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:
- Shohei Ohtani makes the leap into Tier 1 this week. I keep waiting for some regression–any regression at all–to rear its ugly head, but we’re at the midway point and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He’s the proud owner of a .333/.400/1.036 triple-slash over the past week with six homers, and is pacing towards a Trout-like 50-homer, 20-stolen base season with elite counting stats to boot. Hitter-only Ohtani is currently the #3 overall player on Razzball’s Player Rater. Again, that’s the #3 overall player (not just hitter), for hitter-only Ohtani. In leagues where the pitcher and hitter versions are one, there’s a very strong case for him to go 1.1 in drafts next year.
- What Ohtani’s rise is forcing me to reflect on is Juan Soto’s place in the top tier of hitters right now. He’s standing out like a sore thumb at the moment, slashing .273/.394/.437 with just nine home runs and three stolen bases on the season. Granted, he missed some time this year. But in terms of fantasy production, he’s contributed less than mediocre hitters like Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco so far according to the Player Rater. The contact quality has improved this year, and the expected stats indicate he’s likely gotten a bit unlucky. He’s also got the track record and talent to turn this rough stretch into a distant memory in two weeks time. But that’s about the only thing helping him cling to the top at the moment.
- Wander Franco’s debut was a blast, but he’s gone 2-for-22 since then, and already we’re hearing his name mentioned in the same breath as Jarred Kelenic. I’m not generally of the belief that a prospect can be “too big to fail,” especially in their debut season, so there’s only so much I can say to try and calm your fears. Guys like Soto and Acuña are really the exceptions to the rule when it comes to young hitters. That said, it is way too early to be panicking and jumping ship with Franco. It’s going to take at least a few more weeks before we really get a grasp of what Franco’s strengths and weaknesses are at the big league level. For what it’s worth, what little data we have is promising, as he’s shown an advanced ability to square up the ball and avoid whiffs. Unless you’re getting a big return in the realm of a top-40 hitter, I’d still be holding.
- Crone-heads rejoice! Jake Cronenworth crushed four home runs into the outer reaches of Remulak this past week, continuing a power outburst that has stretched out over his last 15 games and brought his season home run total up to 12. Cronenworth’s hit tool and plate discipline are his most advanced assets, so the power is a bit surprising given his thoroughly average 35.5% Hard-Hit rate. But he does make the most of the power he has by squaring up the ball consistently (35.5% Sweet-Spot rate). Cronenworth has gotten solid run in the third spot of a deep San Diego lineup, so expect the run production to remain high and the RBI totals to likely start to keep pace. And with a solid batting average floor and enough power and speed to get to 20/10 on the year, he’s a super well-rounded, versatile option in all formats.
- DJ LeMahieu keeps on spinning the hits. He’s batting .344 over his last 15 games, with four home runs to boot, and really seems like after a long build-up the beat is about to drop… right? Well, I think it depends on what your expectations are for him rest-of-season. He’s always been a pretty safe bet for a great batting average, and I think that will continue to be the case this season. But I was skeptical about the 20+ home run power from the last two seasons being sustainable given his penchant for hitting the ball on the ground. And I think it’s going to take a bit more than this to convince me he can regain the form of a top-40 hitter, because I’m still not convinced that power is coming back. It’s interesting to note that 80% of his home runs last year came at home, as he took full advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short porch by hitting a lot of his fly balls to the opposite field. This year his Oppo% is down, and not coincidentally, he has a nearly even home/away split in terms of his home run output.
- It came out yesterday that Yoán Moncada has been battling some shoulder issues, which explains a lot. We talked last week about the stark drop in his xwOBA and other peripherals, and after watching some at-bats of his earlier in the week, he just looked incredibly uncomfortable. There’s been no word on an IL stint, and hopefully with a few days off and the All Star break he can get right and have a strong second half. But in the short-term it’s probably safe not to expect much from him.
- All hope seemed lost for Matt Chapman, who was rocking a ghastly 50% strikeout rate in the early part of the season, and whose Hard-Hit rate was on a steady decline all year prior to two weeks ago. It’s tough to believe it’s just a slump when the struggles are that pronounced, but the beautiful thing about baseball is that everything can change in an instant. His Hard-Hit rate has leapt back up into a fairly normal range for him recently (~40%), and he’s keeping his strikeout rate in the 30% range now, which plays. If this isn’t just a short, hot blip, I’m cautiously optimistic he can get back to being a solid counting stat producer with 35+ home run power and a just-below-average batting average.
