Change-UpJanuary 19, 2007
Last Impressions Are Lasting Impressions
By Patrick Sullivan

GM's. Fantasy owners. Even everyday fans. Anyone interested in baseball always has an interest in identifying those players most likely to exceed expectations. Whether a leg up on one's competitors or barstool sports argument fodder, finding the sleepers represents a feather in the cap.

One method in identifying such players is taking a look at the prior season's second-half statistics. Simply pulling up Post-All Star numbers from a given season is hardly the best means of predicting the proceeding season's dark-horse improvement candidates. On the whole, more scientific methods that factor a wider array of data points like PECOTA or ZIPS will prove more accurate. Still, second-half numbers can help to pick out the guys flying under the radar heading into a new year.

Sometimes players who have mediocre numbers over a full campaign post a strong second half, and their full-season numbers may not portend what the following season has in store as well as their second-half numbers. I am well aware that second-half numbers can also represent little more than a 60-game hot stretch. But this piece will seek to find the players at each position (pitchers next week) who impressed after the All-Star break last season and look primed for big things in 2007.

Brian McCann
Post-All Star Break 2006 (AVG/OBP/SLG): .324/.372/.630

As promising young backstops go, everyone knows about Joe Mauer but what about Brian McCann? The 22-year-old catcher who posted a 146 OPS+ in 2006 is highly regarded, but I am not sure baseball fans fully appreciate just how good Brian McCann appears to be. I'll still take Mauer for his superior ability to reach base, but catchers that can hit this well at such a young age are a rarity, and I think 2007 is the season McCann begins to get the appreciation he deserves.

First Base
Richie Sexson
Post ASB 2006: .322/.399/.613

Now 32-years-old and being written off by General Managers and fantasy owners everywhere after posting a full season that hardly stood out after a crummy first half (.706 OPS), the savvy fan can look for a bigtime bounce back from Richie Sexson. He was phenomenal in the second half, and his impressive numbers listed above are even more so when you consider that Sexson plays his home games in the spacious Safeco Field in Seattle.

Second Base
Robinson Cano
Post ASB 2006: .365/.380/.638

Sure, I would like to see him with a little more discipline at the plate and, yes, I understand that the .365 batting average is hardly sustainable. But we are talking about a 24-year-old second baseman with one of the prettiest, most athletic looking swings in the game who hits with power like no other at his position in today's game. If he stays healthy, Cano should be an absolute force in 2007.

Third Base
Garret Atkins
Post ASB 2006: .354/.437/.625

Atkins has been highly touted since he joined the Colorado Rockies and showed promise here and there over the years before putting it all together over his final 73 games of 2006. Confident and smack in his prime at the age of 27, look for Atkins to emerge and join the impressive group of top-tier third basemen. Miguel Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez and David Wright would be best served to press on and not look back. Atkins is gaining on them.

Rafael Furcal
Post ASB 2006: .339/.399/.564

For those who wrote off Rafael Furcal after his slow start in 2006, they sure missed one heck of a good baseball player during the stretch run. How good was Furcal? His .963 second half OPS was good for 16th best in the National League. And remember, he's a shortstop...with one of the best gloves in the game...playing home games at Dodger Stadium. In short, he was one of the very best players in baseball after the All-Star Game. Look for him to be excellent once again in 2007.

Left Field
Chris Duncan
Post ASB 2006: .295/.374/604

I know, I know. His minor league track record underwhelms. Many smarter than me will probably have Duncan on their "primed for a 2007 crash landing" list. Not me and I will tell you why. I love the high on-base percentage without the superb batting average. It's suggestive of a mature, sustainable approach. This is not Jeff Francoeur smacking and hacking his way to a .400/.400/.500 type of 35-game start to his MLB career. Duncan looked the part of a veteran player combining a great physical and mental approach. That's why I believe that even if he does not quite keep it up, he will still be a very good player.

