So we've reached the point when, if you tell me that Alex Rodriguez is on a pace to hit 62 homers and drive in 171 runs, it actually means something.
That's not to say A-Rod's remarkable first half guarantees excellent performance over the final three months. It's just to say that 73 games is a substantial chunk of a season. Even if he plays mediocre ball the rest of the way, Rodriguez will finish with outstanding numbers.
So that means we have a large enough body of work on which to pick fantasy All-Stars. And really, who doesn't love a good list?
As always, fantasy All-Stars reflect not only the guys with the best statistics, but also those who have most exceeded expectations and thus provided excellent value. I'll start with the American League and do the National next week.
Catcher Victor Martinez: The Indians star lost some luster last year as Joe Mauer eclipsed him. But he's back, hitting his usual .313 and on pace for career highs in the power totals. It's hard to find a more consistent line-drive hitter, and the only fear is that he'll end up at first base, where he'd lose value. Honorable mention goes to Jorge Posada, who won't hit .339 for the year (he's hitting a lucky .395 on balls in play) but has played at an elite level longer than expected.
First baseman Justin Morneau: With Mark Teixeira hurt and Paul Konerko in a funk, this bunch is thinner than usual. Morneau's average is lower than it was for his Most Valuable Player campaign last season, but he's proving that he'll be a serious power source for years to come.
Second baseman Brian Roberts: Orioles fans are so generally depressed that Roberts isn't getting his due for a tremendous start. His power isn't what it was in 2005, but he's headed for career highs in average and steals, and has quietly evolved into a prototypical leadoff hitter. B.J. Upton might be a threat at this spot if he weren't on the disabled list.
Shortstop Carlos Guillen: For my money, the most underrated player in baseball. You can book him for a .320 average, but this year, he's also on pace to hit 28 homers and drive in 128 runs. He's not running the way he did last year, but so what. Though Derek Jeter remains near the top of his game, I think Guillen has eclipsed him and Miguel Tejada.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez: Fans were so down on A-Rod last offseason that he slipped to the second round of some fantasy drafts. More than one prognosticator saw 2007 as the beginning of a decline for the game's most scrutinized star. Three months later, he has reasserted his fantasy dominance, leading the AL in runs, home runs and RBIs, and batting 26 points above his career average. Throw in nine steals and you have your first-half MVP.
Outfielder Magglio Ordonez: He was a heck of a player from 1999 to 2003, so this isn't coming out of nowhere. Ordonez's average will fall, and he doesn't run the way he did in his prime, but I don't think most owners who bought him this spring expected runs at the batting and RBI titles. He has been a terrific value.
Outfielder Torii Hunter: He is on pace for career highs in average, homers, runs, RBIs and steals. So, yeah, Hunter has probably offered greater value than more acclaimed players such as Vladimir Guerrero and Grady Sizemore.
Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki: After two relatively down seasons, he is back to challenging for the batting title, on pace for a career high in RBIs and stealing as often as ever. He's a wonder, and even though batting average is volatile, he is the game's greatest anchor in that category because of his huge at-bat numbers.
Designated hitter Gary Sheffield: I thought Sheff might finally be over the hill, but I guess not. He is defying the odds with excellent power numbers and is on pace to steal 19 bases. He has been a bigger thumper than David Ortiz at a much more reasonable price, and he's burnishing a serious Hall of Fame candidacy.
Starting pitchers Dan Haren, Justin Verlander, Kelvim Escobar, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia: Haren was a $15-$18 pitcher in most auctions, but he is performing a fine imitation of vintage Greg Maddux. Normal luck on balls in play will probably drive his ERA above 2.00, but that takes nothing away from his flawless blend of power, control, durability and consistency.
I thought Verlander would fall victim to a tired arm, as he did last autumn. I couldn't have been more wrong. He seems to be entering full bloom as a power pitcher and Cy Young Award contender. Sabathia's doing the same. Beckett is showing what he was always capable of when blister-free. And if you haven't noticed Escobar's numbers, check them out: nine wins and a 2.81 ERA for pitcher who was an afterthought in many drafts and auctions.
It's always hard to leave off Johan Santana, but relative to the prices owners paid in March, he hasn't dominated. John Lackey deserves recognition as the Carlos Guillen of pitchers - always very good, rarely very appreciated. And Oriole Jeremy Guthrie is certainly the MVP of waiver-wire pickups from the first half.
Relief pitcher J.J. Putz: He is not as overpowering as Francisco Rodriguez or as huge a surprise as Al Reyes, but the Seattle closer has overcome injury questions to post 21 saves with a microscopic ERA and WHIP and plenty of strikeouts. He's the game's least-discussed dominant closer.
To read Sheil Kapadia's "3 up, 3 down," go to That Fantasy Guy blog at baltimoresun.com/fantasy.