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.
- First off, a list of the hitters that are currently on the Injured List:
- Right off the bat (no pun intended), it seems worth noting that the addition of Wander Franco and the returns of highly-ranked players like Max Muncy, George Springer, Mike Yastrzemski, Luke Voit, Jeff McNeil, and Ramon Laureano from the IL means a lot of players towards the bottom of the list have at least a “-6” baked into their player movement. Furthermore, I consider myself a patient man; I watched the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League all the way through without checking my phone even once. But as we approach July, I think we’re on the precipice of the point wherein we have to come to terms with the fact that some hitters–no matter how much we believe they’ll succeed–just might not make it there this year. With that in mind, I’ve dropped some players pretty significantly this week.
- Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start with the fun stuff. Back in April, we talked a bit about how José Altuve was showing some positive signs that he was healthy, hitting sprint speeds he hadn’t touched in years and generally just not showing residual effects from the leg injuries he had dealt with in seasons past. Well, the stolen bases haven’t come, but it certainly seems that the benefits of a healthy lower half are at least serving as a boon to his power output this year. Altuve hit three homers this past week, and has accumulated 11 over his last 30 games. As we know, pulling the ball in the air is a recipe for success when it comes to juicing Minute Maid Park for some fresh-squeezed power. So it’s no coincidence that Altuve is experiencing this power outburst in a season where his Hard Hit rate (41.7%), fly-ball rate (23.6%), and pull rate (47.7%) are all significantly higher than they’ve ever been. I wouldn’t be shocked if Altuve manages to top his previous career-high of 31 home runs this year.
- I mentioned being a bit more ruthless with dropping hitters in the rankings this week, and Yoán Moncada is probably the highest-ranked victim. Things were looking really good for Moncada up until recently–his xwOBA was peaking at a point it had never hit yet in his career, and it seemed like only a matter of time until the power started coming around. Unfortunately his xwOBA has dropped off a cliff over the past couple of weeks, dropping from a rolling-high around .500 to below .250 in recent days. It’s not uncommon for players to hit a wall during the course of the year, but a lot of times when a drop-off is this quick and steep there is some underlying physical cause. Until we see things start to trend up again, I’m fading him.
- Mitch Haniger has also hit a rough patch in recent weeks, hitting just .186 over his last 15 games, which has dragged his batting average on the season down to just .250. In Haniger’s case, there isn’t as stark of a drop-off in his recent xwOBA, strikeout rate, or Hard Hit rates, so I’m inclined to think this is just a slump. Haniger was likely never going to hit .280, but I think getting to around .270 with 35+ homers and plenty of counting stats is definitely still an attainable benchmark for him.
- Christian Yelich has started to show some positive signs in recent weeks, with a batting average of .283 over hist last 15 games and Hard Hit and strikeout rates that have been trending in the right directions. Still, the power has not returned yet after multiple IL stints for back problems, and it’s interesting to note that Yelich’s struggles the past two years have coincided with a return of his ground-ball tendencies. Yelich’s ground-ball rate this year sits at 56.5%–the highest it has been since 2016. I think there’s still a pretty dynamic fantasy player here, even if he continues hitting the ball on the ground a ton, but between the grounders and the injury concerns, it’s going to be incredibly hard for him to return to being even a top-20 hitter.
- Just when I was starting to believe that Javier Báez was some kind of glitch in the Matrix, a player with an uncanny ability to overcome a 41% (!!!) whiff rate and still produce as a top-50 hitter, he hits a 30-game stretch where he bats just .185. The funny thing is, he’s hit seven home runs and stolen three bases in that span while driving in a ton of runs, so he hasn’t been that atrocious from a fantasy standpoint. Still, we’re seeing the floor here that we always expected might rear its ugly head, and the scary thing is that his profile points to the potential for it to drop even lower.
- There are a lot of hitters that I expected to turn things around by this point. Dominic Smith. Dylan Moore. Jorge Soler. Dansby Swanson. And the fact that they haven’t pains me greatly. But the bitterness is tempered, at least a bit, by Tommy Pham’s renaissance. Pham has put together a 30-game run where he’s hit .308 with five homers and seven stolen bases, completely turning his season around and giving us all hope that, somewhere out there on the horizon, there is a brighter future for us all. With an excellent 11.8% barrel rate and an elite 38% Sweet Spot rate, the power should show up soon, especially with Pham mentioning recently that he’s looking to drive the ball more now that he’s worked to get his batting average up.
