Hello, and welcome back to Hitter List, where every week during the regular season I’ll be sharing updated rankings for the top 150 hitters in baseball. These rankings are geared toward standard, daily, 12-team H2H leagues, as that is typically the most popular fantasy baseball format. They will only factor in the five standard categories: Runs, RBI, Home Runs, Batting Average, and Stolen Bases.
First, let’s get some basics out of the way:
- I would recommend not paying super close attention to the specific ranks of each player, and honing in more on the respective tiers that they’re in. Each tier represents a grouping of players that I think could arguably perform at a similar level, and/or carry similar levels of risk in terms of injury concerns or playing time obstacles. If Player X is ranked at #55 and Player Y is ranked at #65, but they’re in the same tier, it means that I personally like Player X a lot better, but think there’s a valid argument to be made for Player Y performing just as well.
- Player movement (+/-) can be influenced by the movement of players around them in the ranks. You may see a player rise a few spots despite a poor performance, or drop a few spots despite a great performance. This can happen when players above them are moved below them, or vice versa. It could also be the result of injured players returning to the list after coming off the IL, or dropping off the list when they hit the IL. Just something to be conscious of if you see a change that doesn’t initially make a ton of sense.
- Any player currently on the IL or not in the majors is removed from the list.
- Hopefully it goes without saying, but these rankings aren’t an exact science. Every person’s rankings are influenced by their own biases, strategic philosophies, determinations of risk, and projections. It’s why no two rankings are ever exactly alike. My way of evaluating and ranking players has worked out well for me over the years, but it might not be a great fit for you. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and that what makes the game so fun. Please keep that in mind before eviscerating my fragile mental health in the comments.
And now a couple of notes on how I generally evaluate hitters before we dive in:
- I’ve typically weighed stolen bases pretty heavily, but I’ve gradually learned to value the stat less and less over the years. And I’m hoping to continue to move in that direction this year, with one caveat: I still think players with truly elite speed (e.g. Trea Turner and Adalberto Mondesi) are worth their weight in gold. As stolen bases have plummeted in recent years, and previous world-class speedsters like Mallex Smith, Dee Strange-Gordon, and Jonathan Villar currently find themselves with declining skillsets and/or no path to full-time at-bats, players who can swipe 40+ bags have become a true rarity. Getting that kind of stolen base output from one lineup slot allows you so much more flexibility in how you put together the rest of your team, and I think that can really give you an edge when it comes to roster construction.
- Batted ball quality is huge for me (as I’m sure it is for most people). Every year the industry takes further strides in how it evaluates contact quality and its relationship with launch angle. Connor Kurcon’s DHH% and TrueHit statistics are revelations, and something I hope to rely on for player rankings throughout the year. Looking at quality of contact in conjunction with a hitter’s plate discipline, contact ability, spray charts, and batted ball tendencies is really where the meat of my player analysis tends to take place.
- Considering the format that these rankings cater towards (standard 12-team H2H), I generally think streaming catchers is a viable strategy, and as a result I’m a lot lower than most on the mid-tier options. That said, a catcher like J.T. Realmuto is essentially in a tier of his own, and as a result I think rostering him gives you a significant edge over your competitors. With this position in particular, I weigh ceiling significantly more than floor.
- I hate kids. As exciting as it is to own a young prospect right as he’s breaking out, I’ve found that trying to pinpoint which prospect will take off and when is a complete crapshoot, and can oftentimes result in spending a lot of playing time and FAAB on young players who don’t return much value. As a result, I tend to lean towards veteran hitters with longer track records.
- Let’s start with the good news: Josh Bell, Lourdes Gurriel, Kyle Schwarber, and Trent Grisham all returned from their respective IL stints this week.
- Now the bad news: Anthony Rendon, Christian Walker, Kolten Wong, J.D. Davis, Cody Bellinger, Teoscar Hernández, Ketel Marte, and Tim Anderson all hit the IL this past week.
- Tired: the Madden curse. Wired: the Hitter List curse. Both players featured in the previous Hitter List rankings (Ketel Marte and Teoscar Hernández) have hit the IL in the past week, and now I regretfully must cast my black magic onto Byron Buxton. I probably don’t need to tell you that Buxton has been doing some maxed out create-a-player video game-like stuff to begin the year. He’s hitting .469 with five homers while running a 69.2% Hard Hit (!), a 26.9% barrel rate (!!), and a .559 xwOBA (!!!). Now, the early season small sample size caveat obviously applies. But there are encouraging things happening here. He’s whiffing and striking out at the lowest rates of his career. And he’s added 10%+ to his customarily low flyball rates. Considering all this, you’re probably seeing at least a top-30 hitter here. But there are a few things holding me back from jumping all aboard. For one, he’s still doing most of his damage against fastballs, and while he’s held his own against offspeed and breaking pitches, there’s still a clear weakness there that could get exploited going forward. The other concern is that the jump in flyball rate has come at the cost of his line drives, and he’s not pulling the ball as much, going up the middle with over half his batted balls. Now when you demolish every pitch you make contact with, that’s not a huge deal. But if the hard contact regresses towards his career levels, all those flyballs up the middle could start turning into outs, and we could see the batting average dip. Also, this is Byron Buxton we’re talking about–a man whose career has had more ups and downs than the Tower of Terror, and who missed time this spring after eating a steak the wrong way. I don’t think the consistency or injury concerns go away after a few hot weeks. That said, I’m very encouraged by what we’re seeing so far–I’m just trying to take a measured approach here based on the history.
