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. 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: Luke Voit and Miguel Sano were activated from their IL stints. Jarred Kelenic will also likely be promoted tomorrow.
- Now the bad news: Fernando Tatís Jr., Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, C.J. Cron, Colin Moran, Ian Happ, Joey Votto, Byron Buxton, Alex Kirilloff, and Brandon Nimmo hit the IL.
- Just some quick housekeeping right off the bat — some guys, particularly later in the list, are marked as “UR” to denote that they were previously unranked, despite the fact that they have been featured in previous lists. That should be fixed going forward, but just something to be cognizant of.
- Trea Turner is getting the bump into Tier 1 this week on the back of 15-game stretch that has seen him hit .344 with four homers and two stolen bases. With a .297 career batting average, the floor there is as high as it is for anyone, and Turner continues to retain the power gains he made a few years back, posting a 9.2% barrel rate that I think makes him a legitimate threat for 30 home runs. He’s literally tops in baseball in sprint speed as well, so really we’re just hoping to finally get a fully healthy season from him so we can bask in the glory of a potential 30/40 campaign.
- If you wanna have yourself a good cry (we all need a good cry sometimes), check out the ADPs of some of this year’s top hitters. Yordan Álvarez was being taken 77th overall and as the 50th hitter off the board. Cue Yordan as Michael Jordan (Michael Yordan?) in the “And I took that personally” meme. Yordan has hit an even .400 over his last 15 games, lifting his season slash line to .342/.374/.596. He’s also blasted three homers over the past week, giving us some hope that the prodigious power we saw in 2019 is starting to come around again. The concern coming into the year were the dual knee surgeries he underwent last season, and of course that spooked most fantasy managers away. But it’s worth pointing out that Yordan struggled with knee issues for years prior to going under the knife, so there’s reason for hope that he might be better than ever now that they’ve ostensibly been addressed. With a Max EV surpassing 114 mph on the season and an absurd 40% Sweet Spot rate, there’s no doubt in my mind that 40 homers is possible for Álvarez. What makes him even more special is that he hits so many line drives, and whiffs at a roughly league-average rate despite crushing almost every pitch he makes contact with. This, I think, puts him in elite company as a guy who could hit .280+ with top-tier power, similar to J.D. Martinez. I think there’s still a little rust to shake off with Álvarez after a long layoff too, which is what makes what he’s done so far this year extra scary. It should be a fun summer.
- Speaking of large humans who seem to be the missing links between man and deity, Giancarlo Stanton is doing things again. The batting average was lacking over the first few weeks of the season, but Stanton has rattled off a .403 average over his last 15 games with four homers and strikeout rate just barely over 20%. He’s also leading the league in just about every quality-of-contact metric, including Hard Hit rate (65.9% !!!), Max EV (120 mph !!!), and Average EV (98.8 mph !!!). What’s interesting is that he’s mostly going up the middle, as he customarily has, and hitting the ball on the ground a ton, so he’s not even making the most out of all these hard hit balls yet, which is wild. The question here was never talent, it was whether his muscles can remain un-torn long enough for him to put that talent on display. If you’re rostering Stanton, throw some salt over both shoulders and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.
- Yermín Mercedes and Nate Lowe have been two of my most fun players to roster this year, and I’ll literally designate a small section of this article every week to just heaping praise on them both. Nate Lowe has done a good job of maintaining a steady xwOBA in the .370 range over the past few weeks, which gives me hope that pitchers have not been able to adjust to him yet. And Mercedes is actually posting better xwOBAs against non-fastballs than fastballs at the moment, which I think also speaks to a good foundation that is going to be tough for pitchers to exploit. Nothing but love for my two giant power-hitting humans.
- Is Josh Donaldson… improving? His 15.3% strikeout rate would be the lowest of his career, and he’s also posting career-bests in xBA (.326), barrel rate (16.4%), and xwOBA (.424). His performance against non-fastballs this year has also arguably been better than it’s ever been. Maybe it’s a small-sample thing — Donaldson did miss time earlier this year with a leg injury. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on, as the surface numbers haven’t caught up to the underlying metrics, and he could be in line for a big hot streak if he can maintain this.
- I had actually dropped Tommy Pham much lower in this week’s rankings after it appeared that he was entering a timeshare with Jurickson Profar. But with both Profar and Wil Myers hitting the IL, Pham should get plenty of consistent playing time. And, believe me, I know how hard it has been to roster him this year. But he’s been one of the unluckiest hitters in the game to this point, and he’s someone who has historically been able to go on hot streaks that can carry your team. I really think your patience will be rewarded with Pham. As I whisper anxiously to myself every night before falling asleep: it’s not too late to turn things around.
