After a long and glorious reign, Jon Metzalaar has decided to pass the torch of the Hitter List, and I’ll do my best to keep it lit.
First, let’s get some basics out of the way in terms of how to interpret these rankings. None of this stuff should come as any major surprise, but it never hurts to provide background:
- As a reminder, these rankings are geared toward a 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.
- 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.
- I take rankings like this as more of an art than a 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. Jon’s way of evaluating and ranking players has worked out well for Jon (and me) over the years, but it might not be a great fit for you. I can’t possibly predict your team’s specific needs, your league mate’s player evaluations, or your current waiver wire, and if I could it’d be weird. In a bad way.
- Yes, these ranks vary from the official PL positional rankings that I also developed. That’s because these are only mine – no input from others. This is a safe space for me where I answer to no one but myself…and you, if you leave a comment.
- I’m using 20 games as the threshold for the positional eligibility in the List. I have not included presumed eligibilities based on likely new positions (such as Gleyber Torres moving to second base). This is just a maintenance thing and we will update eligibility throughout the season. Feel free to let me know if I’m missing any!
And now a couple of notes on how I generally evaluate hitters before we dive in:
- I’ve gotten more level-headed over the years when it comes to weighing stolen bases, but I still think they’re incredibly valuable given how rare they’re becoming. Every steal is important, so don’t take those “chip-in” steals for granted. Finding steals at the end of the season can be a dogfight.
- So let’s talk about rookies: I’m open to ranking rookies and international prospects, but keep in mind that it’s not easy to be a top-50 or top-100 hitter. For example, only five rookies ended the season as top-100 hitters per the FanGraphs Auction Calculator in 2021: Randy Arozarena (37th), Adolis García (44th), Jonathan India (50th), Ryan Mountcastle (59th), and Akil Baddoo (100th). There’s a lot of talent in that group, but in shallow leagues be wary of reaching for rookies—only two of those five top-100 rookies were drafted as top-150 hitters (Arozarena and Mountcastle). Heck, García, India, and Baddoo weren’t even drafted. Alec Bohm, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Dylan Carlson, Nick Madrigal, Jarred Kelenic, Andrés Giménez, Bobby Dalbec, Wander Franco, Leody Taveras, Alex Kirilloff, Daulton Varsho, Andrew Vaughn, Ha-Seong Kim, and Jo Adell on the other hand, were all drafted to be top-200 hitters (some more often than others) and all disappointed to one degree or another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a shot at rookies, but using 2021 as an example will show you that even the best of us struggle to predict a young player’s immediate impact in the big leagues. We can always make exceptions for elite players, but if nothing else, remember that being young isn’t a talent, skill, or fantasy stat.
- No stat is an island and they should all be taken in proper context. For ranking purposes, the primary starting points I use are plate discipline, wRC+, quality of contact metrics (also known as Statcast batted ball data), and lineup context. I also use various projections (some free, some I buy) and dollar value generators. Unlike Nick, I’ll also look at other rankings as I prepare my own to get a feel for how my colleagues are valuing certain players, positions, or stats. I recommend trying as many of these things as you can until you find what you like.
- Positional eligibility, and specifically multi-eligibility, is really neat but also isn’t a huge factor in many 10- and 12-team leagues anymore due to the prevalence of multi-eligible players (16 of the 30 second baseman I ranked are eligible at two positions, with five more players being eligible at three positions). It’s of more value in deeper contests like the NFBC, or in leagues with limited roster moves (draft and hold leagues, transaction limits/costs, extremely short benches, etc.), but even then the value is fairly situational and context-dependent.
- On a similar note, I don’t really penalize players for only qualifying in the utility slot. At most, it is a mild inconvenience if a DH-only player is available at a great value and you already have filled your utility spots.
- I tend to be moderate to aggressive when it comes to players who choose to forego surgery or who might need surgery eventually (like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Max Muncy this offseason). There’s a tendency to always think these guys need the knife because others like them did and because “it’ll make them heal faster”, but I’m not a doctor, and until a doctor who has examined this particular patient (no two injuries are quite the same, after all) says this is the case, I’ll accept that skipping surgery is a viable option in this case. I’m not going to ignore the risks, but I will consider stomaching it.
- If you’d like input on a player or have any feedback, your best bet is to reach out to me on Twitter (@ifthechufits). 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.
- I talk a lot about my ranking philosophy and how to adapt to your draft in the most recent Hacks & Jacks—check it out when you have a moment!
Want more on how these rankings came together? Check out the podcast Hacks & Jacks featuring myself and Joe Gallina, which also happened to be a finalist for Best Baseball Podcast of 2021 by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA)!
- Before the injury, Tatis was my top overall hitter. I think he’s the best player on a per plate appearance basis and nothing will change my mind.
- I’m going to love picking in the middle of the first round. Sure, Tatis and Turner are the creams of the crop, but we’re a few good news updates away from as many as nine or ten players with a real chance at finishing in the top three overall for hitters between José Ramírez, Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Mike Trout.
- Actually, in 10- and 12-teamers, you’re going to love the first two rounds of the draft, as even by the end of the second round, you should still have power-hitting options like Yordan Alvarez and Teoscar Hernández, or if you’re more of a speed hoarder, Starling Marte, Whit Merrifield, and Cedric Mullins. Just a lot of options.
- I keep having this recurring dream where I draft both Trea Turner and Yordan Alvarez with my first two picks and then just watch the world go by as I collect my trophies.
