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:
- We’re shifting over from last week’s pre-season rankings to the in-season ranks. As a result, any player currently on the IL or not in the majors has been removed from the list, including guys like Jarred Kelenic and Luke Voit.
- 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. And something you’ll notice a lot this week, as several players hit the IL or were removed after being optioned to the minors.
- 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’m weighing the shortened 2020 season as little as I can, especially when it comes to players with extensive track records prior. The 2020 season was strange for a lot of reasons. Players’ training and conditioning routines were thrown out of whack due to the delayed season, in-game video review was prohibited due to health/cheating concerns, and several players were dealing with bouts of COVID themselves. Then, on top of all of that, we had just 60 games of data to base our player evaluations off of–hardly a large enough sample size to make any truly substantial determinations in terms of player progress or regression. In cases where 2020 was a player’s first real taste of major league action (e.g. Randy Arozarena, Jared Walsh, Kyle Lewis), I found myself weighing their successful seasons a bit more heavily. But I mostly avoided penalizing rookies or veterans for down years.
- I’ve typically been one of the biggest stolen base lovers around, 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.
- 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.
- First the fun stuff: injuries! Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kyle Lewis, Josh Donaldson, George Springer, Trent Grisham, Luke Voit, Eloy Jiménez, Adalberto Mondesi all hit the IL over the past week. Fernando Tatís Jr. is likely headed for an extended IL stint. Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber both seem to have hit the COVID-19 IL.
- It’s obviously way too early to draw any strong conclusions, but I’m already kind of sold on a Ketel Marte bounceback. There’s really no question at this point that he has an incredibly high batting average floor. I think the only real mystery is where the power can generally be expected to settle in any given year. The key to answering that will be seeing whether Marte can get back to elevating the ball the way he did in 2019, because the quality-of-contact metrics are there. And the very, very, very early returns are promising, as he has kept the ball off the ground so far this season. Marte has two barrels on the year already, and nearly half his batted balls have been hit with an exit velocity above 96 mph. I can see at least a .290 batting average with about 30 homers and a handful of steals, which I think could put him in contention for the title of top second baseman in the game.
- Speaking of second basemen, while the power isn’t nearly on the same level, José Altuve’s contact ability is comparable to Marte’s, and one interesting development in the early going has been the possible return of Altuve’s speed. For those who missed it, Altuve tagged from third and scored on an infield pop-up last week, exceeding a 30 ft/s sprint speed on the play. That’s an elite sprint speed, and though Altuve’s drop-off in the stolen base category over the past few years hasn’t coincided with a huge drop in his overall sprint-speed, it’s at least encouraging to know he can still max out at such a high level at 30 years old. It also gives me hope that some of the recurring leg injuries he’s suffered through in past years may be behind him. Obviously I’m reading way too much into this, and the speed hasn’t manifested itself in the form of a stolen base yet, but it’s at least something I’m keeping an eye on. If he can get back up to at least 15 stolen bases this year I think it changes his value quite a bit.
- As predicted, Joey Gallo is hitting over .300. He’s done a good job of not swinging at pitches out of the zone this year, and as a result his strikeout rate is about 10 percentage points below his career average. I’m still not sure the batting average isn’t going to completely destroy you in a standard league, but if he can continue to make gains with his plate discipline and cut down even a little bit on his whiff rate, it could bring the batting average up to a point that’s at least salvageable by pairing him with a guy like David Fletcher or Nick Madrigal.
- So the exciting thing about Eric Hosmer last year was that he seemed to be consistently elevating the ball for probably the first time in his career. Though he’s off to a white-hot start to the season this year, those elevated batted balls haven’t seemed to return just yet, as he’s running a 70% groundball rate at the moment. Does this really mean anything this early? Absolutely not. But that’s what I’d be keeping tabs of over the next few weeks if I was trying to predict how sustainable his great performance this year is going to be.
- Maybe I’m being a bit aggressive pushing Nate Lowe up so much after only a week, but I just love the guy. The contact’s still an issue in the early going, but the big-time power is still there, and he’s actually gone to the opposite field with over half his batted balls, which is one of the things I always liked about Lowe: his ability to spray the ball to all fields with power. He finally got slotted into the cleanup spot in the Rangers order last night, and responded with a two-homer game, so look for that to continue going forward. I see a potential .275 hitter with 35+ home run power who can rack up the counting stats. I’d be grabbing him in all formats.
- I recently took a look at top prospect debuts, and found that a lot of top hitters tend to struggle in their first seasons, but have a much easier time of things in their second or third go-rounds. This may be what we’re seeing with Gavin Lux this year. Nothing went Lux’s way last season, as he battled for playing time and hit just .175, mostly thanks to a dreadful .195 BABIP. Even in that season though, he showed good plate discipline and decent contact ability. He’s been getting pretty regular playing time this season, albeit towards the bottom of the order. Another week or two of hitting like this could secure the second base job for him if it isn’t secured already, and shift Chris Taylor into a utility role, which would be a boon for his value. I’m cautiously optimistic.
- Andrés Giménez has not been getting regular at-bats to this point, and when he has started he’s been hitting mostly ninth in the order. I’m still optimistic that his incredible defensive skills will help him hold down regular at-bats in the long-term, and I think there’s potentially a 10 HR/20 SB guy here with a decent average.
- Jonathan India is an absolute mystery, as the minor league track record is sparse and unimpressive. But he’s officially claimed the second base gig for the Reds, and has recorded hits in every game he’s played so far, including a three-hit performance last night. Pair that with a spring training that saw him post an OPS above 1.000, and he’s an intriguing speculative add right now. I won’t pretend to know what a reasonable statline is for him at the moment, but it’ll be fun to dig into some of the numbers in a few weeks when things start to reach their stabilization points. The early signs point to him being a skilled contact hitter with a good approach, though his exit velocity has maxed out at just 97 MPH so far.
- Michael A. Taylor was a fairly well-regarded prospect with the Nationals who had some flashes of fantasy upside throughout the years, but never really was able to secure the health or the playing time to live up to his potential. His early audition for a full-time gig with the Royals this year is certainly going well though. Based on the track record, I can squint and see a guy who could hit 15 homers with 20 stolen bases and a .240 average if everything goes right. And there’s definitely value there in a lot of leagues. But his contact issues are going to make him painful to roster once he cools off, so this may be more of a situation where you “juice the orange” and move on in a few weeks.
- When I saw reports that Zack Collins might serve as full-time DH for the White Sox I was very intrigued. He was coming off a great spring where he seemed to address his strikeout issues, and the possibility of full-time at-bats from a guy with catcher eligibility was intriguing. Fast forward two weeks, and Collins has fallen by the wayside as a result of Yermín “The Yermínator” Mercedes‘ incredible week that saw him rattle off 12 hits over his first 18 at-bats. Right now, Mercedes seems to have full control of the DH role with the White Sox, and his track record and early exit velocity returns make him an intriguing add. Unfortunately, on most platforms, Mercedes is DH-only, and until Collins is out of the picture, he likely won’t pick up enough appearances as a catcher to add that eligibility. There’s still some value in his bat though, and at the very least he’s worth an add while he’s on this incredible run.
Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire. Cover Image designed by the great J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign).