After first-half whiffs, these players could be hits in your lineup now

The Baltimore Sun

It's easy at this point in the baseball season to moan about brutally disappointing players.

If you spent $30 to $35 of your fantasy budget on Jermaine Dye or Andruw Jones, your apoplexy is understandable. If you counted on rookies Alex Gordon or Chris Young to be fresh centerpieces, go ahead and rip up your prospect guides in outrage. If you thought Adam Wainwright would make the transition from closer or that Barry Zito had another stellar year in him, know that you have my sympathies.

But let's try to be constructive about it. In most disappointment lies opportunity. So I'll try to identify a team full of busts who seem likely to get back to normal in the second half of the season. These are the players you want to trade for at a bargain or keep despite the torment they've inflicted upon your franchise. Call it the all-phoenix team of redemption.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski: His luck has shifted from unusually good last year to unusually bad this year. What do we do in such situations? We assume he goes back to normal and hits .270 to .280.

First baseman Richie Sexson: I know that .205 average is eating at you. But Sexson has suffered a classic spell of bad luck. Last year, he hit .303 on balls in play. This year, he's hitting .210 on balls in play. He's not striking out more or walking less than in past seasons, so if he returns to a normal level of fortune, his batting average over the next three months should approach his career .265. And even in his awful first half of the season, he hit 15 homers and drove in 48 runs. Sexson is easily capable of hitting .270 with 20 homers and 60 RBIs the rest of the way.

Second baseman Robinson Cano: He's not a .342 hitter - his average last season - but he probably is a true .300 hitter, and in that New York Yankees lineup, he could drive in 50 and score 50 in three months. His youth makes him an excellent target.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman: If Zimmerman's .253 average has made him available in your league, take advantage. His power has remained stable, and his 34-point drop in average from last season can be attributed largely to bad luck on balls in play (.272 this year compared with .329 last). He's only 22, and I love him as a long-term commodity.

Shortstop Julio Lugo: I know it's hard to imagine as he looks up at the Mendoza line, but I think Lugo is a strong buy for the second half. Even with a .197 average, he's on pace to drive in nearly 80 runs and steal 40 bases. He's walking at a career-best clip and making steady contact. But like his mates on this squad, he's been exceptionally unlucky with a .215 average on balls in play. I know I harp on that statistic - which is arrived at by subtracting home runs from hits, and dividing that by the total of at-bats minus strikeouts minus home runs - but it really is telling. If the Boston Red Sox stick with him, his average almost certainly will rise over the next three months.

Outfielder Jermaine Dye: I pegged him as a classic comedown candidate after his spectacular 2006, but the plummet has been so drastic that he's now a buy-low target. Exceptional luck carried Dye to a .315 average last year, but his .214 mark this year is the product of polar-opposite fortune. The smart play is to assume he'll be neither great nor awful in the second half. Think .270 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs.

Outfielder Andruw Jones: His .260 seemed fine when he averaged 46 homers in 2005 and 2006. But now, we're seeing the downside of a player who never made much contact and never offered much hitting value outside of power. I wonder whether Jones is pressing because he's playing so dismally in a contract year. That could explain the scads of strikeouts. Bottom line is that he brings a long track record of performance, so it's not a bad bet to think he'll hit .260 with 20 homers in the second half.

Outfielder Chris Young: Young ranked among my favorite rookies entering the year and still does. As a high-end version of Mike Cameron, he might always be subject to spells of rotten average. But despite his ugly first month, he has 13 homers and nine steals, numbers that would make him a $25 player if paired with a .270 average. I like his chances to get there.

Starting pitcher Ervin Santana: A 5.97 ERA and 1.54 WHIP aren't what you expect from an up-and-comer who stood at the center of Miguel Tejada trade talks a year ago. I'm no Santana fan, but he's been so bad he's now undervalued. His control is the same as last year, and his strikeout rate is better. Home runs (23 in 104 innings) have hurt him. But he says there's no physical problem, and the long ball didn't hinder him last year.

Relief pitcher Mariano Rivera: I'm not sure anyone has written off the greatest closer of all time. But if they have, that's silly. A few poor outings in April explain his 3.71 ERA. Since then, his strikeout rate, control and ERA have all returned to normal levels. He remains a sensational pitcher.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

To read Sheil Kapadia's AL and NL fantasy all-stars, go to That Fantasy Guy at baltimoresun.com/fantasy.

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