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.
- Another week, another hitter whose swing has been fixed by the magical, cleansing experience of participating in the Home Run Derby. I kid, of course, but Pete Alonso is now hitting .327 with five home runs in his 54 plate appearances since the break. This uptick in production is less the result of a sudden improvement on his part, and more the byproduct of a gradual change in his contact ability that has just recently started to (polar) bear fruit. He’s managed to push his whiff rate in line with the league average—something that previously didn’t seem possible considering how hard he hits the ball. This has helped his strikeout rate trend down in recent months. In fact, it’s been hovering below 20% over the past few weeks, which is honestly incredible for someone whose barrel rate is consistently twice the league average. There’s obviously 45+ home run power in his bat, but now there’s also a chance that he can push his batting average up to a palatable level as well, which is scary.
- Trent Grisham has dealt with a couple of injuries throughout the year, so it’s perhaps not super surprising that his offensive output has taken a hit over the past month. He’s hitting just .231 over his last 30 games with three home runs and two stolen bases, and the elite Hard Hit rates he was posting during the first two months of the season has started to trend in the wrong direction. He clearly has the tools to be a 25/25 player, but his elite walk rates are a byproduct of him taking a lot of called strikes (60% Z-Swing), and I’m afraid that passivity is likely going to come at the cost of his batting average. There’s no reason to panic here, but adjusting our expectations is healthy, both in terms of Trent Grisham and in terms of life in general. There’s your philosophical advice for the week.
- When Joey Votto hit another two home runs last night, I was actually kind of mad. It’s no secret that he’s been hot lately, but I had him all lined up to be today’s featured hitter, and if he could have waited one more day to unleash his power barrage I could’ve looked like a genius. But alas, here I am, still a bumbling fool in your eyes. Truth be told, we’ve been talking up Votto for awhile now (I swear, there are receipts), and it’s been awesome to see that faith rewarded lately, as he’s hitting .321 with nine home runs and 23 RBI over the last 30 days, including the six-homer week he’s in the midst of. I know how skeptical we are with Votto—he had a couple of seasons there where he looked like he was toast–but it’s important to note that this is a whole new Joey Votto, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. He’d traded his elite contact for more power, posting career-bests in Hard Hit rate (49.5%), xwOBAcon (.482), and barrel rate (14.9%). And while that’s resulted in his whiff rate jumping to 30%–a huge increase from his career 20% rate—his customarily elite plate discipline is ensuring that doesn’t severely impact his strikeouts, which are still below league average. When a player who has built his reputation on mastering the strike zone adds elite power to his portfolio, it’s time to pay attention.
- Carlos Correa hit the COVID IL in early July after contracting a non-COVID virus that required him to be hospitalized, hooked up to an IV, and bedridden for five days. The results since his return have not been optimal (the point on the right where his xwOBA takes a dives coincides with when he contracted the virus):
We saw last season that some players who contracted COVID had a tough time getting back up to speed and regaining their strength afterwards, and while this wasn’t COVID, it seemed serious enough to really do a number on Correa. Correa was putting together one of his better all-around seasons prior to hitting the IL, and with free agency looming, he has every motivation to get back there. It just looks like it might take awhile for him to find that groove again.
- I was slow on the uptake with Adolís Garcia, because I thought his contact issues and lack of plate discipline would catch up to him. He actually surprised me over the first few months, doing a really solid job of maintaining excellent offensive production by feasting on fastballs. I’m a little worried the magic may be running out though, as he’s hit just .225 over his last 30 games with five home runs. The encouraging thing is there hasn’t been a huge adjustment by pitchers in terms of pitch mix—they’ve actually been throwing him more fastballs lately. The bad news is that he’s still chasing a lot of pitches outside the zone, and whiffing on a lot of pitches in the zone, which has caused his xwOBA to hover below .300 over his last 180+ plate appearances. He hits the ball hard enough that he can mitigate that to some extent, but there are a lot of weaknesses in his game that teams can exploit, so be wary of the floor.
- We’ve been giving Cody Bellinger the benefit of the doubt, as this season has been marred by bizarre injuries, and it seemed possible that the lack of production could be attributed to rust. At this point, though, it’s really becoming a question of whether he’ll ever figure things out this year. And, quite frankly, he hasn’t looked right for awhile now. Over the last season’s worth of games (646 plate appearances), he’s posted a triple slash of .225/.327/.438 with 29 home runs and 14 stolen bases. That’s not totally awful—but keep in mind that a lot of that production is propped up by the tail-end of his amazing 2019 season. The peripherals this year look really bad—his 33.6% Hard Hit rate is the lowest of his career and below league average. He’s also striking out and whiffing more than he has in years. I don’t envy those who have him rostered right now—the ceiling makes it hard to justify cutting him for anything less than a top-60 hitter. But things have not looked good.