- I’m almost certain we’ll see Salvador Perez‘s ADP come down as more single-catcher formats open their draft rooms. This high ADP feels heavily driven by two-catcher formats. A max pick of 56?! As in he’s NEVER made it to the fifth round? The power and contact ability are as real as ever, but the odds of a 32-year-old catcher with a bazillion innings logged in his gear posting consecutive 600 plate appearance seasons without breaking down are not favorable.
- The rest of the catcher position feels the same as usual—five or six guys who are too good to replace with a streamer, five or six guys who are currently hot that might be better than a streamer, and then a whole bunch of steamers. If scanning the wire each week for a fresh catcher to toss into your lineup because of weak matchups, platoons, or Coors sounds dreadful to you, go ahead and take one of Yasmani Grandal or Daulton Varsho.
- The more I look at first base, the more I realize I’m often failing to get a top-five option. At first, I thought it was a valuation difference, but then I realized that Matt Olson, Paul Goldschmidt, and Pete Alonso get drafted within about ten picks of each other. If I’m not targeting a specific first baseman at some point in the first three to four rounds, I’m probably just going to wait for fifty picks and look at the lower tiers.
- (This was Jon’s note from early this offseason, but it’s really good so I’m keeping it) Ty France had a pretty fantastic season, though it’s hard not to wonder what things might have looked like had he not struggled mightily after getting hit on the forearm with a pitch in the first half of the season. Here’s his rolling xwOBA chart, with the dates when he was plunked and when he hit the IL marked:
As you can see, there was a pretty big downturn in his production as he dealt with that injury. But once healed, he was an incredibly productive hitter the rest of the way. The raw power won’t be enough to wow you, but he does a really good job of making contact and squaring up the ball, the latter of which is evidenced by his excellent 35.9% Sweet Spot rate (meaning he hit the ball with an ideal launch angle 35.9% of the time). He should continue to soak up counting stats in the heart of the Mariners’ lineup in 2022, and I think he has a strong foundation in batting average with the potential for 25-homer pop. This is one of the late first basemen I was referring to in the prior paragraph.
- On one hand, we have a surprising number of second basemen in the top-150 picks. That’s a lot for a group that was considered the weakest position of a draft (other than catcher) for the last few years. On the other hand, the depth is mostly smoke and mirrors as 18 of the top 22 options also qualify at another position. Thankfully, there are probably enough middle infielders to go around in 10- and 12-teamers, which is why you don’t see me making many bold statements (other than Max Muncy, but that’s a different discussion for a different time – see my notes on injuries above).
- The third basemen dry up so fast that I went back through this list a few times thinking that I must have been forgetting someone. I wasn’t—there just aren’t that many guys at the hot corner I feel super comfortable about. I expect to end up with as much José Ramírez as possible if I am picking somewhere between third and sixth, but if you can’t grab a top-end option, you might as well just wait and look at the bargain bin later on. In shallow formats, there’s a viable strategy just skipping third base until the end of your draft and picking from the leftover parts of Eugenio Suárez, Josh Donaldson, Luis Urías, or any of the other flawed-but-interesting names and just smashing them in your lineup until one of them sticks.
- Shortstop is deep. Almost too deep, really. It’s almost boring to talk about the top (plus I’ll have a whole article dedicated to the topic). As many as 14 could be drafted in the first 100 picks of your draft, though folks in 10- and 12-teamers should probably anticipate more like 10-12. There was a lot of temptation to move young guns like Jazz Chisholm and Bobby Witt Jr. and Oneil Cruz higher than they are now, but between roles, adjusting to the big leagues, and the fact that there are just so many options at shortstop that it’d be hard to justify holding these guys for much longer than 1-2 months before moving on and replacing them.
- Nick Castellanos finally hit 30 home runs, and it was just a matter of time. Going from one of the more difficult parks to hit home runs to two of the easiest will do that to you, and you can quickly see it in how his HR/FB% doubled after leaving Detroit. There were human factors as well, and he’s unlikely to ever lead the league in triples again (that will help you in a trivia question one day, I’m sure of it), but he’s become an unstoppable hitting machine, slashing .292/.346/.571 (good for a 186 wRC+) in 1,052 plate appearances as a Cub and then a Red. I rank him a lot higher than my contemporaries, and that’s because he feels like a safe, comforting presence in a sea of uncertainty.
- Akil Baddoo should be on your radar for 100 reasons (insane growth despite no double-A experience, power, speed, discipline, great name, bright smile, etc.). Man, they NEVER should have let me do the Hitter List. Do you think they’d notice if I squeezed Skubal in here, too?
- I love streaming the back end of my outfield. It’s just silly not to with the depth of talent you can find there in shallow leagues. It’s one small way to out-hustle your league.
Photo by Joe Robbins (Icon Sportswire) | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)
Scott, great stuff, as always. Since you use 20 games for positional eligibility, does that mean that you use other ESPN defaults, also? In addition to the nine standard lineup positions, does this list reflect an additional MI, CI, and 2 add’l OF?
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, JC!
I technically assumed the Yahoo default, but the reality is probably blended. I targeted more shallow leagues. A Roto 12-teamer on ESPN would probably push up stolen base guys and relievers based on how the draft shakes out.
Thanks for the clarification. I play in a Yahoo OBP 12-teamer, so having a basis for comparison allows me to convert to my league.