Moving the Needle

It's hard for a first-round pick to move up significantly, but aside from Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun is probably the top hitter in fantasy baseball this year. While Braun's 12 home runs and .588 slugging percent are improvements over last year's rates, the number that jumps out most is his 13 steals in 14 attempts. New manager Ron Roenicke is more aggressive on the basepaths than his predecessor Ken Macha - the Brewers are 14th in the majors in stolen bases this year as opposed to 21st last year - and Braun in particular is getting the green light. At this pace, a 35-35 season is within reach, and with Braun, you're virtually assured of a good batting average. Only Carlos Gonzalez (and maybe Matt Kemp) offer the same speed-power-average upside, and Gonzalez is struggling so far this year.

Jacoby Ellsbury's 2010 was lost due to rib injuries, but at age 27, his value has never been higher. The 19 stolen bases put him on pace for close to 60 steals, and that's not accounting for chilly early-season conditions which often slow the running game. Ellsbury also has six home runs, 16 doubles and is posting a .298/.368/.462 line in 208 at-bats, while hitting leadoff in one of the league's best lineups. In short, he's what the Red Sox had hoped Carl Crawford would be when they gave him $142 million. Crawford was a late first-round pick in most leagues, and Ellsbury must be considered similarly at this point.

Like Ellsbury, Jose Reyes is tied for the major-league lead in steals with 19. While Reyes has just one home run, he's hitting .335 and has 17 doubles and eight triples, so he's actually slugging at a higher clip (.493) than Ellsbury. And while Citi Field is a tough park to hit home runs, Reyes, who's in a contract year, will almost certainly be traded before July 31. Because we can rule out San Diego as a possible destination, it's inconceivable Reyes' offensive environment will get appreciably worse, and it's quite likely to get significantly better. Where does one rank an elite base-stealing shortstop with a touch of power and superb contact skills? Assuming he's healthy, it can't be far outside the top 10.

On April 5, Cole Hamels gave up six earned runs on seven hits and two walks in two and two thirds innings. Since then, he's allowed 13 walks, 54 hits and 19 ER in 72 IP. That's a 2.38 ERA, .931 WHIP with seven wins and 75 strikeouts over that span. Put differently, throw out his first start of the year, and he's matched Roy Halladay. Hamels is also keeping the ball down this year (1.85 GB:FB), and his control (1.81 BB/9IP) is better than it's been than at any point in his career. He's a top-10 pitcher at this point, and his numbers are completely supported by his peripherals.


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