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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 9)

Last week I wrote that the schedule had begun to have an outsized impact on value. At this point, it's not impacting projected value even more than recent performance. There are exceptions to that, but that's the overarching rule this week. Paul Goldschmidt's value has been buoyed by this aspect for much of the season. The first baseman has had an excellent campaign while hitting in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks, but his value has been inflated since St. Louis was shut down during its COVID outbreak back in August.

While I want this final column to be similar to the ones that proceeded it, these last eleven days are unique even within the context of a season that has been unique. In trying to adjust the column to fit the moment, this update is also less process-based than previous versions and more a reflection of the current state of baseball. For instance, the projections systems maintain optimism about seasonal underperformers like JD Martinez, but these final ranks for the season reflect some of the time limitations and schedule impact of the remaining games. Simply put, these final rankings are more focused on immediate performance than previous versions. Throughout the season, projections and peripheral stats have driven the process. I'm not about to abandon that altogether, but at this point, the median team has ten games left. That changes the situation.

As we look down the barrel of the season's final days, I want to be sure to thank the team here at Rotoballer and Nick Mariano, who has anchored the pitcher side of things. It's been a real pleasure reading his installments each week and getting to collaborate with him. Likewise, I've had a number of readers reach out with feedback about player valuation, formatting, or features for the sheet. A big thank-you to everyone. It's made this process more fun, and I think it has made the sheet much better.

 

Rest of Season Schedules: Strength vs. Volume

Rather than looking at individual players this week, here is an overview of the data that is helping to drive some of the changes in player value.

I took the time to compile opponents, the strength of opposing pitching staffs, normalized both, and then combined the data to provide the relative difference in value for the rest of the season. I believe I have accurately accounted for all the remaining seven-inning double-headers. Factoring all that in, here are the MLB teams ranked by ROS value based on opponents and remaining games. The right-hand column shows each team's strength-of-schedule multiplied by their remaining games.

Team Games Remaining Strength of Schedule ROS wROS
Marlins 12 103.4 120.8
Nationals 12 103.3 120.7
Cardinals 11 101.2 112.4
Phillies 11 100.2 111.3
Astros 10 110.3 110.9
Blue Jays 11 98.5 109.5
Yankees 10 108.2 108.7
Rockies 11 96.3 107.0
Rangers 10 105.6 106.2
Indians 10 104.5 105.0
Braves 9 109.8 104.6
Orioles 10 102.2 102.7
Mets 10 101.4 101.9
Rays 10 101.1 101.7
Pirates 11 90.9 101.0
D-backs 9 105.7 100.6
Royals 9 104.1 99.2
Athletics 9 102.7 97.8
Giants 10 97.1 97.6
Mariners 10 95.8 96.3
Dodgers 9 101.1 96.3
Red Sox 9 100.6 95.8
Brewers 9 98.2 93.5
Cubs 9 96.3 91.7
Angels 9 94.6 90.1
White Sox 10 85.6 86.1
Tigers 9 90.3 86.0
Padres 7 111.1 82.3
Twins 8 95.6 81.0
Reds 8 86.8 73.5

The table above is about the remaining schedule only, and not the quality of the individual players on those teams. Basically, a league-average player on the Marlins should be 20% more valuable than a league-average player on Diamondbacks. In case you had any doubt about Starling Marte's value down the stretch, it should be good. Likewise, if you haven't already been starting players for every single double-header, the table above should prompt you to correct that behavior.

 

Buying Bats with Bulk

The first thing that jumps out is that the top two teams have the most games remaining. Both Washington and Miami have above average schedules, and they'll get to play 12 more games against those weaker opponents. To be frank, I thought that the strength-of-schedule would have a larger impact, but the table above shows volume is king. Again, the wROS scores do reflect double-headers or the Nationals' and Marlins' schedules would be around 25% more valuable than the average team.

By contrast, the Padres' hitters have the easiest remaining schedule. They get to face the Mariners, Angels, and Giants, but the Friars are sitting at the bottom because they have only eight games remaining. The Yankees still have a strong schedule, but they have fewer games to maximize their value. Meanwhile, the Rockies will see two of MLB's worst pitching staffs when they play Arizona and San Francisco, but they'll be away for both of those games, so the benefit of the park factor is reversed.

Obviously, this all exists in a vacuum, but in the context of the final eleven days, managers need to be thinking about this when making roster moves and setting their lineups. For leagues with daily moves, managers can stream hitters against MLB's weaker pitching staffs, especially teams like the Red Sox, Tigers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks. If you can catch one of those teams on the road, it's all the better. For leagues with transaction limits or weekly lineups, it makes sense to go see which Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Phillies are available on the wire for the final week.

 

Where to Find Steals

While most of the fantasy stats aggregate around opposing team wOBA, steals are an entirely separate category. Yes, some teams have particularly noticeable weaknesses: the Diamondbacks and Red Sox give up a ton of home runs, for instance. However, bad pitching staffs generally give up runs, RBI, home runs, and hits in equally generous measures.

For managers in need of a couple of extra steals, the Angels (41), Braves (37), Nationals (36), Diamondbacks (35), and Mariners (35) have been the most susceptible to giving up bases. That makes a player like Leody Taveras, who will face the Angels and Diamondbacks, especially valuable. The same could be true for Jon Berti if he returns from the IL this weekend. The Marlins will see both the Nationals and Braves in this final stretch. If you are a believer in Jazz Chisholm, he should have the same opportunity as Berti. Andres Gimenez has been a pleasant surprise this season, but he's rostered in only 15% of leagues, and the Mets also face the Braves and the Nationals for a combined seven games. Any one of those four players could add two or three steals for a team.

The sprint season has left us with a final run that is closer to something like fantasy football than fantasy baseball. Middle-of-the-pack teams can dramatically change their position with these final games. Hopefully, this schedule breakdown gives you some opportunities to do that.

Here are the Baller Ranks Top-200 hitters and the Meta Report for Week 9/10:

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 45.0 Juan Soto OF 1 ▲
2 41.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 2 ▲
3 41.0 Mike Trout OF -2 ▼
4 39.0 Trea Turner SS 5 ▲
5 39.0 Bryce Harper OF 1 ▲
6 38.0 Mookie Betts OF -1 ▼
7 38.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 0 ▬
8 37.0 Christian Yelich OF -5 ▼
9 35.0 Trevor Story SS -1 ▼
10 33.0 Freddie Freeman 1B 2 ▲
11 33.0 Francisco Lindor SS 0 ▬
12 31.0 Jose Ramirez 3B 1 ▲
13 30.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 9 ▲
14 29.0 Marcell Ozuna DH 4 ▲
15 29.0 Cody Bellinger OF -5 ▼
16 28.0 Nelson Cruz DH 0 ▬
17 27.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -2 ▼
18 26.0 Manny Machado 3B -1 ▼
19 25.0 J.T. Realmuto C -5 ▼
20 25.0 Eloy Jimenez OF 1 ▲
21 25.0 Rafael Devers 3B -2 ▼
22 24.0 Tim Anderson SS 6 ▲
23 24.0 Starling Marte OF 1 ▲
24 23.0 Corey Seager SS 2 ▲
25 23.0 Luis Robert OF -5 ▼
26 22.0 DJ LeMahieu 2B 11 ▲
27 21.0 Xander Bogaerts SS -4 ▼
28 21.0 Keston Hiura 2B 1 ▲
29 21.0 Nick Castellanos OF -4 ▼
30 20.0 Jose Abreu 1B 2 ▲
31 20.0 Ozzie Albies 2B 0 ▬
32 19.5 Whit Merrifield OF 1 ▲
33 19.0 Anthony Rendon 3B 10 ▲
34 19.0 Pete Alonso 1B -7 ▼
35 18.5 Kyle Tucker OF 5 ▲
36 18.0 Charlie Blackmon OF 0 ▬
37 18.0 George Springer OF -2 ▼
38 17.5 Anthony Rizzo 1B 0 ▬
39 17.5 Carlos Correa SS 5 ▲
40 17.0 Luke Voit 1B 15 ▲
41 17.0 Eugenio Suarez 3B 4 ▲
42 17.0 Marcus Semien SS -1 ▼
43 17.0 Gleyber Torres SS 11 ▲
44 16.5 Didi Gregorius SS 5 ▲
45 16.0 Eddie Rosario OF -3 ▼
46 16.0 Josh Donaldson 3B 11 ▲
47 15.5 Michael Conforto OF 5 ▲
48 15.5 Aaron Judge OF/DH 64 ▲
49 15.0 Joey Gallo OF -1 ▼
50 15.0 Alex Bregman 3B -20 ▼
51 15.0 Ramon Laureano OF -5 ▼
52 14.5 Franmil Reyes DH 1 ▲
53 14.5 Gio Urshela 3B 66 ▲
54 14.5 Yuli Gurriel 1B -3 ▼
55 14.5 Kyle Schwarber OF -5 ▼
56 14.0 Andrew McCutchen OF 6 ▲
57 14.0 Miguel Sano 1B 3 ▲
58 14.0 Giancarlo Stanton DH 98 ▲
59 13.5 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B/DH -1 ▼
60 13.5 J.D. Martinez DH -13 ▼
61 13.0 Matt Olson 1B 0 ▬
62 13.0 Yasmani Grandal C 1 ▲
63 12.5 Wil Myers OF 11 ▲
64 12.5 Brandon Lowe 2B 1 ▲
65 12.0 Mike Yastrzemski OF 13 ▲
66 12.0 Max Muncy 1B 1 ▲
67 12.0 Bo Bichette SS/DH 21 ▲
68 12.0 Yoan Moncada 3B -2 ▼
69 11.5 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF 14 ▲
70 11.0 Adalberto Mondesi SS 35 ▲
71 11.0 Willson Contreras C -2 ▼
72 11.0 Jonathan Villar SS -13 ▼
73 11.0 Javier Baez SS -34 ▼
74 10.5 Alex Verdugo OF -3 ▼
75 10.0 Jonathan Schoop 2B -7 ▼
76 10.0 Michael Brantley DH -1 ▼
77 10.0 Ryan Mountcastle OF 22 ▲
78 9.5 Randal Grichuk OF 13 ▲
79 9.5 Cavan Biggio 2B 6 ▲
80 9.5 Brian Anderson 3B 15 ▲
81 9.5 Josh Bell 1B 19 ▲
82 9.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF 75 ▲
83 9.0 Trent Grisham OF -1 ▼
84 9.0 Renato Nunez 1B -5 ▼
85 9.0 Jorge Polanco SS -5 ▼
86 8.5 Dansby Swanson SS -5 ▼
87 8.5 Dominic Smith 1B/OF/DH 3 ▲
88 8.5 Ian Happ OF -4 ▼
89 8.5 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF/DH 26 ▲
90 8.5 Alec Bohm 3B 20 ▲
91 8.0 Dylan Moore OF 25 ▲
92 8.0 Will Smith C -3 ▼
93 8.0 Corey Dickerson OF 8 ▲
94 8.0 Austin Meadows OF -24 ▼
95 7.5 Kyle Lewis OF 1 ▲
96 7.5 Kyle Seager 3B 1 ▲
97 7.5 Austin Nola C 1 ▲
98 7.5 Kolten Wong 2B 11 ▲
99 7.5 Carlos Santana 1B -7 ▼
100 7.0 Yadier Molina C -6 ▼
101 7.0 Mike Moustakas 2B -28 ▼
102 6.5 Jesse Winker DH -16 ▼
103 6.5 Adam Eaton OF 4 ▲
104 6.0 Jake Cronenworth 2B -2 ▼
105 6.0 Hunter Dozier OF 31 ▲
106 6.0 Byron Buxton OF 5 ▲
107 5.5 Maikel Franco 3B 17 ▲
108 5.5 Travis d'Arnaud C 10 ▲
109 5.5 Paul DeJong SS 11 ▲
110 5.5 Edwin Encarnacion DH 13 ▲
111 5.0 A.J. Pollock OF 10 ▲
112 5.0 Mitch Moreland 1B -4 ▼
113 5.0 Pedro Severino C -10 ▼
114 5.0 Willy Adames SS -1 ▼
115 5.0 Aaron Hicks OF 13 ▲
116 5.0 Kris Bryant 3B -40 ▼
117 5.0 Eduardo Escobar 3B -40 ▼
118 4.5 Christian Walker 1B -1 ▼
119 4.5 Donovan Solano 2B 18 ▲
120 4.5 J.D. Davis 3B -16 ▼
121 4.5 Salvador Perez C 50 ▲
122 4.5 Victor Robles OF -16 ▼
123 4.5 Justin Upton OF 13 ▲
124 4.0 Kevin Pillar OF 7 ▲
125 4.0 Mark Canha OF -11 ▼
126 4.0 Jean Segura 2B -8 ▼
127 4.0 Nick Solak OF -2 ▼
128 4.0 Avisail Garcia OF -6 ▼
129 4.0 Gary Sanchez C -36 ▼
130 3.5 Jesus Aguilar 1B 32 ▲
131 3.5 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B 3 ▲
132 3.5 Alex Dickerson OF 10 ▲
133 3.5 Colin Moran 1B/3B/DH -7 ▼
134 3.0 Adam Duvall OF 26 ▲
135 3.0 Brad Miller DH 8 ▲
136 3.0 David Fletcher SS 67 ▲
137 3.0 Tommy Edman 3B 58 ▲
138 3.0 Tyler O'Neill OF 62 ▲
139 3.0 Sean Murphy C 55 ▲
140 3.0 Joc Pederson OF -10 ▼
141 2.5 Joey Votto 1B 6 ▲
142 2.5 Justin Turner 3B 3 ▲
143 2.5 Andres Gimenez 2B/3B/SS 16 ▲
144 2.5 Jose Altuve 2B 11 ▲
145 2.5 Wilson Ramos C -4 ▼
146 2.5 Max Kepler OF -7 ▼
147 2.5 Jo Adell OF -18 ▼
148 2.0 Hunter Renfroe OF 0 ▬
149 1.0 Bobby Dalbec 1B/3B/DH 51 ▲
150 2.0 J.P. Crawford SS -12 ▼
151 2.0 Christian Vazquez C 49 ▲
152 2.0 Leody Taveras OF 48 ▲
153 2.0 Hunter Renfroe OF -5 ▼
154 2.0 Gavin Lux 2B/DH 25 ▲
155 2.0 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH -6 ▼
156 1.5 Chris Taylor OF 34 ▲
157 1.5 Evan Longoria 3B -24 ▼
158 1.5 Clint Frazier OF 10 ▲
159 1.5 Miguel Cabrera DH 5 ▲
160 1.5 Nick Ahmed SS 40 ▲
161 1.5 Austin Riley 3B -10 ▼
162 1.5 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B -9 ▼
163 1.5 Joey Bart C -9 ▼
164 1.0 Eric Hosmer 1B -14 ▼
165 1.0 Brandon Belt 1B -4 ▼
166 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF -3 ▼
167 1.0 David Peralta OF -2 ▼
168 1.0 Shohei Ohtani DH -81 ▼
169 1.0 Ryan Braun 1B/OF/DH 39 ▲
170 1.0 Matt Carpenter 3B 30 ▲
171 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS 9 ▲
172 1.0 Austin Slater OF/DH -5 ▼
173 1.0 Chance Cisco C 3 ▲
174 1.0 Tommy Pham OF/DH 0 ▬
175 1.0 Amed Rosario SS 7 ▲
176 1.0 Nick Senzel OF 5 ▲
177 1.0 Jared Walsh 1B/DH 23 ▲
178 1.0 Austin Romine C 0 ▬
179 1.0 Rougned Odor 2B 21 ▲
180 1.0 Jason Heyward OF 20 ▲
181 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF 19 ▲
182 1.0 Jed Gyorko 1B/3B 18 ▲
183 0.8 Max Stassi C 0 ▬
184 1.0 Josh Rojas 2B/SS/OF/DH 16 ▲
185 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF 15 ▲
186 1.0 Jon Berti 2B/3B/SS/OF -20 ▼
187 1.0 Jorge Soler DH -115 ▼
188 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B 12 ▲
189 1.0 Miguel Andujar 3B/OF/DH 11 ▲
190 1.0 Robbie Grossman OF 10 ▲
191 1.0 Anthony Santander OF 9 ▲
192 1.0 James McCann C 8 ▲
193 1.0 Daulton Varsho C/OF/DH 0 ▬
194 1.0 Andrelton Simmons SS 2 ▲
195 1.0 Ryan McMahon 2B -25 ▼
196 1.0 Miguel Rojas SS 4 ▲
197 1.0 Kole Calhoun OF 3 ▲
198 1.0 #N/A #N/A 2 ▲
199 1.0 Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 3B/OF/DH 2 ▲
200 1.0 Willie Calhoun OF/DH 1 ▲



Categories
2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice 2020 Fantasy Baseball Projections & ADP Analysis Editor Note Featured Baseball Featured Homepage MLB Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 8)

Welcome to the homestretch. The past week seems to have reversed some of the trends and shifts that we were seeing earlier in the season. Edwin Encarnacion appears resurgent. Brandon Lowe looks like he is scuffling. And Tommy Pham might be coming back. The first two are more complex than they seem, but if Pham returns, it would be one of the most enigmatic parts of an already unpredictable season.

If it happens, the early return could not be more on-brand for Tommy Pham. I don't know of any other player with a more pronounced reputation as a driven athlete who so consistently exceeds expectations. I've thrown him into the ranks, but only at a $1 until we know more. If you have bench space, you could stash him, but keep in mind that we're talking about 11 or 12 games at the maximum. If the news solidifies, consider him a $10 player from now until the rest of the season.

Please remember that the schedule is now having an outsized impact on projected player values. The discrepancy is altering player ranks and causing some disconcerting changes in projected values. If you see a player who has had a bad stretch but an increase in projected value, it's probably tied to their number of remaining games relative to the rest of the league. With that out of the way,  here are the Baller Ranks Top-200 hitters and the Week 8 Meta Report. If you're unfamiliar with the Meta Report, here's a quick guide on what it is and how to read it. And if you missed Nick Mariano's pitcher rankings yesterday, here are his top 101 relievers and his top 101 starters.