- I thought I’d have some fun this week and feature a player that’s not necessarily an elite bat, but is still worth your attention, and that’s Willy Adames:
Willy Adames is slashing .281/.356/.496 in 135 PA since becoming a Brewer. He’s top-40 in Barrels-per-PA. Here’s his rolling strikeout rate this year. The line marks the day he was traded. pic.twitter.com/5KqsRfI2BC
— Jonathan Metzelaar (@JonMetzelaar) June 28, 2021
Adames promptly went 2-for-5 with a three-run homer after that tweet went out, and it’s worth noting that Adames historically struggled at Tropicana Field (as noted by several people smarter than me before I stumbled upon this stat myself):
I feel like this has probably been touched on already, but something I found interesting regarding Willy Adames, who has talked about struggling to see the ball at Tropicana:
Career Home wOBA: .277
Career Away wOBA: .364
Curious to see if he’ll improve now that he’s out of TB.
— Jonathan Metzelaar (@JonMetzelaar) June 2, 2021
Adames has mostly been batting sixth with the Brewers, but recently has found himself migrating up their lineup, and hit second yesterday. The early returns on his move out of Tampa have been excellent, and I see 30-homer power in his bat. The average will likely hover around .270 going forward, but that plays when it comes with solid power and counting stat potential, plus a smattering of stolen bases. I’d definitely be grabbing him in 12-teamers.
- Josh Bell is teaching me an important lesson in today’s political climate: it’s okay to change your mind when presented with evidence that conflicts with your pre-established beliefs. Thanks for helping me improve myself, Josh Bell! Bell looked like toast for most of this year, rocking those 50%+ ground-ball rates that he’s sported for most of his career, and making that beautiful 2019 season seem more and more like an outlier. But over the past two weeks he’s lifted his Sweet-Spot rate to a point it hasn’t touched since the middle of 2019, and it’s giving me a little bit of hope. Because his 52.9% Hard-Hit rate is one of the highest in the league, and he’s talented enough when it comes to making contact and not chasing pitches that I believe there’s still an elite slugger under the surface if he can ever get back to elevating the ball again. This is more of a small glimmer of hope than a pronouncement that he’s completely fixed. But it’s worth keeping an eye on nevertheless.
- Peripheral stats aren’t always magic. Sometimes those stats change over the course of a season, or only paint a small part of a much larger picture. But sometimes, when the stars align, they do give you the clues you need to predict a potential breakout. Enter: Hunter Renfroe. We noticed a few weeks back that Renfroe was striking out and whiffing significantly less than he ever has, while still retaining an elite 12% barrel rate. Sure enough, over the past month the man has swatted six homers and hit an incredible .346. Renfroe is a player who has historically had high peaks and low valleys over the course of a season, but this year we’re seeing a change that supports sustained success. Grab him.
- I’m beginning to think the Rockies don’t really care about our fantasy teams. Garrett Hampson has, for the most part, put together a very solid season fantasy-wise. His 12 stolen bases have him tied for 10th in the league in the category. He’s posting a solid 6.3% barrel rate. There are the makings here of a 15-homer, 25-stolen base player. What’s not to like? Well, a lot apparently. Because he’s now failed to make his way into the starting lineup in six of the Rockies’ last 10 games. Perhaps there’s an injury at play, and perhaps it’s just the Rockies being the Rockies, working Brendan Rodgers and Yonathan Daza’s admittedly hot bats into the lineup more. I’m still stashing Hampson on my bench if I can, as I do think there’s an intriguing fantasy player here if/when a pathway to at-bats clears up again.
- You don’t really have the luxury of waiting around to see if Keston Hiura’s strikeout rate has improved at all if you want to take a shot at rostering him–chances are the window has already closed now that he’s swatted three homers since being recalled from the minors. If you have grabbed him already–or you’re on the verge of doing so–I’d recommend keeping your expectations in check. A three-homer week doesn’t magically indicate the very real issues with Hiura’s game are fixed. What’s moderately encouraging is that he did show some signs of being less bad at making contact during his minor league stints. And he has one of the higher ceilings in baseball for fantasy, so if he can keep his strikeout rate close to 30% he may be able to flash some of that upside. But that’s going to be a big hill to climb for a guy whose whiff rates tend to exceed 40%.
- Steven Duggar is criminally under-owned for a guy putting together a 25/25 full season pace while slashing .316/.392/.559 on the season. I get the hesitance to embrace a hitter on the chronically-platooned Giants’ roster, and on first glance the 32% strikeout rate is concerning. But looking deeper under the hood, the 28% whiff rate isn’t half bad, and he’s got a solid 22% chase rate, hinting at solid plate discipline. Though he’s unlikely to end the season with even a .280 average, the power/speed combo is appealing and he’s definitely worth your time for as long as he’s in a groove.
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