June’s fantasy baseball elite

One of the hardest things about fantasy baseball is deciding how much weight to give a player’s performance. If he is still struggling in late May, should you cut him? Can he still turn his season around?

Check out these numbers from June 1, 2012 through the end of the season:

Player A: 22 HR, .245 AVG

Player B: 27 HR, .253 AVG

Those two players were some of the most talked about in the early stages of last season. Player A, Josh Hamilton, for his crazy-hot start. Player B, Ike Davis, for his crazy-cold start. But after those first two months, Davis was as good as Hamilton in some regards.

The point is not that you should go trade Josh Hamilton for Ike Davis (Just to be clear: Do not trade Josh Hamilton for Ike Davis). The point is that there’s plenty of baseball left to be played, and even a start as magical as Hamilton’s last year or as miserable as Davis’ doesn’t give you a sure-fire indication of what’s to come for the rest of the season.

So how do you take advantage, and who should you buy low? Here are a few players with a history of improving once the calendar flips to June:

Ben Revere – The steals are coming! The steals are coming! Consider this: Revere finished last year with 40 steals. He had four going into June, which means Revere stole 36 bases after June 1. Not bad. He got things going with a bang in June itself, with 11 steals. He’s heating up with a .406 average the past 15 days. The steals will follow.

Jason Heyward – Heyward’s June average is only his fourth-best monthly split. However, Heyward’s worst two are April and May, so things are going to get better. He’s also displayed positive signs in his abbreviated action this year. His BB/K of 0.79 is much better than last year’s 0.38. Improved plate discipline is always a good thing.

He’s already had all sorts of distractions in 2013, and little appears to be standing in his way to turn things around. Especially not his appendix.

Ike Davis – As illustrated above, Ike’s atrocious start sparked whispers of a demotion, but he was decent once June started last year. Davis hit .264 in June last year – which must look like a beautiful oasis in the middle of a desert for his current fantasy owners. More importantly, he hit six homers in June and 27 from June through the rest of the season.

Trevor Plouffe – Last year Plouffe scuffled early with monthly averages of .121 and .185, before exploding for 11 home runs, 22 RBI and a .327 AVG in June. Don’t pin all of your hopes on another such outburst, but he does make for an intriguing speculative add if you need help at third. He’s already started improving with a .292 AVG for the month of May.

Albert Pujols – Pujols got off to a well-publicized (and well-paid) terrible start last season, and June was the first month that Albert Pujols looked like ALBERT PUJOLS. He hit .326 in the month with 14 walks to eight strikeouts.

The slow starts aren’t a recent development: Pujols’ worst months historically come before June. Of course, his career averages for April and May are still an excellent .300 and .308, but he consistently shows a jump in performance once June rolls around.

As he’s aged, the cold starts have become a little more frigid, but don’t worry about Pujols turning things around this season.

R.A. Dickey – Dickey’s knuckler was bobbing and weaving its way to catchers’ mitts wonderfully last June, to the tune of a 0.93 ERA for the month. In 48.1 innings, Dickey struck out 55 batters to eight walks. Dickey was also excellent in June of 2012, with a 2.57 ERA sandwiched by 4.93 in May and 3.79 in June.

Dickey has some issues: He’s walked more batters, lost some velocity, plus he’s allowed more fly balls and homers. Even so, don’t discount the chance that his knuckleballs starts working and he has a third strong June in a row.

Josh Johnson – Remember Johnson’s disappointing 2012? Well, he looked like vintage JJ in June with a 1.87 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. Johnson hasn’t been all that bad this season, just unlucky and then injured. He’s worth a gamble if the price is right.

Jon Niese – Fantasy owners got their first real glimpse of how good Niese can be last June, when he produced a 1.89 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. For his career, Niese’s June ERA of 2.56 is by the far the best of any month.

Niese’s calling card has been a solid K/BB and that hasn’t existed this season. His 1.15 mark is less than half his career rate. The only noticeable change is that he is throwing his fastball less than ever before and his changeup more. That isn’t enough to squash hope of a turnaround.

It’s worth a shot to see if Niese gets back to what he was in 2012 in what has historically been his best month.

Matt Cain – The remarkable thing about looking at Cain’s splits is not how strong he was last June (which he was, with a 2.11 ERA), it’s how consistent he is overall. Going back through 2010, he has only two months with an ERA 4.00 or higher.

Nothing has changed with Cain. The swing back from his terrible luck to start the season is already underway with a 3.45 ERA in May. See if you can nab him from a frustrated owner who hasn’t noticed.

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