FLB: Midseason Report

The All-Star break is upon us, and with it comes the ideal time to take a look back at fantasy baseball's best and worst of the first half, as well as forward at some of the most promising stories to come in the second half. Today, we take a look at the American League at the season's traditional midway point. (The National League will run tomorrow.)

First-half Fantasy MVP: Jim Thome, DH, White Sox. It's not just that he's on pace for personal bests in homers (57) and RBI (146). It's that he has stayed so healthy after elbow surgery limited him to 59 games in 2005, rewarding the faith of owners who believed he'd rebound following his return to the familiar AL Central this past winter.
First-half Fantasy Cy Young: Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox. Who cares what the traditionalists think about starting pitchers deserving more attention for the Cy Young? Papelbon is on pace for 46 saves, and his 0.59 ERA has made him every bit as valuable as a top fantasy starter.
Fantasy Rookie of the Half: Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins. Hopefully, if you drafted him, you held onto him even after his assignment to the bullpen to begin the season. Since moving into the rotation on May 19, Liriano is 9-1 with a 1.36 ERA in 10 starts.
Breakout Fantasy Player: Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays. Let's hope he comes back strong out of the break after heading into the break battling an infection on his leg. Before that, Rios, 25, was looking like a legitimate 30/30 candidate with .300-hitting ability.
Bust Fantasy Player: Mark Teixeira, 1B, Rangers. He hasn't been entirely unusable, but when your first-round pick manages a mere .275 batting average and a full-year pace of 17 homers in the first half, which isn't close to half of his 2005 total (43), it makes it almost impossible to make up for it in the power categories. Fortunately, that Teixeira managed 18 second-half homers in 2005 and 20 in 2004 is an encouraging sign.

C: Joe Mauer, Twins
1B: Jim Thome, White Sox
2B: Brian Roberts, Orioles
3B: Joe Crede, White Sox
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees
OF: Jermaine Dye, White Sox
OF: Corey Patterson, Orioles
OF: Vernon Wells, Blue Jays
DH: Travis Hafner, Indians
SP: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
SP: Francisco Liriano, Twins
SP: Mike Mussina, Yankees
SP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
RP: Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

1. The dominant Detroit Tigers: No story was bigger the first half of the baseball season than the Tigers, who rattled off the majors' best record at 59-29 (.670 winning percentage). Most surprisingly for fantasy, three Tigers starting pitchers (Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander) find themselves ranked among the top 50 American Leaguers on the Player Rater. By comparison, three years ago, the Tigers boasted three pitchers with at least 17 losses.
2. Rookie pitchers steal the show: What a freshman class we've seen this season. Among those top 50 overall on the Player Rater, three are rookies (Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon and Verlander), while Jered Weaver and Joel Zumaya cracked the top 100.
3. The return of Jim Thome: From opening night of the 2006 season, when he hit a two-run homer, to his 30th homer of the year last Saturday, Thome has bounced right back to the form that made him one of the AL's most dominating power sources from 1995-2002.