Sam Lutz on the PL Top 300

Sam Lutz goes to bat in defense of his outlier player ranks.

First off, I really like this title, because it sounds like I’m ranked among Pitcher List’s top 300 players for the 2023 MLB season. Sadly, I did not quite make the cut. My sinker isn’t what it used to be and I’m a liability on the base paths… and also in the batter’s box and at any defensive position. I can not stress this enough: DO NOT DRAFT ME. Seriously though, the Pitcher List top 300 overall was released on March 7th, and I have some bones to pick. Not too many, since the staff here at Pitcher List is the most expert group of experts in the fantasy baseball ranking industry, and their/our ranks should be considered as a combination of sacred gospel, cutting-edge scientific analysis, and some dice rolls. (expert dice rolls).

But, believe it or not, even trained and vetted experts can disagree about how to rank players for standard format (12 teams, 5×5, head-to-head categories) fantasy baseball. Therefore it is my duty, nay, it will be my pleasure to explain and defend a few of my player ranks that deviate from the Pitcher List staff consensus. You can view those rankings here or click any of the embedded links above. Notice that there are two rankings for all players, the staff consensus and the consensus for the experts’ experts — Nick Pollack, Scott Chu, and Rick Graham (NSR). Any average draft positions mentioned are taken from NFC draft data. For this piece, I have limited that data to drafts completed between 3/1/2023 and 3/11/2023 in order to include early Spring Training and World Baseball Classic performances as well as injuries that have befallen some of our favorite players and draft targets.

Fairly large variations here. My rank places The Italian Breakfast early in round eight, just ahead of his recent ADP. The NSR trio ranks him a full round ahead and the staff consensus relegates him all the way to the second half of round ten. I take solace in the fact that my personal ranking is closest to his ADP. The “ask the audience” lifeline was always the most effective after all.

Vinnie played about half the MLB season after his call-up last year and slashed a robust .295/.383/.450 with ten long balls but just 51 combined runs and rbi. He also finished with more walks (35) than strikeouts (34), a feat that is nearly unheard of these days. It is understandable that those low run and rbi totals would scare some managers away since first base is usually a position reserved for a stalwart HR/R/RBI guy. There is also a strong cadre of 1b at the top of the draft with the four biggest names off the board by the end of round 2. However, it’s a deep position as well. Eight first-base-eligible players smacked at least 40 homers last year, and five drove in at least 100 runs. However, only two of those ten combined players (Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt) managed batting averages higher than Pasquantino’s .295.

That combination of batting average and power is not common. I think the best player comparison for Vinnie is Texas Rangers‘ first baseman, Nathaniel Lowe. Lowe has been a strong on-base percentage and batting average player since entering the league with the Rays but was able to break out last year thanks to an improved launch angle, and logged a career-high 27 homers. He was the eighth most valuable player with 1b eligibility last season (realistically the seventh, since no sane person would play Realmuto at 1b), even though he trailed the next two first baseman, Matt Olson and Christian Walker, in home runs, runs and rbi.

The Value of Batting Average

This chart really illustrates how easy it can be to overlook batting average in favor of easily digestible counting stats. In short, I believe that Pasquantino’s strong average, elite plate discipline, and advanced approach will more than make up for any shortcomings in his run production numbers and that a season similar to Nate Lowe’s breakout 2022 is forthcoming. Never skip breakfast.

It is considerably less fun to explain why I am fading a player than why I am boosting him. I don’t dislike Polanco at all, I’m just unwilling to shell out a pick for him in the first half of the draft. He’s been drafted around the start of round 13 this month, and the staff consensus likes him about one round earlier, while Nick, Scott, and Rick come in about a round later. My rank places him more as a late-round flier than a middle-tier starting second baseman.

Polanco has shown flashes of excellence. In 2021 he turned in a stellar .269/.323./.503 line with a whopping 33 dingers, 97 runs scored and 98 runs batted in, and even 11 stolen bases. Anyone who rostered him that season ended up with a huge value. However, anyone buying in on that huge season last spring got burned as Polanco slumped to a .235/.346/.405 triple slash, while slugging a decent, but underwhelming 16 homers, driving in 56 runs and scoring 54. He would finish with just 104 games played as a knee injury sidelined him for most of September. The .751 OPS he posted in 2022 is a bit closer to his career .779 mark than the .828 he posted in his excellent 2021.

In fact, Polanco finished as the 38th best player with 2b eligibility last season. Some players I’m ranking ahead of him for this season who are currently being drafted later or ranked lower than Polanco are listed in easy-to-read table format below.

Second Basemen Targets in the Second Half of the Draft

Lowe’s best season was also in 2021, during which he slugged 39 home runs. His career OPS is about 50 points higher than Polanco’s. I think Lowe has a higher ceiling and he’s being drafted nearly a full round later. Estrada popped 14 dingers and crossed the 20 stolen base mark last season. He’s not going to be much of a plus in average, but likely won’t be a drag either. It is difficult to find that kind of balanced category juice this late in drafts, but Estrada looks like a solid value two rounds after Polanco is drafted.

McNeil and Arraez are in fact, two entirely different human beings, but are pretty much the same guy for fantasy purposes. They won’t provide much in power or speed, but as we noted during the Pasquantino discussion above, high batting averages are often underrated. If you invested in low average sluggers in earlier rounds, these are the perfect second basemen to target late.

India is a pure upside play, but he has plenty of it. He slashed .269/.376/.459 with 21 homers and 12 steals as a rookie in 2021, then managed just 100 games in 2022 due to injuries. He is a prime bounce-back candidate for the rebuilding Reds who still play in one of the league’s friendliest parks for hitters.


Andrew Heaney, Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers

The 99-spot difference between my rank and the overall staff rank for Andrew Heaney is the largest gap on any single player, and the Nick/Scott/Rick trio is even higher on him. My reasoning on Heaney is much simpler than it was with Polanco or Pasquantino. His performance last season appears to be an anomaly. Heaney had an excellent 2022 during his one-year Dodger stint, as did Tyler Anderson who has since departed for LAA. But we’ve seen this before. The Dodgers are Major League Baseball’s model franchise. They spend and do it well. They develop homegrown talent. And they have a knack for bringing out the best in veteran pitchers.

The problem is, Heaney is no longer a Dodger. He produced a career-best 3.10 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his lone year wearing Dodger Blue. That season, however, includes just 14 starts and 72.2 innings. He did net an eye-popping 110 strikeouts. Great numbers, but more in line with a high-quality reliever than a mid-rotation starter. Moreover, Heaney ranked in the bottom four percent of all pitchers in hard-hit rate, exit velocity, and barrel rate. His career ERA and WHIP are 4.56 and 1.24 respectively. I’m just not buying into Heaney reproducing his rate stats from 2021 since he left LA or in his ability to provide a full starter’s workload for 2023.

I don’t want to address Gonsolin’s injury first because it brings a tear to my eye, but alas, I must. The Right-handed hurler hurt his ankle and is unlikely to be ready for opening day. It is not currently known exactly when Gonsolin will be ready, but I don’t see the Dodgers rushing him. I’m tentatively expecting him to miss all or most of April or about five turns through the rotation. I think his injury is already baked into the NSR rankings, but mine were submitted before the anklepocalypse. If I were re-ranking Gonsolin today, I would drop him around 40-50 spots which would put him around where I rank Blake Snell, Kyle Wright, and Logan Gilbert.

I will still make my case for my original ranking. Tony Gonsolin was the seventh most valuable starting pitcher in standard leagues last season. His 2.14 ERA and .87 WHIP paced the NL for all pitchers with at least 130 innings. His record was 16-1. I don’t think he’s going to hit those lofty heights again this season. I’m not expecting to see any pitcher record a WHIP under .9 or many with an ERA under 2.25 because those both are just rare feats in general. However, I do think the “regression” crowd is overzealous here.

Gonsolin has a career 2.51 ERA and .98 WHIP. 2022 may likely be the best season he’ll ever have, (most MLB pitchers will never have such a phenomenal season or a 130-inning stretch) but it wasn’t a fluke. Also, unlike Heaney, another Dodger SP who turned in tremendous value for fantasy players last year, Gonsolin is still a Dodger and still works with Mark Prior. Even with the loss of Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger to free agency and Gavin Lux to injury, the Dodgers are still a very good team and are projected to win more than 90 games.

Gonsolin did allow harder-than-average contact, placing just above the bottom third of the league’s pitchers, but he is above average in every other metric we tend to use when evaluating pitchers. Tony has an opponent barrel percentage in the top quartile and a hard-hit rate in the top third of the league. His walk, strikeout, whiff, and chase rates all rank in the top half of the league.

Tony Gonsolin is one of those guys who is greater than the sum of his parts. He doesn’t excel with one particular overwhelming pitch, but he does so many things better than average. He likely won’t repeat as a top-ten starter this year, but the good news is you don’t have to draft him anywhere near that high since he is currently being drafted outside the top 50 starting pitchers. That’s the kind of value that can make a huge difference for your fantasy team.


Good Luck Drafting


I hope to have motivated at least some of you reading this article to reassess some of your own ranks, and maybe even change the way you evaluate some players. Overall it looks to me that batting average is being a bit overlooked this season, but I think with all the rule changes taking effect this year, there are nuances we’re all unaware of still.

I am going to leave you with one last recommendation since this may be the last you hear from me before your own fantasy draft or drafts. With what we just discussed regarding Andrew Heaney and Tony Gonsolin and even the brief mention of Tyler Anderson, Noah Syndergaard has to be a prime late-round target. He has thrown 9.1 innings and allowed just one run on four hits thus far in Spring Training with eight strikeouts and no walks. Thor is being drafted around pick 280. Is that thunder I hear?


Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Sam Lutz

A Pittsburgh native and long suffering Pirate fan, Sam turned to fantasy baseball to give him a reason to follow the sport after July.

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