Corey Hart (OF - MIL): Hart missed most of the first month of the season and became a bit of an afterthought for me in fantasy. After a slow start out of the gates he rebounded with a big May (.888 OPS), but has been underwhelming ever since, hitting .266/.369/.438 and looking like a completely different hitter. Hart's line since the end of May is consistent with his production this year which shows an elevated walk rate and a significant drop-off in his power. It's a trade-off that hasn't hurt him much in terms of offensive production, but has left fantasy owners wanting more. A look at Hart's swing data shows improved selectivity has helped his BB Rate. He's only chasing 24% of pitches outside the zone this year (career average 27%) and his swing % overall is down slightly. Similarly looking at his batted ball data quickly explains Hart's drop in power. For his career Hart has predominantly been a fly ball hitter which has helped his power totals. But this year his GB Rate is up significantly at 47% (career 40%) and instead of fly-balls he's hitting a few more line drives. The extra LD's and BB's are good for his batting average, but with his FB Rate down to 33% (career 41.5%), Hart's power numbers are suffering. I wish I could say the trend was suggesting the power will improve, but Hart's ISO has actually dropped each month this season (.262, .178, .158) and not coincidentally its come as his GB Rate has risen (42%, 48%, 54%). Hart's GB Rate hasn't finished above 40.6% in any of the last 4 years, suggesting Hart's likely to get back to his usual power production at some point, but the trend is concerning. His power production, while down, is still adequate (10 HR's in 255 PA's) and likely not leaving owners bare, but simply wanting a bit more. If the downside to Hart is a 10 HR 2nd half instead of a 15 HR 2nd half owners probably won't be too upset, so sit tight and keep an eye on his GB Rates. If they continue to trend above 45%, temper your expectations in the power categories.
Emilio Bonifacio (SS/3B/OF - FLA): One of the toughest things as an analyst is the tendency to pigeon-hole a player whom you covered for a few years. Its like stereotyping in that its necessary for our brains to do in order to process the incredible amounts of information we take in, but when done in the wrong context it can lead you to inappropriate conclusions. That's what may have happened with me and Bonifacio as I had largely ignored his contributions until just last weekend when his performance in July really grabbed me (.441/.525/.500 with 10 Runs and 8 SB in 9 games). Bonifacio's shown legitimate growth in his BB Rate over the last two years as he's shown more patience at the plate, cutting down his swing rates from the high 40%'s to the low 40%'s. The improved patience has also come with a much stronger LD Rate. Over the last two years Bonifacio has posted LD Rates above 22%, which make his current .362 BABIP sustainable. The improved BB Rate and LD Rate has helped Bonifacio get on base at a .350+ clip, which has given him a spot atop the Marlins lineup and an everyday role. Throw in some improved efficiency on the base-paths the last few years (28-32 in SB's, previously was 28-44) and you've got the makings of a legitimate leadoff hitter. Now I do want to be careful in how far I take this because prior to the red-hot July Bonifacio was chugging along at a .263/.331/.364 line that looks awfully similar to his career-rates. Perhaps we're dealing with a bit of peak-sampling that is making things look better than they're likely to be over the rest of the season, but with Bonifacio's position eligibility (SS-3B-OF) and his potent SB potential, I believe he's worth a roster spot in all ten team leagues. At the very least the combination of flexibility and SB production is something that deserves spot starts while he's red-hot.
Rafael Furcal (SS - LAD): Furcal's had such big problems staying healthy this year that it's almost difficult to assess his performance. He totaled just under 100 PA's in the first half of the season and in those 100 PA's the performance wasn't particularly exciting. Furcal posted just a .185/.227/.228 line that was inhibited by a paltry 5.1% BB Rate and just 2 XBH's. If you're a Furcal owner there is some reason for optimism though. As you dig deeper in the peripherals you see not much has changed from Furcal's 2010 season when he hit .300/.366/.460 in 96 games. Furcal's chasing just 0.5% more pitches outside the zone and his contact rate is exactly the same. The decreased BB Rate is particularly puzzling considering Furcal is also swinging at the same number of pitches as he usually does. The swing data isn't where the similarities end either. Furcal's actually improved his LD Rate over last year, posting a healthy 22.7% LD Rate that suggests his .208 BABIP is about 140 points below his expected BABIP. While I'm still skeptical Furcal can stay healthy through the course of the 2nd half of the season, his skills haven't shown much deterioration. IF he can stay healthy I'd expect the batting average to correct significantly and would look for something along the lines of a .280-40-3-20-7 pace.
Brandon Allen (1B - ARZ): With interleague play behind us the Wily Mo Pena experiment has ended in Arizona. The Diamondbacks called up Brandon Allen on Thursday and designated Pena for assignment. Allen will get a shot at taking over everyday 1B opportunities as the DBacks also sent Juan Mirando down to AAA on Thursday. He'll get every opportunity to show off the big bat he's carried throughout the minor leagues where he's posted a career .268/.356/.488 line and topped a .900 OPS each of the last two seasons at AAA. Allen's a big dude listed at 6'2, 235 lbs (generous) and he has a big powerful swing that he flashed in 56 PA's last year when he posted a .267/.393/.400 line. As you can see from the high OBP in last season's brief stint he can draw a walk, but they also come with a whole lot of K's. In last year's brief stint Allen struck out over 35% of the time. He's in the mold of a Jack Cust type hitter as what we like to call a "true outcomes" hitter. He'll walk a lot, strike out a lot, and hit the ball out of the park. Surrounded by a good hitters lineup and great home park, Allen has the potential to make an impact in fantasy. But the strikeouts are going to be a problem and those who want to speculate on his bat need to keep their expectations in check. He's got a nice upside, but a very significant downside as well. In 10 team leagues I'm not making a move to add him, but in 14 team leagues and deeper he's worth a speculative add. Ultimately I think the K's keep his value down, but I could see a .240's average with 10 HR's, 30+ RBI's from here on out if things go right.
Yovani Gallardo (SP - MIL): I think it's safe to say Yovani Gallardo isn't a big fan of pitching in Colorado. Gallardo entered Thursday's start with a career 9.19 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 3 starts at Coors Field and somehow those numbers got worse. Gallardo was tatooed for 11 hits and 6 ER's over 4 innings of work. He didn't walk a batter, but struck out just 2. Looking at Gallardo's repertoire it's not particularly surprising that he's struggled at Coors. Gallardo relies pretty heavily on his breaking stuff for swings and misses, using his FB to get a lot of strikes looking and in Coors his CB/SL combo just doesn't seem to break the same way it does outside of the altitude. For the season Gallardo's K Rate has trended down as he's had trouble generating the same number of swinging strikes as he has in the past. He's compensating for the less K's with a few more ground balls and a few less walks, but the loss of strikeouts is meaningful for fantasy owners. While Gallardo's getting a few more chases, his contact rate is back up over 80%, which suggests improvements in his K Rate might not come. Yovani's still very good, but he's looking more like a #3 or #4 fantasy SP right now and someone you might want to pick your spots with.