- Every week I create a space for mea culpas, and a big one this week is owed to Salvador Perez. Perez has been the #1 catcher this year according to Razzball’s Player Rater and is tied for 15th this year in RBI! As a catcher! While I doubt he maintains the .328 BABIP all year, the man takes so few days off and plays such a prominent role in the Royals’ lineup that it’s easy to see him potentially finishing the season as a top-3 catcher.
- It’s been a tough few weeks for Austin Riley, as he’s hit just .164 with two homers in his last 15 games. It was interesting to see him make some improvements in his contact ability early in the year, and then it was interesting to see him cast those improvements aside to start mashing the ball again. I wondered aloud which version of Riley was the real one, and the interesting thing about his recent slump is that it’s brought a lot of his numbers in line with his expected stats. So I think the version of Riley we see before us today–a guy with 30+ home run power whose contact issues might make him prone to slumps that will keep his batting average around .270–is the real one. And there’s still plenty of value there, even if it isn’t quite the ceiling we hoped to see early in the year.
- When you pull hard-hit balls a lot, it’s typically a good thing when your flyball rate shoots up, and that’s what we’ve been seeing with Kyle Schwarber this year. Schwarber has launched an absurd 12 home runs over his last 30 games, and while my first instinct was to think this was just a hot stretch that fantasy managers should simply enjoy while it lasts, there’s some interesting stuff happening here. Schwarber’s Hard Hit (50.6%) and barrel (16%) rates remain at a customarily elite levels this year. But he’s also now setting a career-high in fly-ball rate. And, I mean, look at how many of his batted balls fall into that juicy area around 20 to 30 degrees:
Schwarber has unveiled a new batting stance this year, and if it’s responsible for the increase in his ability to elevate the ball, and he can keep his average in the .250 range, there’s 40-homer upside here that should be rostered everywhere.
- Speaking of home run barrages, Ryan Mountcastle swatted four this past week and is hitting a very cool .330 over his last 30 games. Mountcastle has been making much harder contact over the past few weeks, though I’d be tempering my expectations long-term as long as his strikeout rate continues to hang in the 30% range and his whiff rate sits at an ugly 35%. The floor feels like it could drop out from under him at any time.
- A couple of Rockies are moving in opposite directions this week: C.J. Cron and Ryan McMahon. McMahon’s big strikeout rate gains in the early part of the season were super exciting, and seemed like they were going to portend a big breakout from the power-hitting Rockies’ infielder. Unfortunately, since the calendar flipped to June, we’ve seen that strikeout rate shoot from below 30% to close to 40%. He’s been producing fairly well this past week in spite of it, but I’m a bit worried about what lurks around the corner. Cron, on the other hand, seems to be putting concerns about his back into the rearview mirror. He’s hit four homers with a .417 average over the past week. We saw him go on a white-hot run prior to hitting the IL, and he might be getting back into the groove again.
- It pains me to drop Yermín Mercedes as much as I did this week. A lot of his issues seemed to spring up as a result of chasing more pitches out of the zone. But he started to make an adjustment in recent weeks by chasing less pitches, which result in a higher Zone% and, I hoped, a turnaround in the batting average department. That hasn’t happened, and even with all the White Sox injuries, he’s seen his playing time curtailed. I still have hope that there’s enough contact ability and pop in his bat to produce a .280 average with around 20 homers over a full season. But at this point he’s going to have to prove the adjustments he’s making are working before he can really be trusted as a starter in 12-team formats.
- Other big, big fallers this week include Patrick Wisdom, Gleyber Torres, and Pavin Smith. I still like Wisdom for his 35+ home run power, but he’s become a part-time player recently and the magical run he was on has started to sputter a bit. I’d still trust him as a bench bat to plug in if I needed power late in a match-up, but there are probably better options out there. Smith has also hit a rough patch and seen less playing time lately, but he’s another hitter I’m a fan of. His pairing of hard contact and an ability to put the ball in play is on par with some of the top hitters in the game, but he struggles to keep the ball off the ground. He’s a drop-and-watchlist guy in 12-teamers for me. Gleyber, on the other hand, has been so awful for so long that he’s going to have to really show marked improvements for anyone to get excited about him again.
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