Hello and welcome to Hitter List, where every Wednesday I’ve been flawlessly ranking the top 150 hitters in baseball. Since most fantasy leagues have pretty much wrapped up at this point, or are midway through their championship rounds, I thought I’d do something a little different this week in what will be the final Hitter List of the season.
The rankings shown here are my way-way-way-way-way-too-early hitter rankings for the 2020 season. A lot will change in the coming weeks and months, but I thought something like this could be a useful resource for people during the cold, dark, meaningless months ahead, especially for those of you in keeper leagues that are pondering trades. Bear in mind that I’ve limited myself to only ranking players who have already made their major league debuts, as it’s way too early to try and predict which top prospects will be making an impact in 2020.
To truly hate something, you must first understand it, so here’s a general overview of how I go about evaluating players so you can be upset with these rankings more thoroughly:
- Given that these rankings are taking place in a vacuum, I tend to value stolen bases more than home runs. The 5,585 homers hit in 2018 were the fourth-highest total in modern history. And the 2,474 stolen bases from last year were the lowest total since 1994 and the eighth-lowest total since 1969. In other words, stolen bases are a scarce resource getting even scarcer. Meanwhile, home runs are an abundant resource that are becoming more prevalent. All else being equal, I’ll take the guy with 15 HR/20 SB over the guy with 20 HR/15 SB.
- I’m generally not a believer in positional scarcity, so position eligibility only comes into play in two instances: as a tiebreaker when two players are fairly evenly matched, or if a player is eligible at catcher, because catcher is a barren wasteland this year filled with adrenaline-fueled maniacs playing guitar riffs while strapped to 18-wheelers. Wait, no, that’s Mad Max: Fury Road, but catcher is just as bleak and weird.
- I’m an old man who’s afraid of change, so I tend to be low on young players without major league track records.
- I lean on track record more than recent performance, unless I see a significant underlying change in approach or Statcast metrics.
- These rankings apply only to leagues using standard scoring (R, RBI, HR, SB, AVG) and lean more towards rotisserie and H2H categories leagues. Adjust accordingly for other formats.
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And now some quick notes:
- While it felt nice to have called Scott Kingery’s breakout way back in April, before he even had a full-time job, I actually feel like I was more lucky than good when it came to that prediction. Obviously the 19 homers and 12 steals are great, and the .259 average is a big improvement from last year, when he hit .223. But it was really a strong first half that buoyed his overall statline, as Kingery hit just .230 after the break with a 31.4% strikeout rate. Statcast wasn’t kind to him this year either, pegging him for a .238 xBA and .310 wOBA. Considering his age, I do think there’s potential for him to take another step forward next year and be a guy who could go 20/20. But I’m definitely concerned by the peripherals and the weak finish to 2019.
- J.D. Davis was an absolute Statcast darling this year–he finished in the top 10% of the league in xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, Hard Hit rate, and average exit velocity. Unfortunately he was blocked by budding superstar Todd Frazier at third base for most of the year, and didn’t accumulate as many at-bats as most owners would have liked. But with Frazier out of the picture next season, I expect Davis to be the Mets’ everyday third baseman in 2020, and I think he’s primed to do big things.
- I was wrong in assuming regression would come for Eduardo Escobar at some point this year. While his production did taper off a bit as the season wore on, he had an unbelievable year overall, racking up the sixth-most RBI in baseball. Despite all this, I simply cannot vouch for spending a high draft pick on him next season. Part of it is because his strongest asset this season–RBI–is an incredibly fickle stat that’s highly independent of a hitter’s actual talent. But mostly I’m wary of the fact that his peripherals this year and throughout his career have been pedestrian at best. His swinging strike, contact, and chase rates have all been trending in the wrong direction for four straight seasons now. And there are plenty of red flags in his Statcast profile, including a .252 xBA, .327 xwOBA, and 31.5% Hard Hit rate. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for taking Escobar early in drafts considering the year he just had, but personally I’ll be avoiding him in the first eight or nine rounds.
- Nelson Cruz is such a tough guy to value heading into 2020. On the one hand, he was a top-50 hitter this year according to ESPN’s Player Rater, despite accumulating only 422 at-bats. On the other hand, he’ll be turning 40 next year, and suffered a handful of injuries this season that might indicate he’s starting to wear down. This reminds me a lot of David Ortiz towards the end of his career, when he was an incredible value in drafts every season because everyone was afraid he was about to fall apart. I’d be okay reaching for him a bit next year, but he’ll always be a high-risk/high-reward player.
- Some players I just have huge soft spots for, and Cavan Biggio is certainly one of them. The 28% strikeout rate he posted this year doesn’t tell the whole story, as his swinging-strike and contact rates are both slightly above average. And his 15.5% chase rate is top-tier elite–it would be the lowest chase rate in baseball if he qualified, way below Alex Bregman’s 18.8% rate. It seems, then, that Biggio’s strikeout issues this year have likely been the result of him being too patient, resulting in a lot of called third strikes. That’s something that I think he can easily fix, and with 14 homers and 13 steals on the season over just 89 games, the tools are all there for a potentially huge breakout in 2020.
- Speaking of huge breakouts, what a year Austin Meadows had. The most impressive thing about Meadows this year has been his ability to barrel the ball consistently while also maintaining a decent contact rate–very few hitters can manage a 12.2% barrel rate while keeping their contact rate at 77.7%. It’s a shame he missed several weeks earlier in the year with an injury, but he managed to post MVP-type numbers regardless. I really feel that there’s top-15 potential here.
- I’m kind of loving that Kyle Tucker isn’t getting regular playing time right now, because it’s helping suppress his value in drafts next season, and I think he could be an amazing value pick. Tucker is coming fresh off of a 34/30 season in the minors this year, and has looked great over 42 plate appearances with the Astros. He’s definitely someone I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Finally, before I go, I just want to thank everyone for reading the column this year. Weekly rankings are hard, and there was certainly a learning curve for me, but I appreciated the feedback and discussion that most of you provided throughout the year, and I definitely feel as though it made me better. I hope you all had as much fun as I did this season, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again in 2020.
Graphic by Michael Haas (@digitalHaas on Twitter)