Alec Burleson Takes Over St. Louis: Ryan’s Reflections

by Ryan Kirksey
Alec Burleson Takes Over St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and first baseman Alec Burleson has been one of the best hitters during the last 14 days of the 2024 fantasy baseball season. Despite batting fifth or sixth in the order, Burleson is putting up numbers that rival any star player this year and he is a top-30 fantasy hitter over the last two weeks. Getting a chance to start every day with injuries to Willson Contreras and Jordan Walker back in AAA, the only day Burleson has not started in the last three weeks was May 13th. It's safe to say that Alec Burelson takes over St. Louis right now.

With a white-hot start to May, can we expect it to continue? Is he worth a spot on our fantasy rosters the rest of the way?

Burleson made his MLB debut last season at the age of 23 in the last few days of the 2022 regular season, and he was not really a real fantasy asset in 2022 or 2023. He languished to a .244/.300/.390 line in 2023 and there were real questions heading into 2024 about whether or not he would begin the season in AAA to get some more plate skills and discipline. Because of the potential in his bat, he made the roster, It has paid tremendous dividends with Alec Burleson off to a fast start this month, leading the Cardinals to seven wins in their last ten games.

Alec Burleson Takes Over St. Louis in 2024

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In a rainy game on Sunday night, Alec Burleson knocked another two hits and scored a run as well. He raised his average to .309 on the season with a 798 OPS. The league average is .699. In the last two weeks, Burleson is hitting .429 with two home runs, two steals, and nine runs.

Overall on the season, Burleson is hitting .309/.338/.460 with seventeen RBI to go along with 14 runs, two steals, and five homers. His average and on-base percentage are both solidly the best of his career, meaning he has never been more valuable in the 5x5 players game. What's even more amazing is he has hit either fifth or sixth in every game this season, except for the last two days. Because of his phenomenal production, Burelson was moved into the second lineup spot in those games.

In terms of production per plate appearance, Burleson is among the league's best. What's been the secret? Mostly, he is getting the ball in the air more, and increasing his hard hit rate. Burleson hit 36% fly balls and 22% line drives in 2023, and he is already up to almost 37.5% and 28% in 2024. His hard-hit rate is up three percentage points and he has increased his launch angle from 12 degrees to over 17 degrees this year.

His other big improvement? Swing rate, specifically his swing rate with pitches in the strike zone. Right now, that number sits at 78% for 2024 when it was at 71.8% in 2023. Making better contact with the best pitches is leading to more hits and more opportunities for steals and runs for Burleson. That zone contact rate has led to an expected batting average (.291) that is in the 90th percentile among hitters, according to Baseball Savant.

What to Expect From Alec Burleson the Rest of 2024?

Burleson's bat and his ability to play multiple positions is going to keep him in the lineup almost every day from this point forward. The Cardinals have benefited greatly from the offense with the hot bat. There is also good news on the horizon. According to Statcast data, Burleson's expected slugging percentage, exit velocity, and strikeout rate are all above the 70th percentile among hitters. His complete approach and ability to hit the ball to all fields has proved to be a god-send for an offense that has multiple pieces struggling right now.

In drafts, Burleson was basically drafted, checking in around pick 490 in NFBC leagues. Managers had no idea what to expect from his role or his ability with the bat. What those that took the plunge have received, however, is helping him absolutely outpace his ADP, and putting him well within the top 100 hitters. Those who picked him up on waivers either last week or this one are also reaping rewards.

With playing time not an issue going forward, we have to consider how fluky his start has been. The strikeout rate (15%) is excellent and the walk rate (5%) is just good right now. But the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) looks problematic. Right now, it sits at .339 (league average BABIP is about .290). Burleson has a 16th percentile sprint score for his position, so he isn't going to get hits based on speed. He should not have a higher BABIP because his speed and barrel rate are both below league average. Put all that together, and I think Burleson's batting average is going to fall. It might not be this week, but it should happen. The increased volume of plate appearances could make up for it, but it's something to watch out for.

Sitting at .309 average heading into Tuesday, I bet it settles in around the .270 range, which is what most projections say. But if he can pop 20 homers and steal 10 bases, that will be a steal around pick 490. Even if the average drops, Burleson can still provide value.

The best news for Burleson is his batting skills are close to elite and his plate discipline is improving. His launch angle is up from last year, and so is his average exit velocity. For a player who isn't even in his prime (25 years old), Burleson should continue to impress in the power, runs, and RBI categories all season. Just be careful of a batting average fall.


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