Week 8 Hitter Rankings

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 45.0 Mike Trout OF 0 ▬
2 45.0 Juan Soto OF 0 ▬
3 39.0 Christian Yelich OF 1 ▲
4 38.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 2 ▲
5 38.0 Mookie Betts OF 0 ▬
6 38.0 Bryce Harper OF -3 ▼
7 38.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 8 ▲
8 35.0 Trevor Story SS -1 ▼
9 34.0 Trea Turner SS 1 ▲
10 34.0 Cody Bellinger OF -2 ▼
11 33.0 Francisco Lindor SS 1 ▲
12 32.0 Freddie Freeman 1B 2 ▲
13 31.0 Jose Ramirez 3B -2 ▼
14 30.0 J.T. Realmuto C -1 ▼
15 30.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -6 ▼
16 29.0 Nelson Cruz DH 0 ▬
17 26.0 Manny Machado 3B 1 ▲
18 26.0 Marcell Ozuna DH 1 ▲
19 25.0 Rafael Devers 3B -2 ▼
20 24.0 Luis Robert OF 3 ▲
21 24.0 Eloy Jimenez OF 1 ▲
22 24.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B -2 ▼
23 23.0 Xander Bogaerts SS -2 ▼
24 23.0 Starling Marte OF 0 ▬
25 22.0 Nick Castellanos OF 0 ▬
26 21.0 Corey Seager SS 11 ▲
27 21.0 Pete Alonso 1B -1 ▼
28 20.0 Tim Anderson SS 7 ▲
29 20.0 Keston Hiura 2B 1 ▲
30 20.0 Alex Bregman 3B 42 ▲
31 19.5 Ozzie Albies 2B 27 ▲
32 19.0 Jose Abreu 1B 10 ▲
33 18.5 Whit Merrifield OF -2 ▼
34 18.5 Matt Chapman 3B -5 ▼
35 18.5 George Springer OF -1 ▼
36 18.0 Charlie Blackmon OF -4 ▼
37 18.0 DJ LeMahieu 2B -1 ▼
38 18.0 Anthony Rizzo 1B 1 ▲
39 18.0 Javier Baez SS -12 ▼
40 17.5 Kyle Tucker OF 26 ▲
41 17.5 Marcus Semien SS 5 ▲
42 17.0 Eddie Rosario OF -4 ▼
43 17.0 Anthony Rendon 3B -10 ▼
44 17.0 Carlos Correa SS -4 ▼
45 16.5 Eugenio Suarez 3B 12 ▲
46 16.5 Ramon Laureano OF 3 ▲
47 16.5 J.D. Martinez DH -19 ▼
48 16.0 Joey Gallo OF -7 ▼
49 15.5 Didi Gregorius SS 5 ▲
50 15.5 Kyle Schwarber OF -6 ▼
51 15.5 Yuli Gurriel 1B -6 ▼
52 15.0 Michael Conforto OF -2 ▼
53 15.0 Franmil Reyes DH 8 ▲
54 15.0 Gleyber Torres SS 32 ▲
55 14.5 Luke Voit 1B 5 ▲
56 14.0 Rhys Hoskins 1B 11 ▲
57 14.0 Josh Donaldson 3B 28 ▲
58 13.5 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B -10 ▼
59 13.5 Jonathan Villar SS -7 ▼
60 13.0 Miguel Sano 1B 8 ▲
61 13.0 Matt Olson 1B -5 ▼
62 13.0 Andrew McCutchen OF 8 ▲
63 13.0 Yasmani Grandal C 2 ▲
64 13.0 Ketel Marte 2B -21 ▼
65 12.0 Brandon Lowe 2B -2 ▼
66 12.0 Yoan Moncada 3B -13 ▼
67 11.5 Max Muncy 1B 4 ▲
68 11.0 Jonathan Schoop 2B 13 ▲
69 11.0 Willson Contreras C 0 ▬
70 11.0 Austin Meadows OF -11 ▼
71 10.5 Alex Verdugo OF 11 ▲
72 10.5 Jorge Soler DH -17 ▼
73 10.5 Mike Moustakas 2B 1 ▲
74 10.0 Wil Myers OF 2 ▲
75 10.0 Michael Brantley OF/DH 9 ▲
76 10.0 Kris Bryant 3B/OF/DH 3 ▲
77 10.0 Eduardo Escobar 3B 3 ▲
78 9.0 Mike Yastrzemski OF 18 ▲
79 9.0 Renato Nunez 1B 12 ▲
80 9.0 Jorge Polanco SS 18 ▲
81 8.5 Dansby Swanson SS 6 ▲
82 8.5 Trent Grisham OF 1 ▲
83 8.5 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF 24 ▲
84 8.0 Ian Happ OF 31 ▲
85 8.0 Cavan Biggio 2B 16 ▲
86 8.0 Jesse Winker OF 4 ▲
87 8.0 Shohei Ohtani DH -10 ▼
88 8.0 Bo Bichette SS 4 ▲
89 8.0 Will Smith C 20 ▲
90 7.5 Dominic Smith 1B/OF/DH 16 ▲
91 7.5 Randal Grichuk OF 14 ▲
92 7.5 Carlos Santana 1B 10 ▲
93 7.5 Gary Sanchez C -46 ▼
94 7.0 Yadier Molina C 9 ▲
95 7.0 Brian Anderson 3B 4 ▲
96 6.5 Kyle Lewis OF 4 ▲
97 6.5 Kyle Seager 3B 22 ▲
98 6.5 Austin Nola C 19 ▲
99 6.5 Ryan Mountcastle OF/DH 39 ▲
100 6.5 Josh Bell 1B -6 ▼
101 6.5 Corey Dickerson OF 27 ▲
102 6.0 Jake Cronenworth 2B 8 ▲
103 6.0 Pedro Severino C 9 ▲
104 6.0 J.D. Davis 3B 4 ▲
105 6.0 Adalberto Mondesi SS 9 ▲
106 6.0 Victor Robles OF -13 ▼
107 6.0 Adam Eaton OF -18 ▼
108 5.5 Mitch Moreland 1B 3 ▲
109 5.5 Kolten Wong 2B 9 ▲
110 5.5 Alec Bohm 3B 3 ▲
111 5.5 Byron Buxton OF -7 ▼
112 5.0 Aaron Judge OF/DH 9 ▲
113 5.0 Willy Adames SS 7 ▲
114 5.0 Mark Canha OF 2 ▲
115 5.0 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF/DH 15 ▲
116 4.5 Dylan Moore 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF 29 ▲
117 4.5 Christian Walker 1B 5 ▲
118 4.5 Travis d'Arnaud C 5 ▲
119 4.5 Gio Urshela 3B -55 ▼
120 4.5 Paul DeJong SS 5 ▲
121 4.0 A.J. Pollock OF 8 ▲
122 4.0 Avisail Garcia OF 2 ▲
123 4.0 Edwin Encarnacion DH 47 ▲
124 3.5 Maikel Franco 3B 10 ▲
125 3.5 Nick Solak OF 6 ▲
126 3.5 Colin Moran 1B/3B/DH -8 ▼
127 3.5 Christian Vazquez C 0 ▬
128 3.5 Aaron Hicks OF 25 ▲
129 3.5 Jo Adell OF 15 ▲
130 3.5 Joc Pederson OF 2 ▲
131 3.0 Kevin Pillar OF 9 ▲
132 3.0 David Fletcher SS 1 ▲
133 3.0 Evan Longoria 3B 18 ▲
134 3.0 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B 1 ▲
135 3.0 Jean Segura 2B/3B/SS 33 ▲
136 3.0 Justin Upton OF 67 ▲
137 2.5 Donovan Solano 2B 49 ▲
138 2.5 J.P. Crawford SS 1 ▲
139 2.5 Max Kepler OF -88 ▼
140 2.5 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH -4 ▼
141 2.5 Wilson Ramos C 2 ▲
142 2.0 Alex Dickerson OF 18 ▲
143 2.0 Brad Miller 3B/SS/DH 16 ▲
144 2.0 Tommy La Stella 2B 23 ▲
145 2.0 Justin Turner 3B 1 ▲
146 2.0 Tommy Edman 2B/3B/SS/OF 9 ▲
147 2.0 Joey Votto 1B -10 ▼
148 2.0 Hunter Renfroe OF 2 ▲
149 2.0 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH -23 ▼
150 1.5 Eric Hosmer 1B -53 ▼
151 1.5 Austin Riley 3B 37 ▲
152 1.5 Nick Ahmed SS 10 ▲
153 1.5 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B/DH -11 ▼
154 1.5 Joey Bart C/DH 3 ▲
155 1.5 Jose Altuve 2B -93 ▼
156 1.5 Giancarlo Stanton DH -83 ▼
157 1.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF -82 ▼
158 1.0 Anthony Santander OF -63 ▼
159 1.0 Rowdy Tellez 1B/DH -12 ▼
160 1.0 Adam Duvall OF 40 ▲
161 1.0 Brandon Belt 1B 0 ▬
162 1.0 Jesus Aguilar 1B/3B/DH 4 ▲
163 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF 1 ▲
164 1.0 Miguel Cabrera DH 25 ▲
165 1.0 David Peralta OF -87 ▼
166 1.0 Jon Berti 2B/3B/SS/OF -7 ▼
167 1.0 Austin Slater OF/DH -4 ▼
168 1.0 Clint Frazier OF/DH 12 ▲
169 1.0 Ryan Braun 1B/OF/DH -13 ▼
170 1.0 Ryan McMahon 2B -29 ▼
171 1.0 Salvador Perez C/1B/DH -2 ▼
172 1.0 Luis Urias 2B/3B/SS -23 ▼
173 1.0 Daniel Murphy 1B -19 ▼
174 1.0 Tommy Pham OF 26 ▲
175 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B 25 ▲
176 1.0 Chance Sisco C/DH -3 ▼
177 1.0 Victor Caratini C/1B/DH -1 ▼
178 1.0 Austin Romine C -6 ▼
179 1.0 Gavin Lux 2B -21 ▼
180 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS -15 ▼
181 1.0 Nick Senzel OF -2 ▼
182 1.0 Amed Rosario SS -34 ▼
183 1.0 Max Stassi C -1 ▼
184 1.0 Elvis Andrus SS -13 ▼
185 0.5 Miguel Andujar 3B/OF/DH 15 ▲
186 1.0 Sam Haggerty 3B/OF/DH -1 ▼
187 1.0 Anthony Santander OF -92 ▼
188 0.8 Rio Ruiz 3B -36 ▼
189 0.8 Garrett Hampson OF -2 ▼
190 0.8 Chris Taylor 2B/SS/OF/DH 10 ▲
191 0.8 Andres Gimenez 2B/3B/SS 9 ▲
192 0.8 James McCann C 8 ▲
193 0.8 Daulton Varsho C/OF/DH -3 ▼
194 0.8 Sean Murphy C -2 ▼
195 0.8 Bryan Reynolds OF -21 ▼
196 0.8 Andrelton Simmons SS -5 ▼
197 0.8 Carter Kieboom 3B/DH 3 ▲
198 0.8 Omar Narvaez C -3 ▼
199 0.8 Danny Jansen C -6 ▼
200 0.8 Brett Gardner OF -25 ▼

Key Rankings Movers

Rhys Hoskins (1B, Phillies)

There were some brutal stretches for Hoskins earlier in the season and some hard talk from fantasy managers about whether he was overdrafted based on erratic success.

Through his first 19 games, Hoskins hit .214 with 1 HR, 13 runs, 6 RBI, and a .760 OPS. For those 19 games, Hoskins ranked 421st in value. Since then, the Phillies have played another 19 games, and Hoskins has hit .289 with 8 HR, 18 R, 16 RBI, and a 1.071 OPS. During that stretch, he has been the 11th most valuable player in fantasy baseball.

Which one is the true Rhys Hoskins? Yes.

Here's where it gets worse. Hoskins' numbers looked fundamentally similar to last season. His Hard-Hit rate was down, as was his max exit velocity, but most of the batted ball data made him look like the same player.

We should have been able to see the truth in Hoskins' xwOBA. During those first 19 games, Hoskins' xwOBA was .406. In the second set, it has been .409, so why has Hoskins' performance been so erratic? Some of it is the small and over-weighted nature of this season's sampling. Some of it is also because of Hoskins' approach at the plate. While the Phillies' first baseman has always been a patient hitter, he owns a 23.4° launch angle. Hoskins' swing plane is steep enough that it leaves him subject to truly horrific luck with pop-ups and ground outs. During that initial stretch of futility, Hoskins owned a 40.5% fly-ball rate, which should be a positive, but it was compounded by a 23.5% infield-flyball rate and a 30.9% ground ball rate. Simply put, while Hoskins' aggressive launch angle allows him to generate ample home runs, it also leaves him subject to the type of batted-ball luck that prompts fantasy managers wondering if he's even ownable.

With Hoskins, managers are left with a player who has earned his spot and who looks like a good bet to finish the season as a top-10 first baseman. However, as those two stretches show us, the floor and ceiling are about as far apart as they can possibly be.

 

Kyle Tucker (OF, Astros)

The young Astros outfielder has done something that has thwarted so many rookies before him: he has played his way through the Dusty-Baker-Wall-of-Veteran-Experience.

Despite concerns about playing time, Tucker has been showcasing the type of 20-20 skills that have made him a blue-chip prospect. With his recent surge, Tucker has provided 8 home runs, 30 runs, 37 RBI, and 5 stolen bases with a .272 average. In fact, if we combine Tucker's 2019 and 2020 numbers, he is on a 162-game pace for 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases.

What's more, the underlying stats support Tucker's performance so far. His barrel rate (11.8%), exit velocity (91 MPH), hard-hit rate (45.4%), and xSLG (.540) are all in the top 25% of the league.

Tucker's hit tool and power are complemented by his five steals and effective speed. Add Tucker's 2019 audition to this year, and he has 10 steals in 64 games without having been caught once. That efficiency will ensure that the Astros keep letting him run.

The combination pushes his value up to the top-40 hitters, and we're getting to see his ceiling right now. Certainly, the talent is there to become a top-10 offensive threat, and Tucker's track record gives us a real reason to believe.

 

Brandon Lowe (2B, Rays)

Lowe offers us an example of the anti-Hoskins. Lowe's prospect pedigree and hot start made him a darling for managers, and he looked like the type of breakout player that helps win leagues. Over the last two weeks, however, he's struggled to produce. The dry stretch and Lowe's relative age have been forcing managers to re-evaluate his first-month success.

Fortunately, while the projections and production have faded a bit, there is good reason to be optimistic that he'll continue to be a top-ten second baseman from here forward. Even during this slump, Lowe has continued to barrel the ball at a 12.9% rate. His launch angle is still a healthy 15.1°, and on Monday night, he smacked a ball at 109.6 MPH, his highest exit velocity this season.

Lowe may need to make critical adjustments to rebound, but the situation doesn't look dire. His strikeout rate is up to 32.1% over his last 50 at-bats, but his chase rate, swinging-strike rate, and contact rates are relatively stable.

Over 165 MLB games, Brandon Lowe has given us a 126 wRC+, and there's nothing in the recent sample to make us doubt that level of performance.

 

Dylan Moore (OF, Mariners)

In his five games since returning from the IL, Moore has hit one home run and two doubles, scored four times, driven in four runs, and stolen three bases.

It's hard to believe in a breakout like this from a 28-year-old who was relatively unheralded as a prospect, but Moore has shown useful power and become the type of cheap speedster that many fantasy owners bank on. Moore's six home runs and nine steals have allowed him to score 20 times despite missing that two-week stretch.

In games, Moore shows the type of tools that made him an above-average offensive player at nearly every stop in the minors. In 2016, he averaged a 134 wRC+ in A ball. In 2017, he struggled at AA, but in 2018, he posted a 131 at AA and AAA. Looking at his numbers more carefully, it seems the only reason to dismiss Moore's MiLB track record was his age and lack of pedigree. While player age does have a clear relationship to overall outcomes, Moore seems a good bet to continue outperforming his current projections.

Moreover, Moore looks like a different, better player than he did last year. We have improvements in his max exit velocity (a key indicator in adjusting our projections for small samples), his barrel rate (up from 6.5% to 13.6%), and his hard-hit rate (36.1% to 43.9%).

Moore is right on the verge of getting caught stealing a bit too much (9 for 12), but the Mariners seem content to let him run for now. The $4.5 value is under Kolten Wong, Jeff McNeil, and Jake Cronenworth, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Moore outproduce all of them.

 

Speed Round

Justin Upton (OF, Angels) The reports of Justin Upton's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I'm guilty of having dropped Upton outside my top-150. Without full playing time, it was impossible to project him for meaningful value the rest of the way. He hasn't returned to everyday player status, but Joe Maddon is getting him onto the field often enough that he should be useful for players in need of outfield help.

Edwin Encarnacion (DH, White Sox) A part of me wants to write that Encarnacion does this to us every year, but there are still real signs of trouble for EE. While he's continued to slug homers, he's struggled to do much else. I know, I know, Joey Gallo, but Encarnacion is in a different territory. Even with his elite 16.9% barrel rate, Encarnacion's xBA is only .179. Compare that number to his .248 from 2019 or .246 from 2018. Moreover, his hard-hit rate has fallen to 29.6%. Those numbers haven't gotten dramatically better over his recent power surge. Like Upton, Encarnacion should offer some value, but based on his current batted-ball data, it's a limited ceiling with absolutely no floor.

Gary Sanchez (C, Yankees) Sanchez's strikeout rate has spiked so much that I had to go and check that the data was right. It's uncommon to see this level of collapse from a batter, even one like Sanchez, whose plate approach can be problematic. In this case, we're talking about a hitter with a batting average at .125 and a 41.5% strikeout rate. Granted, Sanchez's BABIP is also .125, his barrel rate is 18.2%, and his hard-hit rate is 49.1%. The whole Yankees' organization is in some type of funk right now, and you have to figure they will come out of it, but this is…not good. The projections put Sanchez as closer to a $9-10 value, but that seems optimistic based on the indicators from our most stable data so far this season.

 




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Willy Adames (SS, TB) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 8

BALLER MOVE: Add in All Leagues

OWNED IN: 32% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: Before being called up in 2018, Willy Adames was regarded as a high-floor, five-tool prospect who profiled as a perennial All-Star. Despite hitting 20 HR last year, Adames came into this season well outside the top-15 fantasy shortstops. Recently, however, he’s been making a strong argument for a place alongside guys like Jorge Polanco and Dansby Swanson. Adames’ 22 runs, five HR, 15 RBI, and .311 average have pushed him up to the 12th most valuable shortstop in standard formats.

In the last week, Adames has popped two more homers and three doubles as he’s driven his batting average up to .311 for the season. He is playing nearly every day in a Rays’ lineup that has been the fifth-best in the league. The combination ensures respectable counting stats to complement Adames's power and average.

To be fair, there’s been some significant luck as evidence in Adames’ .458 BABIP, but there’s also been real growth in his launch angle, which has increased from 10.7° to 14.2° this season, and his hard-hit rate has improved from 29.6% in 2018 to 35.3% in 2019 to 44.2% this year. That’s the kind of year-over-year improvement that managers want to see in a 24-year-old. Adames’ average will certainly regress to something closer to .260 or .270, but even with that regression, he should provide valuable counting stats to managers who need help at shortstop.


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Ryan Mountcastle (1B/OF, BAL) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 8

BALLER MOVE: Add in 12+ Team Leagues

OWNED IN: 30% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: Mountcastle is one of the more recent prospects to be called up and he’s already smacked three homers in his first 13 games. What’s more, he has stacked up five multi-hit games during that time. Mountcastle’s .244 ISO is higher than his work in the minors, but his power has always been considered his best offensive trait, so his success so far isn’t a surprise.

Mountcastle assembled a 117 wRC+ at AAA last year when he slugged 25 HR in 127 games with a .312 average. He doesn’t project as a high-average player, but his power is real and he’s hitting .347 so far. While it’s a small sample, Mountcastle’s 11.4% barrel rate lends credence to the pop he’s shown, though his 4.3 launch angle and his exit velocity of 82.8 MPH give some cause for concern. However, the latter two numbers are farther from stabilizing than his barrel rate, and Mountcastle doesn’t need to maintain his current .432 wOBA in order to be valuable.

Mountcastle is probably a better fantasy asset than a real-life player, which is part of why there wasn’t more hype on him coming into the season. His defensive limitations mean that if he doesn’t hit, he won’t play, but so far, he’s hit. The right-handed outfielder should be eligible at one other position in most leagues, though it will depend on the platform whether it is shortstop, third base, or first base. That dual eligibility will help owners squeeze the most value out of him. If he simply hits his Steamer projection of a .194 ISO with a .270 average, he’s a useful piece in most formats.


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Alec Bohm (3B, PHI) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 8

BALLER MOVE: Add in All Leagues

OWNED IN: 20% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: The Phillies organization and fantasy managers have to be ecstatic about Bohm’s work so far this season. He’s flashed his above-average power and hit tool throughout his 19-game stint thus far. While the small-sample numbers aren’t overwhelming, Bohm has been viable as an everyday third baseman in 12-team leagues.

Bohm has enjoyed a barrel rate of 14.3%, good enough for 34th among qualified leaders. That puts him ahead of notables like Manny Machado, Trent Grisham, and Eugenio Suarez. Likewise, Bohm’s .299 average looks awfully similar to his .305 xBA, but his .463 actual slugging is well under his .546 xSLG. That difference combined with the barrel rate suggests that there’s more power on the way.

While Bohm’s performance has been good so far, managers can expect Bohm’s production should improve beyond his current .155 ISO. Moreover, Bohm’s plate discipline metrics show the type of approach that provides stable production and a constant place in the lineup. His 27.1% O-Swing rate and his 83.8% Z-Contact reflect the patient, collected approach that will keep him on the field and generating runs and RBI.

The Phillies also have four more games than the average MLB team, which means that Bohm has the opportunity to pad his counting stats beyond that of most players. He’s played in 20 of the Phillies’ 22 games since he was called up, so the playing time is there for him. Bohm should be a top-10 third baseman the rest of the way, and even the conservative projection systems are showing him as a top-100 to top-125 hitter for the rest of the season.


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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 7)

The past week brought us one of the coolest trade deadlines in recent memory. It's always a good time when the GM of an MLB franchise starts making trades like a fantasy manager. The changes for Austin Nola, Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Villar, Starling Marte, and Jon Berti are meaningful, but not with clear fantasy implications. At least not yet...

Nick Mariano did capture ranking changes for both starting pitchers and relievers with his top-101 articles. If you missed those, be sure to check them out. If you need help with saves, his reliever article has a quick, useful update on bullpens around the league.

The hitter ranks saw plenty of action and some fascinating developments, but most of those have been performance-related. For instance, Fernando Tatis Jr's collective projections outstretched Story's collective projections for the first time, and you can see that reflected in these rankings. Trea Turner's best base-stealing days may be behind him, but he's been more valuable than ever. And Juan Soto's projections are starting to exceed some of Mike Trout's, even on a per-game basis.

In more frustrating news, the top end of 2B is a mess. Keston Hiura sits at the top of the heap, and he's featured in the write-up below. Whit Merrifield is close behind, and it's entirely possible that the only managers happy with the value of their second basemen are those who drafted Merrifield and Lowe. This type of chaos has been pretty standard for this season, but some of the issues are starting to crystallize.

Likewise, it's worth remembering that many teams have far more games left, as I reported last week. That discrepancy is impacting player value and causing some disconcerting changes in projected values. If you see a player who has had a bad stretch but an increase in projected value, it's probably tied to their number of remaining games. Here are the Meta Report for week 7 and the Baller Ranks Top-200 hitters. If you're unfamiliar with the Meta Report, here's a quick guide on what it is and how to read it.

