Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Examining June's offensive leaders
By Eric Karabell
While Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was undoubtedly the most intriguing individual baseball story from June -- I hear they're getting his Hall of Fame plaque prepared this week -- there was actually one player who eclipsed him on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater: Congrats to Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis! Puig hit a monstrous .436 in June with seven home runs, 16 RBIs and four stolen bases, rendering comparisons to the greatest rookie debuts in history, but Kipnis was just a bit better from an overall fantasy perspective, hitting .419 with four home runs, 25 RBIs (wow!) and nine stolen bases. Let's just say both guys were great, and at this point, even I concede it's tough to sell high on either. It's a blast owning Puig, and isn't playing fantasy baseball supposed to be a blast?
Meanwhile, let's take a look at some of the individual offensive statistical leaders from the month that just passed and discuss value, because as we've seen with Kipnis, who really struggled in April, and Puig, who wasn't around in April and didn't get his promotion to the majors until June, things do change quickly.
[+]Enlarge Elsa/Getty ImagesJose Iglesias ranks 56th among all hitters on the ESPN Player Rater over the past 30 days.
Batting average: Perhaps the biggest surprises in this category were the two unsung Boston Red Sox finishing in the top 10 (minimum 50 plate appearances) for the month, joining a third Red Sox hitter, teammate Jacoby Ellsbury, who is obviously legit. Jose Iglesias hit .395 in June and pushed Will Middlebrooks aside at third base, but I'd be selling as fast as possible. Iglesias wouldn't be the first to struggle in the minors but figure things out at the big league level, but that .465 BABIP is very telling, and there's not much hope for power or gaudy stolen base totals. I'm more confident in Middlebrooks holding his value. Boston colleague Mike Carp, on the other hand, provided power to go with his .367 batting average for the month. Carp can't seem to stay healthy, this year or in the past, but he was always supposed to bash right-handed pitching. Now he is. He's a decent 12-team fill-in.
Meanwhile, San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera hit .459 for June, best in baseball, and led the majors in stolen bases, despite missing half the month because of a hamstring injury. Now that's nice production. Check your waiver wire, because he's due back later this week. His emergence as a top-5 fantasy shortstop is real, given that he can dominate a category (steals). Also, a healthy (for now) Carlos Quentin hit .366 in June with power, Adam Lind hit .350, and underrated, patient catcher John Jaso hit .349.
Home runs: It's no surprise that Baltimore Orioles monster Chris Davis led with 12 round-trippers, but check out the only other three hitters who reached double digits: Raul Ibanez, Pedro Alvarez and Jay Bruce. Ibanez now has 19 home runs, which already matches his surprising 2012 total, but in a tougher ballpark and with far less talent surrounding him. Is it legit? Well, yeah, he's pulling everything and should reach 30 homers, though he's not contributing much in other fantasy categories. Alvarez hit 30 home runs a year ago without hitting for average, so I'm not sure why people are surprised that this streaky fellow is well on his way to doing that again. And Bruce homered only once in April with prodigious strikeout totals, causing people to panic. He has hit .292 with 17 home runs since May 1, though he's still swinging and missing a ton, which is a reminder that lots of strikeouts don't always result in a low batting average.
Runs batted in: The power guys from the preceding paragraphs did well here, but let's give some credit to Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond for his nine home runs and 28 RBIs. Desmond still doesn't seem interested in drawing walks, but so what? He's on pace for 30 homers and 97 RBIs, both which are higher than the numbers he posted in 2012 when he was labeled by many a fluke. Among the stranger top RBI producers for the month were Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, Chicago White Sox leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza and underrated Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who led the position in RBIs for the month with 18.
Stolen bases: San Diego's Cabrera, Ellsbury and Philadelphia Phillies speedster Ben Revere stole double-digits bases. While Revere has actually never homered in the big leagues, Ellsbury smacked 32 home runs in 2011. This year he has hit just one. We'll take the 50-plus steals, but one home run? Revere was awful in April, but hit a cool .354 in June, proving his legitimacy. Meanwhile, Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin stole nine bases in June, closing the month with a steal in each of the team's final four contests. With Craig Gentry hurt, Martin started regularly for three weeks and thrived. He's on the most-added list for good reason. Finally, perhaps the biggest surprise in steals for June was New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy getting eight of them! He stole 10 in 156 games last year and one in this season's first two months. Talk about unexpected.
[+]Enlarge Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Eric Hosmer's bat came alive in the month of June.
Runs scored:Matt Holliday led the big leagues with 23 runs scored in June, followed by Edwin Encarnacion, Ellsbury and Eric Hosmer. Wait, Eric Hosmer? Well, the Kansas City Royals first baseman did spend quite a bit of time hitting second in the lineup, and perhaps that, combined with new hitting coach George Brett, got him back on track. In 65 at-bats as the No. 2 hitter, Hosmer scored 12 runs, stole three bases and began to hit for power, which ultimately got him moved to the No. 3 spot over the weekend. It shouldn't matter where he hits, really, but Hosmer had just one home run the first two months, before hitting six in June. He scored 21 runs. Hey, whatever works; we all knew he had skills.
Others not previously mentioned who scored a solid number of runs include Josh Hamilton, Mike Aviles, Zack Cozart and Victor Martinez. Hamilton hit only .231 with two home runs in June, showing few signs of improvement, but like Hosmer, he saw time in the No. 2 lineup spot. He hit .190 there, in case you were wondering. Apparently, we should all pay attention when a struggling hitter is moved to the No. 2 lineup role. Aviles and Cozart had similar Junes, scoring runs because they were incorrectly placed in the No. 2 lineup spot, but neither got on base at a high clip, and they aren't power guys. As for Martinez, he hits after the Detroit Tigers studs in that packed lineup, but drew 13 walks (versus nine strikeouts) and hit four home runs. He's still got something left, though I leave him out of my top 10 catchers.