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.
- Bryce Harper has been treating opposing pitchers like they’re all named Hunter Strickland lately, putting together a 30-game run where he’s hit .350 with six homers and five stolen bases. It’s been awesome to see Harper retain some of the strikeout rate gains he made last season without giving anything back in terms of power, and he’s running more than he has in five years. The problem is, Harper doesn’t have much of anything in the way of a supporting cast around him. The majority of his home runs have been solo shots, leaving him with just 39 RBI two-thirds of the way through the season. In theory this is likely more of a sequencing issue than anything else, and he clearly still has the upside of a top-10 hitter when everything is breaking right.
- It’s a shame that Franmil Reyes has missed so much time this year, as the prolific power hitter is posting the highest Hard Hit rate of his career (53.6%). If qualified, he’d currently be 13th in baseball in the category, and fourth in the league in barrels per plate appearance. He still does most of his damage against fastballs, and whiffs enough to power a small wind turbine, but there’s no doubt that Reyes could flirt with 50 home runs if he could stay on the field for a full year.
- Well, it was fun to dream on a version of Tyler O’Neill that sorted out his strikeout issues, but…
That stark downturn in strikeouts that got us so excited has recently been met with an equally stark uptick to get him right back around where he’s always been. The interesting thing is, during this span his xwOBA has remained pretty steadily around .380. That ascension to an elite hitter we were hoping for likely isn’t coming, but there’s still a solid offensive player here.
- It’s been a pretty rough go of it for Adolis García, as he’s homered just three times in his last 30 games and is sporting a 40%+ strikeout rate lately. The interesting thing is that he’s actually seen an uptick in fastballs over the past month, and that’s the pitch he’s had the most success against historically. But he’s just not taking advantage of them the way he was earlier in the year. He’s got 35-home run power in his bat, and should continue to soak up counting stats, even in a relatively barren Texas lineup. Just brace yourself for him potentially hitting .230 the rest of the way.
- It’s just 22 plate appearances, but Anthony Rizzo has already hit two Genoa salamis since joining the Yankees. He’s also posting a .438 average with his new team that’s juicier than a chicken parmigiana straight outta da oven. Sorry, the new influx of Italian Americans on the Yankees has me excited. Rizzo has actually been underperforming his peripherals this year, and there’s no doubt there’s still a very solid all-around bat here. The uptick in flyballs he’s hitting this year should bode very well for his home run output now that he’ll be playing half his games in Yankee Stadium. The trade is definitely a boon to his value.
- It appears my big bump for Jorge Polanco last week wasn’t big enough, as he has not slowed down one bit. He’s hitting .308 over his last 30 games with eight home runs and three stolen bases, and .364 with three homers over the past week. Polanco has historically been known as a guy with a decent batting average floor who could contribute mid-teens power and speed. This year he’s bumped his Hard Hit rate up to a career-high 37.5%, and while that’s encouraging, it’s only a tick above average. What’s perhaps more important to note is that Polanco’s pull rate sits at 52%, and his previous career-high was 39%. That is a HUGE increase, and likely explains where this home run barrage has come from. Because of the lack of power, I think this approach could lead to an eventual slump in terms of his batting average, since any fly balls that don’t leave the yard will likely turn into easy outs. But that tradeoff should come with the benefit of a new career-high in home runs, and he needs to be rostered everywhere while he’s on this heater.
- What are we to do with Ramón Laureano? The man has homered just once over his last 30 games despite peripherals that point to a guy with 30-homer power. He stole eight bases in April, then just pretty much stopped running. His monthly splits have more peaks and valleys than the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu. I think this all kind of hits on the frustrating thing about Laureano — he runs extremely hot and cold during the course of the season, and there’s no telling when a hot streak will start or end. If you own him, I think you have to ride things out, especially if you can bench him until he starts to show signs of life.
- It’s been funny following Yoán Moncada this season. And by funny I mean confounding on a deep and disturbing level. He’s sprinkled enough crumbs of interesting underlying stats to keep us roped in. He’s put together hot runs, then seen his production totally upended by injury. But I think at this point in the season, you’re likely okay cutting bait in a 12-teamer. Something has just seemed off for awhile now.
- I’m a little concerned about what the addition of Javier Báez means for J.D. Davis‘ playing time, especially given that Davis was benched for a three-game stretch earlier this week. Frankly, though, the Mets need all the offense they can get, and Davis has been one of their strongest hitters this year. His underlying numbers are 2019-esque, and in the early going he seems to have started focusing on keeping the ball off the ground, which is one of the things I always felt was holding his power back. He’s certainly whiffing A LOT at the moment, but it’s coming with a 17.5% barrel rate and 42% (!!!) Sweet Spot rate, which plays.
- It’s such a bummer to see Ke’Bryan Hayes struggle as much as he has this year. Despite big-time power (48% Hard Hit) and solid contact ability (21% whiff rate), he’s just not able to capitalize due to his penchant for driving balls into the ground. A 28% Sweet Spot rate and 57% ground-ball rate just aren’t going to cut it, and it’s really cut the knees out from his power and batting average upside. It’s a problem that dates back to his days as a prospect–he never paced towards even 20 homers in the minors — so we should have expected this. Still, plenty of heralded young players have managed to fix this issue (hi Vlad Jr.), and he has the foundation to be a star.
- Jorge Soler has hit seven home runs so far in the second half, matching his output from the first half in 220 fewer plate appearances. He’s also hitting .280 since the break with a sub-25% strikeout rate. We’ve seen Soler do this before — he hit .299 with 25 home runs in the second half of 2019. And he’s seemingly entrenched as the Braves’ new #2 hitter. Everything about Soler this season seemed pretty in line with what he was doing in 2019. The problem was, for whatever reason, he was failing to square up the ball. Well his Sweet Spot rate has recently peaked at a higher point than it has since the end of 2019. So I’d be scooping him up wherever I can.
- The key to Michael Conforto’s success last year was his re-adoption of the all-fields, line drive approach that made him such an exciting prospect. That approach has been abandoned this season, as he has leaned back into pulling fly balls. The problem is, he doesn’t hit the ball quite hard enough to make that approach work, and the result is a sub-.200 batting average with practically no power. He’s going to have to revamp his approach in-season to turn things around, which is not something I’m super hopeful will happen.
- Jo Adell has returned, and he made the most of his 2021 debut, going 3-for-4 with some well-struck base hits, a stolen base, and three RBI. One of the things I found when looking at top prospect debuts since 2015 is that, while hitters tend to flounder their first year in the majors, things have a higher chance of clicking the second time around. Adell’s strikeouts are still a concern — he was flirting with a 30% K-rate in the minors. And we’ve seen with Jarren Duran that this can make it harder to adapt to major league pitching right off the bat. But he’s changed his batting stance since last season, and he has the tools to be a fantasy game-changer down the stretch. He’s definitely worth a speculative add in all formats.
- One of the best things you can do as a fantasy manager is learn not to be dismissive about seemingly unrealistic hot starts. When I saw that 30-year-old Rafael Ortega hit .444 with four homers over the past week, I wanted to just wave it off as a fluke. But after digging into his Statcast data, things actually look pretty impressive. Small sample caveats apply, but with a .300 xBA, 44% Hard Hit, and 44% Sweet Spot rate there’s a lot of things he’s doing right at the moment, and he seems to be getting reps as the Cubs’ new leadoff hitter.
- One semi-related note before I turn things over to the list: feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or input at @JonMetzelaar. I do try to pop in to respond to comments here when I can, but it’s harder for me to do when I’m away from a computer, and you’ll likely get a faster response on Twitter if it’s time-sensitive. And, of course, thanks for reading.
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