Hello there, and welcome to Hitter List, where every week throughout the season I’ll be flawlessly ranking the top 150 hitters in baseball.
This season is going to be very, very weird for a lot of different reasons. Most notable is that just 60 regular season games will be taking place. While that may be a merciful change for fans of the Baltimore Orioles, it’s an unprecedented and confounding one for fantasy managers, who are left to figure out how this might affect player values. After all, fewer games means a smaller sample size, which introduces more randomness into the equation. Compounding this is the fact that the National League will be implementing the DH this year, and the virus could claim a player at any time for at least a quarter of the season. It’s a lot to factor in, and nobody truly knows how any of it will impact how we should approach roster construction. But here are some quick thoughts on how I think these changes might impact things on the hitting end as far as rotisserie leagues are concerned:
- 60-game season
- Stolen bases: Those who followed Hitter List last year know that I love me some stolen bases. My reasoning is pretty straightforward — they’ve been about as scarce over the past three years as they’ve been during any similar time period in the last 40 years. Obviously they’re not the end-all-be-all, but if we’re talking about players in a vacuum, I think it’s always really helpful to grab a guy who can chip in for the category. Now, truth be told, I’ve softened on this stance a good bit over the past year. But I will say this: In a 60-game season, I believe the value of a hitter with elite speed increases. Why? Because I think you’re more likely to luck into some surprise homers than you are some surprise stolen bases. Consider this: Two months into the 2019 season, Joc Pederson, Derek Dietrich, and Eddie Rosario were all in the top 10 in the league for home runs. But among the stolen base leaders, only Kevin Kiermaier registers as a surprising name — and even he always flashed above-average speed. I don’t think you would really blink if someone with middling power like Amed Rosario or Whit Merrifield popped nine homers this year. But I don’t think you’re as likely to back into above-average steals output from low-tier speedsters like Rougned Odor or Marcus Semien. It’s purely a theory, but I think locking down elite speed will be as important as ever this year.
- Batting average: Fewer at-bats means making up ground in the batting average category late in the year will be a lot more feasible in roto leagues, especially if you get lucky with some hot-hitting waiver claims. For this reason, I don’t think you’ll need to focus quite as much on laying a good foundation in the category during the draft.
- Counting stats: I think, in a shortened season, counting stats will be king. If you can draft a talented hitter with a secure spot in the heart of a good lineup, you’re really going to maximize your shares of the limited number of run-scoring and run-producing opportunities that will present themselves this year. I would pay close attention to where hitters are projected to slot into their teams’ lineups as we approach the start of games, because that may be an area where you can find some sneaky values.
- Home runs: As mentioned in the stolen base section, home runs are tough to predict over such a short period of time, because even those with middling power can sometimes put together two months of elite production. Power is still hugely important, but I think in a shortened season you might be able to get away with not being laser-focused on the category.
- National League DH: I think this change provides a nice boost to defensively challenged or injury-prone guys like J.D. Davis, Wil Myers, Ryan Braun and Kyle Schwarber. Whereas I might have dinged these guys slightly in the past due to the potential for them to lose some at-bats to defensive replacements or injury, that’s less of a concern now.
- Strength of Schedule: Teams will be playing 40 games against their division, and the remaining 20 games against their corresponding division in the opposite league. So, for example, the Mets will play the NL East 40 times, and the AL East 20 times. The schedule has dropped, and it’s worth checking out for exploitable hitter matchups throughout the year. Some team’s hitters will benefit more than others. The Padres, for example, are slated to play seven games–over 10% of their season–at Coors Field.
- Coronavirus/IL Stints: Players who test positive for coronavirus during the season or hit the IL for any reason will be removed from the rankings until they return. In a short season, most injuries are going to cost hitters at least 15% of their at-bats. Furthermore, it’s to nobody’s benefit if I attempt to play doctor and presume when a player might return from an injury or a battle with COVID-19.
Now, with the weirdness of the 2020 season mostly addressed, a few quick things before we jump into the actual rankings and notes:
- Though I feel more comfortable going out on a limb with talented prospects this year, in general I tend to lean towards players with proven track records.
- Statcast is love, Statcast is life. I tend to place a premium on a hitter’s quality-of-contact metrics, especially if they pair favorably with their plate discipline and contact rates. I’m less interested in their surface-level numbers and more interested in the underlying skills that Statcast data can shed light on, as I think they are more helpful at predicting future success. That being said, given the short season, I’m going to try and bump up hot hitters more than I customarily would. Churning through hot hitters on waivers is a more realistic strategy this year, and could catapult teams to a championship if they catch lightning in a bottle a few times.
- Tiers represent groupings of players I think could all conceivably produce at a similar level in terms of fantasy output. The actual rankings within the tiers are personal preference, but I think you could make an argument for anyone within each tier to be ranked above anyone else within that tier.
- These rankings apply only to leagues using standard scoring (R, RBI, HR, SB, AVG) and lean more toward rotisserie. I understand that hitter values can vary widely based on league format, but the only way to come up with a consistent way of ranking hitters is to hone in on one league type. Adjust accordingly for other formats.
