Fantasy baseball owners know that a strong leadoff hitter can provide more opportunities for a middle-of-the-order hitter to earn RBI or runs, or allow a player to get more at-bats. A weak leadoff hitter, however, can stymie that progress.
Here, we rank the leadoff hitters for all 30 teams to provide fantasy owners some insight on the better lineups in baseball. Understand that some teams shift their lineups often, and some use platoons, but for the most part, the 30 men below are their team's current leadoff hitters. All stats are to date as of Monday morning unless otherwise indicated.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees: Recently free-agent hitters have been huge disappointments in their new addresses, but that's not the case for Ellsbury, who's been thriving in pinstripes. So far this year, he has a .312 batting average and eight stolen bases.
2. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Texas Rangers: Another free-agent hitter who's off to a good start with his new team, Choo is unfortunately dealing with an ankle injury that could send him to the 15-day disabled list soon.
3. Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: When he's not preening after a home run (or almost home run), Gomez is a top-15 fantasy outfielder (who is appealing a three-game suspension).
4. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers: The former Rangers middle infielder has better stats across the board than Prince Fielder (except home runs, in which they're tied), the player for whom he was traded to Detroit.
5. Ben Zobrist, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: The Zorilla has six RBI in 11 games as leadoff, but don't get too used to seeing the switch-hitter atop the lineup, as Rays manager Joe Maddon's lineup changes more frequently than any MLB team.
6. Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: After signing a six-year, $52 million extension, Carpenter is struggling to find his power stroke after last season's breakout.
7. Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto Blue Jays: As usual, a hamstring injury cost Reyes sometime this month, so with just eight games under his belt -- he has zero stolen bases and a .194 batting average.
8. Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland A's: The 13-year veteran keeps plugging away for Oakland's underrated offense. His .378 OBP will trend back to his .325 OBP over the past three seasons, however.
9. Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox: A sore hamstring sidelined him for a few games, but Eaton looks good atop the Chicago's batting order.
10. Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins: The 26-year-old second baseman is doing an excellent Dan Uggla impression, with seven home runs, nine RBI, 19 walks and a .217 batting average.
11. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves: His owners are probably still enticed by his 2012 season when he hit 27 home runs, 82 RBI and 93 runs. But this past week, Heyward brought his batting average up from .136 to .191.
12. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: Altuve has moved around the top of the Astros' lineup this season, but he's is batting .318 from the leadoff spot, and is within shouting distance of the steals leaders.
13. Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres: Despite being the leadoff hitter for the lowest-scoring offense in the majors, he's still a top-10 shortstop.
14. Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants: Pagan was on pace for a 200-hit season in a possible career year, but he's now dealing with an injured patella tendon.
15. Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: Marte's leading the majors with 37 strikeouts this season, and has only three RBI.
16. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies: He leads the majors with a .402 batting average, and he's flashing speed (seven stolen bases) and power (five home runs), but can it last?
17. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds: While he's still on pace for about 60 stolen bases, the rest of his stats are just painful to endure. Three walks in 93 plate appearances is just brutal for a leadoff hitter.
18. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins: Yelich is among several first- and second-year players hitting leadoff this year. The Marlins' outfielder is hitting well in his second season, and is coming off a 17-game hitting streak that ended Friday.
19. Emilio Bonifacio, OF, Chicago Cubs: His .405 BABIP makes us think his stats will dip back to his .335 career average.
20. Nori Aoki, OF, Kansas City Royals: The Royals have been one of the most disappointing offensive stories this season, and Aoki's struggling with the transition from the NL to the AL.
21. Eric Young Jr., OF, New York Mets: Dee Gordon (13) is the only player with more steals than Young, Jr.'s 12, although, Gordon is batting about 140 points higher.
22. Ben Revere, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: Revere is living up to last year's expectations, batting over .300 with nine steals in 23 games. As the leadoff hitter, though, he really needs to draw more walks, with just two so far.
23. Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles: Markakis is hitting with not as much power as owners would like. With Chris Davis (oblique) sidelined, Markakis will see some time at first base and may be moved around in the lineup.
24. Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: With just three multi-hit games so far this season, Crawford often sits against left-handers.
25. Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians: Coming off his best week of the season, Bourn is still trying to get the green light on the basepaths. Two stolen bases is horrible for the two-time 60-base stealer.
26. Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have recently put Dustin Pedroia in the top spot, but this has been Sizemore's hitting slot for most of the season. While his comeback is a great story and he's still healthy, he just hasn't been able to get on base.
27. Denard Span, OF, Washington Nationals: A slow start to the season coupled with a concussion is not what Span's owners were hoping for.
28. Erick Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels: Aybar made some changes in his batting stance, and things have picked up over this past week.
29. Gerardo Parra, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Parra is one of those players who's constantly dropped and picked back up. To make things worse, only four hitters have more plate appearances than Parra (118) so far, which makes his .250 batting average a little more painful.
30. Abraham Almonte, OF, Seattle Mariners: Only Starling Marte of the Pirates has more strikeouts than Almonte (36). The rookie is also batting just over the Mendoza Line. Almonte's 34.6 strikeout percentage is second-worst in the majors.
