In addition to providing their top players from now until the end of the season, which became our second-half rankings, our rankers (Matthew Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Jason Grey, Dave Hunter, Eric Karabell, AJ Mass, Nate Ravitz and Brendan Roberts) were asked to provide some other predictions for the rest of 2011 as well as explanations for their rankings. Here's what they had to say.
Notable excerpts from the predictions:
• The 28-homer pace? Sounds about right. The 109-RBI pace? Yup, that's Ryan Braun. The .320 average? That'll come down, but he's a legit .300 hitter. However, what in the name of Bernie Brewer is up with a 6-foot-1, 210-pound left fielder being on pace for 33 steals? That five-category production is what makes Braun the best player in fantasy. -- Brendan Roberts
• Matt Kemp is driving the ball everywhere, and he's running the bases like a mad man. I love his chances for a 40-40 season. -- Dave Hunter
• Jose Bautista is the best power hitter in the game, has multiposition eligibility and might even win the batting title. No concerns here. -- Eric Karabell
• Miguel Cabrera should finish the season as a top-five guy in all three Triple Crown categories, and that's with his first-half numbers being a tad disappointing by his standards. -- AJ Mass
• Zack Greinke. You want bad luck? I'll give you bad luck: Among starters with 70-plus innings, he has the majors' worst strand rate (54.8 percent) and third-worst batting average on balls in play (.341). But he's also the major league leader in xFIP (2.16), and he has the fifth-most double-digit strikeout games (four). There's still an ace hidden in there. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft
• Ryan Dempster didn't have a bad first half, just an unbelievably horrible April. He might be ranked 428th on the Player Rater at the All-Star break, but I am very confident ranking him 171st the rest of the season. -- Shawn Cwalinski
• Evan Longoria battled through a bunch of things in the first half, but I like his chances to finish the season strong. The swing is starting to come around. -- Jason Grey
• Dan Uggla. Even with his horrendous first-half average, Uggla has managed to hit 15 homers. The power will continue, while the average slowly creeps up. -- Dave Hunter
• I think we can agree Carl Crawford had a bad first half. He'll come off the DL soon and be back to his pre-2011 self. -- Eric Karabell
• Ian Kinsler has a great BB/K rate and has hit the ball far better than the .250 batting average would have you believe. Expect a second half much closer to .300. -- AJ Mass
• Jason Heyward. The guy was an All-Star in his rookie season at the age of 20 ... he's simply too good to be plodding along with a .226 average and .315 on-base percentage. -- Brendan Roberts
• A few pitchers come to mind: Alexi Ogando, Jeff Karstens but Jair Jurrjens is the one everyone seems to care about. Consider this: There hasn't been a pitcher to manage a sub-2.00 ERA despite a sub-6 K-per-nine ratio in 26 years. If Jurrjens' ERA is north of 3.00 from today forward, don't say you weren't warned. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft
• There's no reason to believe James Shields can continue to keep more than 80 percent of his baserunners from scoring. Expect a big jump in both his ERA and loss total. -- AJ Mass
• Ricky Nolasco. In 2009, he posted a 4.80 ERA in August and September. In 2010, he posted a 6.16 ERA in August, then was shut down for September because of a knee injury. Whether it's injury or ineffectiveness, I just don't see a strong finish to Nolasco's 2011 campaign. -- Brendan Roberts
• Kyle Lohse. One sub-4.00 ERA season (2008) over an 11-year career for Lohse is not enough to convince me that he stays anywhere near the numbers he has put up so far. -- Dave Hunter
• Those depending on Alex Rodriguez won't be happy, as he returns to the Yankees in September. This hurts fantasy owners more than the Yankees. -- Eric Karabell
Fantasy rookie of the year (includes full-season stats)
• Craig Kimbrel has already solidified himself as a closer -- he has a league-leading 28 saves -- but that's not what makes him special. It's that K rate. Holy Toledo, we're talking 70 K's in 46 innings, or 13.7 K's per 9. He might not end up as just the top rookie, but the top closer in 2011. -- Brendan Roberts
• Michael Pineda should win 15 games this season, and the Seattle Mariners probably won't bother to cap his workload if they find themselves even remotely close to the American League West lead come September. -- AJ Mass
• Freddie Freeman. His recent success has been about increasing his confidence and relaxing at the plate, which in turn has boosted his overall power numbers. -- Dave Hunter
• Danny Espinosa is the fantasy rookie of the year. Michael Pineda has been great but this is not the year of the second baseman (Part 2) and second basemen do not get shut down at the end of the year. -- Shawn Cwalinski
Who did you have the hardest time ranking and why?
