keyboard_arrow_uptop

As mentioned last month, fantasy owners too often get caught up in full-season numbers and don’t take stock of what’s happening at each position. It’s often instructive to look at the “state of the position” over the past 30 days, in order to see which players are leading the pack. It’s those moments in which you see that Francisco Cervelli has been one of the top-five fantasy catchers over the past month. Sure, he’s hitting .331/.396/.405 on the year, but I still wouldn’t have guessed that he has been a top-five catcher in recent weeks. It’s all about contextualizing performance.

Below are the top-five performers per position over the past 30 days. I’ve also included a “buy low” candidate at each position, but without additional blurbs because the article is long enough as it is. Y’all don’t need extra punishment in that way.

Catcher

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Evan Gattis

.277

16

6

20

0

2

Buster Posey

.283

12

5

20

0

3

Brian McCann

.274

12

6

18

0

4

Francisco Cervelli

.423

12

1

12

0

5

Derek Norris

.221

16

4

18

0

The catcher position reflects a few different things. First, fantasy owners should warmly welcome back Jonathan Lucroy, Yan Gomes and Matt Wieters, because the offensive production from the position has been rough over the past 30 days. The top five consists of a guy hitting near the Mendoza Line and a guy who has been almost wholly reliant on BABIP.

Gattis has made a wonderful turn around from a nightmarish April. I counseled prior to the year that fantasy owners should avoid him; however, he’s shown over the past month what he can provide fantasy owners during a hot stretch. In a position that’s been heavily cut down by injury, Gattis has been one of the few power threats. His spot atop the catcher rankings over the last 30 days is reflective of that.

At this point in his career, Brian McCann is predictable. He’ll offer 20 home runs and a .230-.250 batting average. That has placed him in the back half of the top-10 over the past half-decade, but when the cream of the crop sits on the DL, he once again becomes a top-shelf fantasy catcher. However, if I were a McCann owner, I’d be working the trade market to sell high right now. This is as good as it’s going to get.

Buy Low: Matt Wieters, BAL

First Base

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Prince Fielder

.371

16

8

26

0

2

Paul Goldschmidt

.323

20

7

20

3

3

Brandon Belt

.300

20

7

20

2

4

Albert Pujols

.280

15

10

17

1

5

Todd Frazier

.327

15

6

17

2

We mentioned this about Alex Rodriguez prior to the season: elite hitters don’t forget how to hit just because they missed time. Prince Fielder is finally healthy and raking once more. Owners should be wary of his underlying numbers, though. He’s sporting a .376 BABIP and his walk rate (6.7 percent) is far lower than his career norm (12.7 percent). The 31-year-old slugger is swinging more than ever before and chasing more than ever before. The good news, however, is that he’s stinging the baseball. His hard-hit rate is 38.3 percent, which is his best mark since 2010, and his average batted-ball velocity is 92.78 mph. The latter ranks 16th in all of baseball.

The fantasy baseball community has been leading the Brandon Belt bandwagon for years. Perhaps it has finally arrived. He’s walking, hitting for power, and driving in runs. Fantasy owners are undoubtedly tickled. Just be aware that he’s hitting .194/.265/.258 with a 44.1 percent strikeout rate against lefties—and that’s with a .375 BABIP versus southpaws. Those in daily leagues would be wise to sit him against lefties until further notice.

Buy Low: Adam LaRoche, CWS

Second Base

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Jason Kipnis

.402

26

2

15

4

2

Brian Dozier

.297

23

8

13

1

3

D.J. LeMahieu

.327

22

2

14

4

4

Logan Forsythe

.263

17

5

14

3

5

Joe Panik

.350

18

2

12

1

What a dumpster fire the second base position has been over the past month. Kipnis and Dozier have lit the American League ablaze, but the other top-tier options are noticeably absent. Robinson Cano has looked more like Willie Bloomquist than the perennial All-Star that he is, while the normally reliable Chase Utley is still hitting below the Mendoza Line. To make things even weirder, Brandon Phillips has his average over .300 and is running again (eight steals).

