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.
- If you’d like input on a player or have any feedback, your best bet is to reach out to me on Twitter (@JonMetzelaar). I try my best to respond to comments here, but Twitter is much more accessible for me, and the best place to get in touch for time-sensitive questions.
- As the musical group Smash Mouth once said: the years start coming and they don’t stop coming. This cutting bit of wisdom applies not only to years, but to baseball games as well. Every week we edge ever closer to the end of the season, and as we do, we can be more and more extreme with our roster decisions. Though I’m typically a bit conservative when it comes to roster management—and don’t think I myself have the fortitude to do it—a surface-level bonkers move like dropping Yoán Moncada for Frank Schwindel is increasingly something you can get away with as September approaches. As a result, there’s a good bit of movement this week, and the shake-ups should continue to be drastic in the coming weeks.
- Fernando Tatis Jr. returned this past week, and has promptly homered three times in the three games since his activation. You may remember that when Tatis Jr. returned from his initial shoulder injury, he took a hit in the rankings due to the possibility of the injury recurring again in the future. It’s kind of funny now to think about how that was both the right call (in the sense that he has missed time with recurrences) and the worst call ever (in the sense that 100 games of Tatis Jr. is still better than a full season from 99% of the league). Tatis Jr. has already banked a top-10 fantasy season, and he’s still got more than a month of games to go.
- Every year there are a handful of players who start off horribly, then get lava-hot in the final months of the season. These are the players that instill that anxiety in us when it comes to cutting struggling hitters. Who, after all, wants to be the person who cut Dansby Swanson after his mediocre first half only to watch someone else reap the benefits of his insane hot streak since the break? Swanson is now hitting .310 with nine homers and three stolen bases in his 137 plate appearances since the second half began. This has pulled his overall numbers in line with what some expected from him in the preseason—that is, a 30/15 ceiling with a batting average around .270. This amazing run has coincided with a huge rise in Swanson’s contact rates, as he’s running a sub-20% strikeout rate over the past two weeks. Things don’t always work out this well for struggling hitters, but if you held on, your patience is being rewarded in spades.
- There were a lot of encouraging things happening with Kris Bryant early in the year. Most notably, his Hard-Hit rate—which has typically been pretty middling—jumped back up to the level it was at in his first few seasons with the Cubs, when he was a 40-homer threat. Then he hit a bit of a rough patch that coincided with a side injury he seemed to be nursing after diving for a ball in the outfield. He seems to be finding his groove again though, hitting .321 with three homers, two stolen bases, and an absurd 11.5% strikeout rate since getting to San Francisco. He’s been hitting second consistently since arriving, and the lineup boost should continue to bode well for his counting stats going forward.
- Speaking of players turning things around since missing time, Carlos Correa is slowly getting back up to speed after being hospitalized with an illness a few weeks back. After taking a big hit, his xwOBA is hovering around .380 over the past week, and his strikeout rate has plummeted back below 20% lately. There could be a very strong finish to the season brewing for Correa.
- Wander Franco’s surface-level production to this point has been pretty disappointing, as he’s mustered just a .242 average and six homers in a quarter of a season’s worth of at-bats. Though it’s probably cold comfort to those who roster him, a lot of the things he’s doing under the hood as a 20-year-old are actually quite impressive. Check out his hit distribution chart, for example:
Sure, maybe it’s not quite as tight as would be ideal, but a large portion of his hits and batted balls are getting squared up in that Sweet-Spot range. You also have to factor in that he’s performing much better against non-fastballs so far, with a .354 xwOBA against offspeed stuff and a .359 xwOBA against breaking balls. That’s helped him post a really impressive 19% whiff rate to date. With that kind of hitting foundation, and 90th percentile sprint speed, it really feels like all the tools are there for Franco. If he can make a tweak to help him perform better against fastballs, I think he could take off, and in dynasty or keeper leagues I’d be looking to see if there’s a buy-low opportunity.
- J.T. Realmuto was the one guy I advocated for breaking the bank on at catcher this year, and while he’s been productive, the simple fact of the matter is that you likely could have come close to exceeding his level of production with some smart streaming picks throughout the season. He’s the third-ranked catcher on Razzball’s Player Rater this season, but considering that the players ranked just after him (i.e. Posey, Zunino, Haase, and Narváez) were all sitting on waivers to begin the season, I think it’s pretty clear that in one-catcher leagues you’re almost always best served not spending on a catcher in drafts. Live and learn.
