, but he has kept his average high and stolen three bases. If you were really lucky, you gambled on Bartlett at the end of your draft, and then picked up teammate Ben Zobrist when Bartlett went down, as Zobrist himself is one of the season’s top breakthroughs. I can’t wait to see these two Tampa middle infielders battle for fantasy dominance in the second half.
Edwin Jackson, SP, Detroit
A former top prospect, many had written Jackson off as a bust. The Rays dealt him to the Tigers for Matt Joyce before the season started. The coaching staff worked with Jackson, and it’s plain to see who got the better end of that preseason trade. His fastball and slider have been fantastic, leading him to a 2.49 ERA and 1.04 WHIP through his first 16 starts. It appears Jackson has figured it all out, so kudos to you if you were wise enough to snag him early on.
R.J. White is a fantasy blogger at the sports site FanHouse. Check out his work both here and there, and feel free to talk to him in the forums, where he posts under the name daullaz.
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