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: We have a new injury table! Now you can look at all your injured players and dream about all the ways that things could’ve been different if the cruel hand of fate hadn’t stepped in. I’ll do my best to keep this updated each week:
- A full week hasn’t passed since the last update to this list, yet Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has done enough in that time to catapult himself to the #3 spot overall. Guerrero Jr. homered in four straight games over the past week, and is up to 22 homers on the season with a .346 average. The thing that had held Guerrero Jr. back to this point in his career–his high ground-ball rate–is still relatively high at 47%. But it’s a stark improvement from the 54% rate he posted last year, and we’re seeing him put way more batted balls in play at ideal launch angles, as evidenced by his above-average 35.8% Sweet Spot rate. With a 55.6% Hard Hit rate, Guerrero Jr. doesn’t need to rely on those ideal launch angles quite as much as most hitters. But when you’re pushing a 50-homer pace the way Vlad is, every bit helps. His ability to drive pitches to all fields with power and massacre all pitch types makes him an incredibly well-rounded bat, and I’m getting some prime Miguel Cabrera vibes here. Which is scary when you consider that Vlad is just 22 years old, and Cabrera arguably didn’t begin peaking until his mid-20s. I know there may be some surprise to see Vlad leapfrog Juan Soto before even the midpoint of the season. But in the early going, they seem to have body-swapped, as Soto’s ground-ball rate now sits at a career-worst 56% with a Sweet Spot rate that continues to hover around league average. To be clear, I have no doubt that Soto continues to be an elite bat the rest of the season. But with a better lineup around him and a swing that gives him a greater margin for error, it’s hard not to prefer Guerrero Jr.
- One of the exciting things about Jared Walsh in the early going was his ability to mix solid contact with good pop and excellent bat control to post a high batting average while wringing as much out of his power as possible. But recently things have started to… change a bit. His Sweet Spot rate has plummeted, and is hovering in the 20% range lately–which, to be clear, is very bad. Some of that has been offset by a jump in his Hard Contact rate, which has touched 50% during his most recent stretch of plate appearances. The bad news is that this contact quality spike has come at the cost of his contact ability, as his strikeout rate has also spiked into the 35% range in recent weeks. I’m not really too worried about it–every hitter goes through occasional lulls over the course of a season. But considering he doesn’t have much of a track record to fall back on, it is something worth keeping an eye on.
- Speaking of highs and lows, Jazz Chisholm has been riding a strikeout rate wave for most of the season now. First it looked like his strikeouts were under control, and we got super happy. Then it looked like the contact issues were back, and we got sad. But now he seems to be coming down the other side of that mountain, pushing his strikeout rate closer to that sweet, sweet 25% range in recent weeks. I firmly believe his ability to make contact and not chase pitches out of the zone is the only thing he needs to conquer to ascend to fantasy stardom, as there’s pretty clearly 30/30 upside here.
- If I could turn Ke’Bryan Hayes‘ hitting profile into a person, I would… not marry that person. That would be weird. But I would be very enamored by them. Mostly because, I mean, it’s a sentient statline. What’s not interesting about that? Can it feel? Can it know love? Anyway, I chalked Hayes’ impressive 2020 stint up to a 95-plate-appearance fluke, but Hayes has gotten right back at it this year, flashing that divine mixture of good contact ability and elite quality of contact. We’re still dealing with a small sample size, but his 58% Hard Hit rate would rank second to only Aaron Judge this year among qualified hitters. The maximum exit velocity doesn’t quite indicate that Judge-like power is in his bat, but he clearly has some pop. The question is really whether he can elevate the ball enough to take advantage of it–his ground-ball rate is hovering around 47% in the majors so far, and throughout his minor league career he struggled to flash even 20-homer power. The upside is very intriguing, but mind the floor.
- It feels very much like I’ve been ghosting Chris Taylor this year. Showering love on him in the comments, talking about how he deserves our time and attention, and then just… not giving him a corresponding bump in the rankings. He’s worth rostering in all formats for the counting stat upside alone, but add to that the fact that he’s running (6-for-6 in stolen base attempts) and has retained some Hard Hit rate improvements from 2020 and you’ve got a guy who can help you across the board.