- In happier news, Andrew Vaughn is still popping off. He’s hit .440 over the past week, and struck out just three times. It’s been awesome watching his growth as the season has gone on, as he continues to make strides at cutting down on his strikeout while maintaining a Hard Hit rate in the 45%+ range. His ability to post a solid strikeout rate while hammering the ball evenly to all fields gives him a high floor and a high ceiling going forward. I know there’s some concern about how playing time shakes out with Eloy Jiménez back in the picture and Luis Robert on the horizon, but I don’t see how Vaughn won’t continue to see regular at-bats as long as he’s hitting like this. The fact that he’s still available in nearly 60% of Yahoo leagues is absurd.
- LaMonte Wade Jr. is fresh off a four-homer week, and has swatted nine long balls over his last 30 games with 21 RBI and 18 runs. The man crushes the ball, as evidenced by his 46.5% Hard Hit rate, and he does so while whiffing and striking out at below-average rates. However, he pulls the ball a lot for a lefty, and doesn’t hit many line drives. He also doesn’t have a single hit against lefties this season in 23 plate appearances. All this adds up to a guy who, if started every day, likely won’t net you much better than a .250 average. If you play in a daily league though, and you can afford to only start him against righties, he’s a serious weapon. He’s hitting .295 with 12 home runs against righties this season in just 152 plate appearances. He’s definitely worth grabbing if you’re willing to put the time into deploying him correctly.
- As I mention in the opening notes, I hate kids. But even I’m a little surprised by how disappointing this year’s crop of top prospects has been. It is, of course, too early to really get a great read on Jarren Duran. But the concerns about his contact ability have not been allayed in the early going. He’s posting a 40% whiff rate and 35.7% strikeout rate at the moment, despite getting a fairly steady diet of fastballs so far. It’s still early enough that a strong week from him could completely change the narrative. But if you’re in the playoff hunt, it might not be a bad idea to see if you can move him for someone who can provide more stable production over the final two months.
- I’ve had a Carson Kelly-shaped hole in my heart for the past few months, but it’s really starting to look like Max Stassi is the man to fill it. It’s always hard to buy into a breakout from a 30-year-old catcher, but Stassi very quietly had a solid 2020 campaign, and this year he’s actually built upon the Hard Hit rate gains (53.2% this season!!!). He’s handling all pitch types really well so far, and while he’s playing over his head a little bit, he’s got solid enough contact rates and a good enough knowledge of the strike zone to be a really intriguing catching option that hasn’t really been getting the attention he deserves.
- Even a hardened Gleyber Torres hater like me has to admit that he’s put together a solid couple of weeks, hitting .296 with three homers and five stolen bases over his last 15 games. Thing is, the hot run hasn’t coincided with any notable improvements to his Hard Hit rate, strikeout rate, or Sweet Spot rate. And while the stolen bases are a welcome surprise, he’s roughly average by sprint speed and was never really projected to be much of a burner. It seems like just a hot run to me, and if you’re in need of a middle infielder, there’s little risk in picking him up and seeing how long it lasts. But I’m not seeing a return to 2019 form here.
- Gavin Sheets has looked really good this season as far as his Statcast numbers go. He’s just crossed the minimum batted ball threshold for his barrel rate to be considered “stable,” and it sits at an incredible 14% right now. It’s buoyed by a 50% Hard Hit rate, and is helping him post an amazing .380 xwOBA. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s doing all this while whiffing just 19% of the time and making a lot of contact on his swings in the zone. The question marks right now really boil down to playing time, but he has the talent to entrench himself as the everyday DH even when everyone on the White Sox roster is healthy. Definitely a player to considering adding to your Watch List or bench for now.
- I got some questions about Robbie Grossman in recent weeks, and to be honest I don’t think I’ve given him the credit he deserves, as he’s been a really solid source of homers and steals so far this year. My hesitance on ranking him has boiled down to his batting average, which I don’t think is likely to eclipse .240, and the lack of counting stats due to the team that he’s on. His season has also been pretty up-and-down: by month his wRC+ has bounced from 94 to 129 to 70 to 176. In a 12-teamer, I think he’s an option to stream during weeks when he’s hitting, but I’d also be okay dropping him once things inevitably start to tail off.
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