 

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 45.0 Mike Trout OF 0 ▬
2 45.0 Juan Soto OF 0 ▬
3 39.0 Bryce Harper OF 3 ▲
4 39.0 Christian Yelich OF -1 ▼
5 38.0 Mookie Betts OF 0 ▬
6 35.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 4 ▲
7 34.0 Trevor Story SS 1 ▲
8 34.0 Cody Bellinger OF 1 ▲
9 34.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -2 ▼
10 33.0 Trea Turner SS 3 ▲
11 31.0 Jose Ramirez 3B 1 ▲
12 31.0 Francisco Lindor SS -1 ▼
13 30.0 J.T. Realmuto C 3 ▲
14 30.0 Freddie Freeman 1B 0 ▬
15 30.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF -11 ▼
16 27.0 Nelson Cruz DH -1 ▼
17 25.0 Rafael Devers 3B 1 ▲
18 24.0 Manny Machado 3B 2 ▲
19 24.0 Marcell Ozuna DH 4 ▲
20 24.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B -1 ▼
21 23.0 Xander Bogaerts SS 3 ▲
22 23.0 Eloy Jimenez OF -1 ▼
23 22.0 Luis Robert OF 4 ▲
24 22.0 Starling Marte OF 6 ▲
25 21.0 Nick Castellanos OF 3 ▲
26 21.0 Pete Alonso 1B 0 ▬
27 21.0 Javier Baez SS -5 ▼
28 21.0 J.D. Martinez DH -11 ▼
29 19.5 Matt Chapman 3B 9 ▲
30 19.5 Keston Hiura 2B 1 ▲
31 19.0 Whit Merrifield OF 5 ▲
32 19.0 Charlie Blackmon OF -3 ▼
33 19.0 Anthony Rendon 3B -8 ▼
34 19.0 George Springer OF 0 ▬
35 18.0 Tim Anderson SS 7 ▲
36 18.0 DJ LeMahieu 2B 89 ▲
37 17.0 Corey Seager SS 17 ▲
38 17.0 Eddie Rosario OF -1 ▼
39 17.0 Anthony Rizzo 1B -4 ▼
40 17.0 Carlos Correa SS 0 ▬
41 17.0 Joey Gallo OF -9 ▼
42 16.5 Jose Abreu 1B 3 ▲
43 16.0 Ketel Marte 2B -4 ▼
44 15.5 Kyle Schwarber OF 14 ▲
45 15.5 Yuli Gurriel 1B -2 ▼
46 15.5 Marcus Semien SS 1 ▲
47 15.5 Gary Sanchez C 2 ▲
48 15.0 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B/DH 11 ▲
49 15.0 Ramon Laureano OF -1 ▼
50 14.5 Michael Conforto OF 1 ▲
51 14.5 Max Kepler OF 2 ▲
52 14.5 Jonathan Villar 2B/SS/OF/DH -6 ▼
53 14.5 Yoan Moncada 3B -12 ▼
54 14.0 Didi Gregorius SS 16 ▲
55 14.0 Jorge Soler DH 1 ▲
56 14.0 Matt Olson 1B -1 ▼
57 14.0 Eugenio Suarez 3B -13 ▼
58 14.0 Ozzie Albies 2B -6 ▼
59 14.0 Austin Meadows OF/DH -9 ▼
60 13.5 Luke Voit 1B 12 ▲
61 13.5 Franmil Reyes DH 8 ▲
62 13.5 Jose Altuve 2B -29 ▼
63 12.5 Brandon Lowe 2B -2 ▼
64 12.5 Gio Urshela 3B -2 ▼
65 12.5 Yasmani Grandal C/1B/DH 2 ▲
66 12.0 Kyle Tucker OF 12 ▲
67 12.0 Rhys Hoskins 1B 17 ▲
68 12.0 Miguel Sano 1B -3 ▼
69 12.0 Willson Contreras C -6 ▼
70 11.5 Andrew McCutchen OF 12 ▲
71 11.5 Max Muncy 1B -3 ▼
72 11.0 Alex Bregman 3B -1 ▼
73 11.0 Giancarlo Stanton DH -13 ▼
74 10.5 Mike Moustakas 1B/2B/DH -8 ▼
75 10.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF 17 ▲
76 10.0 Wil Myers OF -3 ▼
77 10.0 Shohei Ohtani DH -20 ▼
78 10.0 David Peralta OF -3 ▼
79 10.0 Kris Bryant 3B/OF/DH 71 ▲
80 10.0 Eduardo Escobar 3B -4 ▼
81 9.5 Jonathan Schoop 2B 15 ▲
82 9.5 Alex Verdugo OF 5 ▲
83 9.0 Trent Grisham OF -2 ▼
84 9.0 Michael Brantley OF/DH 59 ▲
85 9.0 Josh Donaldson 3B 1 ▲
86 9.0 Gleyber Torres SS -1 ▼
87 8.5 Dansby Swanson SS 15 ▲
88 8.5 Dylan Carlson OF 34 ▲
89 8.5 Adam Eaton OF -1 ▼
90 8.0 Jesse Winker OF 28 ▲
91 8.0 Renato Nunez 1B 4 ▲
92 8.0 Bo Bichette SS -18 ▼
93 8.0 Victor Robles OF -16 ▼
94 8.0 Josh Bell 1B -4 ▼
95 7.5 Anthony Santander OF -1 ▼
96 7.5 Mike Yastrzemski OF -5 ▼
97 7.5 Eric Hosmer 1B 11 ▲
98 7.5 Jorge Polanco SS -15 ▼
99 7.5 Brian Anderson 3B -1 ▼
100 7.0 Kyle Lewis OF 23 ▲
101 7.0 Cavan Biggio 2B 2 ▲
102 7.0 Carlos Santana 1B 17 ▲
103 7.0 Yadier Molina C/1B 7 ▲
104 7.0 Byron Buxton OF -15 ▼
105 6.5 Randal Grichuk OF 2 ▲
106 6.5 Dominic Smith 1B/OF/DH -6 ▼
107 6.5 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF 7 ▲
108 6.5 J.D. Davis 3B -29 ▼
109 6.5 Will Smith C 7 ▲
110 6.0 Jake Cronenworth 1B/2B/3B/SS 42 ▲
111 6.0 Mitch Moreland 1B -6 ▼
112 6.0 Pedro Severino C 5 ▲
113 6.0 Alec Bohm 3B/DH 29 ▲
114 6.0 Adalberto Mondesi SS -34 ▼
115 5.5 Ian Happ OF -6 ▼
116 5.5 Mark Canha OF 8 ▲
117 5.5 Austin Nola C 83 ▲
118 5.5 Kolten Wong 2B 3 ▲
119 5.0 Kyle Seager 3B -15 ▼
120 5.0 Willy Adames SS 13 ▲
121 5.0 Aaron Judge OF/DH -57 ▼
122 5.0 Christian Walker 1B 12 ▲
123 5.0 Travis d'Arnaud C/DH 3 ▲
124 5.0 Avisail Garcia OF -31 ▼
125 4.5 Paul DeJong SS -5 ▼
126 4.5 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH -15 ▼
127 4.5 Christian Vazquez C -28 ▼
128 4.5 Corey Dickerson OF -22 ▼
129 4.0 A.J. Pollock OF -16 ▼
130 4.0 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF/DH -29 ▼
131 3.5 Nick Solak OF 17 ▲
132 3.5 Joc Pederson OF -1 ▼
133 3.0 David Fletcher SS -5 ▼
134 3.0 Maikel Franco 3B 1 ▲
135 3.0 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B -6 ▼
136 3.0 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH -9 ▼
137 3.0 Joey Votto 1B -22 ▼
138 3.0 Ryan Mountcastle OF/DH 18 ▲
139 2.5 J.P. Crawford SS 1 ▲
140 2.5 Kevin Pillar OF 14 ▲
141 2.5 Ryan McMahon 2B -2 ▼
142 2.5 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B/DH 5 ▲
143 2.5 Wilson Ramos C -7 ▼
144 2.5 Jo Adell OF -12 ▼
145 2.0 Dylan Moore 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF 1 ▲
146 2.0 Justin Turner 3B -49 ▼
147 2.0 Rowdy Tellez 1B/DH 50 ▲
148 2.0 Amed Rosario SS -18 ▼
149 2.0 Luis Urias 2B/3B/SS -12 ▼
150 2.0 Hunter Renfroe OF 1 ▲
151 1.5 Evan Longoria 3B 34 ▲
152 1.5 Rio Ruiz 3B -3 ▼
153 1.5 Aaron Hicks OF 2 ▲
154 1.5 Daniel Murphy 1B 17 ▲
155 1.5 Tommy Edman 2B/3B/SS/OF 32 ▲
156 1.5 Ryan Braun OF/DH -15 ▼
157 1.5 Joey Bart C/DH 0 ▬
158 1.5 Gavin Lux 2B 42 ▲
159 1.0 Jon Berti 2B/3B/SS/OF 41 ▲
160 1.0 Alex Dickerson OF 40 ▲
161 1.0 Brandon Belt 1B 39 ▲
162 1.0 Nick Ahmed SS -2 ▼
163 1.0 Austin Slater OF/DH -5 ▼
164 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF -2 ▼
165 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS -1 ▼
166 1.0 Jesus Aguilar 1B/DH -5 ▼
167 1.0 Tommy La Stella 1B/2B/DH -14 ▼
168 1.0 Jean Segura 2B/3B/SS -1 ▼
169 1.0 Salvador Perez C/1B/DH -6 ▼
170 1.0 Edwin Encarnacion DH 3 ▲
171 1.0 Elvis Andrus SS 9 ▲
172 1.0 Austin Romine C 19 ▲
173 1.0 Chance Sisco C/DH 2 ▲
174 1.0 Bryan Reynolds OF -6 ▼
175 1.0 Brett Gardner OF -37 ▼
176 1.0 Victor Caratini C/1B/DH -7 ▼
177 1.0 Chance Sisco C/DH -2 ▼
178 1.0 Khris Davis DH -34 ▼
179 1.0 Nick Senzel OF -9 ▼
180 1.0 Clint Frazier OF/DH 20 ▲
181 1.0 Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 3B/OF/DH -3 ▼
182 1.0 Max Stassi C 0 ▬
183 1.0 Willie Calhoun OF/DH -2 ▼
184 1.0 David Dahl OF/DH -72 ▼
185 1.0 Sam Haggerty 3B/OF/DH 15 ▲
186 1.0 Donovan Solano 2B -2 ▼
187 1.0 Garrett Hampson OF 12 ▲
188 1.0 Austin Riley 3B 7 ▲
189 1.0 Miguel Cabrera DH 0 ▬
190 1.0 Daulton Varsho C/OF/DH 0 ▬
191 1.0 Andrelton Simmons SS 1 ▲
192 1.0 Sean Murphy C -4 ▼
193 1.0 Danny Jansen C 0 ▬
194 1.0 Justin Smoak 1B -8 ▼
195 1.0 Omar Narvaez C -1 ▼
196 1.0 Carson Kelly C 2 ▲
197 1.0 Evan White 1B -14 ▼
198 1.0 Ji-Man Choi 1B 2 ▲
199 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF -3 ▼
200 1.0 Scott Kingery 2B/SS/OF 1 ▲

Austin Nola (C, Padres)

Nola has been on my list of players to examine more closely for the last two weeks, but I didn't prioritize him because his projections were still so abysmal. Both weeks, I ran out of space and time to do a full evaluation either week. As a result, I'm behind with this adjustment. Fortunately or unfortunately, the extra time allows me to unpack the playing time implications in San Diego now that we know Nola will be there alongside Jason Castro.

Nola's projections are still underwater at -$1.0, but at this point, we have a clear reason to discard those projections. In particular, the Statcast data has improved enough, and the Padres saw enough evidence to ship out Taylor Trammell in exchange for Nola. That commitment alone doesn't give us a calculable change to Nola's projections, but it does give us some confidence that professional scouts observed similar skills to what the numbers are showing us.

From the performance side, Nola's exit velocity is up from 87.4 MPH in 2019 to 89.7 MPH this year. That has helped boost his Hard-Hit rate to 41.2%, good enough to put him in the 65th percentile.

Nola's better than average exit velocity combines with his 38.8% Sweet-Spot rate to drive his .307 average and .313 xBA, as well as his .525 slugging and .515 xSLG. The HR production is probably exaggerated: he has only five doubles to go with his five home runs and only five barrels on the season. However, as those xStats indicate, the new Padre's performance is still close to his expected outcomes based on batted-ball data.

Take away a bit of the HR output, and Nola's's value falls off the $10 pace that he's's maintained so far this season. However, if he can keep squaring the ball up the way that he has been, it's's easy to see him finishing the year as an $8 player.  Given Nola's success this season, I'd like to move him that far up the list, but I have him projected as a $5.5 player for now. Part of that is tied to the Padres' acquisition of Jason Castro, who is a respectable catcher in his own right. It's not likely that Nola will maintain the same 83.8% plate share that he did in Seattle. The cost to acquire Nola should ensure he sees enough at-bats to be valuable, just not as valuable as he was in Seattle. Look for Nola to continue being a top-10 option at catcher, just not the second most valuable from here forward.

 

Jake Cronenworth (2B, Padres)

Among hitters with at least 100 PA, Cronenworth has the 9th highest wRC+ this season, and his 20 R, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB, and .356 average have made him a top-50 hitter to date. Those stats make it seem like Cronenworth's earned value should be higher than his $9.9 so far this season. However, he has about 30% fewer at-bats than most of the players around him. That lack of volume reduces the value of his batting average, which is currently his best category.

Cronenworth's ascent has been driven by a torrid streak in the second half of August when his barrel rate rose to 14.6%, and his hard-hit rate surged to 52.1%. The limited duration of Cronenworth's work makes it easy to discount it entirely as a small sample, and most of Cronenworth's numbers are still a ways off from stabilizing because he didn't become an everyday starter until August 10th. Despite the small sample and lack of pedigree, Cronenworth's offensive prowess is not unprecedented for him. Last year, the San Diego second baseman slugged a 147 wRC+ in 88 games at AAA Durham in the International League.

At the moment, Cronenworth's .483 xwOBA is the third-best in baseball, behind Juan Soto and Corey Seager. The sample size is the only major concern here. The batted-ball numbers have sagged a bit over the last week, but Cronenworth still owns an excellent 47.6% hard-hit rate over that window, and of course, that week is an even smaller sample than the one we're trying to evaluate. Like Brandon Lowe earlier this season, we have the signs that Cronenworth is emerging as a full-blown all-star at a position that is sorely lacking star power at the moment. If the performance holds up, you can expect to see his projected value move accordingly.

 

Franmil Reyes (OF, Indians)

Sticking with our AJ Preller theme for today, we turn our attention to last year's big trade between the Indians and Padres. At the time, Reyes was a swing-first, walk-maybe-never slugger whose power was so obscene that it didn't matter that he was swinging and striking out at rates that would be unsustainable for most major leaguers.

As the season progressed and Reyes was traded to Cleveland, his plate approach showed notable progress. He still finished the year with a .249 average and a 28.5% strikeout rate, but he also crushed 37 home runs in 150 games and managed to push his walk rate up to a very respectable 8.6%.

This year, we've seen the same scorching-hot Reyes that lit up the league in May last year but with one clear-cut difference: he's chasing fewer pitches outside the zone. Reyes' Swing% has edged down from 51.6% to 49.0%, and his O-swing% has dropped from 31.1% to 28.2%. Those aren't monumental changes, but Reyes didn't need to be dramatically better to improve his outcomes, just marginally better so that he was getting a few more chances to maximize his talents.

For now at least, the improved plate discipline has allowed Reyes to average higher exit velocity than he did last year (94.4 MPH vs. 93.3 MPH). Additionally, Reyes' launch angle has crept up from 9.5° to 10.3°, so he's been lofting more hits as well.

Currently, the Indians' outfielder owns a .405 BABIP, so we're due for some unpleasant regression from that .323 batting average. Fantasy managers probably weren't banking on a high average though, so it shouldn't be a major concern, and Reyes' current $13.5 projection puts him in the same tier as sluggers like Jorge Soler, Michael Conforto, and Kyle Schwarber.

 

Keston Hiura (2B, Brewers)

Despite owning a .229 batting average, Hiura finds himself at the top of the second-base wasteland. As I wrote, there is surprising depth later on, but Hiura's ascent here is really more about survivorship rather than a flourishing sophomore season.

Hiura's increase in value is a unique situation: He owns a 95 wRC+ but has earned the fourth-highest value at second. He's hit nine HR, but only two doubles. His team is supposed to be an offensive powerhouse, but they're currently the third-worst offense in the league. Established, professional hitters like Yelich, Smoak, and Garcia have been missing in action, but Hiura has still accumulated 41 R+RBI.

Hiura's strikeout rate has remained too high for his approach, and there is good reason to believe that his batting average may not rebound this season. Consider that his .217 xBA is lower than his actual .229 BA. He has surprised with three stolen bases, but the simple reality is that even his managers are probably a bit disappointed by his overall performance.

At the core then is either a player whose idiosyncrasies defy our expectations and the norms of the game, or he's is due for some type of regression. Moreover, that regression might cripple his value or leave it basically the same. Consider the following possibilities:

Scenario 1) Hiura emerges as a new version of Dan Uggla: a defensively adequate, low-average, high-power player at a position that usually favors players with solid defense, speed, and better than average OBPs.

Scenario 2) Hiura's power regresses, his mediocre OBP and K-rate catch up with him, and his counting stats fall of the same cliff as his batting average.

Scenario 3) Hiura's's power regresses to something closer to his MiLB numbers, but so does the rest of his batted-ball profile. He becomes a .260 hitter who contributes 25-27 HR.

At the moment, the exit velocity and hard-hit rate don't suggest that Hiura will be able to maintain his power output, but his current 16.4° launch angle is identical to last year. That's a healthy number that will generate plenty of high drives capable of escaping the Miller Park fences, so the data is about as muddled as it could be. While there's evidence to suggest that Hiura's numbers will balance out and his value will hold steady, there's also real risk here. That Dan Uggla comp brought two other players to mind: Brian Dozier, which would be an excellent outcome, and Rougned Odor, which would be a lot worse.

Speed Round

Trea Turner (SS, Nationals): Turner has been crushing the ball lately, and he has somehow homered more than twice as often (7) as he has stolen bases (3). I do think there has been a philosophy change in Washington: the Nationals are 28th out of 30 in steals after being 3rd last year. However, Turner has also been caught four times this season. Earlier in the season, I was confident that the steals would come, but the last two weeks of data suggest a definite change for Washington's speedster. It's hard to know exactly what is going on, and we don't have the same type of clubhouse information as last year, but it certainly looks like Turner's days of carrying the SB category could be over. Despite that unhappy news, Turner has actually been the most valuable hitter since August 15th, so his managers are probably doing OK.

Evan Longoria (3B, Giants): Let's not understate the significance of the changes to San Francisco's stadium. When was the last time that the team had seven hitters with a wOBA over .350? However, Longoria also looks like a different hitter at the plate and on the stat line. At the plate, the third baseman has shown the type of collected poise that marked his time in Tampa Bay. Similarly, Longoria has boosted his batting average to .304 over his recent hot streak, and he is hitting the ball with far more authority than he did the last three seasons. In fact, his current 91.3 MPH EV is his best of the Statcast era. His 11.3% Barrel rate is just off his 11.5% from 2016 when he hit 36 HR.

Alec Bohm (3B, Phillies): Philly's prodigious youngster arrived with the reputation as a consistent hitter with useful power, and he has lived up to that billing. Fantasy managers may want a bit more power from the hot corner, but a .291 batting average and 18 R+RBI in 16 games is nothing to scoff at. Since he joined the big-league club on August 13th, Bohm has been about a $6 player. There's little reason to believe he can't maintain that pace: his xBA (.308) and xSLG (.587) both outstrip his actual performance so far. Moreover, Bohm's ceiling and Philadelphia's extra games mean that he could well be a top-80 hitter for the rest of the season.

 




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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 6)

The Baller Ranks have a new player at number two, and his name is not Tatis, Yellich, or Acuna. While all three of those players have their claims to the second spot, the change is primarily based on volume. With that hint, can you guess which superstar has more remaining games than any other player in the top 10?

As we turned the halfway point in the baseball season, we've been exposed to a slew of postponed games. That change is wreaking havoc with the projected values. Players with extra games are getting meaningful bumps, and players with fewer are seeing their values decline by comparison.

That means that players for teams like the Cardinals, Phillies, Marlins, and Pirates are seeing a boost in their value. I started documenting this two weeks ago with the dramatic changes to the Cardinals' schedule and how that caused the fantasy value for their players to skyrocket. In the interim, several other teams have seen their schedules changed. Here are the teams with the most games remaining in the season. Last night's cancellations will impact this some, but it captures the most notable teams.

 

Team Games Remaining
Cardinals 41
Phillies 35
Marlins 35
Pirates 34
Yankees 33
Nationals 33
Tigers 32
Reds 32
Mets 32
Brewers 32
Blue Jays 32
Rangers 31
Orioles 31
Cubs 31

 

Schedule Shenanigans

While most teams have only 28 or 29 games remaining, there are many with 32 or more. For players on those teams, we're seeing value increases from 5% to 25%. The simple reality is that five or six games can mean another two or three home runs, four or five runs and RBI, extra weight for a player with a strong batting average, and another steal or two.

The answer to the question about which superstar has the most remaining games probably depends on whether you consider Bryce Harper to be a superstar. Harper does have more remaining games than anyone else in the top ten, but I don't think he's quite earned honorary of "superstar." Our new number two in the rankings is none other than Juan Soto.

The schedule anomalies I referenced above are particularly significant for players like Harper, Soto, and Goldschmidt, who are not only offensive heavyweights with excellent production per game, but also players who hit at the top of their team's order every single day.

That said, working from the list above, here are the players from those teams with the highest plate shares.

Player Team Plate Share
Jonathan Villar Marlins 108.9%
Trea Turner Nationals 108.1%
Cavan Biggio Blue Jays 106.7%
Paul Goldschmidt Cardinals 105.4%
Keston Hiura Brewers 105.1%
Anthony Santander Orioles 103.3%
Rhys Hoskins Phillies 101.9%
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 101.7%
Christian Yelich Brewers 100.9%
Brandon Nimmo Mets 100.8%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays 100.0%
Jonathan Schoop Tigers 100.0%
Michael Conforto Mets 99.2%
Eugenio Suarez Reds 99.1%
Renato Nunez Orioles 98.4%
Pete Alonso Mets 98.3%
Javier Baez Cubs 98.3%
Bryce Harper Phillies 97.1%
Josh Bell Pirates 97.1%
Jesus Aguilar Marlins 97.0%
Teoscar Hernandez Blue Jays 96.6%
Brian Anderson Marlins 96.0%
Nick Solak Rangers 95.8%
Niko Goodrum Tigers 95.6%
Joey Gallo Rangers 94.9%
Joey Votto Reds 94.6%
Adam Eaton Nationals 94.6%
Didi Gregorius Phillies 94.2%
Ian Happ Cubs 94.1%
Asdrubal Cabrera Nationals 93.7%
Kyle Schwarber Cubs 93.3%
J.T. Realmuto Phillies 93.3%
Kolten Wong Cardinals 93.2%
Bryan Reynolds Pirates 93.1%
Andrew McCutchen Phillies 92.3%

Soto is conspicuously absent from that list because his quarantine period cost him eight games.

For Soto, the bonus games are bumping his value by about $5. He's earned the rest of his increase with his performance. Over the last two weeks, he's hit six home runs, 13 R, 13 RBI, and hit .380.

The spike in Soto's projected value is not merely based on the increase in his counting stats, but his ability to contribute a high average. That's not an expectation that he'll hit .380 all year long, but if he just manages his career average of .293, it will have significant value relative to the .242 league-wide batting average this season.

As I said, Harper is a similar case. The Phillies have even more games remaining than the Nationals, and Harper has had a superlative season in his own right. His barrel rate (17.5%), wOBA (.448), and xwOBA (.463) are all in the top 5% of the league right now. Given an extra five or six relative games, there's an argument for pushing Harper's value up to Acuna's at $43.