- Alex Kirilloff’s hit tool was the thing that helped him stand out as a prospect, but since joining the Twins the dude has been absolutely destroying the ball. With a 49.5% Hard Hit rate and a 15% barrel rate on 91 batted balls, he should have more than the five home runs he has at the moment, and I think there’s going to be a big hot streak on the horizon if he keeps this up. Interestingly, the elite contact ability he flashed in the minors has kind of taken a backseat to the power so far, but not enough to completely cut the legs out of his upside. I’m pretty bullish on his rest-of-season outlook.
- This is now the third straight year where Jonathan Schoop has gone on a prodigious offensive tear, and his .322/.391/.619 performance over his last 30 games with nine homers is a hot streak that can rival anyone’s peak. I’ve been a little hesitant to push him too high, as there are a decent number of red flags in his Statcast profile that indicate he’s performing way over his head. The good-not-great barrel (8.6%) and Hard Hit (40%) rates point more towards low-20s home run power than 30+ home run power, and a ground-ball rate just under 50% is going to make maintaining this hot streak in both the batting average and power department tough. The last two times Schoop went on a run like this, it was followed by a slump equally as magnificent, so while he’s a must-roster at the moment, I’d be ready to cut bait the moment things start to tail off.
- I am once again asking you to physically remove Dylan Moore from my line of sight so that I stop getting sucked back in. Here’s the thing: if you ignore the batting average to this point (and, yeah, that’s a big ask), he’s still given what I would consider positive contributions in home runs, stolen bases, and RBI on a per-PA basis. Consider this: despite missing several weeks due to injury and rocking a .275 OBP, he’s tied for 13th overall in stolen bases. The 11% barrel rate is also solid and portends 25+ home run power. His chase rate and whiff rate aren’t quite high enough to explain the 31% strikeout rate, and it’s pretty clear why: Moore has been a super passive hitter, swinging at pitches in the zone about 10% less than average. Now, that’s not as simple a fix as it might seem (see: Cavan Biggio). But it’s also not impossible (see: Yoán Moncada). Despite his struggles, I’m still of the opinion that the true Dylan Moore lies somewhere between last year’s breakout and this year’s relative dud.
- I excluded Joey Votto from the list last week because he was looking pretty rough after returning from the IL, and it’s always hard to tell if and for how long an injury could linger. But he’s popped three homers over the past week and seems to be picking up where he left off in the power department prior to going down. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, Votto is currently posting the best barrel rate and Hard Hit rate of his career. He’s also being more aggressive with pitches in the zone, and while the whiff rate has skyrocketed as a result, I think we’re seeing a conscious approach from Votto to become more of a slugger this year. I trust his discipline enough that I think it can offset any problems caused by the increased whiffs, and think this could be a big year for Votto if he sticks with these changes.
- Everyone was excited about C.J. Cron arriving in Colorado, and for a moment this season he put together one of the best runs of his career by xwOBA and things were looking very promising. Then, unfortunately, he hit the IL due to a back injury, and he just hasn’t been able to get back into a groove since then. Back injuries are no joke, and with Cron posting pedestrian Hard Hit and barrel rates for a guy who has always possessed 35-homer power, it’s tough not to think that it could still be an issue for him.
- We’ve seen a very impressive 15-game run from Jake Fraley, who’s hitting .311 with four homers, three steals, and 15 RBI over that span. For those who have a spot on their roster they’re comfortable devoting to a streamer, I’m 100% advocating for picking him up and slotting him in your lineups for as long as he’s performing. He’s more of a long-term asset in OBP formats, as I’m not convinced the power holds up–the 22% Hard Hit rate to this point is insanely low and makes the 33% HR/FB stand out like an enormous, bedazzled, flaming red flag. He could still be a solid all-around contributor this year, but I’m not expecting 20/20 upside.
- Gary Sánchez has been sending out a siren song the past two weeks, luring hapless fantasy teams to his shores so he can dash their hopes against the rocks. Sorry, that’s a bit dramatic, not totally indicative of how I feel about his last 15 games, wherein he’s hit .333 with four home runs. As much as I’d like to believe that Gary is scary once again, there’s been no notable movement in his rolling strikeout rate chart or his xBA chart. With the contact issues still at large (he’s struck out over 33% of the time during this hot stretch), I think Sánchez is still the guy we thought he was: a hitter who will kill your batting average, but could reach 30 homers.
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