LeMahieu was one of my favorite stash options this draft season. I grabbed him in two dynasty leagues for my bench. Not only does he benefit from the Coors Field Effect, but he hits for average and benefits from a quality offense around him. That results in more runs scored, more RBI opportunities, and more fantasy value. The fact that he’s running more this year is just a bonus. LeMahieu is a great example of a player who exceeds fantasy expectations because he’s in a great environment for value.

At some point, we need to talk about this Logan Forsythe thing. He’s a career .242/.313/.362 hitter who is mashing this year. He now owns a .275/.360/.455 slash line with a sustainable .302 BABIP and a career-high .184 ISO. The dude is a two-win player already in 2015, and he was below replacement level in each of the past two years. What’s difficult about Forsythe, though, is that his underlying numbers remain consistent with his career norms. The contact rate is reasonable, the walk rate isn’t way higher than normal, his batted-ball profile is similar, he’s not hitting the baseball harder in any noticeable fashion. I’ll readily admit that I have no idea what to expect from Forsythe over the next four months.

Buy Low: Chris Owings, ARI

Shortstop

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Brandon Crawford

.323

15

3

22

2

2

Jhonny Peralta

.333

14

5

19

0

3

Troy Tulowitzki

.308

15

5

22

0

4

Jose Reyes

.339

8

1

9

6

5

Wilmer Flores

.264

14

6

17

0

Stolen bases can push a player up the fantasy rankings dramatically. Such is the case with Jose Reyes over the past 30 days. Due to injury, he only played 14 games in May and June; however, his quality batting average and half-dozen stolen bases make him one of the best fantasy shortstops in recent weeks. Fun fact: only four shortstops have stolen more than three bases in the past 30 days— Alexei Ramirez, Reyes, Jose Ramirez, and Elvis Andrus.

It’s often useful to remember that defensive issues simultaneously do and don’t matter in fantasy baseball. Wilmer Flores is a perfect example. His value is obviously not touched by his inadequate glovework. He continues to hit for power and post solid contextual statistics, which makes him extremely attractive at the shortstop position. At the same time, his fielding issues could push him off shortstop or even cause him to lose playing time, which certainly matters to fantasy owners. The talk of replacing him has died down as of late, but it’s something to keep on the backburner. People often comment that defense doesn’t matter when drafting a player in March. It’s just important to remember that things aren’t that simple.

Buy Low: Ian Desmond, WAS

Third Base

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

Josh Donaldson

.300

22

9

23

1

2

Kris Bryant

.296

18

6

18

3

3

Todd Frazier

.327

15

6

17

2

4

Nolan Arenado

.255

15

8

28

0

5

Josh Harrison

.347

18

2

12

4

Josh Donaldson still reigns supreme. He was the only third baseman BP rated as a five-star option prior to the year. That has proven true. He’s the cream of the crop, and it’s not close.

The newness factor has already worn off Kris Bryant. Fantasy owners are used to him hitting bombs and driving in runs for the Chicago Cubs. It should be noted, though, that he’s benefiting from a .393 BABIP and has a strikeout rate near 30 percent. He’s hitting .282 right now, and it seems likely that his average is going to fall, unless something dramatic changes in his profile. That doesn’t mean he won’t remain valuable. The power is massive, and Joe Maddon’s free-wheeling style on the basepaths should help him retain value near the top-five. Bryant owners should be expecting the average to fall, though.

Nolan Arenado is one of my favorite players in baseball, and he remains crazy valuable, even while he’s scuffling through a rough patch with the average. He’s benefiting from the same things as D.J. LeMahieu. What puts him above the Rockies second baseman is the fact that he’ll legit hit 25-plus home runs for the next half-decade.

