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 30+ 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, once those stats are updated for 2021. 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 bit 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: Mike Moustakas, José Altuve, Anthony Rendon, Gavin Lux, Kolten Wong were all activated from their IL stints.
- Now the bad news: Miguel Sano, Jazz Chisholm, Luis Robert, Donovan Solano, Brian Anderson, and Anthony Santander all hit the IL.
- Maybe the best part about putting these lists together each week is getting to follow players that I had zero interest in drafting, whose breakouts I’d likely be oblivious to, since they’re not rostered on any of my teams. Enter: Matt Olson. For years now the fantasy community has been chasing the sublime high of that 24-homer, 216-plate appearance rookie season, only to be disappointed due to either injury or just underwhelming performance. After three years of a being toyed with, I was firmly in the camp of not having any further interest until Olson showed he could actually put together a full season of sustained production. And while it’s still early (and maybe his ranking this week is a bit aggressive in light of that), the early returns so far have been phenomenal. The customary power is there, of course, with six homers already under his belt. But even more enticing is the .312/.379/.610 slash line and 17.2% strikeout rate, the latter of which sits over seven percentage points below his career low. It’s all backed up by an increase in his zone swing rate and zone contact rate, and a sizable dip in his whiff rate, which sits right around league average at 24%. Seeing a guy with this much power displaying this much bat control has softened even my steely heart, and turned a skeptic… into a *believer*. If these changes are for real, there’s 45-homer upside with an average that could flirt with .280 and that’s bonkers.
- One of the other great things about this list is having the opportunity to be humbled. Constantly. In public. So the whole world can see. And laugh at my misfortune. Last week I mentioned I’m worried about Fernando Tatis Jr. and the potential that his new swing and shoulder injury could impact his offensive production. Well, he hit .407 this past week with five homers and four stolen bases. So that puts that concern to bed. Am I still worried about his shoulder becoming an issue at some point? Of course. It’s an issue that requires regular maintenance, and often ends up requiring surgery. And he’s now more prone than others to having his season end early on a swing, or defensive play, or slide. But as long as he’s healthy, he’s pretty clearly a Tier 1 player, so that’s where he’ll stay.
- Rhys Hoskins‘ career actually has some parallels to Matt Olson’s. Two power-hitting first basemen whose incredible rookie seasons set up unrealistic expectations that they never seemed to live up to… until now? Hoskins had two major problems the past few years: he was way too passive at the plate, and he didn’t hit the ball hard enough to take advantage of the extreme amount of pulled flyballs that he hit. Well he’s at career-highs this year in swing rate and zone swing rate, so he seems to have gotten more aggressive. And he seems to be continuing a trend that began last year of putting a little more oomph behind his batted balls: he’s in the top 7% of the league in Hard Hit rate (55.9%), barrel rate (18.6%), and average exit velocity (93 mph). How much of this uptick is the result of the new ball? Hard to say. But it’s definitely encouraging that he’s addressing two of the biggest holes in his game, and with six homers over the past week it’s clearly paying dividends.
- I feel like I bring up Nate Lowe every week. But isn’t it normal and healthy to think about the people you love perpetually at the expense of everyone and everything else in your life? A hot start and then a big lull in production had everyone confused on how to value this guy. But with a solid .286 average in his last 15 games with three homers and a steal, he seems to be settling into a groove. This man is such a unicorn to me: a left-handed hitter with easy 30+ home run power that goes to the opposite field with the majority of his batted balls. He’s also one of the few hitters I’ve seen that has performed equally well against all pitch types–he’s posting .350+ xwOBAs against fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed stuff this season. His scuffles against lefties have continued so far this year, but he has the power and batted ball mix to be an incredibly balanced hitter, and I think he should be rostered in all formats right now.
- A quick note on catchers. To begin the year, I was pretty adamant about catcher streaming being a viable option in the format that this list caters to (12-team H2H). So much so, that I gave short shrift to any catchers that I didn’t feel either had A) very high ceilings for their position, or B) a long enough track record of success that their production seemed relatively safe. Well, I’ve reconsidered that stance. The truth is, catcher streaming requires time and effort, and I think I underrated the value of having a guy on your roster that you could set and forget. With that in mind, I’ve moved some catchers that I have been heretofore intransigent about onto the list, including Yasmani Grandal and Willson Contreras.
- Speaking of catchers, my current Obsession by Calvin Klein comes in a Carson Kelly-shaped bottle. This man is currently seventh among qualified hitters in xwOBA, and has six homers on the year, including three in his last four games. He’s apparently tweaked his swing to better handle non-fastballs, and it’s paying dividends, as he is currently crushing all pitch types. The 18.4% barrel rate is absurd, but perhaps crazier is the microscopic 15.4% strikeout rate and 21.5% walk rate. I’m trying very hard not to get too excited here, but if he can keep this going he’s a top-5 catcher.
- My apology tour continues this week with a heartfelt mea culpa on Ty France. I haven’t been giving what he’s done this year the attention on the respect it deserves, and for that I feel like a very large Bad Boi. France has showed elite bat control this season, with a 40% line drive rate, a 44% Sweet Spot percentage (that’s nearly 50% above league average), good quality-of-contact metrics, and very balanced performance against all pitch types. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not a believer in his 2020 breakout, but I can’t find a single thing to nitpick in terms of his peripherals this year.
- I’m not sure I expected J.D. Davis to return from a hand injury and immediately catch fire, but as a Davis simp who would do ungodly things if it meant he could blossom into the star hitter he appeared to be in 2019, it’s been a welcome development. He’s up to a .394 average on the year with two home runs in just 33 at-bats. Obviously we don’t have the sample size we need to draw any strong conclusions, but in the early going we’re seeing that high-end hard contact, we’re seeing him steer away from the groundballs a bit, and we’re seeing some good performance against non-fastballs. Again, way too early to know anything at this point with Davis, but we know what the ceiling is, and there could be reason for excitement if these trends hold up.
- The surface numbers aren’t great. He hasn’t looked good in years. But Joey Votto is doing interesting things right now, and I think it’s worth your attention. Because he’s hitting the ball harder than he ever has, and being more aggressive at the plate, and it’s weird, but it also seems like it could work. Some of that aggression and increased hard contact has contributed to an uncharacteristically bloated whiff rate. But the expected stats seem to be digging what he’s doing right now, and he may be close to going on a hot streak.
- Yuli Gurriel has said he’s making a concerted effort to chase less pitches out of the zone, and the numbers certainly bear that out so far, as he’s cut down on his chase rate and his overall swing rate while keeping his zone-swing rate pretty much in line with his career numbers. It seems to be allowing him to see better pitches to hit, which has helped his customarily low barrel rate jump to a respectable 7.9%. I’m tentatively buying into it for now, as he has the batted ball profile and contact ability to post a .290+ average, and if this new approach can get him comfortably above 20 home runs on the year he’s a huge value.
- This is really more of a deep-league, Hail Mary-type speculative grab, but Gregory Polanco has looked pretty interesting in the early going. His 116.2 mph Max EV is tied with Aaron Judge for eighth this year among hitters with at least 25 BBEs. He’s also posting the highest xwOBA he’s posted since 2018. He seems (knock on wood) to be healthy for the first time in awhile, and while he’ll likely be lucky to hit above .250, he possesses a really intriguing power/speed combo that could be really helpful in fantasy leagues. Maybe not somebody to add just yet in 12-teamers, but definitely worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.
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