Three San Francisco Giants players were voted in as National League All-Star starters over the weekend, and there was a bit of controversy surrounding the choices. Personally, I have no issue with overzealous fans stuffing ballot boxes so they can see their hometown heroes compete next week in Kansas City. Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey are having nice seasons, and, well, Pablo Sandoval has a really cool nickname ("Kung Fu Panda") and is hitting .300, although he has missed much time. Hey, be happy Brandon Crawford and his .610 OPS weren't voted in to start. He finished second at shortstop.
Regardless, Cabrera, Posey and Sandoval are three of the four universally owned players on the first-place Giants (Angel Pagan is the other), and I'm pretty comfortable with each of them in the second half of the fantasy season. Of course, none of those fellows was among the top three offensive players for the Giants in June. Instead, Ryan Theriot, Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco -- Giants, but not necessarily giants -- enjoyed success in June, and it's worth noting that those three are owned in roughly 75 percent of ESPN standard leagues combined, with Belt accounting for most of that total.
Belt really is on the verge of becoming a valuable fantasy option, every bit as much as Chicago Cubs newcomer Anthony Rizzo. Belt's plate discipline is critical, and he leads the squad in walks. He showed off his power in the minor leagues, but it really hasn't translated yet to the big leagues. Or has it? Belt, a left-handed hitter, has four home runs off southpaw pitchers in only 41 at-bats this season, for a .756 slugging percentage. Not only does it prove he never should have been platooned in the first place, but it's a nice indication of things to come. Only seven left-handed hitters have hit more home runs off lefty pitchers, and each of them has double the at-bats versus lefties compared to Belt. Of course, how do we explain the big goose egg in the home run column against right-handed pitching?
Chalk it up to luck, or lack thereof, and expect things to improve. As it is, a more aggressive Belt hit .296 with all four of those home runs in June, boasted a .400 OBP and led the club with 10 extra-base hits. We've talked quite a bit about Rizzo in the past week, and he looks pretty good (he homered again Monday), but as I wrote last week, I'd take Belt. That hasn't changed. Belt will hit right-handed pitching, and he's not overwhelmed against tough lefties. Frankly, Belt profiles as this team's No. 3 hitter in the future, and I see 25-homer campaigns and All-Star appearances in his future.
The bigger surprise is that Blanco and Theriot have settled in nicely at the top of the Giants' lineup, and each stole eight bases in June. Stolen bases are down overall this season, and in June, only seven players stole more bases than Blanco or Theriot. They also combined for 29 runs scored. Many of you probably weren't even aware these guys were playing well, but they are, and in deeper leagues and certainly NL-only formats, they're definitely relevant.
Theriot stole 20 or more bases each season from 2007 through 2010, and even though he hasn't a lick of power, he's a career .281 hitter. Mock his June performance if you will, but he hit .307 for the month and obviously ran plenty. We wouldn't care about him if not for the steals, though, and unless you're a Giants fan, you won't have a problem with the Giants' lineup featuring two low-OPS guys at the top. Theriot is certainly capable of stealing 20 bases this season, and he plays middle infield, which is scarce in many leagues.
Blanco had a miserable 2011 season for the Washington and Kansas City Triple-A teams (.201 batting average), but he did steal 24 bases in 26 attempts. A big spring helped him make the Giants, and now he's leading off, although his OPS in that role is an ordinary .711 and he's not getting many base hits. The Giants aren't scoring a ton of runs, mind you, and the batting order isn't what I would construct, but as long as Blanco and Theriot are running and readily available, there's value there.
It's a bit surprising that the top base stealers are so available in ESPN leagues. It's not just these otherwise underwhelming Giants, but consider that in the past month, Blanco and Theriot are among 12 players who have swiped eight or more bases. Only four of those players are owned in 90 percent or more of standard leagues. Juan Pierre is still playing regularly and still running, and Ryan Howard's pending return will not affect his playing time. Rajai Davis does only one thing well (he runs), Everth Cabrera is a middle infielder who runs, and Milwaukee Brewers leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki isn't a fluke at all; he'll keep playing. New York Mets part-timer Andres Torres just missed that list, but he has stolen seven bases in just the past eight games. There are clearly available steals on free agency in most leagues, even if it means you have to click on the name Ryan Theriot.