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.
- It’s September. We did it. Many of you are likely on the cusp of beginning your playoff matchups, or in the heat of a fantasy pennant chase. And rest of you, well, you’re starting to reacclimate to life after baseball, setting your lineups, even though you’re out of contention, like a good leaguemate would, and discovering how much time and how little anxiety you now have on your hands. All this to say that the season is drawing to a close, which means Hitter List isn’t much longer for this world. This will likely be the second-to-last entry for the year, since the final weeks are more about streaming matchups than evaluating overall player talent, and we already have a great weekly hitter matchups article you can rely on for the former. Let’s not cry because it’s almost over, though. Let’s smile because it happened.
- As promised last time, there’s a good amount of movement this week as we lean further and further into the strategy of playing the hot hand. Which brings us to a player who is no stranger to wild swings in value: Ryan Mountcastle. Case-in-point:
As you can see, Mountcastle has been either unrosterable or one of the best hitters in baseballs on a month-to-month basis, with very little middle-ground. Fortunately, August was one of his good months, as he’s hit .311 with 11 home runs over his last 30 games. One of the encouraging things about the monthly splits above is the gradual decline in his strikeout rate, especially because Mountcastle has solid power. He’s flashing a 12% barrel rate this year, and has kept his Hard Hit rate comfortably above 42% for the past month. If he’s truly figuring out how to make contact on a consistent basis, this could be the beginning of a legit breakout and not just another plateau on the roller coaster that has been his 2021 season.
- We’ve been waiting all year for Josh Donaldson’s solid peripherals and improved contact numbers to bear fruit, and it appears that it’s finally happening. After an impressive three-homer week, Donaldson is hitting .328 over his last 15 games with five homers. I feel like a broken record at this point, but Donaldson is currently posting the best barrel rate (18%) and xwOBAcon (.447) of his career, and is striking out less than he has since 2016. He ranks third in baseball in barrels-per-PA, and if he’s somehow available in your league, you’re going to want to scoop him up for the stretch run.
- What a difference a change of scenery makes. Over his 120 plate appearances as a Brave, Jorge Soler is hitting .270 with eight home runs—a far cry from the .192 average and 13 home runs he produced over 360 plate appearances with the Royals. The pro-rated numbers he’s put up with the Braves thus far aren’t very far off from what he produced during his breakout 2019 season, when he hit .265 with 48 home runs. And his Sweet Spot rate—the thing that seemed to be holding back his production in the first half—has finally risen to around league average lately. The overall surface-level numbers have people shying away, but Soler is someone who could be a league-winner if he stays hot through September.
- In standard leagues, Yasmani Grandal’s elite ability to get on base is almost a detriment to his value, as it robs him of opportunities to drive in runs or make use of his above-average power, and he’s not enough of a batting average asset to really make up for it. However, when he’s hot, he’s hot, and Grandal is hitting an even .500 with four homers in the four games since his return from the IL. He’s likely been snatched up already in most formats, but if he’s hanging around in shallower leagues, he’s the perfect option to plug into your catcher slot the rest of the way, especially given how keyed-in the White Sox lineup has been lately.
- I wish someone could impart some wisdom on me when it comes to how, exactly, Patrick Wisdom has managed to keep his batting average at .256 over 283 plate appearances despite a 40% strikeout rate and 40% (!!!) whiff rate. He pulls the ball a ton (56%) and doesn’t hit many line drives (22%), which makes the whole thing even more confounding. He certainly makes the rare instances when he does make contact count, at least. He’s 13th in barrels/BBE among hitters with at least 100 batted balls, and has swatted five homers over the last week and 10 homers over his last 30 games. The 40+ homer power he’s been flashing is totally legit. Here’s hoping his insanely tenuous contact ability continues holding up, though.
- After a red-hot run early in the year, Tyler Naquin is attempting to book-end things with an equally insane offensive outburst in the waning days of the season. Naquin has been one of the best hitters in baseball recently: he’s third in wOBA among qualified hitters over the last 30 days. During that span he’s hit .350 with six home runs. He’s not a particularly disciplined hitter, but he makes solid contact and is about league-average in the strikeout department, and he should continue to get plenty of playing time while Jesse Winker is on the shelf. That he’s rostered in just 66% of Yahoo league is a national embarrassment.
- Who ranks just above Tyler Naquin in wOBA over the past 30 days? Bobby Dalbec. The notoriously strikeout-prone Dalbec has managed to cobble together a .303 average over his last 30 games with eight homers—including four homers over the past week alone. The first base job and the sixth spot in the Red Sox lineup appear to be his for the time being. There’s 40-homer pop in his bat, and over the past week he’s managed to dip his strikeout rate below 20%, so perhaps there are some adjustments going on under the surface.
- August truly was the month of late-season resurgences, as Ian Happ also began his comeback tour. Happ has dreadful to begin the year, then struggled with injuries, but he’s now back in more ways than one, hitting .333 with five homers over his last 15 games. His Sweet Spot and Hard Hit rates have both made sharp improvements in recent weeks, and Happ has always possessed excellent plate discipline. He has the ability to produce a batting average around .260 with 30+ home run pop over a full season, and he’s currently entrenched as the Cubs’ #3 hitter, which should ensure he drives in what few runs Chicago manages to score in September. Definitely a hot streak worth buying into.
- Remember that brief, beautiful moment this year when it seemed like Cody Bellinger was getting back on track? Yeah, me neither. After another awful week, Bellinger is hitting just .185 over his last 30 games, and finds himself as a platoon bat for the Dodgers, playing only against righties. The problem is, Bellinger has been only barely better against righties than lefties this year, hitting just .189 with a .619 OPS against them. I don’t fault anyone for wanting to go down with the ship here given how much you’ve endured already, but I think he’s a pretty clear cut in nearly all formats.
- Carter Kieboom hasn’t been playing super well over the past two weeks, but he has shown a decent power stroke this year, and smacked two home runs over the past few days. That alone doesn’t make him worth rostering, but he is showing some signs of having underperformed to this point. His xBA (.278) and xwOBA (.368) are both really solid, and quite a bit better than his actual numbers to this point. He’s hitting a ton of line drives (28%), and showcasing decent power numbers, including a 7.4% barrel rate. He has some work to do against breaking balls, and he could benefit from cutting down on the whiffs, but it feels like there’s a prime Jed Lowrie-type hitter here, which has value.
- Bradley Zimmer has quietly been a really solid power/speed asset over the past month, swiping six bases with four homers and a modest .260 batting average. It’s a similar skillset to the one Zimmer showed during his promising rookie year back in 2017, and it doesn’t appear he’s lost a step despite a series of injuries over the years, as he’s flashing 97th percentile sprint speed so far. The 9% barrel rate is solid as well, and while the strikeouts will likely continue to suppress his batting average, there could be something here, especially considering that Zimmer has been batting fifth quite regularly over the past week.
- Nick Solak has recorded a hit in all nine games since returning to the big-league club, and is hitting .371 during that span with two home runs. Solak has always been a tough player to pin down talent-wise. He hits the ball on the ground a lot, and seems to really rely on squaring up the ball in order to make the most of what looks like pretty lackluster power. Long-term this doesn’t do much to change my opinion of Solak, but he’s clearly in the zone right now, and is a worthy streaming option with good positional eligibility.
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