- Ty France is under occupation, besieged by troops from the Nation of Suckitude. He’s hitting just .215 over his last 30 games with only two homers, and his xwOBA has quite literally dropped off a cliff the past few weeks. Purely speculating here, but I’m a little concerned that he may be playing through something, as a lot of his metrics were looking good prior to the past couple of weeks. If he’s healthy, I’m reasonably optimistic he can turn things around, as he’s been doing a lot of things right this season, posting solid line drive rates, a really good Sweet Spot rate, limiting his strikeouts, and taking plenty of walks. If you’re a believer, and think this is just a cold spell, now might be a good chance to buy low.
- In the course of trying to track the recent and historical performances of about 200 hitters every week, a handful of guys are almost inevitably going to be overlooked. This week, I’ve discovered that I’ve been giving Cedric Mullins and Marcus Semien short shrift recently. Mullins, as I recently discovered, actually stopped switch-hitting this season and decided to become a left-handed hitter, and the results have been awesome. He’s always been a decent contact hitter with speed, but he now seems to be seeing non-fastballs a lot better, and putting more of a charge into them, with his Hard-Hit rate jumping to 41% this year. He’s also done a much better job of elevating the ball. This isn’t to say I think he’s suddenly a 20-homer threat, but low-teens home runs with a good average and potentially 20 stolen bases while leading off is very nice, to say the least, and I think he should probably be starting in most 12-teamers. Semien I’ve always been a bit tepid on, but he’s leaning heavily into a pulled flyball approach, and thanks to an uptick in hard contact, it’s working out so far. I do think he may hit a slump soon as pitchers start to pull back on the amount of fastballs he sees, but it’s hard to argue with his performance to this point.
- Andrew Benintendi looks super. Like a Super Benintendo who could play until he’s Benintendo 64. What’s caused this Benintendo Switch? Okay sorry, I’m done. But seriously, Benintendi has seemingly reverted back to the player he was in his early Red Sox career, spraying line drives to all fields with moderate power, good contact ability, and solid plate discipline. I think 20 homers is still the high-water mark with him, but he’ll likely give you enough of everything, to the point where you’re saying “Benintendo, Wee!” Okay, seriously, I’m done now.
- Do you ever consider a baseball player a personal adversary purely because they choose to prosper after you’ve moved on from them, or are you actually well-adjusted? Timed perfectly with the point at which I dropped Josh Rojas off most of my rosters, he’s become one of the hottest hitters in baseball, hitting .306 with five homers over his last 30 games and an insane .423 over the past week. In the short term, he’s an absolute must-add, as he’s been winning teams their matchups in H2H for awhile now. In the long-term, I’m not entirely sure what to think. He’ll continue to have a spot in the lineup as long as he’s hitting, but there are lots of mouths to feed in a healthy Arizona lineup if he cools off. I’m also not sure the penchant for ground balls and middling performance against non-fastballs bodes well for his power or ability to hit for an average much higher than .260. But we can put those concerns off for another time, because he’s on fire right now.
- Andrew McCutchen is also on fire right now, hitting .357 with three homers over his last seven games. I’m not buying this long-term —there’s just way too many red flags in his profile. Still, not a bad option for streaming though, as long as he’s seeing the ball well and producing.
- I think I’m pretty much done with Josh Bell. With each passing day, 2019 looks more and more like an aberration as opposed to a legitimate breakout. His ground-ball rate has receded back to where it was pre-2019, he’s whiffing at a high rate, and it just all looks really bad. Every time I watch him hit, I hope to see that he’s rediscovered the quiet batting stance that coincided with his big breakout. But there’s still too much movement, and it all makes me sad. If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that he’s still hitting the ball really, really hard. But I’m not sure that even matters at this point when it’s consistently going straight into the ground.
- I feel like there are probably lots of questions about Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, who have been doing some fun things lately. Crawford is posting an inexplicably high 13% barrel rate at the moment, thanks in large part to what looks like a conscious effort to elevate the ball more this year. However, with his whiff rate at a career high, no corresponding shift in his approach to pull the ball more, and no significant boost to his Hard-Hit rate, I think this power outbreak is more of a flash in the pan than anything else. He’s a fine option to stream while the production continues, but I don’t think there’s much to see here long-term. I’m inclined to say the same about Belt, who has seemingly teased us every season of his career with an impressive hot streak, only to get injured and/or have his production drop off precipitously. I think this is a situation where I’ve been burned so many times that I’m going to need to see Belt maintain this for a little while before becoming a believer.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)