 

Young Superstars

The shift to Soto's value is tied to another, larger conversation about whether we are being too slow to accept young superstars as the value equivalents of older, more established players. Baseball's aging curves have shifted, and I can't remember any other time when three of the ten best players in baseball were 22 years old or younger. I am, of course, referring to Ronald Acuna, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Juan Soto.

That list omits many other excellent young players who are either on the cusp of ascending to a new level or who did not arrive in the majors until they were older because their teams deemed it financially beneficial to hold them back.

To that end, I'd love to hear more about how to weigh the performances of young players. While I have no intention of discarding what we know about small sample sizes and data stabilization, baseball is doing better at helping young ballplayers reach their ceilings at younger and younger ages.

Having wandered into that quagmire, here are the Meta Report for week 6 and the Baller Ranks Top-200 hitters. If you're unfamiliar with the Meta Report, here's a quick guide on how to read it. And if you missed Nick Mariano's pitcher rankings yesterday, here are his top 101 relievers and his top 101 starters.

 

Week 6 Hitter Rankings

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 47.0 Mike Trout OF 0 ▬
2 46.0 Juan Soto OF 1 ▲
3 44.0 Christian Yelich OF -1 ▼
4 43.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 38 ▲
5 38.0 Mookie Betts OF 0 ▬
6 37.0 Bryce Harper OF 4 ▲
7 36.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -3 ▼
8 35.0 Trevor Story SS 0 ▬
9 35.0 Cody Bellinger OF -2 ▼
10 34.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 1 ▲
11 32.0 Francisco Lindor SS -2 ▼
12 31.0 Jose Ramirez 3B -6 ▼
13 29.0 Trea Turner SS 3 ▲
14 29.0 Freddie Freeman 1B -1 ▼
15 28.0 Nelson Cruz DH -1 ▼
16 28.0 J.T. Realmuto C/1B/DH 1 ▲
17 27.0 J.D. Martinez DH -2 ▼
18 25.0 Rafael Devers 3B 0 ▬
19 24.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B/DH 21 ▲
20 23.0 Manny Machado 3B 4 ▲
21 23.0 Eloy Jimenez OF 1 ▲
22 23.0 Javier Baez SS -3 ▼
23 22.0 Marcell Ozuna OF/DH 4 ▲
24 22.0 Xander Bogaerts SS -1 ▼
25 22.0 Anthony Rendon 3B 5 ▲
26 22.0 Pete Alonso 1B 2 ▲
27 21.0 Luis Robert OF 5 ▲
28 21.0 Nick Castellanos OF 1 ▲
29 20.0 Charlie Blackmon OF -3 ▼
30 19.5 Starling Marte OF 3 ▲
31 19.5 Keston Hiura 2B 17 ▲
32 19.0 Joey Gallo OF 4 ▲
33 19.0 Jose Altuve 2B -12 ▼
34 19.0 George Springer OF -3 ▼
35 18.5 Anthony Rizzo 1B 4 ▲
36 18.0 Whit Merrifield OF 14 ▲
37 18.0 Eddie Rosario OF 0 ▬
38 18.0 Matt Chapman 3B 0 ▬
39 18.0 Ketel Marte 2B -5 ▼
40 17.0 Carlos Correa SS 4 ▲
41 17.0 Yoan Moncada 3B 4 ▲
42 16.5 Tim Anderson SS 11 ▲
43 16.0 Yuli Gurriel 1B 17 ▲
44 16.0 Eugenio Suarez 3B -3 ▼
45 15.5 Jose Abreu 1B 19 ▲
46 15.5 Jonathan Villar 2B/SS/OF 15 ▲
47 15.5 Marcus Semien SS 0 ▬
48 15.5 Ramon Laureano OF 4 ▲
49 15.5 Gary Sanchez C 7 ▲
50 15.5 Austin Meadows OF/DH 1 ▲
51 15.0 Michael Conforto OF 7 ▲
52 15.0 Ozzie Albies 2B 13 ▲
53 14.5 Max Kepler OF 4 ▲
54 14.0 Corey Seager SS/DH 23 ▲
55 14.0 Matt Olson 1B -6 ▼
56 14.0 Jorge Soler DH 6 ▲
57 14.0 Shohei Ohtani DH -11 ▼
58 14.0 Kyle Schwarber OF -4 ▼
59 14.0 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B/DH -4 ▼
60 13.0 Giancarlo Stanton DH 9 ▲
61 12.5 Brandon Lowe 2B 28 ▲
62 12.5 Gio Urshela 3B 16 ▲
63 12.5 Willson Contreras C 7 ▲
64 12.0 Aaron Judge OF/DH -39 ▼
65 12.0 Miguel Sano 1B 9 ▲
66 12.0 Mike Moustakas 2B/DH 5 ▲
67 12.0 Yasmani Grandal C/1B/DH -4 ▼
68 11.5 Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B/DH 0 ▬
69 11.0 Franmil Reyes DH 3 ▲
70 11.0 Didi Gregorius SS 11 ▲
71 11.0 Alex Bregman 3B -59 ▼
72 10.5 Luke Voit 1B 20 ▲
73 10.0 Wil Myers OF 10 ▲
74 10.0 Bo Bichette SS -39 ▼
75 10.0 David Peralta OF 1 ▲
76 10.0 Eduardo Escobar 3B -1 ▼
77 10.0 Victor Robles OF -4 ▼
78 9.5 Kyle Tucker OF 12 ▲
79 9.5 J.D. Davis 3B/OF/DH 17 ▲
80 9.5 Adalberto Mondesi SS -14 ▼
81 9.0 Trent Grisham OF 13 ▲
82 9.0 Andrew McCutchen OF/DH 0 ▬
83 9.0 Jorge Polanco SS -16 ▼
84 9.0 Rhys Hoskins 1B 1 ▲
85 9.0 Gleyber Torres SS -65 ▼
86 9.0 Josh Donaldson 3B -2 ▼
87 8.5 Alex Verdugo OF 4 ▲
88 8.5 Adam Eaton OF -1 ▼
89 8.0 Byron Buxton OF -9 ▼
90 8.0 Josh Bell 1B/DH -11 ▼
91 7.5 Mike Yastrzemski OF 20 ▲
92 7.5 Teoscar Hernandez OF 9 ▲
93 7.5 Avisail Garcia OF -5 ▼
94 7.0 Anthony Santander OF 13 ▲
95 7.0 Renato Nunez 1B/3B/DH 13 ▲
96 7.0 Jonathan Schoop 2B 9 ▲
97 7.0 Justin Turner 3B -38 ▼
98 7.0 Brian Anderson 3B -1 ▼
99 7.0 Christian Vazquez C -13 ▼
100 6.5 Dominic Smith 1B/OF/DH 20 ▲
101 6.5 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF/DH -8 ▼
102 6.0 Dansby Swanson SS 1 ▲
103 6.0 Cavan Biggio 2B 11 ▲
104 6.0 Kyle Seager 3B 21 ▲
105 6.0 Mitch Moreland 1B 12 ▲
106 6.0 Corey Dickerson OF/DH -2 ▼
107 5.5 Randal Grichuk OF -1 ▼
108 5.5 Eric Hosmer 1B 39 ▲
109 5.5 Ian Happ OF 10 ▲
110 5.5 Yadier Molina C 28 ▲
111 5.5 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH -12 ▼
112 5.5 David Dahl OF/DH -12 ▼
113 5.0 A.J. Pollock OF 8 ▲
114 5.0 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF 4 ▲
115 5.0 Joey Votto 1B -5 ▼
116 5.0 Will Smith C 12 ▲
117 4.5 Pedro Severino C/DH 34 ▲
118 4.5 Jesse Winker OF/DH -3 ▼
119 4.5 Carlos Santana 1B -21 ▼
120 4.5 Paul DeJong SS -8 ▼
121 4.5 Kolten Wong 2B 3 ▲
122 4.5 Dylan Carlson OF -9 ▼
123 4.0 Kyle Lewis OF 13 ▲
124 4.0 Mark Canha 1B/OF/DH 17 ▲
125 4.0 DJ LeMahieu 1B/2B 9 ▲
126 4.0 Travis d'Arnaud C/DH 36 ▲
127 4.0 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH 22 ▲
128 3.5 David Fletcher SS 12 ▲
129 3.5 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B -6 ▼
130 3.5 Amed Rosario SS -4 ▼
131 3.5 Joc Pederson OF -9 ▼
132 3.5 Jo Adell OF -5 ▼
133 3.0 Willy Adames SS 0 ▬
134 3.0 Christian Walker 1B -25 ▼
135 3.0 Maikel Franco 3B -4 ▼
136 3.0 Wilson Ramos C/DH -20 ▼
137 3.0 Luis Urias 2B/3B/SS 65 ▲
138 3.0 Brett Gardner OF -1 ▼
139 2.5 Ryan McMahon 1B/2B/3B 28 ▲
140 2.5 J.P. Crawford SS 4 ▲
141 2.5 Ryan Braun OF/DH -2 ▼
142 2.5 Alec Bohm 3B 57 ▲
143 2.5 Michael Brantley OF/DH 57 ▲
144 2.5 Khris Davis DH -9 ▼
145 2.5 Travis Shaw 1B/3B/DH -3 ▼
146 2.0 Dylan Moore 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF -3 ▼
147 2.0 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B/DH -2 ▼
148 2.0 Nick Solak OF 18 ▲
149 2.0 Rio Ruiz 3B -20 ▼
150 2.0 Kris Bryant 3B/OF/DH -107 ▼
151 2.0 Hunter Renfroe OF -21 ▼
152 1.5 Jake Cronenworth 1B/2B/3B/SS 27 ▲
153 1.5 Tommy La Stella 1B/2B/DH 23 ▲
154 1.5 Kevin Pillar OF 46 ▲
155 1.5 Aaron Hicks OF -7 ▼
156 1.5 Ryan Mountcastle OF 44 ▲
157 1.5 Joey Bart C 43 ▲
158 1.0 Austin Slater OF/DH -3 ▼
159 1.0 JaCoby Jones OF 16 ▲
160 1.0 Nick Ahmed SS -3 ▼
161 1.0 Jesus Aguilar 1B/DH -8 ▼
162 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF 16 ▲
163 1.0 Salvador Perez C/1B/DH -68 ▼
164 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS -4 ▼
165 1.0 Cesar Hernandez 2B -2 ▼
166 1.0 Yandy Diaz 3B 11 ▲
167 1.0 Jean Segura 2B/3B/SS -9 ▼
168 1.0 Bryan Reynolds OF -7 ▼
169 1.0 Victor Caratini C/1B/DH -19 ▼
170 1.0 Nick Senzel OF -11 ▼
171 1.0 Daniel Murphy 1B -69 ▼
172 1.0 Kevin Newman 2B/SS -4 ▼
173 1.0 Edwin Encarnacion DH 0 ▬
174 1.0 Danny Santana 1B/OF/DH 12 ▲
175 1.0 Chance Sisco C/DH 25 ▲
176 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B -2 ▼
177 1.0 Kurt Suzuki C/DH 10 ▲
178 1.0 Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 3B/OF/DH -9 ▼
179 1.0 Mitch Garver C/1B -47 ▼
180 1.0 Elvis Andrus SS -28 ▼
181 1.0 Willie Calhoun OF/DH -10 ▼
182 1.0 Max Stassi C 8 ▲
183 1.0 Evan White 1B 17 ▲
184 1.0 Donovan Solano 2B/3B/SS -30 ▼
185 1.0 Evan Longoria 3B 15 ▲
186 1.0 Justin Smoak 1B -4 ▼
187 1.0 Tommy Edman 2B/3B/SS -41 ▼
188 1.0 Sean Murphy C 12 ▲
189 1.0 Miguel Cabrera DH -8 ▼
190 1.0 Daulton Varsho C/OF/DH -7 ▼
191 1.0 Austin Romine C -11 ▼
192 1.0 Andrelton Simmons SS -3 ▼
193 1.0 Danny Jansen C -29 ▼
194 1.0 Omar Narvaez C -24 ▼
195 1.0 Austin Riley 1B/3B/OF 5 ▲
196 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF -12 ▼
197 1.0 Rowdy Tellez 1B/DH -12 ▼
198 1.0 Carson Kelly P/C -10 ▼
199 1.0 Garrett Hampson 2B/SS/OF/DH -8 ▼
200 1.0 Carter Kieboom 3B/DH 1 ▲

 

Key Rankings Movers

Eric Hosmer (1B, Padres)

No batter has surprised me more than Eric Hosmer this season. For years, Hosmer has been a fantasy afterthought: a stable but unappealing player whose ceiling was barely rosterable in many leagues.

Hosmer may be a year late to the party, but he's become a devout follower of the church of Latter-Day Launch Angles. Hosmer's launch angle this season is 11.9°, almost double his previous career-high of 6.0° in 2015. That change has improved Hosmer's barrel rate from the 5.8% he maintained from 2015 to 2019 to the 13.3% that he has this year.

That launch angle change seems to be driving Hosmer's entire improvement. His exit velocity is almost identical, and most of his plate discipline numbers are remarkably similar. One key difference in Hosmer's plate discipline is that his contact rate has improved. With that, his swinging-strike rate has dropped from 13.4% to 7.3%, and his contact rate has jumped up from 73.0% to 84.7%. Meaningfully, Hosmer has seen more first-pitch strikes. It's possible that change is related to the improved Padres' lineup, but we know that lineup protection has very little evidence behind it.

Regardless, we have a certified swing change with enough data behind it to indicate that fantasy managers can bank on Hosmer's power surge as being real. Whether he ends up as a player with 30 HR power remains to be seen, but his previous pace of 25 HR/162 games seems a very safe projection.

Jonathan Schoop (2B, Tigers)

Schoop has had a few weeks of climbing projections, but unlike Hosmer, there hasn't been an evident change in his game that has improved his value. Instead, Schoop's move to Motor City and its supply of unlimited at-bats is helping to bolster his value.

Despite being an eight-year veteran, Schoop has only gotten full playing time twice in his career. In 2016, he had 647 plate appearances and hit 25 home runs. In 2017, he had 675 plate appearances and hit 32 home runs. Keep in mind those seasons were in the pre-rabbit-ball era, so the power output is even more impressive.

Granted, other factors have hurt the second baseman's value since then. In particular, Schoop's profile shows years with spikes in ground-ball and infield-fly rates, hard-hit rates that plummeted, and walk rates that have been in the bottom tenth of the league. Despite that, Schoop has managed to put it all together in Detroit this year. The consistent playing time and some modest improvements to his plate discipline are allowing Schoop to maintain a pace that would equal his 2017 season.

He's been around so long that it's easy to assume that Schoop is 30 or older, but this is only his age-28 season. While Hosmer, JD Martinez, and Lance Lynn are reminders that a player will sometimes develop dramatically in their later careers, that's not exactly what Schoop has shown. So far, it seems to be more a case of the player we knew, but finally in a situation where he can put his talents to their best use.

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, Royals

When managers drafted Adalberto Mondesi this summer, they were probably taking him as a top-50 player. Mondesi has fallen to 80th in this update, and there are probably many managers who feel he should be lower than that.

Believe it or not, the projection systems have barely changed their outlook on Mondesi since the start of the season. I'm not sure what part of Mondesi's dataset keeps his projection so stable, but the machines have real confidence that he will rebound.

It's not clear to me that he deserves all of that confidence. The $9.5 tag on him isn't a total collapse of Mondesi's projected value. However, it is a definite correction that accounts for his inability to barrel the ball this season and the fact that critical numbers like his barrel rate (5.3%), walk rate (1.8%), and hard-hit rate (30.7%) have started to stabilize.

I worried in the spring that Mondesi would struggle this season because of the combination of his high-strikeout tendencies and his recovery from shoulder surgery. I also thought that the delayed start would give him time to recover, but that's not what he's shown so far this season.

Free-swingers like Mondesi are always prone to bouts of extreme streakiness, and the frantic nature of this season is distorting our ability to regard players like him with the perspective they deserve. However, it's hard to dismiss a 31-game, 115 PA period with a .199 xwOBA as a negative indicator of his status.



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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 5)

When I started writing up the column for this week, it was going to focus on the esteemed gentlemen of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bo Bichette as well as the broader shortstop landscape. Then I started looking at first base and DH and got fixated on what was happening with Cody Bellinger and Shohei Ohtani, and whether or not Luke Voit had the potential to be a top-five first baseman. Now it turns out that Yordan Alvarez is done for the season and off the chart. That's an unhappy turn of events, but there's nothing more to say about it for this season.

Similarly, Bichette's injury is a frustrating development. I had Bichette slotted just between Baez and Bogaerts. Supposedly, it's only a mild knee strain, and he'll be back before you can say, "Whoa Bichette!" Until then, I'm keeping his ranking steady. Expect an update after Bichette returns from the IL. Jon Heyman is now reporting that Bichette's injury has no timetable, but it's possible he's done for the season. If you can sell for a player at $10 or better, you should do it. If you feel like you need to settle for less, go for it.

Also, as long as we're on the subject, Jayce Tingler owes Fernando Tatis Jr. an apology, and that's all I have to say about that.

 

Week 5 Overview

This week gives us quite a bit of stabilized data and the human tornado that his Jesse Winker. I'll get to him in a moment, but one anomaly that caught my attention is that Paul Goldschmidt (and other Cardinals) have seen their value jump now that they're playing baseball again. Those extra games go a long way to turning the Cards into value plays. Game limits will still apply, but there's some real room for profit from the extra at-bats.

I've added two new features to the Meta Report this week. On the Early Indicators sheet, you'll see a column labeled PA%. Plate Ratio is designed to be a simple indicator of how often a player is getting to the plate relative to their team. I'll cover it in a follow-up article, but it should help fantasy managers to see player usage in a season when there are huge discrepancies in games played.

The other new feature is the addition of a column for new max exit velocity. I pulled hitter data from the last three seasons and grabbed the maximum exit velocity from hitters over that time period to give us a baseline for this season. The column is solely there to show us if someone has recently hit a ball harder than their previous high. Given max EV's relationship to offensive breakouts, I'm hoping it will prove useful to managers.

Here are the top-200 hitters and the week 5 Meta Report. If you missed them yesterday, be sure to check out Nick Mariano's top-101 SP rankings and his top-101 RP rankings.

