Justin Upton (LAA): 3-5, 2 R, RBI.
Prior to moving to the top of the order on May 23, Upton was hitting just .188 and was likely dropped by all but the most desperate of fantasy managers. Since taking over the leadoff role, though, Upton has been nothing short of astounding. Since that date, he ranks 10th in OBP, 5th in slugging, and 1st in runs scored among all qualified hitters.
I can’t sit here and pretend to have seen this coming, or even that I understand how this happened. Veteran hitters can do weird, unexpected things when given weird, unexpected opportunities, and if there’s one thing Joe Maddon does, it’s giving his hitters weird, unexpected opportunities.
As I mentioned in the episode of Hacks & Jacks that drops this morning, I get the feeling that what Upton is doing right now is everything that the Cubs wanted Kyle Schwarber to do when he was their leadoff hitter for a while, even though it never panned out.
Due to his notoriously streaky nature, it’s hard to get a read on exactly what kind of fantasy output Upton can generate over the rest of the season. Durability remains a concern for the aging outfielder, but, assuming he can play 80% of the time the rest of the season, Upton projects as a top-25 outfielder going forward with power and a good OBP, even if the batting average comes and goes. Should he keep the job long enough for Mike Trout to get healthy, he could also score a boatload of runs to go with his 30 or more home runs.
In leagues where I’m getting a bit desperate or where I have a lot of ground to cover in power and runs scored, I might be making an aggressive play for Upton, trading guys like Ketel Marte, Bryan Reynolds, Eduardo Escobar, Jean Segura, or Alex Verdugo in the hopes of trading a “safer” player for a chance to move up in the standings.
This play isn’t for everyone, but at this point, it can be difficult to come back from large deficits—especially in roto formats. Taking risks is one way to do it, and when it pays off, it’s an absolutely awesome feeling.
If you’re wondering about possible trades or other aggressive moves, put your format and ideas in the comments and I’ll be happy to let you know what I might do in that situation (so that you can strongly consider doing the opposite).
Let’s see how the other hitters did Sunday
Yordan Alvarez (HOU): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB.
Yordan hitting well and being great isn’t a big surprise. Yordan stealing a base is an enormous surprise. Don’t count on another one of those, but count on plenty more home runs and RBI.
Myles Straw (HOU): 2-3, 2B, R, RBI, BB, SB.
The speedy outfielder posted his third multi-hit performance of his four-game hitting streak and stole his second base of the month, giving him eight for the season. His miserable April likely took him out of contention for the leadoff job for the foreseeable future, and getting caught three times on four attempts in May was a real bummer, but perhaps the summer months can give Straw the boost he needs to hit for a strong average and steal bases. It’d take a lot for me to be interested in 12-team leagues due to his complete and total lack of power, but he’s always worth watching in deeper roto formats due to the stolen base upside,
Kyle Tucker (HOU): 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
It’s hard to fathom that Tucker, who at this point has been a top-15 fantasy hitter in 2021, had a miserable start to the season, posting a .610 OPS in the month of April. His three-hit night extended his current hitting streak to eight games, and his .412 wOBA is third amongst all outfielders since May 1, behind only Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker. The 24-year-old Tucker looks like he can be a top-10 outfielder in fantasy for the rest of this season and for many seasons to come.
Austin Riley (ATL): 3-3, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB.
This was a nice bounce-back from an 0-17 stretch over the previous four games where he struck out six times, and while he’ll remain prone to cold stretches like this, his floor looks much higher than it did a few months ago thanks to changes he’s made (which are covered in full detail in this article by our own Jai Correa).
Michael Brantley (HOU): 4-5, 3 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI.
After going 0-4 to end his 10-game hitting streak on Saturday, Brantley got right back on his horse with a four-hit performance on Sunday and extended his on-base streak to twelve games. His excellent contact skills and role as the number-two hitter for the strong Astros offense means he’s going to continue to score plenty of runs, but durability is likely to remain an issue, and he’s very unlikely to reach the 20-home run mark this season. The lack of speed and power plus the injury concerns will put him just inside the top-50 outfielders in some projection models, but in 10- and 12-team formats he will act as more of a top-30 to top-40-ish option due to the fact that replacing him during his IL stints isn’t a huge concern in those leagues due to the depth of the outfield free agent pool.
Zach McKinstry (LAD): 3-3, 2B, 2 RBI, BB.
A hot start to the season doesn’t mean much when you play for the Dodgers. The emergence of Gavin Lux as an everyday player and the somewhat healthy return of Cody Bellinger will probably keep McKinstry on the bench enough to make him only relevant in very deep formats.
Matt Olson (OAK): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Olson has 32 home runs in his last 121 games, though the power shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The real surprise continues to be the incredibly low strikeout rate, which currently sits at 16.9%. That, combined with his typically strong walk rate (currently 11%), has made him the second-best first baseman in fantasy in both standard and OBP formats behind Vladimir Gurerro Jr., and he should be a top-five option going forward.
Jared Walsh (LAA): 2-5, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI.
