Fantasy baseball Hitting Report: Elite base-stealers separate from field
Dee Gordon, Jose Altuve and Billy Hamilton are the first three players to surpass the 20-steal mark in 2014, pacing all fantasy hitters with 74 stolen bases between them in the first two months of play, and that has us thinking more about the stolen base and its worth in a season like this one.
Last week, I mentioned Dee Gordon may be a first-round pick if the drafts were held today -- of course, this is only the case with Rotisserie leagues, since Gordon could keep a team out of last place in steals all by himself.
Head-to-Head leagues, on the other hand, need hitters, and preferably ones that hit for power, which is why I ranked Gordon relatively low in the second base rankings in our May fantasy roundtable.
These base-stealing specialists have more value this season than they would have in others. Gordon is on pace for close to 100 stolen bases this season, which would be the first time someone reached that mark since Vince Coleman did it twice in 1986 and '87. Hamilton and Altuve could also reach 60 steals apiece, which would potentially make three players above 60 steals in 2014 after no player posted more than 60 in the previous two seasons.
For the entire season, all 30 Major League teams are on pace to average 96 stolen bases per team. That number is up a little from last season's average of 90 per team, but it's down from the previous four seasons.
Gordon has struggled at the plate recently, especially against left-handed pitchers, but he also has added six steals in his last eight games. Hamilton, who is dealing with a sore elbow, stole nine bases in May despite being limited to just 77 at-bats by a hand injury. Altuve hit .357 and led all hitters in May with 45 hits, while also stealing 11 bases.
If you combine the early success of the game's three leading base-stealers with the fact that teams are on pace to fall short of their averages over the past three seasons, then you've just uncovered an interesting fantasy point.
Despite the drop in power we've been talking about since the start of the season, there hasn't been a dramatic uptick in steals, at least on the league level. But these three hitters are pacing the field, and they should garner more fantasy attention than we previously thought.
Hitters of the Week
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto -- Stats this week: .417 BA, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 9 Runs scored, 0 SB
The Blue Jays continue to terrorize pitchers, with Jose Bautista and Encarnacion leading the way. The Jays are second in runs scored, and their sluggers are making pitchers pay for their mistakes. Only a month ago I was discussing why Encarnacion was having the bad season I predicted. Obviously, last year's wrist surgery is behind him, and he's back to his slugging ways. Encarnacion led all hitters with 16 homers in May, and only Miguel Cabrera had more RBI in the month than his 33.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland -- .393 BA, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 7 Runs, 0 SB
One of the best lessons of the offseason was that the A's of 2013 were no one-hit wonder. While Donaldson might be the only true hitting superstar, the rest of the team is patched together perfectly. Donaldson has eclipsed all other third basemen, except Cabrera, who will likely be 1B-eligible only next season with just four games played at third base this year. Donaldson and Mark Reynolds are the only two third basemen on pace to hit more than 30 homers, and at a relatively thin position, Donaldson is on pace for roughly 140 runs scored.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona -- .522 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 9 Runs, 2 SB
The fantasy gods giveth, and the fantasy gods taketh away. Pollock had turned it up considerably in the past month, hitting .375 with eight stolen bases in the month of May, but then injuries struck. A broken right hand will keep him out of action for the next couple months after he was hit by a pitch over the weekend. It looks like David Peralta will see time in the outfield in Pollock's absence, while the Diamondbacks are going to have to use Gerardo Parra at the leadoff spot.
Hitters of the Weak
Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore -- Stats this week: .080 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 Run scored, 0 Steals
Just a couple singles and a walk in 25 at-bats for Crush this past week. It's possible Davis needs more time to knock the rust off after missing two games on paternity leave. He should resume dominating opposing pitchers soon.
Matt Kemp, OF, L.A. Dodgers -- .143 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 Runs, 0 SB
The Dodgers sat Kemp for a few games because of his defensive struggles, but now that Carl Crawford is on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ankle, Kemp will see time over in left field for the first time since his rookie season. He's on pace for just 14 homers and 42 RBI on the season, yet he's still owned in 97 percent of CBSSports leagues. If he does anything of value in the next couple weeks, you should consider moving him in hopes of getting something in return for your early-round investment.