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 47.0 Mike Trout OF 0 ▬
2 43.0 Christian Yelich OF/DH 0 ▬
3 40.0 Juan Soto OF 3 ▲
4 38.0 Nolan Arenado 3B 1 ▲
5 37.0 Mookie Betts OF 3 ▲
6 35.0 Jose Ramirez 3B 1 ▲
7 35.0 Cody Bellinger OF -3 ▼
8 34.0 Trevor Story SS 4 ▲
9 32.0 Francisco Lindor SS 2 ▲
10 31.0 Bryce Harper OF 3 ▲
11 31.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 5 ▲
12 30.0 Alex Bregman 3B 2 ▲
13 28.0 Freddie Freeman 1B 4 ▲
14 27.0 Nelson Cruz DH 6 ▲
15 27.0 J.D. Martinez DH -5 ▼
16 27.0 Trea Turner SS -1 ▼
17 26.0 J.T. Realmuto C/1B/DH 2 ▲
18 25.0 Rafael Devers 3B -9 ▼
19 25.0 Javier Baez SS 2 ▲
20 25.0 Gleyber Torres SS -2 ▼
21 24.0 Jose Altuve 2B 2 ▲
22 23.0 Eloy Jimenez OF 7 ▲
23 23.0 Xander Bogaerts SS -1 ▼
24 23.0 Manny Machado 3B 3 ▲
25 23.0 Aaron Judge OF/DH 3 ▲
26 22.0 Charlie Blackmon OF 5 ▲
27 22.0 Marcell Ozuna OF/DH -2 ▼
28 22.0 Pete Alonso 1B -4 ▼
29 21.0 Nick Castellanos OF 8 ▲
30 21.0 Anthony Rendon 3B 2 ▲
31 21.0 George Springer OF/DH -5 ▼
32 20.0 Luis Robert OF 1 ▲
33 20.0 Starling Marte OF 2 ▲
34 20.0 Ketel Marte 2B 2 ▲
35 20.0 Bo Bichette SS -1 ▼
36 19.5 Joey Gallo OF -6 ▼
37 19.0 Eddie Rosario OF 2 ▲
38 19.0 Matt Chapman 3B 7 ▲
39 19.0 Anthony Rizzo 1B 8 ▲
40 18.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B/DH 22 ▲
41 18.0 Eugenio Suarez 3B -3 ▼
42 18.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF -39 ▼
43 17.5 Kris Bryant 3B/OF/DH -3 ▼
44 17.0 Carlos Correa SS 4 ▲
45 17.0 Yoan Moncada 3B -4 ▼
46 17.0 Shohei Ohtani P/DH 40 ▲
47 16.5 Marcus Semien SS 2 ▲
48 16.0 Keston Hiura 2B/DH -5 ▼
49 16.0 Matt Olson 1B 1 ▲
50 15.5 Whit Merrifield OF 9 ▲
51 15.5 Austin Meadows OF/DH 22 ▲
52 15.5 Ramon Laureano OF/DH 3 ▲
53 15.0 Tim Anderson SS 24 ▲
54 15.0 Kyle Schwarber OF/DH -2 ▼
55 15.0 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B/DH -4 ▼
56 14.5 Gary Sanchez C/DH 11 ▲
57 14.5 Max Kepler OF 7 ▲
58 14.5 Michael Conforto OF 11 ▲
59 14.5 Justin Turner 3B 1 ▲
60 14.0 Yuli Gurriel 1B -6 ▼
61 14.0 Jonathan Villar 2B/SS/OF/DH 9 ▲
62 14.0 Jorge Soler OF/DH -6 ▼
63 13.5 Yasmani Grandal C/1B/DH 12 ▲
64 13.5 Jose Abreu 1B 15 ▲
65 13.5 Ozzie Albies 2B -21 ▼
66 13.0 Adalberto Mondesi SS -20 ▼
67 13.0 Jorge Polanco SS 4 ▲
68 13.0 Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B/DH -11 ▼
69 13.0 Giancarlo Stanton DH -8 ▼
70 12.5 Willson Contreras C/DH 2 ▲
71 12.0 Mike Moustakas 2B -8 ▼
72 11.0 Franmil Reyes DH 19 ▲
73 11.0 Victor Robles OF -7 ▼
74 11.0 Miguel Sano 1B -9 ▼
75 10.5 Eduardo Escobar 3B 5 ▲
76 10.5 David Peralta OF 26 ▲
77 10.0 Corey Seager SS/DH 6 ▲
78 10.0 Gio Urshela 3B 25 ▲
79 10.0 Josh Bell 1B/DH 5 ▲
80 10.0 Byron Buxton OF 2 ▲
81 9.5 Didi Gregorius SS 4 ▲
82 9.0 Andrew McCutchen OF/DH -4 ▼
83 9.0 Wil Myers 1B/OF/DH 51 ▲
84 9.0 Josh Donaldson 3B -16 ▼
85 8.5 Rhys Hoskins 1B/DH -4 ▼
86 8.5 Christian Vazquez C/2B/DH 6 ▲
87 8.5 Adam Eaton OF 3 ▲
88 8.0 Avisail Garcia OF/DH -1 ▼
89 8.0 Brandon Lowe 2B 23 ▲
90 8.0 Kyle Tucker OF 15 ▲
91 7.5 Alex Verdugo OF 7 ▲
92 7.5 Luke Voit 1B 22 ▲
93 7.5 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF/DH -19 ▼
94 7.5 Trent Grisham OF 12 ▲
95 7.0 Salvador Perez C/1B/DH -6 ▼
96 7.0 J.D. Davis 3B/OF/DH 11 ▲
97 6.5 Brian Anderson 1B/3B/DH 21 ▲
98 6.5 Carlos Santana 1B 23 ▲
99 6.5 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH 0 ▬
100 6.5 David Dahl OF/DH -12 ▼
101 6.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF 60 ▲
102 6.0 Daniel Murphy 1B/DH 40 ▲
103 6.0 Dansby Swanson SS 6 ▲
104 6.0 Corey Dickerson OF/DH 4 ▲
105 5.5 Jonathan Schoop 2B 14 ▲
106 5.5 Randal Grichuk OF/DH 16 ▲
107 5.5 Anthony Santander OF 55 ▲
108 5.5 Renato Nunez 1B/3B/DH 17 ▲
109 5.5 Christian Walker 1B/DH 17 ▲
110 5.0 Joey Votto 1B 1 ▲
111 5.0 Mike Yastrzemski OF 20 ▲
112 4.5 Paul DeJong SS 5 ▲
113 4.5 Dylan Carlson OF 37 ▲
114 4.5 Cavan Biggio 2B/OF 26 ▲
115 4.5 Jesse Winker OF/DH 45 ▲
116 4.5 Wilson Ramos C/DH 7 ▲
117 4.5 Mitch Moreland 1B 72 ▲
118 4.0 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF/DH -17 ▼
119 4.0 Ian Happ OF 11 ▲
120 4.0 Dominic Smith 1B/OF/DH 40 ▲
121 4.0 A.J. Pollock OF/DH 18 ▲
122 4.0 Joc Pederson OF/DH 11 ▲
123 4.0 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B/SS 23 ▲
124 3.5 Kolten Wong 2B 36 ▲
125 3.5 Kyle Seager 3B 10 ▲
126 3.5 Amed Rosario SS -32 ▼
127 3.5 Jo Adell OF -34 ▼
128 3.5 Will Smith C -18 ▼
129 3.5 Rio Ruiz 3B/OF 49 ▲
130 3.5 Hunter Renfroe OF/DH -14 ▼
131 3.0 Maikel Franco 3B 13 ▲
132 3.0 Mitch Garver C/1B -36 ▼
133 3.0 Willy Adames SS 8 ▲
134 3.0 DJ LeMahieu 1B/2B -81 ▼
135 3.0 Khris Davis DH -35 ▼
136 3.0 Kyle Lewis OF 21 ▲
137 3.0 Brett Gardner OF -22 ▼
138 2.5 Yadier Molina C -2 ▼
139 2.5 Ryan Braun OF/DH -15 ▼
140 2.5 David Fletcher SS 18 ▲
141 2.5 Mark Canha 1B/OF/DH 25 ▲
142 2.5 Travis Shaw 1B/3B 9 ▲
143 2.5 Dylan Moore 1B/3B/SS/OF 38 ▲
144 2.5 J.P. Crawford SS 1 ▲
145 2.0 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B/DH 11 ▲
146 2.0 Tommy Edman 3B/SS 19 ▲
147 2.0 Eric Hosmer 1B 7 ▲
148 2.0 Aaron Hicks OF -1 ▼
149 2.0 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH 6 ▲
150 1.5 Victor Caratini C/1B/DH 3 ▲
151 1.5 Pedro Severino C/DH 49 ▲
152 1.5 Elvis Andrus SS -15 ▼
153 1.5 Jesus Aguilar 1B/DH 46 ▲
154 1.5 Kurt Suzuki C/DH 5 ▲
155 1.5 Donovan Solano 2B/3B/SS 45 ▲
156 1.5 Austin Slater OF/DH 44 ▲
157 1.5 Oscar Mercado OF/DH -60 ▼
158 1.0 Nick Ahmed SS 42 ▲
159 1.0 Jean Segura 2B/3B/SS -46 ▼
160 1.0 Nick Senzel OF -32 ▼
161 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS 10 ▲
162 1.0 Bryan Reynolds OF -30 ▼
163 1.0 Travis d'Arnaud C/DH 37 ▲
164 1.0 Cesar Hernandez 2B -16 ▼
165 1.0 Danny Jansen C 9 ▲
166 1.0 Nick Solak OF 31 ▲
167 1.0 Sean Murphy C 1 ▲
168 1.0 Ryan McMahon 1B/2B -5 ▼
169 1.0 Kevin Newman 2B/SS 7 ▲
170 1.0 Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 3B/OF/DH 30 ▲
171 1.0 Omar Narvaez C -22 ▼
172 1.0 Willie Calhoun OF/DH -34 ▼
173 1.0 Edwin Encarnacion DH -69 ▼
174 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B -1 ▼
175 1.0 JaCoby Jones OF -8 ▼
176 1.0 Tommy La Stella 1B/2B/DH 4 ▲
177 1.0 Yandy Diaz 1B/3B/DH 0 ▬
178 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF 20 ▲
179 1.0 Jake Cronenworth 1B/2B/3B/SS 21 ▲
180 1.0 Austin Romine C 20 ▲
181 1.0 Miguel Cabrera DH 1 ▲
182 1.0 Justin Smoak 1B/DH 4 ▲
183 1.0 Daulton Varsho C/OF/DH 17 ▲
184 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF 1 ▲
185 1.0 Rowdy Tellez 1B/DH 15 ▲
186 1.0 Danny Santana 1B/OF/DH 2 ▲
187 1.0 Eric Thames 1B/DH 13 ▲
188 1.0 Carson Kelly P/C -19 ▼
189 1.0 Andrelton Simmons SS 11 ▲
190 1.0 Max Stassi C 10 ▲
191 1.0 Garrett Hampson 2B/OF/DH 1 ▲
192 1.0 Ji-Man Choi 1B 8 ▲
193 1.0 Daniel Vogelbach DH -2 ▼
194 1.0 Scott Kingery 2B/SS/OF -11 ▼
195 1.0 Andrew Benintendi OF -100 ▼
196 1.0 Kike Hernandez 2B 4 ▲
197 1.0 Nomar Mazara OF -13 ▼
198 1.0 Matt Carpenter 3B/DH -3 ▼
199 1.0 Alec Bohm 3B 2 ▲
200 1.0 Michael Brantley OF/DH -124 ▼

Jesse Winker (Reds, OF)

Winker is the last player added to this article, but he's the first player I'm featuring because players like Winker are the entire reason I wanted to start assembling the Meta Report. The truth is that I've followed Winker's progress since he was in AA. His bat-to-ball skills, elite batter's eye, and strong GB/FB ratio seemed like a recipe for a guaranteed all-star. However, I gave up on Winker after his 2018 season when he teased with 90.9 average exit velocity and  a 42.2% hard-hit rate but a .132 ISO.
I should have paid more credence to his 16 HR campaign last season when he slugged for a .204 ISO, but I looked at the Reds bringing in outfielders and wrote Winker off as a platoon player.
A quick look at Winker's line on the Early Indicator's Delta page shows us exactly why he is no platoon player. If you look at that data, you aren't reading it wrong. For the last two weeks, Jesse Winker has put up an absurd 27.3% barrels per plate appearance. That rate is 23.7% higher than the 4.3% barrel rate Winker owned last year when he compiled that .204 ISO.
I'm going to leave a full swing breakdown to our own Mike Kurland, who has been churning out swing-analysis like a well-seasoned scout. However, it looks to me like Winker is getting a bit lower as the ball is coming in and doing a better job at planting his front foot in order to create the pivot and leverage.
Winker has used a fairly upright swing and generally done a bit more to slash at the ball. This year, he appears to be loading more, swinging more aggressively, and relying on his bat control. The more aggressive approach is not without penalty: Winker's swinging-strike rate has jumped from 5.8% in 2018 to 12.1% this year. However, the change has allowed Winker to hit the ball much harder this season. His average exit velocity is up to 94.1 MPH, and his max EV is 111.9 MPH. Last year, Winker did manage a 110 MPH max velo, but his average EV was a mere 89.1 MPH (the 46th percentile).
Winker is a real hitter. We've always known that. Now, he's found a way to leverage that skill into slugging power. Let's see where this goes.

Luke Voit (Yankees, 1B)

One player who could definitely use some extra at-bats is the Yankees' 29-year-old first baseman. Despite owning a career .229 ISO and .273 batting average, Luke Voit entered 2020 as something of a sleeper pick. There were still plenty of analysts championing his value, but the projection systems were way down on him. A close look at the playing time showed why: Voit was only projected for somewhere between 60% and 75% share of the at-bats.

Some of that was an already crowded Yankees' lineup, and some of it was tied to lingering injury concerns. However, unlike Judge and Stanton, Voit's injuries have been a bit more discrete and limited in nature. For instance, 2019's sports hernia should be a less chronic concern than Stanton's troubled legs or Judge's wrist/shoulder/rib issues.

Where does that leave Voit now? Well, it's pretty close to where he's been the last few weeks. Voit appeared to be in good health during March when he played ten games without issue. Rather than adjusting for that, the projections held steady on Voit's playing time, and it's only over the last two weeks that they've started to trend up towards where we've had him since the preseason. At this point, Voit would need a season-ending injury or a four-week slump for him not to outperform even his updated projections that put him around a $3 player and rank 140. Instead, this new rank bumps him into the top 100 and projects him to maintain production a bit below his current pace.

I'd love to push Voit into the top 70 right now, but there are two major impediments: playing time and his BB/K ratio.

The Yankees still don't seem committed to playing Voit nine games out of ten. The injury to D.J. LeMahieu may change that, but it remains to be seen. Secondly, Voit's K% has edged higher from 2019's 27.8% to 31.1% this year. Meanwhile, his BB% has fallen from 13.9% to 6.8%%. Yes, this is the year of high-K hitters who are dominating the fantasy rankings (e.g., Fernando Tatis Jr., Matt Chapman, and Luis Robert), but I'm not convinced that a .22 BB/K rate is OK. Strikeout rate is one of the first predictive stats to stabilize, and Voit's number suggests he might be selling out for power. That 31.1 K% puts Voit too close to boom-or-bust players like Franmil Reyes, Teoscar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco. That's a valuable group, but it's not the same territory as rocks like Jose Abreu.

Fortunately, Voit still only has 74 plate appearances, so there's plenty of time for those ratios to normalize. Voit is probably a buy-high candidate in many leagues, but right now, his value likely maxes out in the $12 range.

 

Cody Bellinger (1B, Dodgers)

It's easy to blame these early-season struggles on Bellinger's swing change, and maybe we should. It's difficult to fathom how a player can come off an MVP season and think that he needs to change his swing, but that type of motivation and desire for progress are what push guys like Bellinger to become MVPs in the first place. Moreover, if Manfred and the owners had consented to give us more than our 60-game pittance, there would be less anxiety and compulsion to downgrade a player like Bellinger before we've even played a month of baseball.

In this context, Bellinger's poor start demands attention and adjustment. Even if he settles in by the end of this week, Bellinger would need a remarkable hot streak to reach the $43 value we had for him at the start of the year. At this point, ZiPS, Steamer, and Depth Charts have all dropped Bellinger's projection from a comfortable 4th overall to around 30th. That's the fickleness of early-season projections, but there's good evidence to support the change.

Bellinger's contact profile is dramatically different than last season. His infield-flyball rate has increased from 8.9% to 12.9%. His ground-ball rate has surged from 31.5.% to 41.0%. Similarly, his line-drive and flyball rates have dropped by 7% and 3.5%, respectively.

Those are not the kind of changes you want to see in a batted-ball profile. Bellinger's sweet-spot ratio is a career-worst 21.5%. Despite his launch angle being almost identical to last year's, Bellinger is not actually launching the ball the same way he was last season. The similarity is primarily coincidence. If there is any good news here, it's that Bellinger's max exit velocity and average exit velocity are basically the same as last year, and his xwOBA (.317) is far better than his actual wOBA (.236). His five home runs have been nice, and the Dodgers have padded his counting stats, but managers who drafted him are definitely operating at a loss.

Shohei Ohtani (Angels, DH)

Ohtani might be the only player in history where an injury has actually improved his fantasy value. Now that the Angels have committed to using him as an every day DH, Ohtani will see more at-bats, and managers will be able to start him with greater confidence, especially in weekly leagues. Since returning to the lineup after straining his flexor-pronator mass, Ohtani has batted .276 with 2 HR, 6 R, 3 RBI, and snuck in a stolen base for good measure.

At the risk of over-hyping the value, Ohtani's per-game projections would make him more valuable than Nelson Cruz if the Angels keep him in the lineup for the rest of the season. To be clear, that will push him into the top-15 hitters. What would that look like over 162 games? 88 R, 32 HR, 104 RBI, 16 SB, .272 BA, and .345 OBP.

Mitch Moreland (Red Sox, 1B)

As I'm writing this, Moreland is the fifth most valuable first basemen so far this season. Despite his middling projections and not having particularly strong predictive stats, I struggled with what to do with him last week when his sustained performance had pushed him past hitters like Matt Olson, Yuli Gurriel, and Pete Alonso. I'd like to admit that I failed you.

In this case, another week has boosted Moreland's batted-ball-events over 30 and his plate appearances to just under 50, so we're approaching some stabilization points for his data. Moreland's 2020 barrel rate has been an impressive 16.3% so far, but the smallish sample means that his seven barrels have had an outsized effect (6 HR) on his $6 earned value so far.

We've seen more Moreland go on hot-streaks like this before, so this type of production isn't out of the question for him. It's whether he can stay on the field and sustain something close to a 110 wRC+ for the rest of the season, and that's where things seem less likely since he's only done it three times in the last decade. Despite those limitations, Moreland did provide a 112 wRC+ last season, but his final stats calculate out as a negative value because he only played 91 games. If we extend his numbers out to 140 games played, he ends up closer to a $7 player, which would have made his performance the rough equivalent of Rhys Hoskins in 2019.

Moreland's track record and ability to provide per-game value is significant. He's currently owned in just 33% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, so his price is perfectly reasonable. Moreland has already had knee trouble, and the Red Sox have practiced gentle use with him. The $3 ranking reflects his ability to sustain something like that 112 wRC+ pace from last year and the fact that he might disappear to the IL at any time.

Miguel Andujar (Yankees, DH)

Seven days ago, I dropped Andujar down to around 250 on my list — I don't publish that many. When the Yankees left him at their reserve site, I just reconciled myself to the fact that no matter his talent, Andujar wasn't going to be fantasy relevant this season. Even with Judge missing time, the team seems inclined to use Clint Frazier and Mike Tauchman to bridge the gap. Then the Yankees recalled Andujar and played him two games in a row. Welcome back,  Miggy! Just kidding, they sat him back down last night. So long, Mr. Andujar.

At this point, it's not at all clear what will happen with Andujar. His ceiling is top-50 hitter, but if he's not going to play, it's an automatic drop. Monitor the situation, but I don't think Andujar is likely to be useful this season.

Mitch Garver (Twins, C)

I counseled someone to be patient with Garver the other day, and I've regretted it ever since. Even for a catcher, Garver has been unsustainably bad. Most notably, as he approaches the 60 PA threshold, his K% is lingering at 37.9%%.

Like Bellinger, there are still some positives with Garver. His sweet-spot percentage is down by only 1.6%. His average exit velocity is down by only 1.3 MPH. And his max EV from 2019 was 109.7 MPH, only 1.6 MPH higher than the 108.1 that he already has this season. Last but not least, Garver's chase rate is down by 7%, a huge drop.

It's too early to write off Garver entirely, but his drop here does consider the unexpected nature of his 2019 breakout. Given that Garver has been taking more pitches this season, it's possible that it's just a matter of him needing to be more aggressive at the plate, but managers should start looking for more useful options.

Teoscar Hernandez (Blue Jays, OF)

Hernandez is an interesting case. His walk rate is down to almost unsustainable levels (2.5%), and he's chasing more pitches out of the zone (32.8 O-Swing%). However, he's hitting the ball harder and with a better launch angle than ever before, and Hernandez was a Statcast darling before this season.

Hernandez is swinging a bit more than last season (48.5% versus 47.3%), and he's actually swinging at pitches inside the zone less often (63.3% versus 72.9%). He's simply pummeling the baseball, as demonstrated by his 11.3% barrel rate.

The 27-year-old wouldn't be the first high-velocity hitter to eschew walks in favor of driving the ball, but that walk rate is in the 6th percentile, and it's hard not to forecast meaningful regression. However, Hernandez may be evolving into a player like Javier Baez, who has made a career from hitting the ball hard and walking only if the pitcher walks over and rips the bat out of his hands.

Matt Chapman (Athletics, 3B)

Like Hernandez, Chapman has been more aggressive this season. His 4% walk rate is a career-low. Unlike Hernandez, Chapman has an established history of patience and plate discipline. Chapman's 44.6% swing rate is a bit higher than last year 42.2%, but it's really his Swinging-Strike rate that has spiked from 9.2% last year to 13.2% this season.

That huge bump suggests that Chapman is being more aggressive early in the count and then hitting more defensively later on. The change would explain his increased power that has allowed him to smack six home runs and 17 RBI already this season.

The underlying stats are even more compelling. Chapman's barrel rate has soared to 10.9% while his exit velocity has improved to 93.3 MPH, and his launch angle has peaked near the optimal 25.7°. The combination has Chapman's xwOBA at .351, so there's a real chance we haven't seen his best yet.

 

 

 




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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 4)

Last week's full launch of The Baller Ranks was one of the most gratifying things I've done with fantasy baseball, and I want to thank everyone who reached out with support, suggestions, and questions. To that end, I got some questions about why guys moved or didn't.

Early in the season, projection systems struggle to be accurate, so I've resisted the temptation to dramatically shift players based on performance. Early-season projections are notoriously fickle, and these first two weeks have been especially bizarre. That doesn't mean that preseason projections were bad. It means there is a lot of noise being filtered and new data being integrated. The simple reality is that summer camp did not prepare players as well as Spring Training does. Many top-tier hitters have struggled, and there have far more pitching injuries than previous seasons. Pitchers may be better able to tap into their max performance, but it's coming with an increased risk to their health. If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out Nick Mariano's updated top 101 relief pitchers and top 101 starting pitchers. With so much noise in the data, these rankings don't reflect major swings based on general performance so far. Two weeks is just barely long enough to properly judge if hitter results are meaningful or just fluky.

As expected, the second full week did bring us more craziness. After publishing last week, Yoenis Cespedes and Lorenzo Cain opted out. Ozzie Albies went on a much-needed trip to the IL, and second base as a position continued to be a mess — if you drafted a top-ten second baseman, you're probably pretty upset with your return so far. In the last two days, Giancarlo headed for the IL, Joey Gallo's wrist flared up, and Ronald Acuna's K-rate spiked to 35%, but then he hit three home runs last night, so there's that. While plenty of other positions saw significant shakeup, outfield saw the most movement of any position. We'll start there, but here is your link to the full Baller Ranks and the top 200 hitters.

