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: Jazz Chisholm, Ian Happ, Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, and C.J. Cron were activated from the IL. Yay!
- Now the bad news: Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Carson Kelly, A.J. Pollock, Didi Gregorius, Tyler O’Neill, Ty France, and Hunter Dozier all hit the IL. Boo! For the record, none of these players were a Hitter List featured player this season, therefore I bear no responsibility for their misfortune.
- For those who’ve asked, I’m hoping to implement an injured player chart in future articles with notes on where they’d likely rank when healthy. Apologies for not having that available this week.
- You may remember back in April, when the season was still young and the warm light of hope shined down upon all of us (even Dylan Moore), we mentioned how Shohei Ohtani seemed to be elevating the ball a bit more than he customarily has, and how this could bode well for his future power output. Well, Sho’ and behold, Ohtani now leads all of baseball with 14 home runs, including four over the past week. He’s cut a full 10 percentage points off his groundball rate so far, dropping it from 49% in both 2020 and 2019 to just 39% this year. And just about every single one of those grounders has turned into a flyball this season, as his flyball rate is now 34%, dwarfing his previous career-high of 24%. When you’re in the top 10% of the league in Hard Hit rate, and you start hitting way more flyballs, good things are going to happen. On top of all this, Ohtani is also still running this year, racking up six stolen bases with the help of a sprint speed that’s currently in the 95th percentile. My only real concerns at this point are injury-related. As we’ve seen this year, injuries are easy enough to acquire when you’re only playing one position. The wear-and-tear of pitching, hitting, baserunning, and occasionally fielding (Ohtani has racked up some outfield appearances this year) definitely introduces a new level of risk to go along with the otherworldly talent. But with consistent at-bats and good health, it truly seems like 40 home runs and 20 stolen bases is within reach for Ohtani.
- Christian Yelich’s back, but is Christian Yelich’s back back? Back issues aren’t a new thing for Yelich, but he’s now returning from his second IL stint related to the issue, and it doesn’t seem like it’s a minor concern. He went 0-for-4 in his return with three strikeouts, and some of that could be rust, or some of that could be lingering limitations that are going to affect him for awhile. If you have him rostered, it might be a good time to see what you could get for him in a trade while he’s healthy and the surface numbers still look appealing.
- It’s so nice when your faith is actually rewarded. You hear that, Dylan Moore? I said it’s nice when you believe in someone and then they reward your faith in them. Ah, he’s not listening. Anyway, Kyle Tucker continues his turnaround, with four homers over the past week and a .423 batting average to boot. He’s struck out just twice over the past week and is on a tear that should help pull his ho-hum .332 wOBA closer to his elite .393 xwOBA. All the expected stats are on his side, he’s killing breaking balls, and his contact ability is divine. He should make you very happy this year regardless of where you drafted him.
- Kris Bryant being ranked over Marcell Ozuna and Francisco Lindor. If you told me this would happen in the preseason, I think I would have called you a madman. A looney. A spouter of poppycock. But here we are. We’ve talked about it a thousand times already, but Bryant’s underlying numbers honestly look better than they have since his first few years in the league, when he was one of the top bats in the game. His performance against non-fastballs is arguably better than it’s ever been this year, he’s elevating the ball more, and he’s hitting the ball harder than he has in a long time. I’m into it, and very much looking forward to seeing him pair this improved skillset with his now home ballpark of Yankee Stadium later this summer. That’s a jinx, by the way. I said that to jinx it so it won’t happen.
- Speaking of Marcell Ozuna, he’s had a tough go of it this year. The strikeout rate is at a career high, the Hard Contact rate is at a career low, and he’s just not doing damage against fastballs the way he customarily has. The poor performance against fastballs, dip in contact quality, and drop in pull rate have me wondering if there’s an injury at play here. The thing about Ozuna is, if you look at his rolling charts, he’s a guy who has customarily been able to put together a month-long run where he posts a .500 wOBA, which then pulls all his numbers back in line. And he’s been a little better lately, so all hope isn’t lost. But I do think there’s some concern here.