The strikeouts have come back with a vengeance, as he’s struck out 37.8% of the time in his 45 June plate appearances. While he was able to limit the strikeouts in heroic fashion in 2020 and for the early part of 2021, they’ve always been a part of his game and don’t necessarily concern me much for the long term—I think they’ll come and go in waves. While he won’t be the top-five first baseman he was to start the season, I think he’s every bit of a top-ten first baseman going forward and would be more than interested in checking in to see if folks in my leagues think they’d be selling high.
David Fletcher (LAA): 2-3, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Fletcher is finally starting to look more like himself, hitting .303 over his last 20 games with an 8% walk rate and a 9.3% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, that batting average comes with zero home runs and one stolen base in that stretch, and while he has scored 12 runs, he has very little else to show for it. While Fletcher has the skillset to be a useful fantasy contributor in 12-team deeper leagues, he can’t unlock that potential batting ninth. With the way Justin Upton is playing right now at the top of the order, it may be a while before he gets another shot at leading off, making Fletcher an option only in 15-team and deeper formats.
Jean Segura (PHI): 3-4, 3B, R, 2 RBI.
Segura should just barely get to double-digits in home runs and steals again this season, and while he uncharacteristically missed some time in early May, he’ll also play basically every day for the rest of the season hitting near the top of the Phillies order. Projection models like to rank him pretty high when they crunch the numbers due to the high number of plate appearances and strong ratios, but 10- and 12-team managers should think of Segura as a back-end option. You probably can’t stream his .285 batting average, but you can absolutely stream the same or better numbers in each of the other four hitting categories in those leagues.
Kyle Schwarber (WSH): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, BB.
It’s impossible to ignore what Schwarber is at this point for fantasy purposes—a streaky three-outcome power hitter. He’s likely to hit 30 home runs if he plays the full season and drive in 80-90 of his teammates, and while that’s useful in all fantasy formats, he’s actually very difficult to roster due to his hot-and-cold nature and awful batting average. He should rank somewhere in the top 40-50 outfielders going forward, and in shallow formats, he’s best utilized as a streamer.
Tommy Pham (SD): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB.
June continues to go well for the Padres leadoff man, as this was his second straight multi-hit performance and his fourth multi-walk performance. His 23.8% walk rate over his last 42 plate appearances and his ability to steal bases (he already has swiped five in June) makes him a top-15 to top-20 outfielder in all formats.
Kyle Seager (SEA): 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI.
While the massive plate discipline gains from 2020 seem to have disappeared, they still left behind a decent power hitter for deeper leagues. Seager should hit somewhere between 25 and 30 home runs depending on how many hot streaks he can get in between now and the end of September, and while 25-30 home runs with a .225 batting average isn’t that appealing in 10- and 12-teamers, he has streaming appeal in those leagues when you’re dealing with injuries and is a palatable corner infielder in deeper formats even with the bad ratios.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (TOR): 3-5, HR, 2 R, RBI.
No one would have blamed you in early May for cutting Gurriel Jr., as through May 13, he had a wRC+ of just 31, meaning he was a not-very-nice 69% worse than the average MLB hitter up to that point. Over the last month, Gurriel Jr. managed to completely turn it around, putting together an OPS of .956 wRC+ of 160 from May 14 to today. While he doesn’t have loud enough skills to be a top-20 outfielder going forward, he can still be a very valuable piece for fantasy teams in pretty much all formats.
Teoscar Hernández (TOR): 3-6, 2B, 2 HR, 2 R, 6 RBI.
In his last 162 games, Teoscar has been nothing short of incredible. He’s not only hit 45 home runs and 25 doubles, but he’s also stolen 12 bases and has a .280 batting average. As the 28-year-old continues to refine his approach at the plate, he’s managed to gradually lower his strikeout rate from 33% in 2019 to a much more manageable 26.9% in 2021, and while I don’t expect him to hit 45 home runs this season, a 30 home run, 10 stolen base campaign with a batting average north of .270 appears to be in the cards, making him a top-15 to 20 outfielder for the rest of the season.
Cavan Biggio (TOR): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB.
It has likely been a long season for those who selected Biggio in their fantasy drafts, as he was hitting just .205 and slugging .315 with a 31.1% strikeout rate prior to hitting the IL on May 21. On the bright side, Biggio now has a hit in all three games he’s played since his return on June 11, and his second game in a row where he’s hit both a double and a home run with no strikeouts. Biggio has essentially no shot at finishing as a top-3 second baseman as he did back in 2020, but he could absolutely be a top-10 second baseman for the rest of the season (especially in OBP), and if you could trade a player like Josh Rojas for him, you absolutely should.
Bo Bichette (TOR): 4-5, 2B, HR, 5 R, 3 RBI, BB, SB.
It was a massive day for the Blue Jays, and especially for Bichette. He’s either third or fourth in shortstop rankings for the rest of the season depending on how you feel about a Trevor Story bounceback.
Raimel Tapia (COL): 2-5, R.
This wasn’t a special performance by any means, but it’s a good opportunity to remind you that Colorado plays at home all week and that he’s available in about 42% of Y! leagues.
Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)