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: Fernando Tatís Jr., Kyle Lewis, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, J.D. Davis, Tim Anderson, and Josh Donaldson were activated from the IL this past week. Alex Kirilloff was also promoted.
- Now the bad news: Juan Soto, Mike Moustakas, Starling Marte, Max Kepler, Gavin Lux, and Christian Yelich all went down with injuries.
- On the surface, it’s awesome that Fernando Tatís Jr. is back so quickly after his season looked like it was in jeopardy. However, his season looked like it was in jeopardy for a reason. The injury he suffered is one that not only has a high likelihood of recurrence but one that could have long-term implications on his playing career. To reduce the risk of another injury, Tatís Jr. has adopted a new two-handed swing to reduce the stress on his shoulder. Though he’s popped a home run since returning, he’s also struck out in nearly half his plate appearances, and I think there’s got to be some concern here. Obviously, the upside is that of the top overall player, but the injury risk and potential impact on his productivity can’t really be dismissed, which is why I’ve dropped him a bit here. I think if you have the opportunity to shop him for another top-tier hitter who has fewer question marks, it’s probably not a bad idea.
- Welp, with Buxton going down shortly after publishing last week’s piece, I’m literally batting 1.000 when it comes to cursing featured hitters this year. Sorry, J.D. Martinez, the end is nigh. At least he had a good run prior to my voodoo magic kicking in. He’s currently leading the league in RBI, and in the top 10% in average exit velocity, wOBA, and xwOBA. His strikeout rate is also at the lowest point of his career, and his barrel rate has rebounded to where it had been in 2018 when he hit. 330 with 43 home runs. With strikeout and barrel rates starting to reach their stabilization points throughout the league (60 PA for strikeouts, 50 BIP for barrels), it’s beginning to get to the point in the season where you can buy into impressive starts like this a little bit. I’d still like to see him keep this up for another week or two before being fully bought in, but we know the ceiling here is 40+ home runs with a batting average above .300, which I think would put him in the conversation as a top-10 hitter.
- Randy Arozarena has been treading water pretty well to this point, but the red flags he had coming into the year haven’t gone away by any stretch of the imagination. His groundball rate has ballooned to 65% (!!!), and his whiff rate has shot up to 38%. To add to this, he’s not only continued to struggle against non-fastballs but his .417 wOBA against fastballs is supported by just a .271 xwOBA. Now, he’s still hitting the ball hard when he does make contact. But with so many of those batted balls being driven into the ground, he’s not producing the barrels he did last season. It is, of course, still early. But there aren’t too many good things happening below the surface at the moment, despite the palatable fantasy numbers.
- Coming into the year, the question was whether the quality-of-contact gains Jesse Winker made last season would stick because if he could pair those gains with his customarily solid contact rates, he could blossom into an elite bat. Well so far, so good, as Winker has not only improved even further on his barrel rate (16.7%) and Hard Hit rate (56.7%) but he’s also kept his whiff rate below 30% and trimmed his strikeout rate to just 20%. That’s really, really good for a guy making as much hard contact as he is. On top of all this, he’s also lowered his groundball rate below 40% for the first time in his career. Though he only has one home run to show for it, if these changes stick, he’s going to go on a monstrous run in the near future.
- Speaking of monstrous runs, let’s talk about Mitch Haniger, who posted a casual .321 average over the past week with seven RBI. Haniger has historically flashed plus power and shown the ability to handle most pitch types fairly well. When paired with a solid batted ball profile and above-average plate discipline, it’s clear to see why Haniger was a fairly popular sleeper heading into the year. He missed last season with what can only be described as a freak injury but seems to have picked up right where he left off so far this year. With Kyle Lewis back and Jarred Kelenic on the horizon, Haniger should find himself in the middle of a surprisingly potent Seattle offense. And in addition to plenty of counting stats, there’s upside here for a .280 average with 30+ homers.
- The Angels’ strange obsession with continuing to get Albert Pujols into their lineups on a regular basis seemed like a roadblock to Jared Walsh. But in recent weeks he’s been getting reps in right field, which has served as a boon not only to his playing time but his positional eligibility. While Walsh’s contact quality falls into the good-not-great category, he more than makes up for it by consistently squaring up the ball, as evidenced by his 44% Sweet Spot rate, which is nearly 50% higher than the league average. That’s helped his power play up, allowing him to still post an impressive 13.9% barrel rate this year. Between that and the excellent whiff and strikeout rates, I see a guy in Walsh who has excellent bat control. In much the same vein as Haniger, I see a guy with the potential to hit .280 with 30+ home runs as long as he’s not ceding regular playing time to the Albert Pujols Farewell Tour.
- Kris Bryant is doing some interesting things in the early going. He’s posting the highest Hard Hit rate (43.2%) since his 2015 rookie season, and he’s also elevating the ball significantly more than he ever has. With five home runs already under his belt, it seems these changes are already paying dividends for him. Considering how the past few seasons have gone for Bryant, it’s easy to forget that he was once a prospect projected for 80-grade future power. It’s probably safe to say that him ever reaching that level of power output is highly unlikely, but a Bryant who can get back to impacting and elevating the ball is one who could be an incredibly productive fantasy hitter. It’s definitely something to monitor going forward.
- Jazz Chisholm looked overmatched last year, and considering he posted back-to-back 30%+ strikeout rates in 2018 and 2019 in the minors, there was definitely concern over whether his bat could keep him afloat long enough in the majors for him to take advantage of his 20/20 potential. Well something seems to have clicked for Chisholm this year, and he’s not only showing incredible plate discipline (17.6% walk rate) but he’s dropped his strikeout rate to a digestible 25.5%. This has been helped largely by the fact that he’s demolished non-fastballs this year. The early returns on his batted ball profile are encouraging: a good mix of line drives to all fields and plus-power that has him leading the league with a cartoonish 28.6% barrel rate. Everything looks really promising so far, and I think a 20/20 year is very much in the cards.
- Pick up Nick Solak right now and bask in the glory of a hot streak that has seen him slash .385/.467/.731 with three homers and a sub-15% strikeout rate over the past week. I still have concerns that the lack of pop and high groundball rates will cap his power around 20 homers and potentially eat into his batting average upside. But a hot streak’s a hot streak.
- We’re three weeks into the season and Avisaíl Garcia is 11th in baseball in barrels per plate appearance. He’s been destroying baseballs this year while sticking to his free-swinging, whiff-tastic ways. The lack of plate discipline and penchant for hitting grounders creates a pretty wide range of outcomes for a guy like Garcia–we’ve seen that he can hit .330 or .230 in a season, and there’s no telling which it’ll be. He’s a lotto ticket, and worth a grab if you want to see if this is one of the years where you (and him) will get lucky.
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