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 Mondesí) 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: Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley, Colin Moran, A.J. Pollock, and Ke’Bryan Hayes returned from their IL stints
- Now the bad news: Nick Madrigal, Garrett Cooper, Adalberto Mondesí, Kolten Wong, and Mike Yastrzemski hit the IL. Jarred Kelenic was also demoted.
- First off, apologies for the delayed list this week. I was making my annual pilgrimage to Wyoming to pay respects to the birthplace of one of the greatest ballplayers to ever live: Brandon Nimmo. It’s a beautiful state if you ever get the chance to go, and I’m not sure why Nimmo ever left it behind to spend half his life getting yelled at by a bunch of dudes in shirseys next to derelict auto body shops in Flushing, Queens. But I digress.
- Though it’s just six-spot jump and he remains in Tier 2, the move by Shohei Ohtani this week feels pretty significant, as he’s on the cusp of being a top-5 fantasy hitter in my mind. It seems the Angels have essentially thrown caution to the wind this year, allowing him to not only hit and pitch during some games, but also scaling way back on the amount of rest they give him as a hitter after making starts. He’s appeared in 60 of the team’s 62 games to this point in some capacity, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that we can cast aside any concerns we might have had that he’s going to get drastically fewer plate appearances than most hitters this year. Ohtani’s focus on elevating the ball more this season means a 40 HR/20 SB season is absolutely in the cards, and he’s had no trouble whatsoever accumulating counting stats even without Mike Trout around. My only concern is the batting average–the uptick in flyballs has resulted in increased power numbers, but has kept his BABIP around .306 compared to the ~.350 marks he posted in 2018 and 2019. I think a .260 average is probably what you should expect rest-of-season, but I don’t think anyone will complain about that when you’re getting absolutely elite production everywhere else.
- I know the concept of a player’s production increasing in a contract year is a little contentious, but personally I think it stands to reason that some people are motivated to work harder when there’s a $150+ million carrot dangling in front of them. Then again I would do horrible, unconscionable, irredeemable things just for a $50 Best Buy gift card, so maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, Carlos Correa has been looking better than ever this year, right before he hits free agency, and I feel like there’s a chance that it’s not a coincidence. He’s currently posting the best Hard Hit rate (44.9%), strikeout rate (15.7%), and walk rate (12.3%) of his career, and Thanos would love his spray chart (since it’s so perfectly balanced):
Between the all-fields approach and the lack of flyballs, I do think maintaining a 30-homer pace might be difficult for Correa. But he should be able to get to 25 home runs pretty easily, and the batting average should stick around .285 with great counting stats, so he’ll likely come pretty close to putting together one of his better seasons as long as no nefarious masseuses do him in.
- Cedric Mullins already looked like he was having a legit breakout. Then he went and had a week where he posted a casual .536 batting average with three homers and a stolen base. He’s now hitting .323 and pacing towards a 25/25 season, and considering that, I’m sure some folks are questioning why he’s not higher than #55 this time around. To be clear, there are a lot of great developments happening with Mullins. His Sweet Spot rate has improved by over 50% this year, jumping to an impressive 36.5%. This is allowing the increase in his Hard Hit rate to play up, resulting in much more pop than he’s flashed before. That uptick in hard contact hasn’t come at the cost of his contact ability either, as he’s whiffing just 18% of the time this year. He’s got xwOBAs over .300 against all pitch types, and yes, I know at some point I’ll have to segue into the bad stuff, so here we go. First off, the barrel rate points to him being someone who will likely settle closer to 18 homers than 25. And despite his good performance against all pitch types, the expected stats against those pitches are notably lower than what he’s actually produced so far. Furthermore, while Mullins scrapping his switch-hitting approach likely contributed to the leap forward that he’s made this year, hitting solely left-handed does make him more prone to being shifted, especially given that his pull rate has increased significantly. Mullins has historically struggled as a lefty against shifts, and unfortunately that trend has continued this year. Shifts are one of the things xwOBA doesn’t account for, and the fact that his xwOBA (.343) is significantly lower than his wOBA (.397) is a bit troubling, as you’d typically expect xwOBA to perform a bit more favorably than wOBA for someone who is prone to being shifted. Now, none of this is to say that Mullins isn’t legit right now–he very much is. But I think I’d be expecting something closer to a .280 average with 17 home runs and 25 stolen bases over a full season based on his peripherals.
- One of my first articles for Pitcher List was about a phenomenon I refer to as the “Joe Schmo Effect,” which is essentially just the propensity for fantasy managers to overlook players who have boring, ho-hum names. The irony is that I’ve probably been a victim of the Joe Schmo Effect this year when it comes to Bryan Reynolds. Sure, I remembered his 2019 season where he managed to hit .314 with 16 homers. But I also remembered that he had some issues elevating the ball. And that he struggled pretty mightily in 2020. And so, since he wasn’t named Jabari Blash or Winters McGoo or anything notable like that, he faded into the background. Well, Reynolds has looked mighty good this year, particularly over the past few weeks:
He’s a skilled contact hitter who can go to all fields with some pop, and I think the uptick in flyballs should get him over the 20-homer plateau pretty easily this year. That said, with his Hard Hit rate at a good-not-great 38%, and with the flyballs coming at the expense of his line drives, I’m not sure I’d expect the average to hover around .285 all year. But he is going to soak up plenty of counting stats, even in the barren Pittsburgh lineup. And it wouldn’t be crazy if he did manage to hit close to .280 with 25+ homers.