Berry: Any of the big-name injured guys such as Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. It's hard to know whether their struggles are injury-related or something else (thus why a bounce-back can or cannot be expected), exactly when they will come back, etc. Too many unknowns.
Cockcroft: Alex Rodriguez. I can't stand ranking injured players, especially clear-cut top-25 fantasy players set to miss approximately half of the remainder of the season. He could be back in early August, late August or, heck, September, so his ranking could fall all over the map. I'm keeping him in my top 100 but I don't feel good about it; it's merely that he still could be a difference-maker for a lot of leagues down the stretch, especially head-to-head formats.
Cwalinski: Jose Reyes was just placed on the DL while we were doing the rankings. We do not know whether Reyes will miss only the minimum 15 days, and we do not know whether he will run as usual once he comes back. Before his injury, I had him ranked 13th; after, I dropped him to 49th, and I honestly do not know whether that is too low or too high.
Grey: The hardest players to rank are always the ones coming off injuries, such as David Wright and Josh Johnson. It's even harder when they are the kind of players who can produce a lot in just a couple of months. You have a wide range where you can slot them, so it becomes more where you'd feel comfortable taking the chance on them. Carlos Gonzalez and his wrist were tough to place as well.
Hunter: Alex Rodriguez opting for knee surgery now really puts a kink in my thoughts on how he'll end his season with the bat. He could be out as long as six weeks, but if anyone can come back early from an injury/surgery situation, it's A-Rod. A No. 75 ranking is pretty fair for the most part, but I can see an argument being made for a larger drop in the ranks.
Karabell: With so many veteran hitters struggling, my rankings for Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla and Jayson Werth, to name a few, might imply I'm giving up on them, but I suppose it means I don't trust that a big final two months are in order. I'm not trading for them in my leagues. I'd rather take healthy, productive hitters with lesser track records at this point, such as Gaby Sanchez and Howard Kendrick.
Mass: Apart from injured players whose return dates are uncertain (Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Johnson), the toughest guys to rank for me were the young pitchers who might or might not be treated with kid gloves. Not knowing exactly how much of Alexi Ogando and Jordan Zimmermann you're going to get in September forces you to take a huge leap of faith in sticking with these guys -- as opposed to selling high before they take a seat -- as the calendar pages continue to turn.
Ravitz: The entire Kansas City outfield. It's hard to believe Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon are all in the top 20 of fantasy outfielders to date, when I'm not sure any of them is in the top 50 in terms of talent and skill. Francoeur's 15 stolen bases in particular completely defy logic, as he had 23 in his career coming into this season. Finding the balance between what I thought they were and what they might be turning into was difficult.
Roberts: Joe Mauer. Will he stay healthy? How many games per week can he play? Will he start hitting? What about the power? I leaned toward the negative side regarding his value, having ranked him much higher in May. He just doesn't look right, and he's not the Joe Mauer we've come to know and love. You really have no choice but to stand by him, but don't expect much more than a decent yet empty batting average from him.
Whose ranking do you believe will be the biggest outlier from the rest of the group, and why are you comfortable with that?
Cockcroft: Anibal Sanchez, but of course I'm tracking him closely and preparing to temper my second-half expectations with one or two more stinkers. Here's the problem with lowering Sanchez: We -- fantasy owners as a whole -- are way too reactionary. A two-start slump generally should not overpower the outstanding 16-start stats that came before it, especially not when one of those bad outings was a toughie at Texas. Sanchez still generated misses on 21.5 percent of his swings in those two starts, down from 26.3 for the year, yes, but still around the 21.8 number he had in what was a solid 2010. The elite strikeout potential is still there.
Cwalinski: Having Mark Reynolds in the top 100 is going to raise some eyebrows. We know Reynolds has power. This season he has shown an improved contact rate and has been more selective at the plate. I know he is not going to win a batting title, but given the skills he is showing, Reynolds can hit another 20 homers, steal six more bases and hit .260 the rest of the season.
Grey: I would guess I am more pessimistic on Joe Mauer, but considering his history, I'm OK with not projecting a big rebound in the second half. I was very public in the preseason about not paying the going rate for him, so I guess I'm being consistent. There are just too many question marks for me to rank him that highly.