Center Field
Ryan Church
2006 Post ASB: .305/.376/.550

Ryan Church famously and absurdly lost his starting role and roster spot on the Opening Day Washington Nationals to Brandon Watson and although it took him too long to get back up with the big club, when he did, he impressed. 28 years old now and ready to assume a full-time starting gig in the Big Leagues for the first time in his career, Church has a chance to be one of the best center fielders in the National League.

Right Field
J.D. Drew
Post ASB 2006: .279/.410/.530

Maybe this is a homer call but that's a damn impressive line from an agile outfielder playing home games at Chavez Ravine. Now J.D. will be playing home games at Fenway (we think), and I look for him to come to play in order to silence a Red Sox fan base grumbling as a result of Drew's soft perception (deserved or undeserved).

There you have it, baseball fans. These are the guys I expect to exceed expectations in 2007. GM's still have time for a trade, fantasy owners can make a mental note for their upcoming drafts and the barstoolers can store up some ammo. These eight will come to play in 2007.


In Sexson's case, he has a long history of being a much better second-half performer.

For his career, he's put up an .818 OPS pre-AS break compared with a .945 OPS afterwards. He's pretty clearly a warm-weather player.

Projecting a player over the age of 25 and under the age of 35 on the basis of how they did in the second half of the prior season is not recommended by central casting. It has some value for younger players like McCann, who might be making a leap forward, and for players over 35 who might be falling off a cliff.

The fact that JD Drew hit well in the second half of last year means just about nothing. He has always been an excellent hitter when healthy, but predicting his health is whole other matter.

Rafael Furcal had an OPS+ of 103 from age 25-28. That tells you much, much more about how he is likely to hit in 2007 at age 29 than either his first-half or his second-half performance.

I have to agree with you about Brian McCann. He was one of the more underrated players in the majors last year. I guess that was due to Mauer's fabulous year or possibly the Braves' disappointing one.

.333 BA
24 HR
93 RBI
34 2B

I agree that J.D. Drew's second half means less than the long history of him not being good/healthy in consecutive seasons. Unfortunately for BOS fans, this is a scheduled off year for Drew.

I wonder if McCann will get more ABs against lefties this season?

Among second half performances, the most obvious question about break out candidates to me is Luke Scott. Called up in late July, in 249 plate appearances, he hit .336, .426, .621. A hot streak, yes, but he wasn't exactly ice cold the first half in Round Rock with a .299, .400, .541 line. And his performance isn't attributable to Minute Maid park; his power seems to be to left and right CF, among the deepest parts of the park, which accounts for 6 triples (he is not a speedster), in addition to 10 HRs. I think most people write him off because of his age (28), and I understand why. In fact, I'm not quite sure what to expect either.
Certainly I don't expect a .336 BA next year, but he has shown a decent OBP and some of the positive statements about Chris Duncan seem applicable to Scott also. The odds are that the forecasting models are right, and that he will post a mid-800's OPS, which is nice, but not superlative, for a RFer (his most likely position next season). However, looking at what he did last year, I could also envision a .950 range OPS, which would put in higher company.
As for your forecasts, the one I agree with the most is Brian McCann. I think Sexson may be the most questionable prediction, and I'm not sure what to expect from Atkins next season. In some sense, he seems similar to Luke Scott: I think Atkins is good but I don't know if he is really as good as his second half.

What troubled me about Sexson when I saw him in his youth was that he was screwing himself into the ground striking out in situations where he could have gone the other way for an RBI that could have saved the game. This may not trouble the fantasy owner, but it convinced me that he was not going to be a great RBI man. Manny and a healthy Juan Gone were clearly RBI guys who did whatever it took to get the runner in. I saw a few games when he was with the Brewers where he did try to hit the other way in a situation like that. In one game, he lined out to the RF and wasn't having it when the batting coach came over and patted him on the back for doing his job.

People keep talking about 'roids and smaller parks for HR numbers. What about guys no longer protecting the plate with two strikes? Williams, Ruth and Foxx never struck out anywhere near what these guys do.