- Ben Clemens had a fun article on Tyler O’Neill over at Fangraphs, so while I could try to shamelessly regurgitate everything he says there, you’re better off giving that a read if you want the real skinny. The biggest takeaways, though, are what I think we all know about O’Neill deep down in our little hearts: he’s immensely powerful, and he whiffs on a huge amount of his swings. Why I’m conservative when it comes to ranking guys like this is that players with this profile can completely fall apart at any moment. It hasn’t happened yet, and frankly he could easily go another month hitting .339 with 12 home runs (like he just did). But long-term I still find him pretty risky. One notable stat from the aforementioned article: hitters who have struck out more than O’Neill in 150+ plate appearances this year have a max wRC+ of 104. Another notable stat: O’Neill swings at 55% of first pitches, yet pitchers have thrown him pitches over the heart of the plate in 0-0 counts way more than average. Okay, so I guess I am just shamelessly regurgitating that article. But the point being, O’Neill keeping this up and pitchers not adjusting are both highly unlikely. Hold on tight while he goes on this incredible run. Just don’t be surprised if and when the ride comes to an end.
- I promised myself I would be better about giving credence to late-career breakouts from aging players, and then I went and gave the figurative middle finger to Brandon Crawford for the first two months of the season. Every year there are older guys who take a surprisingly legitimate step forward (remember 2019 Alex Gordon or Hunter Pence?). And this year, as shocking as it is, Crawford seems to be one of those guys. What looked a few weeks ago like a fun little productive spurt from Crawford has turned into a gradual ascension over the past few weeks. His xwOBA recently peaked at a point it hasn’t touched before (he had a 50-PA stretch where it sat at .532!). And everything seems to point to a conscious change in approach on Crawford’s part, from the higher pull rate, to the jump in Hard Hit rate, to the 31% flyball rate from a guy who previously peaked at just 22%. The old Brandon Crawford appears to be dead, long live Brandon Crawford.
- As much as it saddens me to drop two of my boys so significantly, Nate Lowe and YermÍn Mercedes have been scuffling something awful lately, and I just couldn’t justify elevating them as highly anymore. Lowe has been particularly bad, but he’s gone through lulls like this a couple of times this year already, so I think the peaks and valleys are just a part of rostering him and he’ll come around again. Mercedes is also dealing with some growing pains, chasing a lot of bad pitches and further compounding his recent slump. But again, long-term I don’t think there are huge reasons to worry.
- Fantasy baseball is so fun. A month ago, 95% of people probably had no idea who Patrick Wisdom or Eric Haase were. Now they’re two of the most-added players out there. Haase is a pretty intriguing catching option–especially in Yahoo leagues, where he just picked up outfielder eligibility. In the minors he flashed 35-homer power, and he’s been raking lately, with a 20% barrel rate and a 59% Hard Hit rate (in an obviously small sample). The average will likely plummet to .230 eventually, but he’s on a heater and should be owned just about everywhere at the moment. All the same caveats apply to Wisdom. He’s shown prodigious power, but a whiff rate hovering around 40% just doesn’t bode well for sustained production. Still, if you need power in the short-term, these are must-adds for as long as the trains keep rolling.
- Getting back to guys I like who are making me sad right now, let’s talk about Carson Kelly. The peripherals from Kelly were radiant prior to him breaking his toe, and I legitimately felt like he had a shot at becoming the #1 catcher this year. Then, of course, the injury happened, and they activated him before the toe fully healed, which is always a red flag. I wanted to believe the slow start upon his return was him working off the rust from his IL stint. But he’s seen a big dip in his Hard Hit rate and xwOBA since his return, and I’m just not convinced he’s fully healthy at the moment. In these dark days of injuries, it seems silly to wish for an IL stint. But that may be what Kelly needs to return to being an elite catching option again this year.
- Let’s give Hunter Renfroe his due, as he’s having a very solid season at the moment, at least by his standards. We always knew he had power, and that hasn’t gone away–his 114 mph max exit velocity is one of the highest among qualified hitters this season. But he has seemingly curtailed some of that power to become a better overall hitter this year. His line drive rate currently sits at a career-best 26.8%. He’s going to the opposite field more than he ever has with his batted balls. And he’s whiffing less than he ever has. If he sticks with these changes, and continues to retain that plus power, I think he could have one of his better offensive seasons this year, with a home run total above 30 and, for the first time in his career, a batting average above .250 over a full season. He’s not a bad guy to speculate on for counting stats and power.
- The baseball season is long. So long that Jonathan India has already gone from top prospect breakout, to disappointing waiver wire fodder, back to top prospect breakout. And it’s not even July. India has put together a good run over his last 15 games, hitting .318 with two homers and two stolen bases. That production has helped him move into the leadoff spot over the past week. If he sticks, he should rack up plenty of runs with his above-average plate discipline. I’m not sure the batting average settles much higher than .270, but there’s probably mid-teens pop with around 10 stolen bases here if he maintains what he’s been doing so far, and that likely plays in most leagues from a middle-infielder.
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