Buy Low: Ryan Zimmerman, WAS

Outfield

#

Player

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

1

A.J. Pollock

.342

20

5

18

8

2

Bryce Harper

.370

19

8

19

3

3

Andrew McCutchen

.366

18

6

23

2

4

Ryan Braun

.290

12

7

24

4

5

Cameron Maybin

.340

16

1

16

7

You could make 100 fantasy baseball owners guess which outfielder has been the best fantasy producer over the past 30 days, and I’m not sure a single person would’ve been correct. In fact, I had to do a double-take when I saw Harper’s name at no. 2 on the list. Pollock has raked over the past month, but as with Reyes, his value is pushed over the top because he has been running wild on the base paths. Only Billy Hamilton and Charlie Blackmon have stolen more bases over the past 30 days.

As noted with Prince Fielder before, it turns out that Ryan Braun hadn’t forgotten how to hit. His thumb is now healthy (at least healthy enough) and he’s beginning to re-discover the rhythm and mechanics that carried him to prominence in the late 2000s and early 2010s. I wrote an article at the beginning of May, discussing Braun’s upward trajectory and noted that he’d be the “old Braun” if he could handle velocity on the inner half. His 440-foot bomb to straight-away CF on a 96-mph inside fastball from J.R. Graham a week ago answered those questions in an emphatic way.

Cameron Maybin is one of the players having a great season about which no one is talking. His walk rate is up, he’s swinging-strike rate is the lowest of his career at 7.7 percent, and his strikeout rate is three points below his career average. Moreover, he’s using the opposite field more than he ever has and his ground-ball rate is below 50 percent for the first time in his career, which has led to more line drives and opportunities for power. All good things. The fact that he’s hitting atop the Braves order and running a ton makes him even more valuable.

Buy Low: Rusney Castillo, BOS

Starting Pitching

#

Player

ERA

WHIP

K

W

SV

1

Chris Sale

1.35

0.66

67

4

0

2

Chris Archer

1.09

0.90

58

4

0

3

Jacob deGrom

1.96

0.77

49

4

0

4

Gerrit Cole

1.28

1.09

47

5

0

5

Corey Kluber

2.03

0.85

58

3

0

No surprises here, folks. Class rises to the top, and all five of these pitchers are absolutely filthy. Sale has double-digit strikeouts in five of his last six starts. Archer has ridden his plus-plus slider to borderline #ace status. Although Harvey and Syndergaard get all the attention right now, deGrom may be the best of the bunch. I picked deGrom to finish in the top three of the NL Cy Young at the beginning of the year, and it appears that he’s just hitting his stride. Cole has taken the step forward that the entire baseball community has been waiting for him to take, while Kluber has shaken off an uncharacteristically poor start to dominate once again.

Quality pitching has gotten more plentiful in this depressed offensive environment; however, the elite arms remain elite. It’s just the numerical scale has been shifted a bit closer to zero.

Buy Low: Andrew Cashner, SDP

Relief Pitching

#

Player

ERA

WHIP

K

W

SV

1

Mark Melancon

0.63

0.98

7

0

14

2

Drew Storen

0.87

0.68

17

0

10

3

Cody Allen

1.88

0.91

21

0

9

4

Trevor Rosenthal

0.00

1.05

10

1

8

5

Huston Street

1.59

0.44

13

0

8

Reliever rankings often just become an exercise in which teams have played well over the past month. Still, certain things still stand out. First of all, Melancon is a strikeout liability when he’s not saving ballgames. Thus, in projecting performance going forward, a fantasy owner would be much better off targeting someone like Storen or Allen, due to the fact that those relievers will help in four categories, rather than just three.

The joke surrounding Street has centered on his fragility. What we don’t talk about enough, though, is that he owns a 2.07 ERA with 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings from 2012-2015. He’s easily a top-five closer when on the mound, and the durability questions have seemingly begun to fade. Street has finished 50+ games in each of the past two years and is on pace to reach 60 games finished this season.

Buy Low: Carson Smith, SEA