D.J. Short

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Nathan's Famous

Thursday, July 07, 2011

We're almost at the All-Star break, so I figured this was a good time to quickly go over some first-half superlatives. Specifically, I'm looking at surprises and busts.

Biggest fantasy surprise:

Lance Berkman 1B/OF, Cardinals - Could it really be anyone else? I criticized this signing over the winter, mostly because I couldn't see him staying healthy while playing the outfield, but he currently leads the National League in home runs (23), ranks fourth in RBI (62), first in slugging percentage (.607) and first in OPS (1.011). For someone who was generally drafted in the later rounds in mixed leagues, he has delivered first-round numbers.

Alexi Ogando SP/RP, Rangers - I was tempted to go with James Shields here, but his success doesn't really qualify as a surprise, as he was seen as one of the better bounceback candidates around. Ogando, on the other hand, was barely even mentioned when Neftali Feliz was being auditioned as a starter during spring training. Here he is with nine wins, a 2.92 ERA and a 78/23 K/BB ratio over 104 2/3 innings. I worry about whether he'll be able to maintain his success moving forward, since he's headed into unchartered territory, but he edges out Phil Humber and Ryan Vogelsong as the most surprising fantasy hurler of the first half.

Biggest fantasy bust:

Adam Dunn 1B, White Sox - If you picked up our annual Rotoworld Draft Guide at your local bookstore, you'll see that one of my "bold predictions" was that Dunn would hit 50 home runs for the first time in his career. Let's just say he'll probably fall a bit short of that mark. Dunn has been a disaster with the White Sox thus far, batting just .166 with eight homers over his first 301 plate appearances. Even more disturbing, he's just 2-for-57 (.035) with 27 strikeouts against left-handed pitching this season. I'm expecting better things moving forward (and who wouldn't?), but boy, what an awful first half.

Ubaldo Jimenez SP, Rockies - Jimenez was somebody I avoided coming into the season, simply because I thought he was overvalued based on his 2010 numbers. While he's been a bit better lately, posting a 2.76 ERA over his last seven starts, he hasn't even been the best pitcher on his own staff during the first half of the season. I came close to picking Max Scherzer here, but he wasn't drafted nearly as high as Jimenez and his secondary numbers are still pretty strong. And no, I'm not going with Zack Greinke. Despite his 5.66 ERA, he has seven wins and an 89/14 K/BB ratio over 68 1/3 innings! If you can buy low, please do it.

And with that out of the way, here are my recommendations for the week.


David Hernandez RP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 32 percent owned, ESPN: 33.6 percent)

If there's one thing we know about Kevin Towers, it's that he's adept at building a bullpen. Hernandez, who was acquired from the Orioles in the Mark Reynolds deal, has thrived in his first full season as a reliever, posting a 3.43 ERA and 45/22 K/BB ratio over 39 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander has went a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities since J.J. Putz hit the disabled list with right elbow tendinitis. Putz is on track to return shortly after the All-Star break, but Hernandez is a must-own until he does.

R.A. Dickey SP, Mets (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 4.6 percent)

Granted, Dickey left Sunday's start against the Yankees after five innings with a strained glute (I hear you snickering), but did you know that he has a 2.40 ERA with a 46/17 K/BB ratio over his last nine starts? It's true. Entering play Wednesday, only 15 starting pitchers (with at least 40 innings pitched) had an ERA lower during the same timespan. His backside isn't 100 percent quite yet -- the All-Star break should help on that end -- but I'd give the knuckleballer a whirl against the Giants on Friday night.

Joe Nathan RP, Twins (Yahoo: 37 percent owned, ESPN: 38.7 percent)

It's very rare that I recommend someone in back-to-back weeks, but I feel I have no other choice after the events of the past week. Matt Capps has been pulled from each of his last two save opportunities and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Nathan would have been used in a save situation Wednesday. Now, this doesn't mean that Capps is done is closer, nor does it mean that Nathan has his old gig back, but it sure seems like that's where this is headed. For what it's worth, Nathan has delivered five straight scoreless appearances and has shown an uptick in velocity since returning from the DL. He's a must-own if you're speculating for save opportunities.

