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. 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.
- All hitter injuries blow chunks, but losing Ronald Acuña Jr. blows especially large chunks. Acuña Jr. made some impressive gains in the strikeout department this year, and seemed well on his way to joining Fernando Tatís Jr. as the first players to reach the 40/40 plateau since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. Fortunately we should see Acuña Jr. ready to go by early next season. As a result of his injury, everyone on the list has a +1 baked into their ranking.
- Juan Soto has finally started to come around lately, hitting .327 over his last 15 games with three homers and two stolen bases. Unfortunately, now that he has taken part in the Home Run Derby, his swing is forever ruined. Just kidding. I know it hardly matters–there’s nobody on the fence right now about rostering Juan Soto–but I’m not quite ready to bump him back into Tier 1. The hot streak hasn’t coincided with any fixes to his launch angle issues, and until that happens I’m just not confident enough that the power will get to where it needs to be for him to justify a top spot. Still, he’s on a hot streak, and it wouldn’t take a huge adjustment for him to return to being a top-3 bat.
- In all likelihood, what George Springer is going through is just as extended slump. He’s struggled to get into a groove after missing most of the season with injuries, whiffing an uncharacteristic 31.8% of the time. He’s still squaring up the ball fairly well–his 38% Sweet Spot rate would be the highest of his career. But the hard contact hasn’t shown up yet at all. He gets a drop this week; anytime a player comes back from injury, there’s a chance they’re dealing with some lingering issues that could impact their performance going forward. But if I had him rostered, I wouldn’t be looking to move him at a discount just yet–he has barely accumulated enough plate appearances for a lot of his peripherals to stabilize, so it’s too early to tell whether there’s cause for major concern.
- I tend to forget this every year, but as disappointing as a player is in the first half, there’s still hope that their entire season can be redeemed with a strong finish to the season. Francisco Lindor seems primed to be one of the players who turns things around–his wOBA has risen every month of the year so far, starting at .250 in April before rising to .283, .330, and now.441 in July. We’ve talked about it all season, but aside from a rise in whiff rate brought on by a decrease in the amount of zone contact he’s making, nothing about his peripherals looks that far off from where he was at in his best seasons.
- Brandon Crawford was already having an incredible season–then he went and slashed .339/.393/.596 with six homers and four stolen bases over a 30-game stretch and pushed things to a whole other level. He’s essentially transformed himself into a completely different hitter this season, employing some type of dark magic to dramatically increase his Hard Hit rate while not giving much–if anything–back in terms of his contact ability. It’s kind of baffling to think that you might rather have Brandon Crawford than Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, or Francisco Lindor at this stage in the season but… that honestly seems to be the case. Everything he has done so far looks completely legit.
- I’ve always been pretty low on Joey Gallo because, historically, the batting average has actively hurt you. It always seemed more advantageous to roster a hitter who could hit .250 with 30 home runs than a guy like Gallo who would hit .210 with 40 home runs; it’s easier for me to make up that 10-home run gap than it is for me to make up those 40 points in batting average. The caveat, however, was that if Gallo could find a way to muster a .250 average, he’d be a top-tier hitter. Well, finally, he’s starting to do things that seem like they could be conducive to keeping the batting average at a palatable level. He’s whiffing less against breaking balls, which has helped him cut his strikeout rate to a career-best 30%. He’s become less pull-happy, which has helped pull his wOBA against the shift up to .397. His Z-Contact rate and whiff rate are both at career-bests. And overall he just seems to be making all the adjustments he needs to to become a more well-rounded player. Maybe I’m still a bit too low on him at the moment, but I do want to see him sustain this for awhile, especially considering that prior to his blistering run over the past six weeks, he looked like vintage Joey Gallo.
- Another slugger getting a well-deserved bump is Brandon Lowe. Lowe has homered a staggering eight times over his last 15 games, and has really started to turn things around after being mired in a slump that dated back to the second “half” of 2020. My concerns with Lowe are twofold. For one, he’s atrocious against lefties, and will likely continue to be benched against them, especially given the depth of the Rays’ bench. And secondly, this power outburst has not coincided with any improvement in his contact ability, as his strikeout rate hovers in the 35% range on a good week. I think Lowe still is what he is at this point–a prolific power hitter whose contact issues make him prone to extended hot and cold streaks. He also won’t start everyday, and shouldn’t start against lefties. There’s value there in daily formats, but you have to work for it.
- Vidal Bruján is no longer Vidal Nuno, and I think the world is a sadder place for it. I think we’re all still trying to piece together how the Rays will use Bruján this year, as he’s been optioned, recalled, and started at both second base and in the outfield since his initial call-up. The Rays have logjams at practically every position on their roster, and things won’t get any clearer for Bruján once Manuel Margot returns from the IL in the next few weeks. Bet on the tools, but know that he’ll have to stake a claim to playing time soon to get consistent at-bats.
- I just want to allow a quiet moment of appreciation for Jesús Aguilar, an afterthought in drafts this year that has returned a really solid amount of production so far. His 62 RBI have him tied for sixth-most in baseball, and he keeps chugging along, batting .286 with four homers and 20 RBI over his last 30 games. Just a very solid, overlooked start to the year from the big guy.
- It’s probably no secret at this point that I’m not a big Rhys Hoskins fan. But with eight homers over the past month, he absolutely deserves our attention. He’s become more aggressive this year, swinging at more pitches both in and outside the zone. Considering one of his weaknesses in the past has been his passive approach at the plate, this is fairly encouraging. I still think it’s going to be a struggle for him to get the batting average to .250. But something like 33 home runs and good counting stats by season’s end is nothing to sniff at.
- The last time I pronounced that Dansby Swanson was on the upswing, his production plummeted like a catamaran going over a waterfall. If you’re wondering why the analogy was so specific, it’s because I imagine that people with names like Dansby Swanson own catamarans, and I want to make this blurb as relatable as possible for him. Anyway, it seems it’s not quite time for Swanson’s swan song, as he’s hit .321 over his last 15 games and has been maintaining a 20/20 pace over the past month. The strikeout rate may cap his batting average this year, but he’s got pop, speed, and enough counting stats to be worth keeping an eye on in the second half.
- AJ Pollock is, like, the physical embodiment of the saying “out of sight, out of mind.” He’s seemingly guaranteed to hit the IL at least once every season, and the sporadic healthy periods make it difficult to really latch onto his productivity as a hitter. But he is still a really productive hitter when he’s on the field. The speed has severely waned over the years, capping his ceiling, but an AJ Pollock who accumulated 600 plate appearances in a season could likely hit 30 home runs with a .270 batting average and really good run production. He’s hitting .306 with seven homers over his last 15 games, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Andrew Vaughn continues to take flight. He’s cut down on his strikeout rate as the season has gone on, but maintained a Hard Hit rate in the 45% range, and it has played out to the tune of a .292 average and six homers over his last 30 games. Look out for a potentially big second half for the heralded prospect.
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