Tuesday saw Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi send two items of baseball airmail out of Globe Life Park en route to a convincing 11-4 Independence Day victory. Coming in clutch with a 5-5, 4 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI performance—along with an acrobatic catch that denied Mike Napoli of what would have been a sure double—Benintendi was undeniably the MVP of the game for Boston. And he hasn’t limited his generation of fireworks to just the Fourth of July: he launched two homers at Camden Yards on June 4 as well. Benintendi is rapidly emerging as one of the most legitimate and prolific young talents in baseball, posting a .288 average along with 12 home runs, 43 runs and 50 RBI for a pretty tasty fantasy portfolio. An underrated or perhaps under-advertised part of his skill set is manifested in the nine steals he’s amassed as well. Benintendi has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 with three total multihit showings, and he really only batted poorly in the month of May during this strong campaign overall. It’s an accomplishment to be able to shine alongside the likes of fantasy megastar Mookie Betts, and the fact that Benintendi is doing so well at just age 22 during his first full MLB season is a testament to his skill set and upside. His OPS of .827 ranks 60th league-wide, just beating out Robinson Cano, Matt Carpenter and Elvis Andrus. The two things I’d like to see Benintendi address are his poor track record against changeup pitches and perhaps correcting his average exit angle slightly to result in more line drives versus grounders—the hard contact is there so that’s not the issue. He’s also just .190 at Fenway against lefties this season as a LHB, so that’s something to keep in mind when starting him.
Let’s take a gander at some other noteworthy hitting performances from the slate of holiday games:
Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, WSH) – 4-5, R, 5 RBI. This is your friendly neighborhood reminder that Murphy once again has reclaimed his spot at the top of the batting average pecking order among qualified hitters league-wide. His shellacking of the Mets on Tuesday lifted his average to .341 and allowed Murph to leapfrog Buster Posey’s .333. His 60 RBI are tied for the 12th-best mark in the league, and his 55 runs scored are tied for 13th place and he’s on pace for a career-high in the latter. Also, 14 homers don’t hurt when Steamer had projected him preseason to hit 14 all year long. A true beast that you’re lucky to own.
Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) – 3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, K. ESPN Stats & Info published a great little bit of trivia yesterday before McCutchen and the Pirates took on Philadelphia: since May 24, back when he had a season average of .203, McCutchen has accomplished league bests in BA (.397), OBP (.497), and OPS (1.183). Flat-out remarkable. Just as a senior who struggled freshman year might still be plagued by the impact on their GPA even despite recent academic success, McCutchen’s batting average of .288 contextually shows how rough his early-season struggles were. He has scored 49 times and also has an identical 49 RBI along with six steals. You look pretty clever if you weathered the early storm to hang onto Cutch for the brilliance he’s brought you since.
Matt Kemp (OF, ATL) – 0-3, R, K. Kemp has an eight-game stretch going where he hits safely and then goes 0-for-X the next game. In addition to dealing with a nagging hamstring problem, he has batted poorly enough by his high standards over the last five weeks—.239 in June and a .182 start to July—to deflate his average to .303, its lowest point since April. Kemp contributed just six runs and eight RBI for the Braves last month, as compared to 18 and 14 in May, respectively. His fantasy stock is taking a tumble because of the flagging production.
Byron Buxton (OF, MIN) – 3-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, K, SB. I can’t be the only one that had the struggling Buxton on the brain when the Twins drafted dynamic prospect Royce Lewis No. 1 overall, with the thought that Lewis could eventually be what the organization wanted Buxton to be. Regardless, a .204 average even with a 3-4 night is rough, but to get a homer and a steal in the same night was solid. He’s only got 15 RBI and 26 runs to go with what is now five HRs, and with the BA being so bad, it’s a good thing he’s swiped 15 bags with his exceptional speed. I wouldn’t want my steals to come at that kind of cost, personally. Buxton is not a recommended fantasy play.
Jose Peraza (2B/SS/OF, CIN) – 2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. Peraza has a .253 average on the year, and Tuesday’s homer at the friendly confines of Coors Field marked his fourth overall. He has 31 runs and 26 RBI, which are mediocre tallies for having 304 at-bats under your belt. Fifteen steals looks great at first glance, until you realize 14 of them came before June 1. At this rate, he’s a backup streamer type who’s unfortunately dropping off the fantasy radar unless something changes soon.
Billy Hamilton (OF, CIN) – 2-4, R, 2 RBI, BB, K. Hamilton’s average is hanging out in the low .240s like it has been for over a week now. I’ve harped on the fact that his steals have been too sporadic for a guy you’re relying on to win you that category (five in June, none in July for 33 overall). He has 51 runs now and just two homers and 22 RBI. The resumption of success at steals is crucial to his value, since run-scoring is the only other thing he excels at.
Josh Reddick (OF, HOU) – 3-6, 3 R, HR, 4 RBI. Reddick was the perpetrator of a T9 grand slam that blew the doors off an already wide-open lead the Astros had on the Braves yesterday. It was his first of the year and his ninth homer so far. The fact that he’s got 53 runs but just 37 RBI is a little unsettling, but then again, George Springer has become known for his leadoff solo shots right before Reddick comes up at the 2-spot or 3-spot so maybe we can’t be quite so critical of that. He’s batted well since returning from the 7-day concussion DL and is boasting a career-best .313 average right now. Seven steals are the bonus fries at the bottom of your fantasy ownership McDonald’s bag. He’s poor against LHP at home, and he usually sits for those matchups anyway.
Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) – 3-4, 3 R, RBI, BB (IBB). Bregman had an especially nice stat line for points league purposes, as two of the three hits were doubles. The season average of .252 still leaves me feeling disappointed, and the RBI was Bregman’s first since June 23 for a measly 27 total. He owns eight homers, has scored 34 times and stolen six bases. He’s just frankly not manufacturing enough to be your starting 3B, though.
Dee Gordon (2B, MIA) – 3-5, R, 2 K, CS. Typical Gordon: high-average stuff and trying to pull a fast one on opposing pitching. One of the few fantasy assets I’m OK with not having a single homer, since the 29 steals and .289 more than make up for that gaping statistical hole. The 45:18 run-to-RBI ratio is all kinds of wonky, but as long as you know what categories you need to shore up with other parts of your roster, Gordon is valuable in a limited but fun capacity.
Justin Turner (3B, LAD) – 2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. Thank goodness the plate appearance rules for qualifying as a hitter to have your stats count toward batting titles and rankings don’t apply to fantasy. Turner’s .384 average is a veritable one-man wrecking crew, and despite having spent some time on the DL earlier in the year, the runs and RBI have started to come in since. Turner struggled to replicate his trademark power early on as well, but he’s hit seven of his eight HRs since June 9. (Note: if you were curious, Turner would need four plate appearances in each of the Dodgers’ next 10 games to bump his average PA/G up over the 3.1 mark needed to qualify for the batting title.)
Eric Thames (1B/OF, MIL) – 2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB. Boy, did he need that. Thames has homered in back-to-back games for the first time since the middle of June, a month in which he went .163 at the dish. The struggle has been real if you’re an owner who’s had to deal with the comedown from the high of his early-season exploits, so these three homers in early July have been most welcome. Thames has 23 jacks overall and a .248 average to pair up with his 55 runs and 43 RBI. There’s hope for life after the megaslump.