There are those who subscribe to the idea that when a baseball player has a strong second half in one season, it means that they are in line to put up good numbers the following season. This can particularly hold true for a player that may have struggled in previous seasons, one who has finally gotten a chance with additional playing time or even a younger player that is starting to put everything together. A good example of this recently was Jose Bautista. In 2010 he seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the major leagues with 54 home runs. However, to the observant fantasy baseball enthusiast, this was foreshadowed by a late-season surge in 2009.
By taking a close look at some baseball players who became upstarts in the second half of 2011, we may get a glimpse as to what may portend for 2012. As we know, finding those ‘diamonds in the rough’ at next year’s draft table can certainly help your chances in the world of fantasy baseball.
Lucas Duda (NYM)
Sometimes it’s all about opportunity. When the Mets’ regular first baseman Ike Davis went down with an ankle injury, the door was opened for Duda. With a particularly strong second half of 2011 and Carlos Beltran traded away, Duda may have secured himself a spot as the everyday RF in 2012. His second half has included 30 R, 10 HR, 37 RBI and a slash line of .322/.404/.545. It looks like he has seized his opportunity in the big leagues.
Josh Willingham (OAK)
The power has always been there (career average of 24 HR per 150 GP), but playing time has not been consistent for Willingham. With a strong second half in 2011 including 16 HR, 48 RBI, .369 OBP, .558 SLG and a nifty .925 OPS, Willingham enters 2012 as a free agent likely to find a regular gig patrolling LF and providing power in the middle of a line up.
James Loney (LAD)
Sure, he has disappointed fantasy owners who felt his power would develop but Loney contributes in 2 important categories (AVG and RBI) on a consistent basis. He also has put together a nice second half this season with a slash line of .312/.379/.532. He has also walked 20 times against only 25 K so his skills as a decent hitter are legit.
J.J. Hardy (BAL)
Hardy’s 15 second half home runs have led all major league shortstops. Throw in 41 RBI and you have a power hitter at a very weak position. It has always been about staying healthy for Hardy who has eclipsed his previous career high of 26 HR (set in 2007 while with the Brewers). As a free agent in 2012, he could be a nice fantasy option at SS.
Mike Napoli (TEX)
After a first half in which he hit for only a .232 BA, Napoli turned on the afterburners after the All Star break. He led all catchers (min. 175 PA) in the second half in HR (14), BA (.385), OBP (.468) with a major league best 1.158 OPS. This portends well for a catcher position in 2012 which will once again be shallow. Considering his eligibility at 1B as well his ability to pick up AB as the DH, Napoli may very well enter 2012 as a top 2 fantasy catcher.
Javier Vazquez (FLA)
After a first half in which he was given up for dead (5.23 ERA, 6.2 K/9), Vazquez regained velocity on his fast ball and has put up an incredible second half this season. His numbers after the break: 2.35 ERA, .93 WHIP, 9.1 K/9. Most notably, Vazquez has improved his strikeout/walk rate from 1.94 in the first half to 5.40 in the second. He could be a very interesting pick entering 2012.
Madison Bumgarner (SF)
Although hardly a slouch in the first half (3.87 ERA, 7.9 K/9), Bumgarner has emerged as ‘ace’ material since the break. His record before the All Star game was 4-9, since the break it has been 8-3. Wins and losses have not been a true indication of talent in San Francisco this year due to paltry offensive support, however. With second-half stats of 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 4.68 K/BB and 9.0 K/9 Bumgarner is poised as the co-ace of the Giants. Consider him serious keeper material heading out of 2011.
Keeping a close eye on 2011 second half statistical performance may just translate into strong numbers for 2012. Let’s hope these late bloomers help your fantasy baseball team prosper into next year and beyond.
Chris McBrien is a baseball writer for numerous websites and may be found at Dear Mr. Fantasy. He may also be followed on Twitter @cmcbrien.