Breakout or Fakeout: Evaluating July’s Surprisingly Hot Hitters
The month of July has seen some surprising names rise to the top of the Hot Hitter Charts. Over the last month these 5 hitters have really opened some eyes with their sticks. Can they keep it up? Most of these guys have been around for awhile. Have they truly arrived as star players or are they just mediocre hitters on a hot streak? Let’s separate the true breakouts from the fakeouts…
Kole Calhoun — Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
Calhoun came into the season as a trendy sleeper pick. He was coming off a nice 2013 where he put up a .282/.347/.462 slash line for an .808 OPS in 195 major league ABs, but his .354/.431/.617 megastats in the minors that year was what really got the pundits excited. Going into 2014 he was expected to be an everyday player for the first time in his career at the age of 26. He played pretty well for two weeks at the start of this season but then got hurt and spent more than a month on the Disabled List. When he came back in the middle of May he was very rusty and his performance took a dive, leading to a pathetic .179/.281/.214 slash line and .496 OPS for the month. He even lost some playing time to C.J. Cron and was dropped in many fantasy leagues. But then Calhoun turned a corner and delivered a whopping .346/.386/.568 month of June for a .954 OPS and has kept that pace rolling right through July. Over the past 30 days Calhoun has ranked as the 7th best fantasy hitter in baseball. I like his chances going forward too. He has the enviable role of batting leadoff for the highest scoring team in baseball. He will provide your team with a strong batting average in the range of .280 to .300 along with 20+ home runs and 100 Runs per season. He could eventually get moved down in the batting order to more of a run-producing position that would increase his RBI potential. Calhoun stole some bases in the minors but don’t expect more than 5-10 steals per season from him in the future. Due to time lost to injury and his poor May performance, Calhoun ranks as only the 75th best hitter in 5×5 leagues so far this season. His value moving forward is much better than that. Verdict: True Breakout. Top 40 hitter overall when healthy.
Lucas Duda — 1st Baseman, New York Mets
The Mets entered this season with Duda splitting time with Ike Davis at 1st base. The plan was to see which one of them would grab the job and run with it. Despite not playing all that great early in the season, Duda won the role and the Mets dumped Davis off on Pittsburgh. Duda has gone on to blossom and finally live up to the potential he showed as a part time player way back in 2011. The 2012 and 2013 seasons were very disappointing for Duda and Mets fans as his OPS dropped off by 100 points from his promising .852 OPS season in 2011. After his slow start this season Duda has come alive, putting up a .956 OPS in June and a .978 OPS in July. He has been a top 10 fantasy hitter over the last 60 days. That is not just a hot streak, that is simply stellar play over an extended period. Due to his slow start Duda ranks only 69th among all hitters in 5×5 leagues for the entire season thus far. I don’t think he will remain white hot for too much longer, but his season stats this year are a good barometer for what we can expect in the future. Duda won’t help nor hurt you in batting average, but he will provide very good power production, leading to good numbers of Runs, Home Runs and RBI. He is a solid fantasy 1st baseman who can be picked up for free in more leagues than you might think. He is rostered in only 36% of Yahoo leagues, 73% of CBS leagues and 66% of ESPN leagues. Verdict: Real Breakout. Top 75 hitter overall.
J.D. Martinez — Outfielder, Detroit Tigers
This player has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. After all, Martinez was simply released by the Astros during Spring Training this year after disappointing 2012 and 2013 seasons that saw him OPS .685 and .650 respectively. The player has a long track record of being a poor hitter. If he couldn’t beat out the likes of Marc Krauss and L.J.Hoes for a roster spot in Houston then how could he possibly be any good? Normally I would look at his amazing stats this year and label him a fluke that can’t last. But it has been documented in several places (most recently FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) that Martinez made multiple major, well-thought-out changes to his swing over the winter, so maybe there is good reason to hope this breakout is real and that Martinez is simply not the same bad player he was in Houston. The results have been spectacular: .327/.363/.606 with 13 home runs in 208 ABs! In June and July combined his OPS is 1.032. It is rare but not unheard of for a bad hitter to turn into a great hitter after totally overhauling his swing (Jose Bautista anyone?). Martinez won’t continue to hit better than Miguel Cabrera for long and the league’s pitchers will likely adjust to him, but I like his chances to succeed. His BABIP will fall from the lofty .385 it sits at now, but he has boosted his line drive rate up over 20% so I think he will be able to maintain a nice batting average along with good power. Martinez carries quite a bit of risk and uncertainty as a fantasy asset, but I think he will emerge as a strong fantasy hitter for a few years. Verdict: True Breakout. Top 50 hitter overall.
Chris Coghlan — Outfielder, Chicago Cubs
Coghlan won the Rookie of the Year Award back in 2009 in Miami with a very promising .321/.390/.460 slash line, but since then he hasn’t been able to hold an everyday job in the starting lineup for long. The Marlins let him go to the Cubs this offseason and since then Coghlan has had a nice career revival and has played his best baseball since his rookie year. Coghlan has been especially hot in July with a .373/.449/.657 slash line for an 1.106 OPS. He has been the 10th best hitter in 5×5 leagues over the last 30 days. He is rostered in only 23% of Yahoo leagues and 18% of CBS leagues, so there is a good chance he is still available in your league unless you have more than 12 teams or large rosters. His peripheral stats are solid and there is nothing that screams fluke under the hood of his FanGraphs advanced stats page. He is having a legitimately good year, but the sample size is still quite small at 189 ABs, which is certainly not enough to make us forget about the 1600 ABs that came before this year and indicated he is a replacement level player and no more than an emergency injury replacement in your fantasy starting lineup. The 29 year old Coghlan is definitely not going to be part of the rebuilding Cubs’ long term plans, not with the large group of elite prospects they have on the cusp of being major league ready. There is a great chance he will be changing teams this week. Hopefully he will still have a starting role with his new team and hopefully it will be in a hitters’ park like Cincinnati or New York. If so, he could be a decent asset for your team down the stretch this year. Feel free to ride the lightning right now, but don’t expect him to remain a good fantasy option beyond this season. He doesn’t hit for power and he doesn’t steal bases, therefore he is not going to accrue enough fantasy stats to make himself worth a roster slot on your team once his current hot streak burns out. Verdict: Fakeout. Not a top 150 hitter long term.
Kevin Kiermaier — Oufielder, Tampa Bay Rays
The 21st ranked hitter in 5×5 leagues over the past 30 days. He has stormed onto the scene with a .913 OPS in his first 54 career games. He is hitting for average and power, sporting an excellent .306/.360/.553 slash line. The biggest surprise is the power. He has already hit 8 home runs in 170 ABs. That is a lot considering he homered only 14 times in 1730 minor league plate appearances. All of his homers have been fence scrapers, so we really shouldn’t expect Kiermaier to smack many more dingers. His game is built more around slapping singles, taking walks, stealing a few bases and flashing some leather in the field. That doesn’t add up to a strong fantasy asset for your roster. In fantasy terms he will only help your team in AVG while being a drain on the remaining categories. Even though he is a hot young rookie putting up elite stats I really don’t see Kiermaier having much fantasy potential in the long run. If you have him trade him immediately while his value is higher than it ever will be again. Verdict: Total Fakeout. Fantasy Bust. Not a top 200 hitter long term.
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