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.
- It’s July 7, the luckiest day of the year, so let’s start thing off with a list of all the hitters who are injured and could use a lucky break. Figuratively speaking of course. Some of these guys are already dealing with literal breaks.
- Cedric Mullins gets a nice boost this week as he continues his relentless season-long tear, hitting .379 over the past week with three homers and three stolen bases. My justification for keeping him lower in previous lists was that his production, while appearing mostly sustainable, did seem a tick above what the underlying numbers supported. And it would still surprise me if he finished the year with an average above .290 given that his focus on hitting solely left-handed has made him more prone to shifts. But at this point he’s essentially a lock for at least a 20/20 season, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
- Ozzie Albies kind of snuck up on me this season. He hit .227 in April, then .235 in May, and it was a slow enough start that his June (.321 average, six homers, eight stolen bases) caught me totally off guard. The hot month was enough to pull his batting average up nearly 30 points, and he’s now pacing towards a 25/25 season with 100+ runs and RBI. Albies has always been a solid fantasy player, but he seems to be taking a notable step forward this year. For one, he’s running more–his 13 stolen bases have him just two shy of his career-high 15, which he accumulated over a full season in 2019. More importantly though, he’s squaring up the ball more consistently. He currently ranks ninth among qualified hitters in Sweet Spot rate, is sporting a career-best 37.8% Hard Hit rate, and is pulling the ball in the air more than he ever had previously. He’s also seemingly made big improvements against offspeed pitches (.358 xwOBA), a pitch that he’s historically struggled against. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Albies is still just 24 years old, and there’s plenty of room for growth, some of which we are apparently seeing this season.
- For the purposes of this list, Vidal Nuno is Vidal Bruján. Just until Bruján is added to our player database. I don’t actually think a 33-year-old journeyman reliever is going to become one of the best hitters in the game. Though, if he does, I expect full credit for what would undoubtedly be the biggest, boldest call ever made. Though we’re always flying blind in terms of prospects, I like that Bruján has flashed excellent plate discipline in the minors, as I think it gives him a softer cushion to fall back on when facing major league pitching. With an uptick in power this year and elite speed, the tools are all there. My main concern at the outset is where and how often he makes it into the Rays’ ever-shifting lineup.
- I don’t know who the Bellinger tolls for, but this year it certainly hasn’t been for thee. Cody Bellinger has had a rough go of it lately, hitting just .192 over his last 30 games with three homers and two stolen bases. With two injuries under his belt this year, a shoulder surgery in the preseason, and several months of lackluster production dating back to last season, there are a lot of causes for concern. He is just not making contact at the same rate he typically has, as his whiff rate has ballooned and his zone contact has plummeted. To make matters worse, when he does make contact, it hasn’t been of the quality that we’ve come to expect from Bellinger. He clearly has the upside of a top-10 hitter, but with every passing month his monster 2019 season looks more and more like an outlier.
- It’s always fun when I think I have a hitter figured out, and then out of nowhere they completely change up their game. Tyler O’Neill has always been an all-or-nothing power hitter, capable of both demolishing baseballs and generating enough airflow with his whiffs to power a large wind turbine. He was off to a great start his year, but the contact issues were still there, and it seemed reasonable to think he’d just fall off as the season went on. But then, over the past few weeks, this happened:
Okay, I thought. That’s an insanely steep drop-off in his strikeout rate. Surely he’s traded his trademark power for some contact gains. And when I saw that he hadn’t homered in nearly a month, I figured that was exactly what happened. Except…
Despite the big drop in strikeouts recently, he’s hitting the ball arguably harder than he was early in the year. So while the home runs have mysteriously disappeared, it’s not because he’s stopped crushing the ball. So what does all this mean? Well, to be sure, it’s only been a few weeks since the dip in strikeout rate started, so it could just be a blip. But, if that dip holds even a little bit, and it doesn’t come at the cost of his top-tier power, watch out. Because there could be an elite bat bubbling to the surface.