Hunter: Jose Bautista is doing everything right. His power is mind-boggling and he doesn't really seem to be slowing down, but I still consider Bautista one of the biggest surprises of the season. Why? It's the batting average. I know he can hit for massive power and drive in tons of runs, but I expect a big drop in average over the second half. It's not like Bautista isn't getting any love with my No. 12 ranking, but I'm fairly certain my colleagues will all have him ranked higher.
Karabell: I'm sure there are a bunch of outliers, but probably my middle infielders. I trust Jose Reyes as a top-20 player, despite his hamstring injury. I trust Chase Utley is capable of staying healthy and producing double digits in home runs and steals. And Dustin Ackley is a top-100 player. He's capable of hitting .300 and stealing bases, and considering his position, he's under the radar. I like building fantasy teams up the middle, and I think these guys can really produce.
Mass: Evan Longoria (my rank: 33) was in the top 10 of our last group rankings, but he has a nerve problem in his foot that seems to act up on a whim. Longoria has called attention to this injury as a potential reason for his current slump, and told the St. Petersburg Times that it's something that won't go away and that he'll just have to "battle through." I'm not sure he'll win that battle day in and day out.
Ravitz: I was the highest on Paul Konerko last time, by a lot, and I suspect I will be again, although perhaps not by as much. If you compare him to Mark Teixeira, Konerko has flat-out been the better player -- not luckier, better -- for the past season and a half. If you want to give Teixeira the edge for youth, that's fine, but it's just plain silly to consider Tex a top-25 guy and not Konerko.
Roberts: Asdrubal Cabrera at No. 38. Perhaps I'm not the only believer, but I've seen enough of A-Cab to be a buyer or keeper, not a seller. He has cooled down after a torrid April and May, but I see nothing in his splits -- and from watching him -- to suggest he will fall off considerably. I predict he finishes with .290-24-89 numbers, with 18-20 steals. Hey, not bad for a weak fantasy position.
Which player did you keep dropping in your rankings and why?
Cockcroft: Francisco Liriano, because Nate and Matthew busted my chops about him in the podcast. Kidding, of course, but the truth is that I've been anti-Liriano for months now, and hearing that a No. 59 starting pitcher rating in my most recent 60 Feet 6 Inches was way too high makes me feel a heck of a lot better burying him after his latest ugly outing. Honestly, I thought I was being pretty harsh on Liriano a week ago, but I'm completely game with him now barely even making my Top 250. The only reason he's even here is the desperate hope he recaptures past glory.
Cwalinski: I tend to rank closers higher than my colleagues do, but Neftali Feliz kept sliding in my rankings. Yes, he has 17 saves already and his job is "secure." But he has walked one fewer batter this season than he did all of last year. Feliz is striking out three fewer batters per nine innings this season than last. He also is allowing more fly balls, and more of those fly balls are clearing the fences. I am more than a little worried about Feliz in the second half.
Grey: I kept moving Michael Morse down farther and farther. I have too many concerns about his big swing and aggressiveness causing him some second-half problems. Just because it's worked thus far doesn't mean it will continue to do so.
Hunter: I must have changed Shin-Soo Choo's ranking 10 times. In the end, I came to the conclusion that he will not be back until September. I'm not buying into an August return, considering the thumb injury he suffered and the recovery time involved. Choo seems to be confident he'll be back before the original 10-week recovery estimate, but it's best to not mess with him and look for a player who can help you now.
Karabell: Each time I watch Adam Dunn play, I think this slump of his is going to continue. He should pop enough home runs to be owned even in standard leagues, but he went from top 100 to barely in my top 200 because he could hit on the wrong side of .200 in the final two months as well. I kept moving him behind other less accomplished hitters, but I just wouldn't want to take the risk.
Mass: Matt Capps might have the Minnesota Twins' closer job for now, but he's out of the rankings and banished to the "land of Kevin Gregg," because the more Joe Nathan piles up the holds (five in five outings since June 28), the more I buy in to the idea that he'll be the closer for the last two months of the season.
Ravitz: Yovani Gallardo. I think we just have to accept that he's not going to be an elite guy for the foreseeable future.
Roberts: Alex Rios at No. 154. Many are calling for a bounce-back in the second half, but I just don't see it. Whether it's his playing with an injury, not clicking with his coaching staff or some unrelated issue, Rios just isn't getting it done. He is swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone, is hitting too many pitches he can't drive, appears completely unable to hit righties -- he's batting .184 against them -- and has posted just a .215 OBP on the road. Anybody who's calling for a bounce-back is merely playing a hunch, because he has given us no reason to believe he's in line for it.