Curtis Granderson, OF, N.Y. Mets -- .087 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 Runs, 0 SB
If there was ever going to be a week that Granderson was going to pad his slumping stats, it was going to be this past week, where he faced several right-handed pitchers and played four games at Citizens Bank Park. Free-agent hitters on new teams often need a bit of an adjustment period. It remains to be seen whether Granderson will make those adjustments in time to be a fantasy asset again. His power production isn't horrible, but he's batting just .200 on the season.
Buy! Sell! Hold!
Buy: Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle
Cano's power numbers just aren't there. He has just two home runs this season after averaging 29 over the past three seasons. Yet he's still driving in runs, and his strikeout rate (11.6 percent) is at its lowest since 2010. He seems to have traded in some power for average, as his .327 would be his highest mark since 2006. He's currently dealing with a hand injury and an illness, so he has missed a few games recently. There's no better time to make a move on him in trade talks -- you could land a player that could very easily still end up as the best second baseman in fantasy baseball by season's end.
Sell: Derek Norris, C, Oakland
Norris was red-hot not too long ago, but he had a tough time at the plate this past week. Hopefully, you can get another hot streak out of him this week before you get a chance to trade him. While the A's offense has been impressive this season, they've also played a pretty favorable schedule for hitters in the first two months. Oakland has faced just four pitching staffs ranked in the top 15 in team ERA this season, with seven series against staffs ranking below 20th. Norris' team has also faced just two of the top 15 staffs against right-handed batters. Things are going to get tougher for Norris relatively soon.
Hold: Texas Rangers
With first baseman Prince Fielder out for the season because of neck surgery, many may see the rest of the Rangers lineup as primed for a downturn in fantasy value. Mitch Moreland will play first base, but he has always been more of a low-power, low-average guy. Elsewhere in the lineup, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Shin Soo-Choo and Alex Rios should be just fine without Fielder. Choo essentially replaces Ian Kinsler from last year's team, and this lineup did pretty well in 2013 without Fielder.
Rookie Hitter Spotlight
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis: It took us a couple months, but we finally got to see Taveras' major league debut on Saturday. With Matt Adams (calf) going on the DL, Taveras made his debut on Saturday afternoon, and he has a great chance to stick in the lineup from here on out. The Cardinals rank 21st in runs scored, and Taveras has been among the best hitting prospects over the past couple seasons. Injuries impeded his climb to the majors, but he's healthy this season, hitting .325/.373/.524 at Triple-A Memphis. He's expected to hit for average, with good enough power to help fantasy owners in all formats. Of course, he celebrated his arrival with a home run in his very first game, which makes everyone smile -- expect for the fantasy owners that don't own him and the outfielders (Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay) he might replace in the everyday lineup once Adams returns from injury.
By the Numbers
In this section, I'll share some interesting numbers I've come across over the past week.
730 -- Runs scored by the Texas Rangers in 2013 without Prince Fielder. That number was good enough for eighth in the majors.
138 -- Plate appearances by Orioles OF Nick Markakis in the month of May, the second-most in the majors. Markakis posted just 10 RBI and 10 runs scored. Name a player that has done less with so much.
19 -- Games the A's have played against pitching staffs that rank 25th or worse in team ERA this season.
16 -- Catchers on pace to record at least 450 at-bats this season, almost double the average number over the past 10 seasons.
7 -- Hitters that have more than 14 stolen bases, the margin that Gordon currently holds over Hamilton and Altuve for the league lead.
4 -- Hitting prospects in the top 25 of Baseball America's Top 100 that are in the majors. The other nine hitters' average age is roughly 20.5 years old.
3 -- The spot where Baseball America has ranked Taveras in its Top 100 prospects list in each of the past two seasons.
2 -- Yasiel Puig's rank by OPS+ (170) among players with at least 600 plate appearances over the first two seasons of their careers, according to FanGraphs.com. Frank Thomas (179) is the only player to post a higher OPS+ in that span.