Hitters of the week
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox -- Stats this week: .310 batting average, 5 home runs, 14 RBI, 8 runs scored
The Cuban rookie is 27 years old, and he's smashing the ball like one. Abreu leads the majors with 10 home runs and 31 RBI (he set the major-league rookie record for RBI in April with three games left in the month), and he ranks fourth with a .667 slugging percentage so far. No one saw this much power from him, but as always, we have to preach caution here. This White Sox offense might have changed a lot from a season ago, but they're bound to dip soon. Fantasy owners should be leery of people shopping Abreu, as the first base position continues to be one of the deepest in fantasy. Abreu's a top-10 first baseman, but Freddie Freeman, Prince Fielder and the injured Chris Davis are still preferred over him.
Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners -- .409 BA, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 8 runs, 0 SB
Seager represents why you should show patience with a struggling hitter. He had just two RBI in his first 19 games this season, and then he racked up 11 RBI in his past four games (three of which were at home against the Rangers this weekend). Unfortunately, he's still hitting just .228 this season.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore Orioles -- .296 BA, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 8 runs
Cruz is on pace for 47 home runs and 168 RBI this season, which would blow away his career highs. Normally someone would blame his power on PEDs, but considering his suspension last season, we're anticipating a few slow weeks to bring him down to his average.
Hitters of the weak
Allen Craig, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals -- Stats this week: .172 batting average, 0 home runs, 1 RBI, 1 run scored
We mentioned last week how the Cardinals are really struggling as a whole offensively. They currently rank No. 27 in the majors in runs scored, and only the Royals (10) and Padres (13) have fewer than the Cardinals' 14 home runs. Craig's groundball-to-flyball ratio is at 3.40, which is double what it was all of last season (1.60). Over 63 percent of his batted balls are grounders, which is the sixth-highest mark in the majors -- and most of the others on that list are weak-hitting speedsters to begin with.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros -- .080 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 runs
Just after you spent all that FAAB money on the guy, he puts up an one-RBI week. Rest easy, he'll come around. No one doubts his power or speed, and he's not striking out at a rate that much higher than the minors. Remember that he's considered the offensive savior for an offense that ranks second-worst in the majors. In other words, he doesn't have much help around him.
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays -- .200 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 runs
In spite of the absence of run production, Myers does have a five-game hitting streak going. His .110 ISO number on the season is an indicator that he's just not hitting with power these days. Let's remember that he's just 23 years old (a year younger than Springer) and the Rays are struggling a bit offensively all around lately.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles
I pegged Jones as a bust candidate of sorts in the offseason, warning that he shouldn't be drafted as high as his ADP (going in the first two rounds of most drafts). But now, his current numbers (.265, 11 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI and 2 SB) are much lower than his 2010-'12 averages of .284, 82 R, 78 RBI and 11 SB, which means he'll regress upward to the numbers above over the next five months. He is currently on pace for a 74-.265-6-87-13 season, so act now before that pace rebounds up.
Sell: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion was another of my bust candidates before the season started, and I'm sticking with this one. He was coming off of wrist surgery that tends to sap a slugger's power stroke and that scared me. Well, through nearly one month, Encarncacion has a HR-to-FB ratio of 3.2 percent, which is what Jose Altuve posted last season. He's striking out at a higher clip than normal, and when he does make contact, he's just not hitting it far. My advice: Choose a week like this one, where it seems he's coming out of it -- hitting .286 with a homer and seven RBI -- and trade him.
Hold: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The slugger is batting just .172 so far this season, although he continues to hit with power (six home runs, 14 RBI). That batting average is going to rise, as his .161 BABIP tells us he's hitting the ball right at defenders. While he does have to hit against a shift once in a while, which keeps a BABIP lower than normal, he's still 115 points down from his .276 BABIP from a season ago. Interestingly, he's hitting left-handers better (.220) than right-handers (.160) which should switch around soon.
Rookie hitter spotlight
Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins: This past offseason, Pinto rode emotional roller coaster. The Twins moved Joe Mauer to first base, opening up playing time for Pinto, but he then seeing that window close when they signed Kurt Suzuki as their backstop. However the Twins realized that they needed the rookie's power in their lineup, so he has played 11 games at DH, and just seven behind the plate. Suzuki remains their regular catcher, which allows Pinto to concentrate on his offense -- a privilege not usually extended to rookie catchers. He's currently the fifth-highest scoring catcher in head-to-head leagues, in spite of his .230 batting average.
By the numbers
Some interesting numbers I've come across over the past week.
108 -- Strikeouts Aoki is on pace for this season with Kansas City, which is one more than he had in two full seasons combined in Milwaukee.
31 -- RBI by Abreu, which is about three times the 14 RBI posted by the second-best rookie in RBI -- White Sox teammate Marcus Semien.
27 -- The number of times Billy Hamilton will be caught stealing by season's end, according to his current pace, which is 11 more than the 16 times he was caught in 2013 in the majors and minors.
7 -- Stolen bases by Charlie Blackmon in 24 games with the Rockies this season, which is also the number of steals he had in 82 games last season.
7 -- Number of times Mariners runners have been caught stealing, compared to six successful steals, which is the lowest in the majors.
36.4 -- Line-Drive percentage for Nick Castellanos this season -- second-best in the majors. Fantasy owners know that hard-hit balls drop for base hits more often than not, and this is a great number for the Tigers rookie.
.226 -- The Cardinals' batting average with runners in scoring position this season, compared to last season, when St. Louis finished with the highest RISP batting average in major-league history: .330.
.138 -- BABIP for Royals 3B Mike Moustakas, which is the worst in the majors. His career BABIP is .266, so we expect some better things from the struggling slugger. His ISO is up (.165) and his walk and strikeout percentages are normal.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.