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.
- A lot of top-50 hitters hit the IL this past week, so expect at least a +6 bump to be baked into a lot of the hitters’ rankings this time around.
- Back in my day, you used to enter the Home Run Derby in order to ruin your swing, not fix it. Kids these days are destroying all our time-honored traditions. Juan Soto has homered five times since the second half began, giving us all some hope that there are big things in store over the final few months of the year. Soto himself has intimated that the Derby might have actually helped him focus on elevating the ball more. I’m inclined to think that’s mostly a placebo; Soto’s ground-ball and Sweet Spot rates have remained pretty putrid in the relatively few games since the break. But there’s no arguing with how incredibly well he’s been hitting lately, and he definitely deserves a bump back into the top tier.
- Nick Castellanos is nursing a sore wrist at the moment, which may explain why his production has tailed off a bit over the past month. In recent plate appearances he’s been spotted favoring it, even releasing his top hand early on swings to reduce the vibration of the bat against his wrist during contact. I wouldn’t be panicking completely —these things can resolve themselves over the course of a week or two. But it is something to keep an eye on.
- It’s been a little while since we checked in on Randy Arozarena, and, well, things had not been going well prior to his recent onslaught. Arozarena was hitting just .175 in July entering today, with a .264 wOBA. What’s interesting is that his downturn in production has coincided with an increase in the number of fastballs he’s seen, and fastballs were the one pitch he really feasted on last year. He has a really tough time elevating the ball (27% Sweet Spot rate, 48% ground-ball rate), and as a result he needs to crush the fly balls he does hit in order to mitigate the impact on his power. While a 43% Hard Hit rate is solid, it’s not quite enough to cut it in that regard. Pair that with the fact that he still struggles mightily against non-fastballs and whiffs a ton, and I think we’re going to continue to see a ton of that volatility we were bracing ourselves for in the early parts of the season. A 20/20 season with decent counting stats is still easily attainable if he can keep up his recent hot streak, but the batting average likely won’t be pretty.
- Tracking Paul Goldschmidt’s performance throughout the year has been a good exercise in patience. His .265/.335/.432 triple slash and 13 home runs in the first half were decent, but still a bit of a letdown. Yet it seemed pretty clearly that his performance was hovering right around the point where, with a nice hot streak, he could easily pull his production in line with what we’ve come to expect from the big guy. Well, that’s exactly what has happened lately, as Goldschmidt has now homered four times over his last seven games, and is hitting .330 with eight homers over his last 30 games. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that he’s started running again, racking up six stolen bases on the year, which puts him on pace to reach double-digit stolen bases for the first time since 2017. He’s posting the best Hard Hit rate of his career at the moment (54.7%) while striking out below his career rate of 22.4%. A .280 average with 30+ home runs, 10 stolen bases, and over 100 runs and RBI seems well within reach right now. That would make him a borderline top-5 first baseman in a crowded field.
- A few weeks back, we noted that Tyler O’Neill’s strikeout rate has taken a significant dip in recent weeks. And that seems to still be holding up. I mean, this is a trend you like to see from a guy with top-tier power:
What’s interesting is that he has homered just once over his last 30 games. My initial thought was that he was trading some of that trademark power for the contact gains. But his Hard Hit rate has remained steady. The problem is, he’s been getting pretty unlucky when it comes to having those hard hit balls leave the yard:
There’s 40+ home run upside when it comes to O’Neill, and I think the sputtering power output lately is the result of some bad luck in the HR/FB department. If he has truly made gains with his customarily high strikeout rates, there could be a huge breakout on the horizon.
- A week ago, I listed a few players who were dealing with nagging injures that I thought could benefit from taking a few days off over the All Star break:
Some hitters I suspect may be playing with nagging injuries, who could benefit from having a few days off over the All Star break:
— Jonathan Metzelaar (@JonMetzelaar) July 14, 2021
Kris Bryant may have reaggravated an injury diving for a ball in yesterday’s game, but otherwise we’re seeing promising signs from a lot of these guys. Most notably, Yoán Moncada’s power has returned recently (three home runs this week), and we’re seeing a super encouraging bounceback on his rolling xwOBA chart:
While we are still waiting for the power to return for Ty France, he’s hitting .345 over his last 15 games and should flash 20-homer pop going forward. Fantasy dreamboat Wil Myers is also hitting .311 over his last 15 games with three home runs. And Christian Yelich has cut down significantly on his strikeout rate over the past week in an admittedly small sample. May we all continue to heal and mash in our respective lives the way these big ol’ baseball bois have recently.
- Willy Adames was our featured hitter a few weeks back and the man has not slowed down a lick since then. Over his last 30 games he’s hitting .333 with eight homers, 23 RBI, and 24 runs scored. His Hard Hit rate has hovered around 50% for the past month, and his barrel rate on the season is consistent with someone who could produce 35+ home runs. This man is still woefully under-rostered.
- Welp, so much for those power gains from Yuli Gurriel. Gurriel hasn’t homered since June 11, and in that time his Hard Hit rate has sunk below league average. As hopeful as we were early in the year, it seems that Gurriel is regressing back to the player he was in 2017 and 2018. Which, to be clear, is still a useful player–expect the average to stay above .290 and the home runs to potentially hit 20 on the year with decent counting stats. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t quite enough to remain a top-50 hitter.
- One name not mentioned among the players who might have benefited from the All Star break was Michael Conforto, and that’s looking like an oversight. Though he looked lost in the weeks following his activation from the IL, he’s come out of the gate in the second half looking good, pushing his xwOBA to its highest point of the season in recent weeks while also seeing his Hard Hit rate trend up. He’s hitting .320 with four homers over his last seven games, and if someone dropped him in frustration, now is the time to pounce.
- If the Hitter List experience was a rollercoaster, Ryan Mountcastle would be blowing chunks right now, as he’s endured the highest highs and lowest lows of anyone on the list this year, swinging wildly from top-130 to top-70 and back again. Mountcastle is a talented hitter with 25-homer pop who has racked up a surprising amount of counting stats on an Orioles team without many talented bats, and that does have value. But his lack of plate discipline (39% chase) and contact issues (34% whiff) mean he’s going to endure crushing cold spells along the way. There’s definitely a ton of talent here, but it’s still very raw.
- Don’t sleep on Harrison Bader. He’s hitting .315 over his last 15 games with two homers and two steals, and has made huge gains in the strikeout department, nearly halving his career 27.5% strikeout rate to just 15.2% this year. There’s a 20/20 bat here who can be had for next to nothing at the moment.
- Luis Urías and Jed Lowrie aren’t getting enough love either recently. Urías has been fairly entrenched as the Brewers’ leadoff hitter this year, and is pacing towards 90 runs and RBI with double-digit speed and enough pop to eclipse the 20-homer plateau. Lowrie’s performance lately has finally started to catch up to his peripherals, as he’s hitting .345 over his last 15 games with four home runs. Lowrie is currently posting the highest Hard Hit rate (46.2%) and barrel rate (10%) of his career, and has picked up a majority of his plate appearances in the heart of the Athletics’ order.
- If you need some power off your bench late in a matchup, you could do a lot worse than Patrick Wisdom. With 76 batted balls under his belt now, the 19% barrel rate and 61.8% Hard Hit rate (!!!) are looking more and more legit. Is he going to strike out a ton and hit for a bad average? For sure. But the 40-home power potential is there, and he’s actually posted better numbers and lower strikeout totals against righties than lefties this year. That’s all the Patrick wisdom I’ve got for you.
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