- Speaking of elite bats bubbling to the surface, what in the great googa-mooga has gotten into Joey Gallo lately? Over his last 15 games Gallo has slugged 10 homers and is hitting .327, albeit with his customarily bloated strikeout rate (40%+ over that stretch). It’s nice to see Gallo get into a groove again after some up-and-down years, and while his strikeout and whiff rates are still very high, they’re still close to career-bests for him. As has always been the case, getting the batting average over .250 is going to be a Herculean effort for him. But if anyone has the strength to accomplish god-like feats, it’s Gallo. This run isn’t sustainable, but there’s a path to a .240 average with 45 home runs, and that plays everywhere.
- Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Launch Angle Watch featuring Josh Bell. We mentioned last week that Bell’s hot streak has coincided with an effort to start elevating the ball again, and that change seems to be sticking so far. Bell has hit .421 over the past week with just one strikeout, and is looking more and more like the high-average, 30-homer bat he was in 2019. Just keep elevating and celebrating, my man.
- It’s really a shame that Statcast numbers aren’t predictive, because if they were, Charlie Blackmon might be on the verge of having one of his better seasons in recent memory this year. Blackmon is somehow posting the best strikeout rate (13.9%) and Hard Hit rate (42%) of his career this season, yet still failing to produce at an even vaguely palatable level fantasy-wise. With a .288 xBA and a 5.8% barrel rate that supports more power than the measly four home runs he’s hit so far, it seems like better times lie ahead. But it has seemed that way all season, and it’s hard to be patient. Especially given that Blackmon doesn’t appear to be running anymore, and his ground-ball rate has shot up to 50%. It wouldn’t be shocking if he put up a .280 average and a 20-homer pace the rest of the way, but at this point that wouldn’t be enough to salvage his overall season line.
- Everyone really needs to be paying more attention to Akil Baddoo. I say that mainly so that my friend Scott Chu can give his vocal chords a rest, as he’s been screaming about Baddoo for what seems like months now. But also because Baddoo is actually, like, good. Another guy who has made in-season adjustments, Baddoo managed to cut down on his strikeouts and boost his walk rate extensively over the past few weeks. While those adjustments have come at the cost of his early-season power, he’s been a huge asset in the stolen base category, swiping eight bases over the past month including four over the past week alone. He’s currently a great source of steals with some pop and decent run production. But if he puts everything together, Baddoo absolutely has the profile of a 20/20 threat, and that’s worth investing in.
- It hasn’t been a good month/year/decade/existence for the New York Mets. Their hitting, in particular, has been rough this year pretty much across the board. Some guys give me more concern than others, though. I have faith, for example, that Dom Smith can turn things around. And he has to a large extent lately, hitting .333 with three homers over his last 15 games. Jeff McNeil, on the other hand, gives me pause. Given his ability to handle all pitch types, avoid whiffs, and not chase too many pitches outside the zone, I think the batting average will come around. But the question with McNeil has always been his power. As someone who hits a healthy amount of ground balls to all fields, McNeil’s profile makes it difficult for him to ascend to 20+ home runs like he did in 2019. And unfortunately, a big part of his value hinges on his ability to hit for power. A .290 hitter with 15 home runs is very useful, but it really doesn’t seem like he has the pop to ascend to the next level.
- Harrison Bader has had a productive return from the Injured List, swiping a bag and hitting two ding-dongs over the past week. What we’re watching with Bader is whether he can maintain the strikeout rate gains he was showing prior to getting injured. If he can continue to rock a sub-20% strikeout rate and keep his whiff rate around 20%, he’s got enough pop and speed to be a solid all-around player with 20/20 potential. But it’s all going to come down to how much contact he can make.
- It’s been a fairly lackluster rookie season for highly-touted prospect Andrew Vaughn, but there are signs that he’s starting to make the adjustments to turn things around. He’s hitting .292 with three homers over his last 15 games, and more importantly, he’s pushed his strikeout rate closer to the 20% threshold over that time. With a 49.4% Hard Hit rate and a 9.6% barrel rate, there’s really no doubt that 30-homer power exists in his bat. And with a solid all-fields approach and good line drive rate, we could see the breakout happen this season–if it hasn’t started already.
- Finally, I’d just like to say that I have faith in Taylor Ward. He goes to all fields. He has really good contact outcomes this year (11.3% barrel rate). He’s flashed good plate discipline and contact numbers considering how well he hits the ball. He handles all pitch types well. He hits a good amount of line drives. I know the surface numbers are pretty uninspiring, but everything going on under the surface is very enticing.
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