 

Top 200 Hitters for Rest of Season (as of 8/10/20)

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 47.0 Mike Trout OF 0.0 ▬
2 44.0 Christian Yelich OF/DH -1.0 ▼
3 43.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF -1.0 ▼
4 39.0 Cody Bellinger 1B/OF -2.0 ▼
5 38.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -1.0 ▼
6 36.5 Juan Soto OF 3.5 ▲
7 35.0 Jose Ramirez 3B/DH 0.0 ▬
8 34.0 Mookie Betts OF -1.0 ▼
9 34.0 Rafael Devers 3B -2.0 ▼
10 33.0 J.D. Martinez OF/DH -1.0 ▼
11 33.0 Francisco Lindor SS/DH 0.0 ▬
12 32.0 Trevor Story SS/DH 1.0 ▲
13 30.0 Bryce Harper OF 1.0 ▲
14 30.0 Alex Bregman 3B -1.0 ▼
15 28.0 Trea Turner SS -2.0 ▼
16 27.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 3.0 ▲
17 27.0 Freddie Freeman 1B/DH -1.0 ▼
18 27.0 Gleyber Torres SS -2.0 ▼
19 26.0 J.T. Realmuto C 1.0 ▲
20 26.0 Nelson Cruz DH 0.0 ▬
21 26.0 Javier Baez SS -1.0 ▼
22 25.0 Xander Bogaerts SS 2.0 ▲
23 25.0 Jose Altuve 2B -1.0 ▼
24 24.0 Pete Alonso 1B/DH -1.0 ▼
25 24.0 Marcell Ozuna OF/DH -1.0 ▼
26 23.0 George Springer OF 0.0 ▬
27 23.0 Manny Machado 3B/DH -1.0 ▼
28 22.0 Aaron Judge OF/DH 3.0 ▲
29 22.0 Eloy Jimenez OF 2.0 ▲
30 21.0 Joey Gallo OF 0.0 ▬
31 21.0 Charlie Blackmon OF/DH 4.0 ▲
32 21.0 Anthony Rendon 3B -1.0 ▼
33 20.0 Luis Robert OF 0.5 ▲
34 20.0 Bo Bichette SS 0.0 ▬
35 20.0 Starling Marte OF -1.0 ▼
36 20.0 Ketel Marte 2B/SS/OF -1.0 ▼
37 19.5 Nicholas Castellanos OF 3.5 ▲
38 19.5 Eugenio Suarez 3B -0.5 ▼
39 19.0 Eddie Rosario OF/DH 0.0 ▬
40 19.0 Kris Bryant 3B/OF -2.0 ▼
41 18.5 Yoan Moncada 3B 0.0 ▬
42 18.0 Tommy Pham OF/DH 0.0 ▬
43 17.5 Keston Hiura 2B/DH -0.5 ▼
44 17.5 Ozzie Albies 2B -6.5 ▼
45 17.0 Matt Chapman 3B -1.0 ▼
46 17.0 Adalberto Mondesi SS -2.5 ▼
47 17.0 Anthony Rizzo 1B -1.0 ▼
48 17.0 Carlos Correa SS 0.5 ▲
49 16.5 Marcus Semien SS -1.0 ▼
50 16.0 Matt Olson 1B 0.5 ▲
51 16.0 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B/DH -1.5 ▼
52 15.5 Kyle Schwarber OF/DH -0.5 ▼
53 15.5 DJ LeMahieu 1B/2B 3.0 ▲
54 15.5 Yuli Gurriel 1B 1.5 ▲
55 15.0 Ramon Laureano OF/DH 0.0 ▬
56 15.0 Jorge Soler OF/DH -0.5 ▼
57 15.0 Max Muncy 1B/2B/DH -1.0 ▼
58 15.0 Yordan Alvarez DH -1.5 ▼
59 14.5 Whit Merrifield 2B/OF 0.0 ▬
60 14.5 Justin Turner 3B/DH -0.5 ▼
61 14.0 Giancarlo Stanton DH -10.0 ▼
62 14.0 Paul Goldschmidt 1B -0.5 ▼
63 14.0 Mike Moustakas 2B 0.0 ▬
64 14.0 Max Kepler OF 0.0 ▬
65 14.0 Miguel Sano 1B -0.5 ▼
66 13.5 Victor Robles OF -1.0 ▼
67 13.5 Gary Sanchez C -2.5 ▼
68 13.5 Josh Donaldson 3B -6.0 ▼
69 13.0 Michael Conforto OF 0.5 ▲
70 13.0 Jonathan Villar 2B/SS/OF/DH 1.0 ▲
71 13.0 Jorge Polanco SS -1.0 ▼
72 12.5 Willson Contreras C/DH 2.0 ▲
73 12.5 Austin Meadows OF/DH 0.5 ▲
74 12.5 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF -0.5 ▼
75 12.0 Yasmani Grandal C/DH -0.5 ▼
76 12.0 Michael Brantley OF/DH 0.0 ▬
77 12.0 Tim Anderson SS -3.5 ▼
78 11.0 Andrew McCutchen OF 0.0 ▬
79 10.5 Jose Abreu 1B -3.0 ▼
80 10.5 Eduardo Escobar 3B/DH -0.5 ▼
81 10.0 Rhys Hoskins 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
82 10.0 Byron Buxton OF -0.5 ▼
83 10.0 Corey Seager SS/DH -0.5 ▼
84 10.0 Josh Bell 1B/DH -5.0 ▼
85 9.5 Didi Gregorius SS 0.0 ▬
86 9.5 Shohei Ohtani P/DH -1.5 ▼
87 9.5 Avisail Garcia OF/DH 0.0 ▬
88 9.5 David Dahl OF -1.0 ▼
89 9.0 Salvador Perez C/1B/DH -0.5 ▼
90 9.0 Adam Eaton OF 2.5 ▲
91 9.0 Franmil Reyes OF/DH -4.0 ▼
92 8.5 Christian Vazquez C/DH 0.5 ▲
93 8.5 Jo Adell OF 8.0 ▲
94 8.0 Amed Rosario SS -1.0 ▼
95 8.0 Andrew Benintendi OF -2.0 ▼
96 8.0 Mitch Garver C -2.0 ▼
97 8.0 Oscar Mercado OF -5.0 ▼
98 7.5 Alex Verdugo OF 1.5 ▲
99 7.5 Howie Kendrick 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
100 7.5 Khris Davis DH -1.5 ▼
101 7.0 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF/DH 0.0 ▬
102 7.0 David Peralta OF/DH 1.5 ▲
103 6.5 Gio Urshela 3B 2.5 ▲
104 6.5 Edwin Encarnacion DH -1.0 ▼
105 6.5 Kyle Tucker OF/DH 3.0 ▲
106 6.5 Trent Grisham OF 4.0 ▲
107 6.0 J.D. Davis 3B/OF/DH 1.0 ▲
108 6.0 Corey Dickerson OF 2.0 ▲
109 6.0 Dansby Swanson SS 2.0 ▲
110 5.5 Will Smith C -1.0 ▼
111 5.5 Joey Votto 1B 3.5 ▲
112 5.5 Brandon Lowe 2B/OF 0.5 ▲
113 5.0 Jean Segura 3B/SS -1.5 ▼
114 5.0 Luke Voit 1B 0.0 ▬
115 5.0 Brett Gardner OF 0.5 ▲
116 5.0 Hunter Renfroe OF/DH 0.0 ▬
117 4.5 Paul DeJong SS -4.0 ▼
118 4.5 Brian Anderson 1B/3B 1.5 ▲
119 4.5 Jonathan Schoop 2B 0.0 ▬
120 4.5 C.J. Cron 1B 0.5 ▲
121 4.5 Carlos Santana 1B -5.0 ▼
122 4.5 Randal Grichuk OF/DH 0.0 ▬
123 4.5 Wilson Ramos C/DH -0.5 ▼
124 4.5 Ryan Braun DH -0.5 ▼
125 4.0 Renato Nunez 1B/3B/DH 3.0 ▲
126 4.0 Christian Walker 1B/DH 3.0 ▲
127 4.0 Starlin Castro 2B 0.0 ▬
128 4.0 Nick Senzel OF 2.5 ▲
129 4.0 Francisco Mejia C 0.0 ▬
130 3.5 Ian Happ OF 2.5 ▲
131 3.5 Mike Yastrzemski OF 2.5 ▲
132 3.5 Bryan Reynolds OF -2.0 ▼
133 3.5 Joc Pederson OF/DH 0.0 ▬
134 3.0 Wil Myers 1B/OF/DH 2.0 ▲
135 3.0 Kyle Seager 3B 0.5 ▲
136 3.0 Yadier Molina C -4.5 ▼
137 3.0 Elvis Andrus SS -4.0 ▼
138 3.0 Willie Calhoun OF/DH 1.0 ▲
139 3.0 A.J. Pollock OF/DH 2.0 ▲
140 3.0 Cavan Biggio 2B/OF 0.0 ▬
141 3.0 Willy Adames SS 0.0 ▬
142 2.5 Daniel Murphy 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
143 2.5 Rougned Odor 2B/DH -1.0 ▼
144 2.5 Maikel Franco 1B/3B 1.5 ▲
145 2.5 J.P. Crawford SS 1.5 ▲
146 2.5 Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B 0.0 ▬
147 2.0 Aaron Hicks OF -1.5 ▼
148 2.0 Cesar Hernandez 2B 0.0 ▬
149 2.0 Omar Narvaez C -1.5 ▼
150 2.0 Dylan Carlson OF 1.0 ▲
151 2.0 Travis Shaw 1B/3B -1.5 ▼
152 2.0 Miguel Andujar 3B/OF -2.5 ▼
153 1.5 Victor Caratini C/1B/DH -1.5 ▼
154 1.5 Eric Hosmer 1B 0.0 ▬
155 1.5 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH 0.5 ▲
156 1.5 Asdrubal Cabrera 1B/3B/DH 0.0 ▬
157 1.5 Kyle Lewis OF 0.5 ▲
158 1.5 David Fletcher 3B/SS/OF 1.0 ▲
159 1.5 Kurt Suzuki C 0.5 ▲
160 1.0 Kolten Wong 2B 0.0 ▬
161 1.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF 0.0 ▬
162 1.0 Anthony Santander OF/DH 0.5 ▲
163 1.0 Ryan McMahon 1B/2B 0.0 ▬
164 1.0 Yoshi Tsutsugo 3B/OF/DH 0.0 ▬
165 1.0 Tommy Edman 3B -1.5 ▼
166 1.0 Mark Canha OF/DH 0.0 ▬
167 1.0 JaCoby Jones OF 0.5 ▲
168 1.0 Sean Murphy C -1.0 ▼
169 1.0 Carson Kelly C -3.5 ▼
170 1.0 Austin Hays OF -1.0 ▼
171 1.0 Niko Goodrum SS -1.5 ▼
172 1.0 Justin Upton OF/DH -6.0 ▼
173 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B 0.5 ▲
174 1.0 Danny Jansen C 0.0 ▬
175 1.0 Carter Kieboom 3B/DH -0.5 ▼
176 1.0 Kevin Newman 2B/SS -1.0 ▼
177 1.0 Yandy Diaz 1B/3B/DH -1.0 ▼
178 1.0 Rio Ruiz 3B/OF 0.5 ▲
179 1.0 Mauricio Dubon 2B/SS/OF 0.0 ▬
180 1.0 Tommy La Stella 1B/2B/DH 0.0 ▬
181 1.0 Dylan Moore 1B/3B/SS/OF 0.5 ▲
182 1.0 Miguel Cabrera DH 0.0 ▬
183 1.0 Scott Kingery 2B 0.0 ▬
184 1.0 Nomar Mazara OF 0.0 ▬
185 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF 0.0 ▬
186 1.0 Justin Smoak 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
187 1.0 Austin Riley 1B/3B/OF 0.0 ▬
188 1.0 Danny Santana OF 0.0 ▬
189 1.0 Mitch Moreland 1B 0.0 ▬
190 1.0 Shed Long Jr. 2B 0.0 ▬
191 1.0 Daniel Vogelbach DH 0.0 ▬
192 1.0 Garrett Hampson 2B/OF/DH 0.0 ▬
193 1.0 Kevin Pillar OF/DH 0.0 ▬
194 1.0 Leury Garcia 2B/SS/OF 0.0 ▬
195 1.0 Matt Carpenter DH 0.0 ▬
196 1.0 Gregory Polanco OF/DH 0.0 ▬
197 1.0 Nick Solak 1B/2B/OF/DH 0.0 ▬
198 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF 0.0 ▬
199 1.0 Jesus Aguilar 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
200 1.0 Eric Thames 1B/DH 0.0 ▬

 

Players of Note

Aaron Judge (OF, Yankees)

Last week, one Reddit user wanted to know why Judge wasn't placed higher given: he'd already hit four home runs with eight runs and nine RBI. I didn't get the chance to reply before he deleted his post, but the answer is relatively simple: the concerns about Judge and the more modest projections don't have anything to do with his ability. We know that he is a tower of power. We know that he can muscle a one-handed line drive over the centerfield wall. We know that he is a legitimate MVP contender.

Unfortunately, we also know that he only played 112 games in 2018 and 102 games in 2019, and that he had a stress fracture from last year that was still a problem during Spring Training. On a per-game basis, there are only a handful of players that I rate more highly than Aaron Judge. However, there's a real chance that Judge suffers another injury that derails his season. It's the same reason that I didn't push James Paxton all the way back up my preseason rankings when he was supposedly recovered from his back injury.

If the sample is too small, and the injury concern remains, why is Judge moving up this much? Because for two weeks now, he's shown that he can swing the bat comfortably and fully. For the time being, Judge looks to be in good health. There may be underlying troubles that come up, but two weeks is enough to push him up towards kindred spirit, Pete Alonso.

Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF, Braves)

Last week, there were literally dozens of fantasy managers yelling out: "See, we told you there wasn't enough of a track record to justify the first pick!" Dozens, I tell you. As I noted in the introduction, the real concern was in that strikeout rate, but a three-dinger day is enough to settle most fantasy owners.

I don't want to undersell the importance of Acuna's night, but that strikeout rate is still a concern. Is it enough to cripple his value? Of course not, but it is a source of uncertainty, which is why he's down a dollar. Even before Sunday's homer-fest, we knew Acuna was a top-five player. It was just a matter of whether something was going to properly undermine his value.

Trent Grisham (OF, Padres)

When the Padres acquired Grisham last year, there were plenty of analysts who wondered about whether that was a bad sign for the prospect. After all, why would the Brewers trade away a Major League-ready prospect who had shown such promise? For many, it suggested that the power Grisham had displayed was a mirage – that he was really the player who had posted ISOs below .125 in his first four seasons of minor-league ball.

Grisham's .337 xwOBA outstrips his .331 wOBA, so his results so far have been legitimate, even if they are still of the small-sample variety. Similarly, his 7.6 barrel rate is good enough for the 87th percentile in the league, and he already has one drive at 111.9 MPH. Those factors push his projections up to Kyle Tucker. In fact, the Padres seem committed to Grisham's playing time in a way that the Astros are not for Tucker, and that difference may actually make Grisham the safer bet despite his weaker preseason projections.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF, Giants):

Yastrzemski has picked up where he left off last season. He owns a .326 ISO, .304 AVG., and a remarkable .458 OBP.  It helps that the Giants are also allowing him to play every single game.

Yastrzemski's arrival and ascent up the outfield chart are one of the more perplexing phenomena in player evaluation. It's not just that he continues to succeed as a power hitter in a ballpark that dwarfs extraordinary power hitters. It's that his power arose after six years of being a middle-of-the-pack prospect. Yastrzemski's success is as unique as 2018 when German Marquez was an ace in Coors Field. However, hitting in Oracle Park doesn't disrupt Yastrzemski's ability to succeed in other parks the way Coors does to Rockie pitchers.

Most compellingly, Yastrzemski has improved his BB% and K% numbers from last year. While there has been some definite BABIP luck (.389), he's still in line for a sold average and impressive power. Owners can reasonably expect a 30-HR pace and a .260 average. The ratio of hard-hit balls has somehow improved to 45.0%, but his ground-ball ratio, which is more stable at this point, has regressed to an identical 45.0%. Yastrzemski's projections have gone from negative during the preseason to around 150 at this point. My current ranking is more aggressive than that.  If he maintains this production as more stats stabilize, you can expect additional moves up.

Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Yankees)

Stanton hits the IL with a hamstring strain, and the Yankees will probably release the severity after I submit this for publication. I've dropped his value based on ten days on the IL. However, if it's a grade 2 or 3, go ahead and reduce his value into the low single digits.

Stanton's injury may change the Yankees' approach with Miguel Andujar, who was just relegated to the taxi squad. The change made no sense, but Stanton's situation opens a spot for a big bat like Andujar's. Conversely, if the Yankees leave Andujar on the taxi squad, he falls well outside the top-200.

Dominic Smith (OF/1B, Mets)

Smith is the primary beneficiary of Cespedes' departure, but he's hardly a plug-and-play replacement. Smith's power is less reliable, and his batting average will settle in around .240. He's also hitting in the bottom half of the Mets' batting order, so we're looking at reduced run and RBI opportunities.

Those limitations aside, Smith is a player with real raw power and erratic game power. He's managed to barrel the ball more frequently this season, but the numbers are still limited so it's not yet clear he's grown as a player. He has only six hard-hit BBEs when most players in the top-200 have double-digits. A big part of that issue is playing time, which has just been resolved, but even if things break right and we see him take a reasonable step forward, Smith probably finishes as the 50th ranked outfielder rather than the 40th. That's still valuable in even in 12-teamers, but it's not earth-moving. If he doesn't take a step forward, he's bench bat or waiver-wire fodder for most leagues.

Ozzie Albies (2B, Braves)

Albies issue is a relatively simple one. He has a bone bruise on his wrist that has been bothering him since the start of summer camp. That's a long time to play in pain, and it suggests that the injury is substantial even if it is not particularly traumatic. Playing through injury can have negative impacts on a player even after they return from the IL. Albies is still just 23, and maybe this is a situation where he just needs ten days of actual rest rather than trying to muscle through the injury.

However, if we simply subtract the five additional games of his IL stint ((he's already about halfway through) and factor in reduced effectiveness after he returns, Albies' value drops to a mid-tier second baseman. Owners in head-to-head leagues can be a little more optimistic if their playoff chances look good, but otherwise, Albies should really be reduced to Max Muncy and Whit Merrifield territory around $16. If it looks like a slower return, then we're talking about a fall below that.

Dansby Swanson (SS, Braves)

Swanson's value might actually be improved by Albies' absence because the shortstop will hold onto the second spot in the Braves' lineup.  It's not clear that Swanson needs that help. He already owns a stat-line of 14 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 3 SB, and a .314 AVG.

While Swanson does get a bump in the rankings, there is some reason to believe we're seeing more of a hot-streak than a full-fledged breakout: Swanson's max exit velocity is still lingering at 104.6 MPH and his average exit velocity is sitting at 90.0 MPH. Meanwhile, he's squaring up the ball at a good, but not exceptional 7.5 Brls/PA. Compare those to his 2019 numbers of 108.4 MPH max exit velocity, 93.1 MPH average exit velocity, and 6.8 Brls/PA.

Similarly, Swanson's 9.5° launch angle this year is actually worse than his 14.4° from last year. With the exception of his hard-hit rate, the rest of Swanson's batted-ball profile looks awfully similar to 2019. Exit velocity and launch angle are still outside the stabilization range, and it could be a case of production leading the peripheral stats. Still, this ranking of $6 might be his max unless he continues to steal more bases than he has in the past.

Trea Turner (SS, Nationals)

Turner simply hasn't produced at the rate he was expected so far this season. His numbers are down in every fantasy category, and owners don't even have the steals to show for the high price. Granted, Turner has struggled to get on base at the same rate as last year, but for the last two seasons, Turner has averaged one steal every 3.6 games. We're now 20% of the way through the season, and Turner has yet to log a single stolen base.

Those are frustrating numbers, but owners can take solace in the fact that the Covid-19 complications have meant that the Nationals have only played 12 games in comparison to the standard 16 or 17 for most teams. Additionally, Turner has suffered from some bad BABIP luck (.205), and his BB% (6.4%) and K% (14.9%) are just below his career numbers.

Let's take a more critical view of Turner's steals. Over the last two seasons, he's averaged one steal per 4.3 stops to first base (BB+1B). So far, he's stopped at first base only eight times. Of his eight hits, he has three doubles and one HR. Once his BABIP levels out, those SBs should reappear. Add those numbers to some situations where it was less advantageous for him to run, and the change isn't yet alarming, though we should monitor. To me, Turner is a textbook case of an elite player whose value doesn't change because his peripherals indicate he's fine despite being off to a slow start.

Christian Vazquez (C, Red Sox)

Despite being awesome so far, Vazquez is seeing only a minor bump this week because the underlying stats aren't yet there to show that he's genuinely a different hitter than his preseason projections. In fact, Vazquez's velocity is down across the board since last year. That's not really a concern at this moment, but it undercuts the claim that he is substantively more powerful than we've known.

Vazquez had already moved up last week, and each passing week gives credence to what he accomplished last year. I'm a believer that he is more valuable than his ADP, but he's already up from his preseason value at $4.

Ian Happ (2B/OF, Cubs)

Happ has started 2020 as the type of player owners hoped for last year. He's swinging the bat more comfortably, and he's played in every one of the Cubs' 13 games. His BB% and K% are better, but more importantly, Happ's barrel rate has improved to 14.8%. Moreover, he's already broken the 108 MPH max exit velocity threshold. His average exit velocity is in the 89th percentile, his hard-hit% is 97th, and his xwOBA is 97th.

Happ is a target for acquisition if his current owner is skeptical, and he is somehow still available in 45% of leagues, so that's sort of incredible.

Gio Urshela (3B, Yankees)

Urshella's numbers (10-3-13-1-.341) have been bolstered by the Yankees' impressive offense, but that's hardly the real story here. The simplest version is that Urshela has hit the ball with more authority this season than any previous time in his career.

Urshela has an incredibly high hard-hit rate (51.4%) and his exit velocity is up from 90.6 to 92.3. He's been pulling the ball more effectively and his launch angle has increased from 13.5° to 14.1°. Check out his percentile rankings from Baseball Savant:

The improved velocity and launch angle have pushed Urshela's barrel rate from 7.0 Brls/PA to 10.8 Brls/PA. Like Happ above, Urshela may be one of this year's most identifiable breakouts. There's been no real change in his BABIP luck, and his expected stats (.366 xBA, .626 xSLG, .455 xwOBA) indicate that we may see even better production than we have so far this season.



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The Baller Ranks: Top 200 Hitters Weekly Rankings (Week 3)

Welcome to fantasy baseball if MLB's season were more like the XFL. Between injuries, illness, and inexplicable flukes, this season has already shown the potentially disastrous consequences of an otherwise quiet road-trip to Atlanta.

This weeks' news about the Miami-Philadelphia and St. Louis-Milwaukee situations has provided new variables, and managers are scrambling to keep up with everything. Teams are using their players in bizarre and unexpected ways, Sergio Romo earned a save before Taylor Rogers even took the field, and Mike Trout has left for paternity leave (congratulations to him, of course).

In the middle of all that, here is this week's top-200 hitters and The Baller Ranks list itself. If you are new to The Baller Ranks, we have an intro and a guide for you. You can also view the full Baller Ranks here.