- J.D. Martinez and my 7-year-old self at Blockbuster have one thing in common: all we wanna do is watch some videos. There was a lot of talk about how the lack of in-game video last season hurt Martinez, and while it can be hard to take these preseason storylines seriously sometimes, it seems like there may have been some credence to it. Through the first few weeks, Martinez is posting the best Hard Hit% (59.4%), barrel rate (21.9%), and xwOBAcon (.588) of his career. Now, this is all based on just 32 batted balls, and things like barrel rate take at least 50 to begin to stabilize. But man, Martinez has been looking really good, and he could shape up to be one of the biggest steals of this season’s drafts.
- Speaking of steals, hitter-only Shohei Ohtani was essentially an afterthought in most drafts, but has been an offensive powerhouse so far. He’s already at the tops of the Max EV leaderboards with a 119 MPH double under his belt, and in addition to his four home runs he’s already chipped in two stolen bases this year. The power was never in question with Ohtani–it was whether his groundball rates (which typically hovered around 50%) would allow him to utilize that power to its potential. Well so far Ohtani is not only lifting the ball more, but he’s pulling it 45% of the time, which would be a career-high for him. It’s scary to think that a guy who can go 25/10 in two-thirds of a season may actually still be growing and maturing as a hitter, but that’s what we’re seeing to this point. If you play your cards right and pair him with a decent bench bat on the days he’s out of the lineup, you could legitimately have a top-20 Franken-hitter on your hands.
- I’ve been blowing kisses at my Wil Myers poster for at least five years now, so it was really fun when he started to actually be good again last season, prompted in large part by a significant change to his batting stance. I kind of buy the new sub-25% strikeout rate version of Myers, and I think that will help him address his batting average woes from years prior as long as he continues to be a line drive machine. He’s struggling with some knee issues at the moment, but with 88th-percentile sprint speed and a history of swiping 15-20 bags, I think there’s a 30/15 guy in there with a .270+ average when healthy, and as a result I feel that he’s being kind of undervalued.
- Ramón Laureano has eight stolen bases this year. No, not last year, this year. It was pretty clear Laureano had about 20 stolen-base speed in him, but I think the assumption was that those 20 steals would come over the course of a year, not the course of a month. In terms of his hitting, Laureano has gotten back to his hard-hitting ways after a down 2020 season, thought it seems worth noting that he has not seen a single offspeed pitch yet, which just so happens to be the pitch type he has struggled the most against in his career. On the plus side though, everything else seems to be in line with what he was doing during his breakout 2019 campaign, and this could be a huge year for him if he stays healthy.
- Javier Báez has been looking pretty good so far from a fantasy perspective, with three home runs and three stolen bases already. But don’t believe his lies! Báez has consistently outperformed his expected numbers throughout his career, defying all logic and reason, but it’s still worth mentioning that he’s running a .197 xBA, the worst strikeout rate of his career (41.9%), and a 53.3% whiff rate (!!!). If you want to roll the dice on the 20/20 potential and his track record of making things work despite the underlying numbers, by all means, but if I owned him I’d be inclined to shop him right now while the surface numbers look appealing.
- I could tell from the questions I got last week that there is a lot of panic going on with regard to Keston Hiura, and he’s done essentially nothing to allay those fears. The good news is he’s gotten a bit unlucky with his batted balls so far this year. The bad news is, even with some good luck he’d be performing pretty terribly, with a .245 xwOBA and a .188 xAVG. The strikeout rate continues to backslide each year, and I’m really thinking they option him at some point to try and sort things out in the minors. An injury to Kolten Wong likely bought him some time, but things are not looking good.
- Now let’s have a palate cleanser and talk about Jared Walsh. Walsh has looked so, so good this year, performing well against all batted ball types, and flashing above-average whiff and walk rates so far. The hard contact has been a bit underwhelming, and his launch angles are doing a lot of heavy lifting to this point in terms of the power output (44.4% Sweet Spot). But with a Max EV of 110 MPH to this point, I think the contact quality will probably come around, at which point Walsh will continue to skyrocket up these rankings.
- Akil Baddoo, Tyler Naquin, Phillip Evans, and Brandon Nimmo were some of the hottest bats this past week. Baddoo has been really impressive, but the lack of plate discipline and the 37% whiff rate to this point have me thinking the average could drop precipitously in the near future. That said, there’s 20/20 upside here, so he’s absolutely worth rostering even if he hits .240. With Naquin, I feel like I’ve seen this before (he hit .333 with 12 homers over a two-month span his rookie season), and there’s a roster crunch with Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Nick Castellanos covering the outfield. Rostering him in the short-term seems like your best bet there, while waiting to see if the change to his batting stance can support long-term gains. Evans had a really impressive 2019 that was cut short due to a broken jaw, but he’s picked right back up where he left off. His 54.8% Hard Hit is absurd when paired with his 7.4% strikeout rate, and though I think the high groundball rate will eat into his power potential, there’s a really solid hitter here who should pick up eligibility around the diamond. Finally, if you need runs, roster Nimmo immediately. It’s impossible to know where the power or speed will settle, but he’s going to reach base at least 40% of the time at the top of the Mets lineup, so 100+ runs will almost certainly be there by season’s end.
- We’re sadly waving bye-bye to Andrew Vaughn this week. Bye-bye, Andrew Vaughn. Tony La Russa seems to hate Vaughn with a Jason Motte-like intensity, regularly starting Nick Williams over him in left field. It’s hard to break out when you barely get any opportunities, so Vaughn is a pretty safe drop for now in 12-teamers.
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