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Leaderboard: Matt Joyce has breakout May

6/1/2011

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce hit .414 in May with seven home runs, 21 RBIs and 23 runs scored. Think about that for a second, and then think back to a month ago when he was probably sitting there on your free-agent list. Joyce, a player who couldn't keep a regular big league job the past few seasons with the Rays and Detroit Tigers was one of fantasy's top players in May. Of course, the big question now is, can he keep this up?

There are some pretty good signs in Joyce's splits that tell me this isn't a fluke. For one, Joyce has always had power against right-handed pitching, so we could actually see more months with seven home runs. In March/April, Joyce hit just two home runs but also had eight doubles, and he batted .321. He was legit before May, really. A .414 batting average can't be sustained, and the fact that his batting average on balls in play has been over .400 each month helps tell us that, but Joyce does draw walks and hits line drives (even though his rate should fall some), and he's not helpless against left-handed pitching. He's a legit breakout player who shouldn't simply stop hitting.

Here are some of the other leaders from the month of May, and my thoughts:

Batting average: With a minimum 50 at-bats as the benchmark, other top hitters after Joyce were Michael Morse, Jon Jay, Brendan Ryan, Casey Kotchman and Ryan Sweeney. My goodness, that is a motley crew. I liked Morse back in March for 25 home runs, but have since changed my mind: He's hitting 30 home runs now. That .403 batting average is a bit crazy, though. I'd be happy if he hit .275. Jay is legit to a degree, a decent bet to hit .300, and if Matt Holliday hits the DL, Jay is the winner for playing time. Ryan, Kotchman and Sweeney aren't ownable in standard leagues, and this serves as more proof that one month should not be overrated. Ryan hit .184 in March/April, .384 in May. I'd say split the difference, but do so, then subtract 50 batting average points.

Home runs: Perhaps you've heard, but that Jose Bautista guy is pretty good. Then again, Jay Bruce hit one more run than Joey Bats in May, 12 to 11. Bruce enters June as fantasy's No. 2 hitter over the past 30 days, behind only Curtis Granderson (who stole five bases), but I'd caution people just a bit in assuming Bruce is a top-5 outfielder. He's streaky. We've seen it before. He's a legit 30-homer, 100-RBI option, perhaps more, but this is not his "Joey Votto campaign." Others that hit for power in the month include Mark Teixeira -- what slow start? -- Mike Stanton and Raul Ibanez, who tends to do things like this on occasion. Oh those old people, they're so silly! Ibanez had two great months out of six last season, and so far he has one great month this year, and another in which he hit .161 with three extra base hits. I don't think he mirrors either of these months again this season, but I'd call him only borderline ownable in standard leagues.

Stolen bases: Think about how frustrated you were with Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury a season ago. Now think about how much you love the guy now. Ellsbury swiped 14 bases in May, two more than Rajai Davis, who was also last season's May theft king. Ellsbury and Davis aren't surprises, really. How about Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts this past month? Did you expect that? Dustin Pedroia stole nine bases, but he slugged .309; sorry, but when I watch Pedroia, I see a walker and smart base stealer with no power. He's not even hitting doubles. It's going to be tough to hit .300 this way.

Wins: Three pitchers won five games each, and to some degree, none were a given. Yovani Gallardo looked like anything but an ace in April, and much of the past two seasons. Jair Jurrjens was still scaring us with injury concerns when May began. And Daniel Hudson was terrible in April, winning one of five outings with a 5.64 ERA. In May he won five of six, with a 3.02 ERA. It's why you wait for pitchers. Past that, it's interesting to note a few relief pitchers went 4-0 (Brian Wilson, David Pauley), and Anibal Sanchez is establishing himself as a near-ace.

Saves: Raise your hand if you targeted J.J. Putz, Leo Nunez and Ryan Madson back in March. Sorry, I don't believe you. Perhaps on Putz, but Nunez wasn't very good last year, and the theory was Madson couldn't close. I think we can put that theory to rest. By the way, Brandon League had one really bad week in May, but he also had eight saves for the month, tying him for the AL lead.

Earned run average: Josh Beckett spun a 1.00 ERA in May, though he was only 2-1 in six starts. Don't blame him. Erik Bedard and Josh Collmenter were also in the top five, and as surprising as Beckett continues to be, what Bedard and Collmenter are doing is no less odd. The big difference: In the same 25 innings for these guys, Bedard struck out 25, Collmenter had 12 whiffs.