Burying the Lead Off Hitter

Breaking down yesterday's best hitting performances

Dylan Carlson (STL): 3-4, 2 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI.

Let’s just stick with a mostly leadoff hitter theme today and start with St. Louis’ Dylan Carlson here. Though the lack of stolen bases has been disappointing for his fantasy managers, Carlson continues his perfectly adequate pace through his first full major league season, belting his ninth homer of the year to lead off the bottom of the first inning on Thursday and tacking on two doubles in his next two at-bats. He would go on to score two runs on the day and his lone RBI of course came off his 420-foot solo shot. Though it may be concerning to see the dip in Carlson’s hard-hit percentage (32.9% in 2021 vs 42.1% in 2020) and barrel percentage (7.8% in 2021 vs 9.2% in 2020), one should be encouraged by the strides the young outfielder has made in the way of showing patience at the plate as shown by his increase in walks, decrease in strikeouts, and overall decrease in whiffs. The extra selectivity may have cut into his power production ever so slightly, but the long-term effects should outweigh the current concerns.

The added discipline has thrust Carlson into the leadoff spot for the Cardinals; a spot he’s enjoyed since mid-June, in case you haven’t noticed. Since June 15th, Carlson has slashed .246/.328/.410 with a slightly above average 105 wRC+. And though he has collected 24 hard-hit balls through 88 batted ball events in that time (27.3%) it is slightly encouraging to see that nine of them were recorded as barrels, giving him a 10.2% barrel rate in that time. Carlson looks to be a solid “buy low” candidate in dynasty leagues if he’s rostered on a win-now team that doesn’t want to wait for it to all come together, as it may not until 2022.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Thursday

Mark Canha (OAK): 2-3, 2B, 2 BB, SB.

The Oakland leadoff hitter returned to the top of the lineup once he was activated from the injured list this past Saturday, and has shown no ill effects as he extends his modest hitting streak to five straight with his multi-hit performance Thursday. The stolen base marked his eighth of the year and gives him an outside chance at a 20-20 season. Leadoff hitters on contending teams with decent power output don’t typically grow on trees, so the fact that Canha is still available in 12% of leagues across Yahoo should be remedied soon as less active leagues start to realize he’s returned from the IL.

LaMonte Wade Jr (SF): 2-5, 2B, R, 2 RBI, SB.

Speaking of leadoff hitters on contending clubs, enter LaMonte Wade Jr. Though Wade may not finish with a 20-20 season, it won’t be due to lack of trying and more so due to the timing of him being established as a near everyday piece of the top of the Giants’ line up. Wade has comfortably called the leadoff spot home for the majority of the past two months, and since the start of June has posted .235/.321/.504 slash through 133 trips to the plate, accompanied by an 18% strikeout rate and near double-digit walk rate. Over half of his hits have resulted in extra bases in that time span and while he doesn’t start every day, he finds ways into the lineup and continues to rack up fantasy counting stats despite sitting against most left-handed starters. He surely deserves to be rostered in more than the 3% of leagues he currently seeing time on now.

Freddie Freeman (ATL): 2-3, R, 2 BB, SB.

So what if Freeman isn’t a leadoff hitter. He’s obviously still very good at his job. His stolen base Thursday was his sixth on the year, giving him a decent shot at surpassing his career-high mark of 10 set back in 2018. The Atlanta first baseman has been one of the few first-round picks (in 15-teamers) that has not missed significant time this year and should continue to provide stability in just about every category through the final two months of the season.

Victor Reyes (DET): 1-1, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB.

Now we can talk about another…umm, I mean former leadoff hitter in Victor Reyes. Reyes enjoyed the top spot of the Tigers’ lineup for the majority of the 2020 season but simply has done nothing in 2021 to convince A.J. Hinch to consider putting him anything higher than sixth all season. Batting ninth on Thursday—which has been the most common spot for Reyes this season—the speedy outfielder collected his first multi-walk game of the season, bringing his season-long total up to a whopping five. The .202 batting average and .234 on-base percentage build on the adage that regardless of his speed, you can’t steal first base. He’ll need to tack on a bit more to warrant any consideration in fantasy leagues.

Andy Ibáñez (TEX): 3-4, 3B, 2 R, RBI.

Ibáñez may have been expected to be mostly a bench piece for the Rangers, but instead has found ways into the starting line up more often than not, splitting time between first and second while scattering him some designated hitter duties from time to time. Perhaps it’s a testament to the overall talent level of the Rangers’ lineup; however, as Ibáñez has slashed a less than ideal .246/.268/.362 since being added to the roster full time on June 21st. He continues to find playing time in the bottom portion of the Texas lineup, which won’t help him add to his already low counting stat totals and should continue to be ignored in most formats.

Yandy Diaz (TB): 4-5, 3B, HR, 2 R, RBI.

Diaz recorded the fourth four-hit game of his major league career on Thursday, the first time he’s performed the feat during the 2021 season, coming a double away from the cycle in the process. Diaz led off the ninth inning with his second hard hit of the game in the form of a 378-foot solo shot off James Karinchak, giving him four bombs in his last 12 games. Despite the recent power output, Diaz has lacked the main area of interest fantasy managers have been interested in and that would be his ability to hit the ball very, very hard. The corner infielder has recorded a 38.2% hard-hit rate on the season, though it has been weighed down by a slow start to the season where he recorded a 35% rate in the first two months of the season.

Ronald Torreyes (PHI): 2-2, R, 2 BB.

Filling in at shortstop for a majority of the season, Torreyes has seen a majority of his playing time come at the hot corner with the return of Didi Gregorious. The Phillies seem content with keeping Torreyes on the field, albeit in the bottom third of the lineup. Torreyes has found ways to produce regardless of his lineup spot however, slashing .277/.327/.392 through 161 plate appearances on the season. If he can continue to build on his growing walk rate (currently sitting at 6.2%) and continue pacing at an 11% strikeout rate, he has a non-zero chance of moving closer to the top of the lineup, making him a bit more viable as a multi-positional bench piece in most fantasy formats.

Didi Gregorius (PHI): 2-4, 2B, 3B, R.

Speaking of Sir Didi, the Phillies’ shortstop collected two more extra-base hits on Thursday, bringing his season total up to 16 (42% of his total hits). Perhaps this was a jolt Gregorius needed as his production since returning from his elongated IL stint has been less than ideal. Since his return on July 2nd, Gregorius has slashed a disappointing .190/.277/.483, though the power production has helped keep his wRC+ above water at 101 in that time span. Eight of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases, including four home runs through 65 plate appearances. He’s not striking out (18.5%) and still taking his walks when given (9.2%), and one can easily argue has simply been unlucky since his return as his .167 BABIP would help to indicate, though he’ll have a hard time climbing out of the “slump” if he continues with a sub 20% hard-hit rate, which is what he’s recorded since his return.

 

Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Adam Howe

Adam resides in Indianapolis after spending the better part of a decade in Oakland, CA and growing up in Massachusetts. He co-hosts the On The Wire podcast with Kevin Hasting, analyzing your weekly FAAB options before your bid deadlines every Sunday.

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