 

The Top 200 Hitters for Fantasy Baseball - Week 3

Rank $ Player Pos Trend
1 47.0 Mike Trout OF 2.0 ▲
2 46.0 Christian Yelich OF 0.0 ▬
3 45.0 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 0.0 ▬
4 41.0 Cody Bellinger 1B/OF -2.0 ▼
5 39.0 Nolan Arenado 3B -1.0 ▼
6 36.0 Rafael Devers 3B 0.0 ▬
7 35.0 Mookie Betts 3B 0.0 ▬
8 35.0 Jose Ramirez OF 0.0 ▬
9 34.0 J.D. Martinez OF/DH 0.0 ▬
10 33.0 Juan Soto OF -4.0 ▼
11 33.0 Francisco Lindor SS 0.0 ▬
12 31.0 Alex Bregman 3B/SS 1.0 ▲
13 31.0 Trevor Story SS 2.0 ▲
14 30.0 Trea Turner SS 0.0 ▬
15 29.0 Gleyber Torres 2B/SS 0.0 ▬
16 29.0 Bryce Harper OF -2.0 ▼
17 28.0 Freddie Freeman 1B -4.5 ▼
18 27.0 Javier Baez SS 2.0 ▲
19 26.0 Nelson Cruz DH 1.0 ▲
20 26.0 Jose Altuve 2B 2.0 ▲
21 25.0 Pete Alonso 1B -1.0 ▼
22 25.0 Marcell Ozuna OF 0.0 ▬
23 25.0 J.T. Realmuto C 0.0 ▬
24 24.0 Manny Machado 3B/SS 3.0 ▲
25 24.0 Giancarlo Stanton OF/DH 0.0 ▬
26 24.0 Ozzie Albies 2B 2.0 ▲
27 24.0 Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 4.0 ▲
28 23.0 Xander Bogaerts SS 1.0 ▲
29 23.0 George Springer OF 0.0 ▬
30 22.0 Anthony Rendon 3B -1.0 ▼
31 22.0 Starling Marte OF -1.0 ▼
32 21.0 Joey Gallo OF 0.0 ▬
33 21.0 Ketel Marte 2B/OF 1.0 ▲
34 21.0 Kris Bryant 3B/OF 1.0 ▲
35 20.0 Eugenio Suarez 3B 1.0 ▲
36 20.0 Bo Bichette SS 1.0 ▲
37 20.0 Eloy Jimenez OF -2.0 ▼
38 19.5 Josh Donaldson 3B 0.5 ▲
39 19.5 Adalberto Mondesi SS -0.5 ▼
40 19.5 Luis Robert OF 3.0 ▲
41 19.0 Eddie Rosario OF -1.0 ▼
42 18.5 Aaron Judge OF -1.0 ▼
43 18.5 Yoan Moncada 3B 1.5 ▲
44 18.0 Matt Chapman 3B 0.0 ▬
45 18.0 Keston Hiura 2B -0.5 ▼
46 18.0 Anthony Rizzo 1B 0.0 ▬
47 18.0 Tommy Pham OF/DH 0.0 ▬
48 17.5 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3B/DH 0.0 ▬
49 17.5 Marcus Semien SS 2.5 ▲
50 17.5 Charlie Blackmon OF 0.0 ▬
51 17.0 Kyle Schwarber OF 1.0 ▲
52 16.5 Yordan Alvarez DH -6.5 ▼
53 16.5 Carlos Correa SS 2.0 ▲
54 16.5 Ramon Laureano OF 2.0 ▲
55 16.0 Max Muncy 1B/2B/3B 2.0 ▲
56 16.0 Yuli Gurriel 1B/3B -1.0 ▼
57 16.0 Gary Sanchez C 0.0 ▬
58 16.0 Nicholas Castellanos OF -1.0 ▼
59 15.5 Tim Anderson SS 3.5 ▲
60 15.5 Matt Olson 1B -3.0 ▼
61 15.5 Jorge Soler OF/DH 0.5 ▲
62 15.0 Josh Bell 1B -2.5 ▼
63 15.0 Franmil Reyes OF/DH 0.5 ▲
64 15.0 Justin Turner 3B 1.5 ▲
65 14.5 Paul Goldschmidt 1B -3.5 ▼
66 14.5 Miguel Sano 3B 0.5 ▲
67 14.5 Victor Robles OF 1.0 ▲
68 14.0 Mike Moustakas 2B/3B 2.0 ▲
69 14.0 Jorge Polanco SS 4.5 ▲
70 14.0 Max Kepler OF 2.0 ▲
71 13.5 Jose Abreu 1B/DH -1.5 ▼
72 13.5 Michael Brantley OF/DH 4.5 ▲
73 13.0 Jeff McNeil 2B/3B/OF 4.0 ▲
74 13.0 Oscar Mercado OF 2.5 ▲
75 12.5 Yasmani Grandal C/1B 0.0 ▬
76 12.5 DJ LeMahieu 1B/2B/3B 2.5 ▲
77 12.5 Michael Conforto OF 4.5 ▲
78 12.0 Austin Meadows OF/DH -2.0 ▼
79 12.0 Jonathan Villar 2B/SS -4.0 ▼
80 11.5 Andrew McCutchen OF 2.0 ▲
81 11.0 Shohei Ohtani DH -1.5 ▼
82 11.0 Eduardo Escobar 2B/3B 2.5 ▲
83 11.0 Byron Buxton OF 2.5 ▲
84 10.5 David Dahl OF -0.5 ▼
85 10.5 Willson Contreras C 0.0 ▬
86 10.5 Corey Seager SS 1.5 ▲
87 10.0 Whit Merrifield 2B/OF 0.0 ▬
88 10.0 Rhys Hoskins 1B -3.5 ▼
89 10.0 Andrew Benintendi OF 0.0 ▬
90 10.0 Mitch Garver C 1.0 ▲
91 9.5 Salvador Perez C -1.0 ▼
92 9.5 Didi Gregorius SS 3.5 ▲
93 9.5 Carlos Santana 1B/DH -1.0 ▼
94 9.5 Avisail Garcia OF/DH 2.0 ▲
95 9.0 Khris Davis DH -5.0 ▼
96 9.0 Amed Rosario SS 2.0 ▲
97 9.0 Adam Eaton OF 2.5 ▲
98 8.5 Paul DeJong SS 0.0 ▬
99 8.5 Justin Upton OF 1.5 ▲
100 8.0 Alex Verdugo OF 2.0 ▲
101 8.0 Christian Vazquez C 1.0 ▲
102 7.5 Howie Kendrick 1B/2B 1.5 ▲
103 7.5 Edwin Encarnacion 1B/DH -1.0 ▼
104 7.5 Yadier Molina C 0.0 ▬
105 7.5 Austin Hays OF 2.0 ▲
106 7.0 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. OF -0.5 ▼
107 7.0 Elvis Andrus SS 1.0 ▲
108 7.0 David Peralta OF 3.0 ▲
109 6.5 Jean Segura SS 1.0 ▲
110 6.5 Will Smith C 0.0 ▬
111 6.5 Hunter Renfroe OF 3.5 ▲
112 6.0 Bryan Reynolds OF 5.0 ▲
113 5.5 Randal Grichuk OF 4.5 ▲
114 5.0 Ryan Braun OF 3.0 ▲
115 5.0 Wilson Ramos C -1.0 ▼
116 5.0 J.D. Davis 3B/OF 0.0 ▬
117 5.0 Brandon Lowe 2B 4.0 ▲
118 5.0 Luke Voit 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
119 4.5 Jonathan Schoop 2B -0.5 ▼
120 4.5 Carson Kelly C -1.0 ▼
121 4.5 Miguel Andujar 3B/DH 0.0 ▬
122 4.5 Brett Gardner OF 2.0 ▲
123 4.0 C.J. Cron 1B -2.0 ▼
124 4.0 Starlin Castro 2B/3B -1.5 ▼
125 4.0 Kyle Tucker OF 0.5 ▲
126 4.0 Dansby Swanson SS 0.5 ▲
127 4.0 Francisco Mejia C -1.0 ▼
128 4.0 Gio Urshela 3B 2.0 ▲
129 3.5 Rougned Odor 2B 0.5 ▲
130 3.5 Joc Pederson 1B/OF 1.0 ▲
131 3.5 Omar Narvaez C -1.0 ▼
132 3.5 Travis Shaw 3B 0.5 ▲
133 3.0 Brian Anderson 3B/OF -1.0 ▼
134 3.0 Victor Caratini C/1B 2.5 ▲
135 3.0 Willy Adames SS 0.5 ▲
136 3.0 Cavan Biggio 2B 0.5 ▲
137 3.0 Corey Dickerson OF -2.0 ▼
138 2.5 Daniel Murphy 1B 0.5 ▲
139 2.5 Kyle Seager 3B 1.0 ▲
140 2.5 Trent Grisham OF 1.5 ▲
141 2.5 Niko Goodrum 2B/SS/OF 0.5 ▲
142 2.5 Isiah Kiner-Falefa C/3B 2.0 ▲
143 2.5 Garrett Hampson 2B/OF -2.0 ▼
144 2.0 Joey Votto 1B -1.5 ▼
145 2.0 Kevin Newman 2B/SS -1.0 ▼
146 2.0 Cesar Hernandez 2B 0.5 ▲
147 2.0 Sean Murphy C/DH -1.5 ▼
148 2.0 Yandy Diaz 1B/3B -1.5 ▼
149 1.5 Danny Santana 1B/OF -6.5 ▼
150 1.5 Nick Senzel OF 0.5 ▲
151 1.5 Eric Hosmer 1B -2.5 ▼
152 1.5 Carter Kieboom SS 0.0 ▬
153 1.5 Asdrubal Cabrera 2B/3B 0.5 ▲
154 1.5 Danny Jansen C 0.5 ▲
155 1.0 Christian Walker 1B -2.0 ▼
156 1.0 Shin-Soo Choo OF/DH 0.0 ▬
157 1.0 Mike Yastrzemski OF 0.0 ▬
158 1.0 Maikel Franco 3B 0.5 ▲
159 1.0 Wil Myers OF 0.5 ▲
160 1.0 Willie Calhoun OF -3.5 ▼
161 1.0 Dylan Carlson OF 0.0 ▬
162 1.0 Shogo Akiyama OF 0.0 ▬
163 1.0 Kolten Wong 2B -2.5 ▼
164 1.0 Tommy Edman 2B/3B 0.0 ▬
165 1.0 Renato Nunez 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
166 1.0 Mark Canha OF -0.5 ▼
167 1.0 Ryan McMahon 2B/3B -3.0 ▼
168 1.0 A.J. Pollock OF 0.0 ▬
169 1.0 Austin Riley OF -1.5 ▼
170 1.0 Gavin Lux 2B -1.0 ▼
171 1.0 Kurt Suzuki C -0.5 ▼
172 1.0 Mallex Smith OF 0.0 ▬
173 1.0 Mauricio Dubon 2B 0.0 ▬
174 1.0 Yoenis Cespedes OF -1.5 ▼
175 1.0 Aaron Hicks OF 0.0 ▬
176 1.0 Scott Kingery 3B/OF #N/A
177 1.0 Ian Happ OF 0.5 ▲
178 1.0 Brandon Nimmo OF 0.0 ▬
179 1.0 Rowdy Tellez 2B/3B 0.5 ▲
180 1.0 Hunter Dozier 3B/OF 0.0 ▬
181 1.0 J.P. Crawford SS 0.5 ▲
182 1.0 Ji-Man Choi 1B 0.0 ▬
183 1.0 Shed Long Jr. 2B 0.5 ▲
184 1.0 Luis Arraez 2B/OF 0.5 ▲
185 1.0 Justin Smoak 1B/DH -0.5 ▼
186 1.0 Kevin Pillar OF 0.5 ▲
187 1.0 Matt Carpenter 3B -0.5 ▼
188 1.0 Kyle Lewis OF 0.5 ▲
189 1.0 Teoscar Hernandez OF 0.5 ▲
190 1.0 Yoshi Tsutsugo OF 0.5 ▲
191 1.0 David Fletcher 2B/3B/OF 0.5 ▲
192 1.0 Miguel Cabrera 1B/DH 0.0 ▬
193 1.0 Andrelton Simmons SS 0.0 ▬
194 1.0 Franchy Cordero OF 0.5 ▲
195 1.0 Anthony Santander OF 0.0 ▬
196 1.0 Ender Inciarte OF 0.0 ▬
197 1.0 Enrique Hernandez 2B/OF 0.5 ▲
198 1.0 Jason Castro C 0.0 ▬
199 1.0 Jesus Aguilar 1B 0.0 ▬
200 1.0 Jo Adell OF -0.5 ▼

 

Ballers of Note

Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers)

It's easy to forget that Seager looked like an elite shortstop at the start of his career. However, a torn UCL derailed him in 2018, and it's frequently overlooked that a Tommy-John surgery hinders a hitter for about two months after he returns. Seager had started heating up in June last year when he tore his hamstring, but from July 1st until the end of the season, Seager put up a 118 wRC+ with a  .277 ISO and a 50% hard-hit rate. That's right, 50%.

So far this season, Seager owns more barrels (7) than anyone else in the league, and he has a 62.7% hard-hit rate. Somehow, Seager's .452 wOBA is trailing behind his xwOBA of .656. It's hard to project Seager too far up the board too quickly. Shortstop is deep, and it has been only eight games, but another week like this, and he'll be jumping up into the next tier.

Brandon Lowe (2B, Rays)

Among the dozens of things that I never did this spring was to write an article on the criminal under-drafting of the Lowe brothers from Tampa Bay. While Nate Lowe wastes away on the Rays' practice squad, Brandon Lowe has been lighting up the Eastern seaboard. Given his modest ADP, that may come as a surprise, but remember that Brandon Lowe owned a 178 wRC+ at AAA in 2018. In 2019 he put up a 125 wRC+ with 17 HR, 42 R, 51 RBI, and 5 SB in 82 games. His MLB time was shortened by injury, and the projection systems were oddly cool on him.

Lowe has started this season by racking up six extra-base hits in eight games, and like Luis Robert below, Lowe's max exit velocity suggests that he will significantly outperform his projections for this season. Notably, THE BAT X, which relies heavily on Statcast data, is the most optimistic about Lowe for this season.

Second base has a unique cluster between Whit Merrifield and Jeff McNeil, but Lowe looks like he should finish in that neighborhood (maybe better) with a line of 28-9-28-2-.260.

Yordan Alvarez (DH, Astros)

The good news is that Alvarez is through the MLB Covid-19 protocol and able to take batting practice. Unfortunately, Dusty Baker reported that it would be a while before Alvarez rejoins the team.

Given how long Alvarez has been gone, it's not likely that he's going to show up and start cranking out dingers, no matter how much my heart wants it. That's reflected by a drop of $6.5 off his seasonal value. Without knowing his real condition or timeline, it's hard to project him, so I've shaved ten additional games off his rest-of-season value. My hope is that he'll miss fewer games than that, but it's hard to imagine there won't be a bit of hangover from all the missed time.

Fortunately, this is probably the low-point for his value this season. If he makes a quick return, he can reclaim most of that value, but it's hard to go beyond that right now.

Gavin Lux (2B, Dodgers)

Unfortunately, there isn't much good news to write about Lux. The Dodgers were able to designate him for assignment because they have such a glut of talent and ability. Lux isn't blocked, but he is marginalized by Kike Hernadez's solid start. Chris Taylor is there as well, but he's been putrid so far.

It's reasonable to expect the Dodgers to call up Lux any day now, but in a league with tight benches or without an NA spot, he's droppable if you need a body. I'm going to keep holding in both leagues where I own him, but I have space in the one and an NA slot in the other.

Asdrubal Cabrera (2B/3B) and Carter Kieboom (SS/3B, Nationals)

Unless there is an injury, Cabrera's value is inversely connected to Kieboom's. Kieboom was supposed to begin the year as the Nationals' starting third baseman. However, he's only played three games so far while Cabrera has seven starts. On a per-game basis, Kieboom has been better than Cabrera, but if he's only going to play part-time, he's going to be hard to hold for long.

Meanwhile, Cabrera has become one of the most consistent accumulators in the league. He's not great, but he provides multi-position eligibility, a little pop, a steal or two, counting stats, and a batting average that isn't likely to hurt you. He's a placeholder for fantasy teams, but one that minimizes damage to a team that needs a body at second or third base.

The Nationals owe Kieboom and fans the opportunity to see what he can do, but even with the 22-year-old's supreme talent, it will be hard to wait much longer.

Khris Davis (OF, Athletics)

Davis has struggled to start the year. It's difficult to dismiss it as a small sample after last season's unhappy line of  61-23-73-0-.220. So far this season, Davis has struck out seven times in fifteen at-bats (41.2%). What is really worrisome is that the team has already given him two games off in the first six. Either Bob Melvin is giving Davis a breather, or he sees trouble as well. If Davis starts to lose playing time, that's probably the end. Davis did strike the ball well last season, so there is some reason for optimism, but the opening week is worrisome.

Luis Robert (OF, White Sox)

I wrote about Robert last week, but the short version is that we've probably undervalued him given his track record in the minors, his power potential, and his clear success against older players. After Tim Anderson's injury, the White Sox moved Robert into the leadoff spot. That should help his run total, but I'm not sure if the White Sox will give him the same opportunities to run if he has Moncada, Abreu, and Jimenez behind him.

Victor Caratini (C, Cubs)

If you've missed it like me, Caratini is seeing time at DH for the Cubs. Last year, Caratini assembled a 108 wRC+ at a position where the 15 best catchers averaged a 115. However, those 15 catchers average only 110 games (about 68% playing time), while Caratini has now played in six of the Cubs seven games this season. There are plenty of reasons why this might be Caratini's high point, but consider the following comparison:

Name Brls/PA Max Exit Velo. BB% K% ISO AVG OBP wOBA wRC+
J.T. Realmuto 6.2 112.9 6.90% 20.70% 0.217 0.275 0.328 0.340 108
Victor Caratini 6.1 113.6 10.40% 21.10% 0.180 0.266 0.348 0.338 108

That's not to suggest that Caratini is going to ascend to Realmuto's production, but he's a definite candidate to move up the rankings. The 25-year-old has a modest defensive skillset, so if the Cubs can get his bat in the lineup more frequently without needing him to catch as often, that's a real benefit to his value. Consider players like Mitch Garver and Alex Avila from a few years ago: catchers who see extra at-bats almost always offer increased value. Even if he assembles middling ratio stats, he should offer an advantage in counting categories.



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Using the Baller Ranks and Meta Report

The Baller Ranks depict player value and active developments throughout the season. For most leagues, there are somewhere between 250 and 400 fantasy-relevant players. Most weeks feature more than 80 games, a myriad of roster moves, and enough information that many fantasy managers can miss critical changes.

In the best sense, the Baller Ranks offer updated rankings, news, relative values, and statistics that stabilize most quickly. It aims to address more than trade value and rank.

The true goal of the Baller Ranks is to give owners an advantage by providing greater clarity on what is happening in the game so they can respond to it more effectively. The ranks and values are data and projections based. I start by scraping player projections and combining them. Then I make adjustments for individual players when I can point to concrete evidence and say, "here's why the projection is wrong." I use that data set to generate z-scores and predicted player values.

 

Overview

It's easy to dismiss a hot start or a cold streak as a small sample. Ideally, the Baller Ranks give owners perspective to make the best decisions as they play.

The Baller Ranks feature four main pages:

  1. The Rankings sheet: A full table of the top-150 hitters. Players are arranged in a way that better illustrates their comparative value than simple ranking. It allows fantasy owners to visualize performance tiers and conceptualize trades more effectively.
  2. The Core page: Each position gets its own section. The page has individual player notes, the value of a player's season-to-date performance, and their reason wOBA and xwOBA.
  3. Early Indicators Data: A table of stats with a high correlation to fantasy value and overall offensive success. These stats are among the fastest stats to stabilize (2-4 weeks) and have predictive value.
  4. Early Indicators Delta: In some ways, the Delta sheet is a quicker version of the "Early Indicators Data." The table offers the same stats as the Early Indicators Data, but it compares a players' recent performance to their prior performance. Positive changes are shown in green. Negative changes are shown in red. Want to know if Austin Hays is actually being more patient at the plate? Did JP Crawford's swing change improve his launch angle? It's going to show up here.

Fantasy baseball leagues aren't won by owners who simply draft well. They're won by owners who know the game and who respond to it over the course of the season. Hopefully, the Baller Ranks are a tool that helps you do that.

The sheet itself continues to be a work in progress. I'd love to get feedback from you and to hear about how we can make it even better. If you see an issue, would like a feature, or just want to ask a baseball question, let me know on Twitter. Good luck out there.



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Red Alert: Luis Robert's 115.8 MPH Smash Means Something

In the hullabaloo of MLB’s opening weekend, you may not have noticed that Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox — he of the .337 ISO at Triple-A Charlotte — announced his presence with authority on Friday night. In the second inning of his MLB debut, Robert strode to the plate, stood 60 feet and six inches away from Jose Berrios, and proceeded to smash the first pitch of his MLB career at a velocity of 115.8 MPH. To give that achievement some context: last year, there were exactly 20 players who hit a ball harder than Robert did in his first career hit. We’ll get to their names and stats in a minute, but most of them are players you want to own.

I wrote this piece on Sunday morning, and by Sunday afternoon, Robert had added his first career home run. The dinger was a 419-foot blast that Robert smoked at 111.4 MPH. By MLB’s current leaderboards, that means Luis Robert now has the fifth and first-hardest hits of this season.

So it is that I have come here to sing the anthem of Luis Thunderclap Robert, First of his Name, Stealer of Bags, Destroyer of Baseballs and Pitchers, La Pantera and Child of Destiny.

 

We Have Lift Off

 

115.8 MPH is Like Really, Really Hard

Maximum exit velocity is one of a handful of small-sample data points that has a strong correlation to outcomes. Hitters capable of slugging a single ball over 110 MPH are far more likely to see positive offensive results than those who cannot. In this case, a single batted-ball event can tell us quite a bit.

Two years ago, Rob Arthur found that for every mile per hour over 108, we can add another six points to a hitter’s projected OPS. Robert had been projected for an OPS somewhere between a .765 (The BAT X) and .808 (Steamer). With Arthur’s formula, we can push Robert’s OPS to somewhere .812 and .855.  Keep that in mind as we try to recalculate Robert’s projected value. Whatever you thought Luis Robert was before the season, it turns out that he is probably more than that.