- I said in the preseason that I thought Teoscar Hernández could be a cheaper version of Randy Arozarena, and at least so far I’m feeling pretty good about that proclamation. Hernández missed some time due to COVID to start the year, but has carried over his impressive 2020 production into this season, slashing .305/.359/.495 on the year, and hitting .351 over his last 15 games with three homers and two stolen bases. The Hard Contact rate has dipped quite a bit, but is still high at 43.7%, and I’ll absolutely take that dip if it means the career-low 23.4% strikeout rate is here to stay. He’s whiffing less than he ever has, and the elite line drive rate from last year has actually improved this year, rising to an otherworldly 33%. I’m loving what I’m seeing so far from Hernández.
- I’ll be honest, I was skeptical that the strikeout rate improvements for Ryan McMahon were real. But we’re on the cusp of June, and he’s continuing to hold the line:
The best part is that he’s also addressed his customarily problematic ~50% groundball rate, and is now hitting an absolute butt-ton of line drives (29.9%) and lifting the ball more than he ever has. He’s been scuffling a bit lately, but I think this could actually be a decent buy-low opportunity, and I could easily see a situation where he reaches (or surpasses) a .275 average with 30 home runs and good counting stats.
- That whole “cusp of June” thing cuts both ways though, unfortunately, so let’s turn our attention to some guys I’ve been pumping up all year that just haven’t been cutting it. I still have faith that Dansby Swanson and Tommy Pham will turn things around, but it still hasn’t happened, and I think you can probably get away with dropping them (if you haven’t already) in 12-team formats, as chances are most other teams won’t want to touch them until they start heating up anyway. Dylan Moore is ever-so-slightly improving, and is actually still on pace for a 20 HR/30 SB season, but the .178 average is absolutely killing you. I pretty much have to go down with the ship with him, but I can understand moving on from him as well if you can’t stomach the lack of hits every week. Dom Smith is also looking a bit better (.364 average this past week!), but the power just hasn’t been there, and he still looks pretty lost at the plate. A fantasy manager can only endure so much for so long.
- Garrett Hampson has looked good. Apparently young players with talent can actually prosper when given a proper chance? The Rockies are learning something new every day. Good contact ability, a nice all-fields approach, and an optimized bat path (38.7% Sweet Spot rate) create a really intriguing profile with Hampson. I think 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases is an attainable ceiling for Hampson.
- Adolís Garcia can’t be stopped. He’s hitting .375 over his last 15 games with six homers and four stolen bases. Obviously I haven’t quite given him his due to this point, as he’s been one of the best hitters in the game this season. I’m still worried the bottom could fall out here at any moment though–above-average whiff and chase rates aren’t a great recipe for long-term success, and if pitchers decide to scale back the fastball usage from 55% to sub-50%, I think there’s going to be some growing pains.
- Gavin Lux’s xwOBA has steadily been on the rise for a few weeks now, which we’ve seen play out in the form of a .327 average over his last 15 games with two homers and 12 RBI. Lux seems to be doing a better job of hunting fastballs, but he’s also not letting pitchers exploit him with breaking or offspeed stuff. The overall Statcast profile isn’t all that impressive, and I’m not totally sure we see even 20 homers from Lux based on what he’s done to this point. But I think he could hit for a decent average with a little pop and speed, and rack up plenty of counting stats. Maybe not the elite performance we hoped for when he first came up, but serviceable across the board.
- Some fun guys to grab for now or speculate on in deeper formats: Odúbel Herrera, Matt Duffy, Gregory Polanco, and Brad Miller. Odúbel’s hitting .340 in his last 15 games, and could produce a decent batting average and mid-teens power with a few steals in the long-term. Matt Duffy’s flashing great contact skills and a decent Hard Hit rate. When healthy he could go 10/10 with a .280+ average, and he seems to finally be healthy again. Polanco is still crushing the ball (47.8% Hard Hit) and swiping some bags while hitting in the heart of the Pirates’ order. The average will hurt you, but a 20/20 season is certainly within the range of possible outcomes if he stays healthy. In a similar vein is Brad Miller, who should get plenty of reps while Gregorius is on the IL. Miller is also crushing the ball (54.5% Hard Hit !!!), and could be a cheap source of power and some speed in the short-term.
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