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 very, very weird for a lot of different reasons. Most notable is that just 60 regular season games are 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 has implemented the DH this year, and COVID-19 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.
With that said, here are a few general philosophies I try to follow when ranking players:
- 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.
- 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.
- Veterans vs. Prospects: 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.
- Underlying Stats: 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: 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.
- Formats: 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.
- Player Movement: 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
- Injuries/Illnesses: C.J. Cron, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Moustakas, Josh Donaldson, and Ozzie Albies hit the IL this past week. Hunter Dozier and Ryan Braun were activated. Corey Seager and George Springer are dealing with injuries, but have not been officially placed on the IL yet. Ramon Laureano was issued a 6-game suspension for directing a relatable amount of anger towards the Astros. He takes a slight hit in the rankings as a result.
- Let’s talk about Fernando Tatis Jr., who has picked up right where he left off last season. Coming into the year, it was a commonly held belief that the level of production he showed in 2019 wasn’t sustainable, but that he was still a really good hitter. A lot of attention was focused on how he whiffed a lot last year, and was overperforming a lot of his expected stats. Well that’s all still the case in 2020, to some degree. The difference now is that even those expected stats are otherworldly. We’re talking an xSLG of .659. We’re talking an xwOBACON of .609–over 50% higher than the league average. Lots of these developments are thanks in large part to an astronomical increase in his quality of contact, as he’s posting a 97.6 mph average exit velocity (!!!) at the moment. There are additional reasons to be intrigued too. He’s elevating the ball nearly twice as much, whiffing significantly less, and chasing pitches outside the zone less often than he did in 2019. In retrospect, it may have been foolish to think that a 20-year-old who took the league by storm last season wouldn’t be able to grow his game even further this year. But it appears that that’s exactly what is happening. Tatis Jr. is a superstar.
- It’s tough to know what to do with George Springer right now. He’s missed the last several games with a wrist injury, had been nursing a knee injury prior, and just hasn’t looked like the 2019 version of himself when he’s been on the field. The fact that he’s avoided an IL stint to this point seems encouraging, but wrist injuries can sap a hitter’s power. I’m not doing anything too drastic yet, but I’d probably be shopping him if I can get something like an 85% return on his value.
- Shohei Ohtani makes his triumphant return to this list this week. He dropped off primarily as a result of his forearm strain, which I assumed was either going to result in an IL stint or impact his offensive production. Well he’s been in the lineup every day since, and doesn’t seem to be showing any lingering effects, hitting .318 with two homers and a stolen base so far in August. The fact that he’s been shut down from pitching may actually be a boon to his hitter value, as the Angels won’t need to rest him as regularly. With the potential to contribute in every offensive category, I’d be pouncing on Ohtani if anyone in your league panic-dropped him the way that I did in last week’s rankings.
- I got some flack for having Mark Canha ranked as low as I did last week, and that criticism was 100% valid. I wrote Canha’s 2019 season off as a fluke, mostly because he had been in the league so long and been a thoroughly mediocre bat in seasons prior. But the fact is, he seems to have made a real improvement to his plate discipline and quality of contact that has carried over into 2020, and he’s hitting in the middle of what should be a potent Oakland offense. I’m still not sure the batting average ever gets to the point where it’s helping you out much, but he should be a counting stat machine with decent pop.
- The big bump for Ian Happ is a byproduct of my overlooking him to this point as well. In the same vein as Canha, I was too quick to write off the changes he appears to have made this year on account of how many times Happ had let me down in the past. But there really does appear to be something here with Happ. His Hard Hit rate currently ranks in the 97th percentile, and he’s doing that while striking out less than he ever has–not a combination you see happen very often. He’s also hitting a ton of line drives right now and seems to be a lot more selective at the plate. With less than 50 plate appearances of data to go off of, it’s hard to make too many proclamations. But if he keeps this up, this could be a big breakout for him.
- I wasn’t a big fan of Gleyber Torres coming into the season, as his underlying numbers didn’t support the kind of season he had last year. Unfortunately, those underlying numbers don’t look all that different this season, and he’s also not making the same quality of contact he was last year. The result has been a painfully slow start to the year. Things can change quickly, but I’m not hopeful based on what we’ve seen so far.
- Jo Adell has looked a bit overmatched during his very brief debut in the majors. I’m still holding for another week or so, and think anyone who rosters him should too. There’s too much talent here to give up after such a brief look. But it’s still probably prudent to temper your expectations.
- Super Benintendo? More like Benintendo 0-for-64. Thanks, I’ll be here all week. Andrew Benintendi has been really, really, really bad this year. Like, four hits all season bad. His strikeout rate has continued to rise as his Hard Hit rate has continued to plummet, and coming off a really disappointing 2019, I think I’m abandoning ship. It’s bizarre to watch a talented young hitter inexplicably fall apart over the course of a year and a half, and I really don’t know what could have precipitated this.
- Three guys with really nice Statcast numbers to start the year make their appearance on the list this week: Dylan Moore, Jake Cronenworth, and Anthony Santander. None of them are spring chickens–Santander is the youngest at 25. But they’ve all been making really good contact thus far while not striking out at a prohibitively high clip. Neither Moore nor Cronenworth seem to officially have full-time jobs, though they have been playing their way into more at-bats this past week. Because Santander is both the youngest and has the longest track record of success, I’m ranking him the highest of the bunch. With him hitting second in a surprisingly decent Baltimore lineup, I could see him racking up good counting stats while hitting .275 with above-average power. Moore has also found himself hitting second in the lineup with regularity, and has flashed some speed early, so he’s also worth a look in most formats. I like what I’ve seen from Cronenworth, but based on his minor league track record I’m not sure how much pop or speed he can provide, and his playing time picture is murkier.
- Jesus Aguilar has looked like the 2018 version of himself so far this year, and has cut down drastically on the strikeouts in the early going. With a prime spot in the Marlins lineup and some apparent swing tweaks having taken place, Aguilar is looking like a nice, cheap source of power and RBI at first base.
Graphic by JR Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter)