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: Cody Bellinger, Starling Marte, Pete Alonso, Giancarlo Stanton, J.T. Realmuto, Victor Robles, Christian Walker, and Tyler O’Neill are back from their IL stints.
- Now the bad news: Trevor Story, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Kyle Lewis, and Luke Voit hit the IL.
- A little bit of shuffling at the top this week as Mookie Betts slides down into Tier 2 and Juan Soto is leapfrogged by Trea Turner. Am I being a little too cute with these moves? Perhaps. But how could I avoid it with a face like this? In all seriousness, Betts has looked a bit off this year, and is fresh off a 15-game stretch that has seen him hit just one home run and swipe one base while slashing .222/.358/.407. That’s not bad, per sé, and neither is his overall statline. But he’s failed to live up to the calling of the #4 overall hitter he was drafted as so far. And the Statcast numbers have taken a notable dip, with his xwOBA falling to .355. That’s its lowest point since 2017, a year that saw him put together a very-very-good-but-not-quite-elite season. This could all change in literally a week, but there are a couple red flags. As for Soto, he’s still hitting the ball with insane authority (51.3% Hard Hit), which makes his career-best 13.4% strikeout rate all the more impressive. The issue is that he continues to hit the ball on the ground a ton. It’s literally always too early to take victory laps on top-tier hitters, but sound judgment was never one of my strong suits, and this was something that I worried could make Soto pretty volatile entering the year. His 54.6% ground-ball rate forces him to make the most of the few fly balls that he does hit. And while Soto is a generational talent that’s totally capable of doing that (see: 2020), all it takes is a little bad luck to cut the legs out from under his 70-grade power ceiling. The 36.1% HR/FB Soto posted last year has been more than halved this season, falling to just 17.2%. Unless those fly balls start leaving the yard at a much higher clip, I think Soto will struggle to reach the heights he hit last year.
- Say ‘Austin Meadows‘ out loud in your best surfer voice. Seriously, try it. Draw out the “ow” at the end of “Meadows” for premium effect. Fun, right? Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the man, because he’s been white-hot lately and deserves some attention. This past week alone he’s hitting .381 with four homers and a stolen base, pulling his overall statline up significantly after what most would describe as a tepid start to the year. Meadows dealt with a bout of COVID-19 last year that likely derailed what would have been an excellent follow-up to his breakout 2019 campaign. But things seem to be mostly back on track now for him. He is, rather astonishingly, posting a Hard Hit rate of exactly 42.9% for the third straight season at the moment. But more importantly, his ghastly 32.9% strikeout rate from last year has dropped back down to the mid-20’s, and his Sweet Spot rate has bounced back to the point where it’s one of the best in the league at 43.6%. He’s crushing fastballs again, holding his own against breakers and offspeed pitches, and not chasing too many pitches out of the zone. If there’s one knock against him, it’s that he’s lifting the ball quite a bit more than he has in the past. The result is a nice uptick in home runs, but the balls that don’t leave the park are likely what’s holding back his batting average at the moment. It very much feels like 35 home runs are possible for Meadows, and I think the only thing holding him back from a jump further up the rankings is the uncertainty surrounding where his stolen base and batting average output will ultimately settle.
- Injury concerns make players impossible to rank sometimes. Take Cody Bellinger, for example. After a down year, followed by shoulder surgery, followed by a fibula fracture, followed by more offensive struggles, it’s so tough to know what to expect from him going forward. The surface numbers are bad, and the peripherals aren’t much better. But we have such a small sample at this point (18 batted balls!) that it’s really impossible to say what’s going on with him yet. There are few players with the upside of Bellinger, and perhaps the layoff allowed more time for his shoulder to strengthen up. Ultimately, you’re probably best suited giving him another two weeks to shake off the rust and then reassessing then.
- The Triumvirate of Thump (Tommy Pham, Ty France, and Dominic Smith) are starting to heat up! I should combine them into one entity to make talking about them more efficient. Something like… Dommy Phrance? Shut up, Jon. Just shut up. Pham’s production has risen to meet his expected stats lately, as he’s hitting .367 over the past week with two taters and a steal. France hasn’t produced much in the way of power or speed during that span, but has produced a .385 average and appears fully healed from the wrist injury that was sapping his production. And Smith is hitting a cool .315 over the past week with a homer and a steal. One thing I’ll say is that I watch an unhealthy amount of Mets baseball, and Smith has looked really good at the plate the past few games. He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field incredibly well, which is something that spurred his breakout last year, keeping his shoulder in better than he had been in the weeks prior. He missed a second home run by inches last night, and I hope/pray the power will continue to come around in the coming weeks.