Travis Snider OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 20 percent owned, ESPN: 18.8 percent)

What can I say? I'm just not ready to give up on this guy. Snider was demoted at the end of April after batting just .184 over his first 99 plate appearances, but he's 5-for-13 (.385) with four doubles since replacing Juan Rivera on the active roster Monday. Still just 23 years old, he should see the majority of the playing time in right field now that Jose Bautista is back at third base. Snider hasn't hit many home runs this season (just three in 301 at-bats between the majors and minors) but he's a worthy gamble in deeper formats, particularly in leagues with five outfielder slots.

John Danks SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 35.2 percent)

Here's one to stash away with the second half in mind. Danks began the year with a miserable 0-8 record to go along with a 5.25 ERA over his first 11 starts, but he posted a 1.14 ERA and 19/3 K/BB ratio over 23 2/3 innings before going down with an oblique injury on June 25. He tentatively lines up to return from the disabled list on July 20, so you'll have to be patient here, but I'm expecting him to pick up from where he left off.

Aaron Harang SP, Padres (Yahoo: 27 percent owned, ESPN: 11.3 percent)

Don't ignore the "Harangatang." It only makes him angry. We haven't seen the 6-foot-7 right-hander in nearly a month due to a right foot contusion, but remember that he allowed two runs or less in five consecutive starts before hitting the disabled list. The Padres haven't made a decision about whether Harang will replace the injured Clayton Richard on Saturday against the Dodgers, but he's a fine investment for the second half either way.

Homer Bailey SP, Reds (Yahoo: 20 percent owned, ESPN: 9.8 percent)

Bailey was understandably shaky in his return from the disabled list, but he got right back on track last Saturday against the Indians. While he took the loss, he allowed just a three-run homer to Michael Brantley while striking out seven and walking just one. The 25-year-old right-hander was relevant in mixed leagues before going down with a shoulder sprain in late-May, so I'm ready to get back on board.

Mark Ellis 2B, Rockies (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 10.3 percent)

Can you say post-trade boost? Ellis has been ridiculous since being acquired by the Rockies last week, notching multi-hit games in four of his first six in his new digs. The 34-year-old was batting just .217/.253/.290 prior to the trade, so let's not get too carried away here, but he should get the majority of playing time at second base moving forward. He figures to return to the No. 2 spot once Troy Tulowitzki gets back from a quad injury, which sets him up to score plenty of runs in this lineup. I'd pick him up in deeper mixed formats, especially if you're looking to fill a MI (middle infielder) spot.

Denard Span OF, Twins (Yahoo: 37 percent owned, ESPN: 40 percent)

Here's another prominent injury stash situation. Span was able to take batting practice outdoors Tuesday for the first time since being placed on the disabled list with a concussion in early June. While there are no immediate plans to send him out on a minor league rehab assignment, it wouldn't be surprising if he begins playing in games following the All-Star break. The 27-year-old is always a threat for stolen bases and runs scored when he's at the top of the Twins' lineup, so he could be a real bargain if he comes back healthy for the second half.

Danny Valencia 3B, Twins (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 17.2 percent)

Another Twins' bat? I must be losing my mind. To be fair, Valencia is batting .383 (18-for-47) with three homers and 12 RBI over his last 11 games and has hit safely in each of his last six. The 26-year-old encountered some bad luck in April and May, but it seems like everything he hits is finding a hole right now. It doesn't take much to be relevant at the third base position this season, so go with the hot hand if you're hurting for options.

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)

Rubby De La Rosa SP/RP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 3 percent owned, ESPN: 1 percent)

De La Rosa has begun to show some of his considerable upside over his past two starts. While the 22-year-old right-hander was eventually saddled with the loss Tuesday night, he held the Mets hitless over the first five innings. His command can be an issue at times, but the hard-throwing youngster has notched 36 strikeouts over his first 39 2/3 major-league innings. He's worth considering with a favorable matchup against the light-hitting Padres on Saturday.

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D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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