- Cron angry. Cron hit. Cron smash opposing pitchers to the tune of a .300 average with 10 homers and 31 RBI over his last 100 at-bats. Frankly, with a name befitting a hyper-aggressive caveman, I’d be disappointed with anything less from C.J. Cron. Though he’s notoriously streaky, the power and the benefit of playing in Coors are very real, and he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past month. Like most of the hitters in the Rockies lineup, Cron’s Home/Away splits are comical. He’s hit 17 of his 21 homers at Coors despite an identical number of plate appearances on the road. And there’s almost a 100-point gap in his batting average: .313 at Coors and .219 on the road. Right now he’s hitting everything, and there’s a 35+ homer bat here no matter how you slice it. But if you have the luxury of using him primarily when he’s playing at Coors, you can reap some big-time profits here.
- A.J. Pollock has been a joy to roster this year. Though he’s cooled a bit over the past week, he’s countered the downturn in batting average production by stealing four bases over his last 15 games. Though not as fast as he once was, 71st-percentile sprint speed is pretty impressive from a 33-year-old veteran, and his Hard-Hit rate has been trending up for two seasons now, sitting at a career-best 47% this year. Pollock is being more aggressive with pitches in the zone this year too (career-high 73% Z-Swing), which is helping those power gains play up. He should be rostered in all formats.
- I haven’t seen anyone this excited about a Belli coming back since my ex found out I put on weight after we broke up. Cody Bellinger has showed some vague flashes of the MVP-caliber player he once was in recent weeks, swatting four homers over his last 15 games with an .827 OPS. But… I’m just not buying it. This “hot” streak has pulled his rolling xwOBA just barely above league average, and the strikeout rate is still up around 30% recently. I think there’s still a long, long way to go before we really buy back in on Bellinger. While it’s nice to get some production from him after a painful season of carrying him on our rosters, I’m tempering my expectations.
- It’s kind of hard to believe considering the amazing breakout season he had with the Yankees in 2019, and the fact that he earned the home run crown in 2020, but Luke Voit is posting the best barrel rate (13.8%) and Hard Hit rate (45.2%) of his Yankee career this season. The rest of his hitting profile has taken a tumble: his line drive rate has dropped to just 20%, he’s whiffing 40% of the time, and he’s chasing a lot more pitches out of the zone. But we know there’s a big-time ceiling here, and he’s hitting .315 with three homers over his last 15 games. If he can keep this up until Anthony Rizzo returns, there’s a chance he becomes the team’s DH, with Gallo manning center field and Giancarlo Stanton patrolling left. There’s performance and playing time risk here for sure, but it’s worth the gamble.
- I never thought any team would be able to out-Rays the Rays, but the Giants are giving it their best shot, using their deep bench to configure new lineups seemingly every game. It’s obviously working out extremely well for them but… won’t somebody think of our fantasy teams? No player is seemingly immune from riding the pine on a given day—even Kris Bryant has been benched a couple times already in favor of Lamonte Wade Jr. and Evan Longoria. It’s not the end of the world if promising hitters like Wade Jr. or Longoria only start five times a week, but it does create a bit more work in terms of roster management, so it’s worth factoring in when evaluating San Francisco hitters.
- What an incredible week from Matt Chapman, who has hit .476 with four homers in his last seven games. Chapman’s season has been Eugenio Suárez-esque, but he’s actually showing some signs of life lately. Unfortunately we saw a spike like this from Chapman earlier in the year, and it was immediately followed up by one of his worst stretches of the season. I’m also not seeing much to be encouraged by in terms of his rolling strikeout rate, which hasn’t dipped below 33% lately. And the Sweet-Spot rate and Hard-Hit rate are both looking relatively putrid lately as well. Maybe worth a gamble in the short-term if you’re desperate for power, but I’m not sure I’m buying this yet.
- I’m getting serious Joe Schmo Effect vibes from Frank Schwindel. His name isn’t exciting, he’s 29 years old, and he looks like your next door neighbor who mows his lawn in cargo shorts and a bucket cap. But gosh darn can this man hit. Over his last 56 at-bats, he’s hit .375 (!) with four homers and 14 RBI. Does this have staying power? No, not really. His whiff, chase, and line drive rates are all either mediocre or below average, and he’s overperformed his xwOBA by almost 60 points to date. He’s also feasted primarily on fastballs, struggling mightily against other pitch types. As with a lot of guys in the bottom tiers, he’s totally fine to pick up to see how long the magic lasts, but I’d be cutting bait at the first sign of trouble.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)