- A player’s movement up or down in the rankings can sometimes be a byproduct of other players rising above or dropping below them. For example, if Kyle Schwarber lands on the IL and is dropped off the list, everyone ranked below him will automatically receive a +1 bump in the rankings. Conversely, if a player rises from one week to another, everyone he leapfrogs will take a -1 hit. Just something to keep in mind if you see a ranking change that doesn’t immediately make sense in the context of that particular player.
Hitter List Notes
- Not a ton of changes this week prior to the start of the season. Usually we’d have Spring Training performances to overreact to, but with teams being capped at three non-intrasquad matchups each, there just isn’t a ton to base drastic ranking changes on at the moment. Most movement is the result of either an IL stint, recent news regarding playing time/lineup spots, or slight tweaks to rankings from the last list that I thought needed to be made.
- Mike Trout officially drops this week on account of the impending birth of his first child, which will likely cost him a few games during the season. For now, I’m imagining about a week of lost playing time for him at most, as most guys tend to miss 3-4 games while attending to the birth of their children. I think projecting anything more is speculation at this point.
- I mentioned this in my Bold Predictions piece (shameless plug), but I love Josh Bell this year. An injury-marred second half has caused him to be the #57 hitter off the board according to consensus ADP, and I think he’s being significantly undervalued. The contact ability, plate discipline, and amazing quality of contact all paint the picture of a guy who could push 40 homers with a .280 average and counting stats to boot in a full season.
- Injuries: Yordan Alvarez and Austin Meadows drop off the list this week after being placed on the IL. Willie Calhoun and Christian Walker drop off as well, as they’re both nursing injuries that may necessitate an IL stint. Anthony Rendon drops slightly due to a sore oblique that may cause him to miss Opening Day, though no decision has been made yet. Anthony Rizzo is nursing a back injury which is also putting his status for the start of the season in question. And Ryan Braun, to nobody’s surprise, is dealing with a multitude of sorenesses and stiffnesses that may impact his readiness for the start of the year.
- In shocking news, Gavin Lux has been optioned by the Dodgers. Lux hadn’t appeared much in Summer Camp games, and Roberts said Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez would get reps at second base in the early going, so maybe the writing was on the wall. This is obviously terrible for Lux’s value, but many believe this is purely service time manipulation, and that Lux will be up after the first week of the season. I’d be pretty shocked if he didn’t grab the majority of the playing time at second after he’s recalled, so Lux remains on the list, albeit at a much lower rank this week.
- Yordan Alvarez‘s IL stint opens up at-bats for Kyle Tucker, giving him a nice bump in value, though once Alvarez returns I think Tucker’s playing time might be questionable, as Dusty Baker seems committed to using Josh Reddick in right field.
- In terms of lineup news, Cesar Hernandez is projected to bat leadoff ahead of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, boosting his potential R and SB output and making him a suddenly intriguing option who could contribute a bit in every category except RBI.
- Isaiah Kiner-Falefa is an interesting potential add. There have been rumblings that he may pick up regular at-bats as the Ranger’s third baseman, with Todd Frazier shifting to first base. As a catcher-eligible player who has dramatically changed his batting stance and has been performing well in Summer Camp, he’s an intriguing add in deep and two-catcher formats. He doesn’t make the list this week, but is worth keeping tabs on.
- Jose Peraza makes an appearance at the bottom of the list this week, as he has apparently secured the second base job for the Boston Red Sox. Last season was a major disappointment for Peraza, but he’s just a year removed from a season that saw him hit .288 with 14 homers and 23 stolen bases. Not a bad flier to take if you have room on your bench and need some late speed.
- Yasiel Puig was an Atlanta Brave. And then he wasn’t. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out once Puig is no longer testing positive for coronavirus, but in the meantime I think this bodes well for Ender Inciarte. An injury-plagued 2019 has caused him to fall off the radar, but he’s been a proficient contact hitter with double-digit power and 20+ stolen base potential in the past. He’s another guy worth monitoring if you need some speed late in drafts.
- Franchy Cordero is a Kansas City Royal. On the surface this seems like great news for Cordero’s value, as he moves from a crowded San Diego outfield to a mostly barren Kansas City one. However, he apparently is not slated to begin the year on the team’s expanded 30-man roster, making things kind of murky in terms of how many at-bats he’ll get this year. For now I’m dropping him off the list, but should he secure full-time at-bats in the Royals’ outfield at some point, I’m definitely intrigued by the power and speed potential. In San Diego, this trade opens up full-time at-bats for Trent Grisham and Wil Myers, and may create an opportunity for intriguing speedster Jorge Mateo somewhere down the line once he is no longer testing positive for coronavirus.
- Yoenis Cespedes has apparently impressed the Mets enough with his fielding that he may see some action in left field this year. That bodes well for his playing time outlook, and his full recovery from a wild boar attack. As a Mets fan, that is a sentence that oddly did not feel strange to write. A mostly healthy Cespedes could be a really solid source of power and counting stats that can be had for cheap.
Graphic by JR Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter)