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/Demotions: Hoo boy was it another tough week on the injury front. Gleyber Torres, Dylan Moore, Austin Slater, Kris Bryant, Salvador Perez, Byron Buxton, Alex Bregman, Mitch Garver, Elvis Andrus, Nick Senzel, and David Dahl hit the IL. At least we got Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., Will Smith, Mike Moustakas, and Michael Brantley back, right? As always, keep these additions and subtractions to the list in mind when looking at player movement. Judge, Acuña Jr., Moustakas, and Brantley are all ranked fairly high, and as a result, everyone below them has a -4 drop automatically baked in.
- I thought I was pretty high on Brandon Lowe coming into the season. Turns out I wasn’t high enough. After digging around a bit in his profile, I had to give him a significant bump this week despite the fact that he’s hit a bit of a lull the past few days. We knew coming into the year that Lowe had big-time power, as he posted an excellent 16.3% barrel rate and 41% Hard Hit rate last season. The concern was that the 19.1% swinging-strike rate and 64.8% contact rate would catch up to him, cratering his average and making him tough to roster. However, he’s making more contact this year and showing improved plate discipline. He also seems to be making a concerted effort to pull the ball less–which is always a good thing for a left-handed hitter, as it makes him less vulnerable to losing hits to the shift. This, in tandem with a big uptick in his line drive rate, is allowing him to pair his elite power with a batted ball profile that will allow him to hit for a decent average too. I’m really buying this as a step forward in his development as a hitter, and the expected stats back it all up so far. I think the ceiling here could be a 35+ home run hitter with a .280 average who will rack up counting stats and throw in some steals for good measure, and I think that’s rosterable everywhere.
- If you drafted Adalberto Mondesi, hopefully you went in knowing what the floor was, because that’s what we’ve been seeing so far this season. I’ll be honest–I’ve always found Mondesi’s ceiling incredibly intriguing, as there’s only a handful of other players that possess his exact skill set. But I think that ceiling has really blinded me and a lot of others to the incredibly glaring and scary peripherals that highlighted how much of a risk he is and always was. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he’s gotten slightly unlucky against offspeed and breaking pitches thus far, and actually seems to have improved against them compared to last year. But there is just so much swing and miss in his game that makes it hard for him to put the incredible tools he possesses to good use. The upside is enough to warrant holding out hope, but I can totally understand if managers have run out of patience in shallower leagues.
- Alex Fast’s alter ego Trent Grisham had himself a week, hitting .344 with a three-homer game. Grisham looked a little more aggressive at the plate this week, and it paid dividends, which is an encouraging development given how passive Grisham has been this year. Of course, passivity isn’t necessarily a bad thing–more walks leads to more stolen base opportunities and more runs scored. However, it also leads to more called strikeouts, which I thought might hold Grisham’s batting average back a bit (a lá Rhys Hoskins or Cavan Biggio). It’ll be interesting to see whether this more aggressive approach sticks around going forward.
- Wilmer Flores is having a season so beautiful it could make a grown man cry, slashing .307/.336/.541 with seven homers on the year. Flores has been a supremely underrated contact hitter over the last two years, hitting .317 last season and posting one of the lowest strikeout rates in the majors in 2018. The thing holding him back in the past has been a lack of power and a LOT of pop-ups. Though he’s still not a power hitter, he has cut down on the pop-ups and has even started pulling the ball more this season. If he can keep this up, I can see him being a definite batting average asset with about league-average pop who hits towards the top of the Giants’ order.
- Jake Cronenworth keeps on hitting, posting a .423 average over the past week and further cementing his spot as the Padres’ everyday second baseman. With an 8:11 walk-to-strikeout ratio over the past month, and a Statcast profile with more red than a… really… red thing (sorry), I’m getting some serious Jeff McNeil vibes from Cronenworth this year. If his minor league track record is any indication, the power might show up in the form of doubles more than home runs, but regardless he should post a really high average with plenty of counting stats and a few stolen bases. Just an all-around really solid fantasy hitter that won’t hurt you anywhere.
- There are some players that seem to go on absolute white-hot tears every season, and the Blue Jays happen to have two of them. Randall Grichuk may be coming down from his hot streak, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looks to be heating up. With three homers, 12 RBI, and a .333 average over the past week, you may want to grab Gurriel Jr. now if you can and milk him (gross) for all the production you can get.
- Kyle Lewis continues to defy the odds, hitting .522 (!!!) over the past week while swatting three home runs. He’s started striking out less recently, which is awesome, but there is just so much about what Lewis is doing that turns my brain into soup. He’s barely hitting any flyballs, and he’s not making great contact, but he’s somehow posting an 11.2% barrel rate. He’s also whiffing at a 30% clip but posting a decent 22.4% strikeout rate. Do I understand it? No. Do I have to understand it? No. Usually, I’d be pushing him as a sell-high, but with only about a month left of the season, he could very well continue to make this work.
- Statcast Sleepers: Gregory Polanco is doing some interesting things, posting an absurd 16.7% barrel rate and 60.7% Hard Hit rate on the season. Unfortunately he seems to be completely selling out for that power, as he’s hitting just .143 with a 45.3% strikeout rate. If the strikeout rate comes way down and he retains some of that hard contact, he’d be a player to watch. Brandon Belt is also doing his Brandon Belt thing of tantalizing us with a hot stretch for a few weeks before ultimately succumbing to an injury. He’s not a bad flier though considering he’s posting the best Hard Hit rate and average exit velocity of his career, and his .313 average is matched by a .292 xAVG. Mitch Moreland is also somehow posting the highest barrel rate in baseball right now, so hop on board that train if you can.
Graphic by JR Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter)