Last Updated: 3/26
A couple of things to note before reading:
- These rankings are for 10- and 12-team head-to-head category leagues with standard scoring and a starting lineup consisting of 1 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS, 3 OF, 2 UTIL, and a shallow bench, and were created by me with input from Nick Pollack.
- Within the write-ups, I will call out individual players who would see value boosts or drops in alternative formats, such as rotisserie leagues, deeper leagues, or points leagues.
- Projected stat totals assume that teams each play at least 145 games unless specifically stated otherwise.
- I am more than happy to answer your questions, requests, and counter-points in the comments!
- To comprise this list, I used players who I discovered to be potentially DH-only in fantasy formats in 2020 based on the number of games needed to qualify at another position.
- Added injury notes.
- Created Tier 4 for players who I don’t expect to contribute in 2021.
- Reranked Tiers 3 and 4.
Tier 1: Elite
No. 1: J.D. Martinez (Boston Red Sox)
J.D. did not like the restrictions on in-game video in the spring , and he did not like them during the season, either. As one of MLB’s best hitters over the last several years, Martinez was concerned that he would have a difficult time establishing a routine, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Truthfully, it’s a good thing he told us, because it helps explain his dismal 2020. After four consecutive seasons with a batting average better than .300 and and OBP above .370, his ratios cratered to .213/.293/.389. He struggled to hit every type of pitch, as shown in this chart:
It’s virtually impossible to tell how much of this degradation is from the break in J.D’s routine and how much is from possible loss of bat speed that comes with age, but I’m willing to give him a pass on 2020 and take him at his word regarding the impact of the lack of video.
With MLB announcing that they will have tablets for players to access in-game video, I am expecting a strong bounce-back season in 2021.
No. 2: Nelson Cruz (Minnesota Twins)
Baseball’s current ageless wonder continues to pound the ever-loving crap out of any baseball that crosses his path.If he wasn’t turning 41 this month, I’d feel pretty comfortable putting him over J.D. and having him as the top DH-only player in fantasy.
If you select Cruz in your drafts, you need to know two things: first, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a DH-only player and it doesn’t really impact your ability to build a successful team. Second, I think that 35 home runs are still well within reach, and 95 or more RBI are probably in the cards as well.
That said, slight upticks in his chase rate, whiff rate, and ground ball rate have me slightly concerned that the decline is slowly creeping in. After all, Cruz is mortal (I think). Don’t worry too much, though—there’s little to suggest that he’s just going to fall off a cliff. A lot of this is already baked into his ADP, and I’m still very comfortable with taking him in drafts.
No. 3: Yordan Alvarez (Houston Astros)
While Yordan is only a DH in most formats, Yahoo’s decision to retain eligibility carried over from 2019 makes him an outfielder for one more year.
The biggest and most obvious concern for Alvarez is health. He has what appears to be recurring issues with his knees, which is a big concern for a kid who is only 23. The good news is that Alvarez has shown that he’s capable of running the bases right now and appears on track to be good to go for Spring Training. The bad news is that if those knee injuries recur, it will likely land him on the IL or sap significant power.
Health aside, we saw what he is capable of during his magnificent debut, where he was one of baseball’s best hitters for roughly half a season. He has incredible power that he can use for home runs and for average. He’s a four category force to be reckoned with.
If there was anything else worth mentioning, it’s that he was exposed a bit in the 2019 playoffs by breaking and offspeed pitches. He struggled to make contact and at times appeared lost at the plate—a stark contrast to his regular season. All players have to make adjustments as pitchers begin to attack them differently, and Alvarez is no different. I believe he can make those adjustments, but if nothing else, it could lead to a bit of a slow start.
Update: We haven’t seen much of Yordan in Spring Training, but all signs suggest that he’ll be good to go on Opening Day.
Tier 2: Solid
No. 4: Jorge Soler (Kansas City Royals)
Soler is a big time power bat who struggled in 2020. Whether or not you are willing to reinvest is your business, but before you make your decision, please check out Kevin O’Brien’s piece on the matter and see why he thinks Soler is possibly due for a rebound in 2021.
No. 5: Giancarlo Stanton (New York Yankees)
Like Alvarez, Stanton retains his outfield eligibility for one more season in Yahoo leagues, which gives a mild boost to his overall value in that format.
Stanton’s outlook is very much like his teammate Aaron Judge’s outlook—he’s an absolute monster when healthy, but is rarely healthy. He will likely dominate the hard hit leaderboards on max exit velocity and longest home runs when he’s healthy enough to swing the bat, and if he plays 140 games (he’s appeared in just 41 games since the start of 2019), he’s a lock for 35 home runs, if not 40.
The injury risk on Stanton is more significant than most players, and that has driven his ADP down quite a bit. If you want to draft Stanton for your team, I highly recommend having a plan to do so, as you’ll want to make sure you’ve added several low-risk players to keep you afloat if things go south for Stanton’s health.
No. 6: Franmil Reyes (Cleveland)
The 25-year-old slugger is not afraid to swing the bat hard, even if it means he’s going to miss. I actually use Reyes as an example of what I call a “heartbeat hitter”, which is a player who goes through extreme hot streaks followed by sharp cold streaks. You can see what I mean in the chart below:
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that he’s a streaky power hitter. It does impact his range of outcomes a bit, but a 35 home run season should happen for Reyes in 2021, though the batting average that comes with could be anywhere from .240 to .280 depending on how hot he can get and how long he can stay that way.
No. 7: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels)
This ranking of Ohtani is for the hitter version only. 2020 was a rough year for the 26-year-old two-way player, as he hit just .190 through 46 games. While he did manage to contribute seven home runs and a surprising seven stolen bases in that span, he struggled a bit with strikeouts and weak contact.
Assuming that the Angels continue to try to use Ohtani as both a pitcher and a hitter, Ohtani’s value as a pure hitter is limited to daily leagues, as he’s unlikely to hit in more than 115-120 games in any given year. That said, he’s shown the potential to do quite a bit of damage in that limited time, and I like the consensus projections of about 20-25 home runs and 14 stolen bases with a .260 batting average.
While the hitter-only Ohtani isn’t as exciting as the two-way version, there’s still a lot to like about his profile, especially since he was able to add in a few more walks in 2020 despite his overall struggles.
3/26 Update: He has been excellent with the bat and with pitching this spring and I am so excited. I’d be willing to take CombOhtani at pick 150ish, but I also know that’s super aggressive for a lot of folks.
Tier 3: Deep Leagues Only
No. 8: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)
I love Miggy and always will. He actually had a surprisingly effective 2020, hitting 10 home runs (just 2 fewer than he had in 136 games in 2019) and even stealing a base—his first since 2015!
Quality of contact metrics also rebounded a bit as he had his best average exit velocity since 2018 and had a strong .291 expected batting average and .522 expected slugging percentage.
While these bumps do make me happy as a Tigers fan, they don’t really move the needle much outside of super deep formats and AL-only leagues.
No. 9: Willie Calhoun (Texas Rangers)
The DH-only guys fall off an absolute cliff here, but I’ll provide a quick blurb about each one just in case you’re curious.
As for Calhoun, I don’t have much faith that he’s going to pan out, but once upon a time we had dreams of 30 home runs and he should at least start the season with regular playing time.
3/26 Update: He’ll start the season on the IL due to groin issues and will miss 2-3 weeks.
No. 10: Khris Davis (Texas Rangers)
Maybe a change of scenery will help Khrush revive his career, as the past two seasons have been difficult to watch. It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason why he has struggled so mightily in recent years, as the bad news appears all over his metrics and stats.
I can’t endorse taking him outside of an AL-only league, but at the very least he should continue to play every day for the thinly-built Rangers.
3/26 Update: He’ll miss the first 3-4 weeks due to quad issues.
No. 11: Dan Vogelbach (Milwaukee Brewers)
Prior to signing Kolten Wong, Vogelbach looked like he might start the season as the regular first baseman and bat in the middle of the order. As we all sort of suspected, though, the Brewers thought better of it and decided to transition Keston Hiura to first and put Wong, one of the league’s premier defensive second baseman, at the keystone.
With no obvious path to playing time and obvious flaws even when he has it, he’s not really of interest to me in any format right now.
Tier 3: Unlikely to Make an Impact
No. 12: Edwin Encarnación (Free Agent)
With the White Sox declining his option and no recent news on where the 38-year-old DH might sign, it’s hard to put any projection on him at all. If he found a place to play, he could still provide some pop, though his contact ability seemed to fall off a cliff a bit in 2020, and I’m not even sure any teams are very interested in bringing him on right now.
No. 13: José Martínez (New York Mets)
The Mets roster is an absolute cluster right now, and while that’s great for winning real baseball games, it drives us fantasy managers crazy. If Martínez were to have a good showing in Spring Training, the best news for his fantasy value would be getting cut by the Mets and latching on somewhere like Cleveland or Pittsburgh where he could form a useful platoon at first base or DH and at least have predictable playing time.
3/26 Update: He’ll miss basically all of 2021 due to knee surgery.
No. 14: Yoenis Céspedes (Free Agent)
The saga of Yoenis continued in 2020, with him being a no-call no-show one day and just deciding to drop out of the season altogether. It was a bit of a circus, but that’s just how Yoenis rolls. If he played, I’d probably expect some power, but he hasn’t played more than 38 games in a season since 2017, so I’m just going to remove him from my player pool in most drafts.
Photos by Leslie Plaza Johnson & Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@relderntisuj on Twitter)
No. 15: Choo Shin-Soo, also known as Shin-Soo Choo (SSG Landers)
If I knew where (or if) Choo was going to lace up his cleats in 2020, I’d probably have him higher on this list—probably in a tier of his own between Ohtani and Calhoun. However, I don’t know where or if he will play and if he does, I don’t know how often. With that kind of risk coupled with his advanced age, I’m sort of stuck ranking one of my favorite players a lot lower than I’d like to.
3/26 Update: He’s back home in Korea.