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Matt Joyce is a Choice Bargain?

It doesn’t seem like we’re already a quarter of the way through the baseball season, but here we are. The player rankings are headlined by familiar names like Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Dan Haren, Jeff Weaver, Roy Halladay, etc. Even names like Lance Berkman, Curtis Granderson, and Matt Kemp have had success recently enough that seeing their names among the best players in fantasy to this point doesn’t seem like that much of a shock.

However, there are a few players who appear in the upper echelon of nearly every player ranking that are proving to be serious bargains at the quarter way mark. I guess depending on where you drafted Jose Bautista he could be considered a bargain as well, but he’s on another planet right now. I’m talking about players who were drafted in AL or NL only leagues but rarely made a roster in standard mixed leagues.

Nearly a month ago our own Chris Cwik penned a waiver wire post that included Matthew Ryan Joyce. At the time of publication Joyce was just starting to heat up – owned in only 7.2% of leagues – and it was unclear just how long he could sustain his recent success. Cwik writes:

“Over his last six games, Joyce has drilled eleven hits. While we shouldn’t make much of such a small sample, Joyce seems to be heating up.”

Well, that sample is larger now. Over the past 28 days Joyce is hitting .414/.469/.757 with six home runs and 15 RBI and is a must start in any format at the moment. Those numbers are also mostly without Evan Longoria hitting in front of him in the lineup. I’m not a huge believer in lineup protection making a big difference, but there will be difference in your production when you’re hitting behind Longoria instead of Jose Lopez.

Is he going to continue hitting .368? His .416 BABiP would suggest otherwise. While that BABiP is high, it’s mostly due to his extremely high line drive percentage. Currently it sits at 29.5%, or nearly 10% higher than his career norms. In our spiffy Saber Library we explain that LD% tends to stabilize at 150 PA. Joyce is currently sitting at 132 PA, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could sustain a LD% close to his current total, thus helping to prop up his BABIP. Joyce’s rest of season ZiPS projections call for him to hit .258/.349/.453 with 13 more home runs from here on out. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in those projections however, as they take into account his 2009 and 2010 seasons when Joyce didn’t have the playing time, and wasn’t the hitter he is today.

The Rays are still going to sit him against most left handed pitchers, unless they have a reverse platoon split. It’s not a large sample, under 80 PA, but Joyce has a sub .600 OPS against southpaws. Even if he only plays against right handed pitchers – there are enough of them in the league – he should continue being one of the best bargains in fantasy baseball.