- Andrew Benintendi looks to be fully back. Thanks to a 15-game stretch that has seen him hit .320, Benintendi is now up to a .291 average on the year with five home runs and six stolen bases. I’m not sure Benintendi ever had anything more than fringe 20-homer power, and that continues to be the case. But if you end up with a .285 average, 18 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and solid counting stats, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
- Sometimes my memories of past seasons work against me when it comes to ranking, and that’s what I blame on undervaluing Randal Grichuk so much this year. Grichuk has been pretty notorious for going on one-month stretches where he’s the hottest hitter in baseball, only to completely fall off in the ensuing months. This year, though, things look a bit different. This would appear to be the third straight season in which Grichuk has cut into his strikeout rate, and he’s dropped it below 20% for the first time in his career. Part of that is due to his retaining the whiff rate gains from last year. And part of it is due to a huge increase in his swing rate at pitches in the zone. Grichuk is still not a super disciplined hitter, and I think that ultimately drags his batting average down a good bit. But he’s soaking up counting stats with good power, and is on a tear at the moment, so life is good.
- Well, dang. Rostering Jarred Kelenic has not been as fun as promised so far, and as someone who burned a roster spot on him for six weeks, I know the pain of it all is compounded that much more. He’s getting under pitches a TON in the early going–maybe pressing, trying to pop a few home runs to make up for the poor overall line to this point, who knows. But he’s just not squaring the ball up very well right now. To make things worse, he’s struggling pretty mightily against breaking balls, and pulling the ball a ton, which is not something you generally love to see from a left-handed hitter. The 19.9% whiff rate is actually pretty awesome, and I do still have some faith that we’ll see the 20/20 guy blossom at some point, so I’d still be rostering him right now (albeit on my bench). But yeah, between Kelenic this year and Jo Adell last year, it’s just another painful reminder that even the best prospects often struggle to hit the ground running.
- Is Gleyber Torres skirting by solely on name value at this point? His exit velocity numbers are pretty putrid this year, and while he’s making a healthy amount of contact and spraying the ball to all fields well, it’s hard to envision it mattering much for his fantasy value if he’ll struggle to reach even 20 home runs in a season. I’m not particularly hopeful for a big turnaround, and it might we worth checking if the name alone could net you anything in a trade.
- Eduardo Escobar, we meet again. My sworn nemesis just continues to do Eduardo Escobar things, constantly finding himself at the plate with runners in scoring position and smacking a suspicious amount of home runs for a guy whose Hard Hit rate has almost always been below average. As always, I’m skeptical that this production continues to this extent, but he’s a counting stats magnet with some pop who won’t destroy your batting average, and there’s value in that.
- I’m putting the Brandon Lowe and Matt Chapman down and slowly backing away from the table with my hands up. Brandon Lowe’s late-season slump last year doesn’t seem to have ever ended, and aside from the decent nine home runs he’s produced this year, he’s done a fair bit of damage to teams that drafted him. I’m not sure he’s this bad, but I have little faith that he’ll pull the average much higher than .230, and I’m not sure the orange is worth the squeeze just for 30+ homers. In a similar vein, Matt Chapman’s Statcast numbers are nightmare-fuel, and he’s whiffing 35% of the time at the moment while his Hard Hit rate hovers at just 38%. They should be firmly entrenched on your benches, at best.
- Interesting fact about Willy Adames: he had a career .277 wOBA at home in Tampa Bay, and a .364 wOBA on the road. He also supposedly talked about how he struggled to see the ball while hitting at Tropicana Field. He’s hitting .333 with two homers over the past week, and I think there could be something here if Milwaukee turns out to be a better-suited home park for him.
- Pavin Smith is hitting out of his mind right now, posting a .500 average over the past week and a .304 average over the past month. The man absolutely smokes the ball (48% Hard Hit), and strikes out at an excellent clip (16.4%), which are the two things you love to see most in a hitter. A high groundball rate and a propensity for going up the middle is keeping the power in check. But his xwOBA has been trending further upwards all season, and I truly think there’s a .280 hitter with 20 homers in here, with upside for more if he starts elevating better.
Important Note: I’ll be away next week, and while the list will live on in my head, as it always does, it may be a few days delayed. Just an FYI.
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