If you’re still feeling skeptical about the significance of a single batted-ball event, here are the players who hit a ball 115.8 MPH or harder in 2019.

Player Max Velo. wRC+
Giancarlo Stanton 120.6 139
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 118.9 105
Pete Alonso 118.3 143
Gary Sanchez 118.3 116
Aristides Aquino 118.3 119
Aaron Judge 118.1 141
Jose Abreu 117.9 117
Christian Yelich 117.9 174
Yordan Alvarez 117.9 178
Kyle Schwarber 117.6 120
Nelson Cruz 117.0 163
Mike Trout 116.6 180
Bryce Harper 116.4 125
Ketel Marte 116.3 150
Josh Bell 116.2 135
Avisail Garcia 116.2 112
Mike Zunino 116.1 45
Ronald Acuna Jr. 115.9 126
C.J. Cron 115.9 101
Fernando Tatis Jr. 115.9 150
Yoan Moncada 115.8 141

That’s a list of great players. It would be easy to dismiss the less appealing names on that list (Zunino, Cron, and Garcia), but those names are critical to clarifying the range of outcomes. Even then, if Robert does generate the same 112 wRC+ as Avisail Garcia, he will have outperformed his projections with the bat.

 

To Be Young and Fabulous

Like many stars, Robert has enjoyed ample success ahead of his age group. There is a direct correlation between a player’s debut age and his career success. Some of that is the result of accumulation, but it is also because advanced and more mature competition reveals a younger player’s true talent level.

At the age of 15, Robert broke into the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s premier professional league). At that time, he was 11 years younger than the league’s average player (26.7 years). By the time he was 17, he put up an OPS of .796. At 18 years old, that number soared to 1.213.

In Robert’s 2019 campaign, he was 2.7 years younger than his competition in the Double-A Southern League and 5.9 years younger than the average player in the Triple-A International League. During that stretch, Robert hit .306 with 24 home runs, 28 steals, and a wRC+ of 146. Given what we know about how older competition helps a younger player to advance his abilities, we should have expected this type of arrival in the majors.

After all, Robert’s talent and success led the White Sox to sign him for six years and $50 million because they thought it would save them money in the long run. The team has committed to playing him every day this year, and center field may as well have his name on it.

Since 2017, there have been eight players age 22 or younger who enjoyed a 135 wRC+ in Double-A or TripleA-A and then at least 450 plate appearances for their entire rookie season:

Name Age G R HR RBI SB AVG wRC+
Juan Soto 20 150 110 34 110 12 .282 142
Rafael Devers 22 156 129 32 115 8 .311 132
Ronald Acuna Jr. 21 156 127 41 101 37 .280 126
Gleyber Torres 22 144 96 38 90 5 .278 125
Ozzie Albies 22 160 102 24 86 15 .295 117
Eloy Jimenez 22 122 69 31 79 0 .267 116
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 20 123 52 15 69 0 .272 105
Victor Robles 22 155 86 17 65 28 .255 91

Fernando Tatis Jr. misses out here because he suffered an oblique injury last year. This list, combined with the list above, gives us context for Robert’s ability to be an immediate star.

Notably, Robert won’t have the entire season, which means that if opposing teams find some glaring weakness to expose, the Chicago wunderkind will have less time to adjust and rebound. As with all players, the range of outcomes is much greater this season, but that is especially pronounced with a player whose range is so dramatic.

The simple reality is that while fantasy sports owners are used to seeing rookie running backs explode onto the scene in fantasy football, most fantasy baseball owners are skeptical about the value of a rookie player. However, as the last few years have shown us, there are going to be absolute studs who arrive at the height of their powers.

 

Valuing a Hot Asset

Before the season, Robert’s work with the bat and his forecast nine steals were enough for him to be projected as the 22nd best outfielder and 77th most valuable player for this season.

While we don’t have a meaningful sample for Robert’s average exit velocity or his barrel rate, the velocity should still have benefits for Robert’s batting average (as well as his power). For a player with Robert’s speed, the ability to hit the ball with that kind of authority prevents fielders from playing too far in as they attempt to take away weak grounders. His speed prevents them from sitting back so they can reach hard grounders.

If we combine the speed and make modest improvements to Robert’s hitting projections, we’re left with a player who looks awfully similar to Fernando Tatis Jr. If we use the Depth Charts projections, Tatis Jr. projects as the 29th most valuable hitter and the 42nd most valuable player overall.

I’m arguing that we’ve undervalued Luis Robert. Using Arthur’s adjustment and applying the rates to the rest of Robert’s stats, we get something like this:

Player R HR RBI SB Average OPS
Luis Robert 29 10 31 9 .279 .818
Fernando Tatis Jr. 34 10 30 9 .275 .835

The extra opportunities on base may lead to more steals for Robert, but I haven’t added that in, even though the numbers would suggest another half steal (enough to round up). By my values, Tatis remains more valuable, but just barely. It looks like Robert’s new projection should make somewhere between the 40th to 50th most valuable player this season. That puts him somewhere between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Starling Marte.

If you own Robert, make sure you get fair value for him in a trade. If you’re looking to acquire him, it’s likely to be expensive. The reality is that most Robert owners are already enthusiasts, and they ought to be. However, there are always owners who want to get too cute and sell high when they don’t know the value of what they have. Don’t overpay, but if you need steals and a dynamic outfield bat, Luis Robert is likely to the cheapest asset in that third tier of outfielders ranging from Giancarlo Stanton to Eloy Gimenez.

In dynasty leagues, Robert is about to make the leap to being a top-20 player. We haven’t yet seen enough to push him ahead of young stars like Yoan Moncada and Pete Alonso, but it’s easy to see him there by the end of this season.

At this point, we can say with much greater confidence that the hype on Chicago’s phenom is more than justified. The L is now leaving the station.



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Introducing the MLB Baller Ranks

It’s my extraordinary pleasure to introduce The Baller Ranks, an up-to-date rankings sheet for player values. We wanted to roll this out back in March, but 2020 has had other ideas...

Ideally, The Baller Ranks are not a set of pre-season rankings or draft recommendations. They are designed to be an in-season set of data-based rankings to keep you current and help you navigate add-drop moves and trades. Specific dollar values are based on 12-team, 5x5, $260 budget leagues, but the overall rankings are relatively easy to apply to your league size.

For now, I’d love some feedback @D_Emerick about the design, about information, about what you want from a weekly rankings sheet. My hope is that the rankings here are helpful to you as we think about the return of baseball, but I also want to hear from readers and fantasy managers who think intensely about both the game of baseball and the game of fantasy baseball.

 

Overview

My goal with this format was to do a few things. I wanted to better illustrate comparative value. Hopefully, the format should better illustrate the value difference between players, but this first publication is just a taste of the larger product. Unfortunately, there is still no baseball, so this first list is based on our updated RotoBaller Rankings. In that regard, this isn’t really The Baller Ranks list I had intended, but it lets us roll out the updated MLB rankings in a new format. Truth be told, I think this pilot has about 40% of my intended content, but we need real games for the rest. Future versions will have more information about player performance and status.

I designed The Baller Ranks because I’ve always wanted a tool like this one: a big-picture update on what’s going on around the league. Until we do get real games, I hope this gives you some baseball content to consider and that you’ll share your thoughts with me. I’m actively soliciting your feedback. I may not be able to use all of it, and some of your ideas may take time to implement, but I want to hear about how I can make this tool better for you.

As you look at this installation, you’ll see two of the planned sheets. The first is the core sheet, which ranks players by position, lists previous rankings, trends, and includes a blurb on some of the more significant movers. The second is the rankings sheet, which arranges all of the players into a single sheet so that owners can think more critically about relative value, transactions, and how to build their teams.

For multi-position players, I’ve tried to put players at their most valuable position. If you think that I’ve placed someone in the wrong column, let me know because that impacts their overall value as well as the position on the table. If you think you a player is underrated and needs to be added/moved higher, or if you think a player is overrated and should get bumped, let me know as well.

With all of that out of the way, here are my takeaways for this first sheet. When we get to the season, the esteemed Nick Mariano will handle pitchers. My job is just to focus on hitters. We’ll start with the general commentary and move into specific players in the second half.

View The Baller Ranks Core Sheet here

 

Players Dealing with COVID-19 Diagnosis

Let’s get this out of the way first. Some of these diagnoses are built into the values, and some of them are new enough that my fellow rankers didn’t have time to do updates. For this version, I’m not going to do that unilaterally, especially because we’re still learning more. For now, I think I’d be discounting symptomatic players by 10-20% of their value (5-10 games) and leaving asymptomatic players at their current value or reducing them by only a dollar or two.

 

Universal DH

Hitters likely to benefit from a universal DH saw a small uptick, but the value changes are somewhat mixed. The biggest gainers were solid to middling hitters like Howie Kendrick, C.J. Cron, Avisail Garcia, and Ryan Braun. Each of those players has decent lefty-righty splits. Their teams wanted them on the field more, so the universal DH moves them from playing four or five times a week to five or six. That marginal increase will have a meaningful impact on their end-of-season value.  Additionally, fantasy managers might hope to see Garrett Cooper, Dominic Smith, Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, Sam Hilliard, Francisco Mejia, Josh Rojas, Dylan Carlson, Austin Riley, and Nick Senzel benefit from a universal DH.

There are a number of other players where the benefit is less clear cut because they were already going to see nearly full playing time or because other players on their team may benefit from that playing time more than they do. Those include guys like JD Davis, Joc Pederson, Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, and Miguel Andujar.

 

Returners from Injury

Some injured players are returning to ranks that were near their previous highs.

Players like James Paxton, Mike Clevinger, and Justin Verlander are rebounding close to their original rankings. While it makes sense to see player value rebound once they are healthy, we haven’t actually seen these players fully healthy, and we have to be concerned about the increased likelihood that these players will be injured again this season. I’m particularly concerned about the three pitchers above, but there is some reason to be concerned about sluggers like Eugenio Suarez and Aaron Judge.

 

Geography-Based Value Changes

Rankers seemed unsure of how to handle the new schedule and regional effects. Much of that is because schedules have just been released and because strength-of-schedule analysis has usually been more characteristic of fantasy football than fantasy baseball.

The most likely scenario is that teams will be realigned into regional divisions, and while the Central looks like the weakest of those divisions, there doesn’t seem to be any coherent logic for how rankers weighed the impact of that realignment.

 

Relievers

One point of consensus about dealing with a shortened MLB season is that pitchers will see fewer innings and that we’re more likely to see teams using strategies closer to the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s done different things for the starters market, but it seems like it should be reducing the value and rankings of closers and relievers. Based on team strategy and greater distribution of innings and saves, we’ll probably see more closers worth one or two dollars and fewer who are worth eight to ten. Acquiring saves always has a high degree of variance, but if we’re seeing teams use their best reliever in the 7th and 8th more frequently and demoting a struggling closer more quickly than we’d expect that to be built into the rankings more.

 

Movers of Note

Jose Abreu (1B, White Sox): My best guess at Abreu’s rise has to do with potential regional realignment and chatter about the improved White Sox lineup. To that end, the consensus seems to be that Moncado and Jimenez will take a step forward. Tim Anderson will hold onto most of his gains, and EE will hold off father time for one more season.

That confidence in the White Sox lineup combines with a declining sentiment about Anthony Rizzo’s value, and I sorted through a handful of drafts to see Abreu going just ahead or just behind Rizzo. That might be a sense that Abreu is the last first baseman at that tier or that the consensus is that Abreu is a better bet than Rizzo. I don’t concur with that judgment, but that sentiment seems to be out there.

Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, Marlins): Villar’s modest drop in ranking doesn’t make a ton of sense to me because the shortened season means there will be less time to find steals on the waiver wire. I would have expected that to boost Villar’s value, not drop it. Granted, the Miami schedule is not particularly favorable, but Villar still seems like a good bet to produce.

Villar is generally regarded as the least desirable of the early-round stolen base options. However, given the pre-season focus on acquiring speed, the ranking drop seems counter-intuitive. His ADP has held steady over the last month, so drafters Villar’s perception has remained the same.

Howie Kendrick (1B/2B/3B, Nationals): The overwhelming consensus is that Howie Kendrick is the hands-down winner of the DH rule change. I know I wrote about him above, but if I needed power and a second baseman, I’d probably be targeting Kendrick over McMahon, Hampson, or Biggio.

Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson (2B, Rockies): As Nick Gaut recently noted, the Rockies appear to have an unfriendly home schedule (19 of their home games are against the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Athletics, and Padres). The combination will undermine the positive effects of Coors Field.

Eugenio Suarez (3B, Reds): The shoulder injury that could have derailed Suarez’s season has now had three additional months to heal. Before his surgery, Suarez’s ADP was 58. After the surgery was announced, Suarez was being taken around pick 90. His ADP has rebounded to 73 (a good match to his value here). That rebound is justified, and Suarez was arguably undervalued before the injury.

Shoulder injuries can rob power from sluggers, but the Reds have declared Suarez to be 100% healthy. The combination of skills and time to heal suggest that he’s appropriately valued in these current rankings.

Amed Rosario (SS, Mets): The former top-prospect flashed better power and plate discipline in 2019, and there was talk in the off-season that he could be approach 20-20 this season. There’s no health or playing time concerns. His context is the same as Villar’s, so why the change in rank? The hype has died down.

Rosario’s projections are mediocre, and shortstop is so rich with talent that the perception around Rosario has cooled. Mangers can just as easily draft Corey Seager, Jorge Polanco, Gavin Lux, Jean Segura, or Didi Gregorius. Alternatively, the tier above Rosario has stronger assets like Carlos Correa, Tim Anderson, and Marcus Semien.

Mike Trout (OF, Angels): Trout is only down a dollar in our rankings, but that move alone warrants discussion. If Trout misses a single week when his child is born, that’s a 10% hit to his fantasy value for the season. Let me be explicit about one thing here: I think Trout should absolutely take time off and be present for the birth of his child, regardless of how it impacts baseball. My point here is only about how fantasy managers should evaluate his status. If he gets “quarantined” for two weeks, it goes up to 20%. If we’re working mathematically and with total indifference, that puts him in Juan Soto range.

Austin Meadows (OF, Rays): Tampa Bay’s outfielder is entering his third season, and his relative health has suggested that he could shed the “injury-prone” label. It’s not clear whether that label is justified, but it has stuck with Meadows and prompted analysts and owners to question what Meadows will become. To some extent, the change in Meadows’ ranking is tied to the uncertainty about outfielders in the tier below him (Charlie Blackmon, Eloy Jimenez, and Marcell Ozuna). Meadows should also offer more steals and could approach 30-20 pace for this season, a possibility that has pushed him higher in drafts.

Aaron Judge (OF, Yankees): Fantasy managers seem to think they know who Judge is, but there are definitely two distinct opinions about that. One group sees him as an elite talent who has suffered from injury misfortune. The other sees him as a player who will struggle to stay healthy. Judge’s proximity to Giancarlo Stanton is definitely a factor in that perception, and plenty of analysts compare the two players.

The latter perception has calcified this spring. It was revealed that Judge’s shoulder and pectoral discomfort were related to the rib injury from his stress fracture last season. That’s the type of information that prompts fantasy managers to categorize a player with greater confidence. Very few doubt Judge’s ceiling. The question is whether he can be counted on to produce 70 percent of that ceiling.

Joc Pederson (OF, Dodgers): It’s been a strange winter for Joc Pederson. Fantasy owners are now looking at a situation where Pederson is not only an everyday starter for the best lineup in baseball but that he could see an increase in playing time with the universal DH. There’s not a lot of room for Pederson to improve on his 2019, but the current situation suggests he is more likely to repeat it than he once was.

Danny Jansen (C, Blue Jays): Last-year’s fantasy wunderkind at catcher was so bad for the first three months of the season that he became persona non grata on many fantasy squads. However, he assembled above average July and August, and his solid spring this year (.529 BA, 4 HR, 1.953 OPS) combined with the wasteland at catcher to push his value.

The dialogue around Jansen has been about growth and improved approach. In the second half, Jansen forced pitchers to keep the ball in the zone, and he was more aggressive when pitchers were actually in the strike zone. Those two changes helped drive up his barrel rate and performance. It’s a small sample size, and Jansen did struggle at the end of the season, but his current rank is still modest, even for a catcher.



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A Crash Course for MLB's Sprint Season

In true 2020-style, baseball is about to get funky. Maybe you’re excited about the idea of getting some strange baseball, or maybe the word “fluid” reminds you of the morning after your last visit to Taco Bell. Either way, it’s time to start sorting the chalupas from the chimichangas.

Let’s acknowledge that we’re venturing into uncharted territory. Even as the Rotoballer team has been working to unpack the rule changes, 60-man rosters, new schedules, etc., we keep getting more news, and that’s ignoring the fact that we don’t know which baseball will show up, which players might still opt out, or that games haven’t even begun.

Despite those limitations, we’re going to do what we can to make sense of this season, so without further ado, here is your crash-course guide for the sprint season.

 

It’s Only 60 Games

It’s almost impossible to overstate how dynamic this season is going to be. While I’m not betting on the Orioles to make the playoffs, the sample of a 60-game season in 66 days is so frenetic that we’re going to see some absolutely meteoric performances and some epic busts. Normal baseball always has those, but consider this juxtaposition from the first 66 days of last season:

G R HR RBI SB BA OPS
Player A 55 32 15 35 0 .246 .928
Player B 57 27 4 25 2 .259 .691

Clearly, Player A was more valuable for the first 66 days of the 2019 season, but the educated reader will not be surprised to hear that these roles had reversed by the end of the season and that Player B was far more valuable than Player A. As an experienced fantasy baseball player, you’ve known that was the direction of this section since the start of the last paragraph. Here are the identities and full seasons of those same players:

G R HR RBI SB BA OPS
Dan Vogelbach 144 73 30 76 0 .222 .780
Yuli Gurriel 144 85 31 104 5 .298 .884

We know that sample size distorts the accuracy of results. While 60 games are just enough to start normalizing most player performance, the results are still noisy. That will be particularly true of streaky players. Managers will have to approach players like Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, and Eddie Rosario judiciously. Over a full season, those hitters can be expected to generate their stats despite the concerns about injury or streakiness. However, banking on too many players like that could be problematic.

Let this caution be clear though, to win in 2020, you’ll have to take risks, and you’ll have to target some high-risk players to set yourself apart. As a sprint-season manager, I want some players with that type of potential because I’ll need some extraordinary performances to win. If I’m going to lose, I don’t really care if I finish fifth or 10th.

The point here isn’t to avoid streakiness and risk. It’s that we’ll have to manage it. In a 162-game season, I could draft Edwin Encarnacion and give him his two-month vacation whenever he got into one of his funks. This season, that’s going to be a total loss. You’ll always have one or two of those in a season, but this year, there’s less time for positive regression. Get your studs and rock-solid anchors at the start of the draft, then go collect your meteors, just try to avoid the Earth-smashing, life-destroying kind. 2020 has already been chaotic enough, thanks.

Moving to the other side of the baseball, I think I’m more committed than ever to getting an ace to start my drafts this season, and that’s with all of my concern about some of the top SPs being overpriced. We know that what sets elite starters apart from good-but-not-great starters is their consistency. I might not get elite value from my ace, but I’m probably going to get at least a top-20 performance from them.  If someone attractive falls, I could do the double-aces. After the elite starters, I might not take another pitcher until after pick 120 or 130.

Given the reduction in volume, managers should remember to prioritize hitters locked into a lineup spot at the top of the order. One home run or one steal may well be the difference in winning a league this season. Many of these bats will come earlier in the draft. Hitters like Bo Bichette, Austin Hays, Andrew McCutchen, and Kolten Wong are available at different stages of the draft and are likely to bat first or second for their respective teams.

Finally, the shortened season makes punting saves and steals during the draft especially dangerous. When you have five months to cull the waiver-wire and add players like Taylor Rogers and Oscar Mercado mid-season, you can make up for ignoring steals and saves during the draft. With two months, the margin for error drops to near zero.

 

Shortened Spring Training

For 2020, teams will have three weeks of Spring Training at their home parks. While players will be facing more major-leaguers or near major leaguers, the level of intensity for zero-fan, intra-squad games won’t match the work from Spring Training, which was already a few levels down from MLB in-season work. Scott Engel addressed this point in his recent Baseball-Insider article and in a previous one.

There is some dispute over whether hitters or pitchers will benefit more from the quick start, but the sources I’ve seen and heard all indicate that we’ll probably see pitchers scuffle through the first few outings as we normally do in early April. Some of that will be mitigated by weather, the use of openers, and tandem pitching starts. Still, it seems reasonable that pitcher performance may be even more erratic because of the combination of the short season and the quick preseason.

 

Hello Short Starts, Goodbye Innings Limits

Remember that Spring Training allows pitchers to proceed through fairly extensive and scheduled ramp-ups. The preseason routine involves doing more and more pitch mixing throughout longer outings. Certainly, they’ll be working up to their normal status, but we’ve all seen pitchers struggle in their first two or three starts as their managers declare that they are still rounding into form. The simple reality is that there will be some starters who don’t hit full speed until the second month of the season.

**After submitting this article for publication, Zack Meisel reported on Twitter that Carlos Carrasco was built up and ready to throw six innings already. If that is indeed the case for Carrasco and other top-100 starters, it will change the landscape of short starts and reliever use.**

The complementary point is that teams are more likely than ever to use tandem starters or simply rely on openers or long-relievers to protect starters from facing hitters for a third time. It may be easier to find strong ratios this season but harder to get wins. I’ll discuss how this impacts relievers in the section about expanded rosters.

Combine the higher stakes for each game and the shortened season, and there is no such thing as a pitcher with an innings limit this season. If you’re convinced that Jesus Luzardo is the second coming, you should draft him accordingly. Luzardo and other young SPs should not be too limited by an innings cap. Look for Frank Ammirante to cover this topic in an upcoming article.

 

The DH Goes Universal

The implications of a universal DH are relatively straightforward. NL pitchers are going to give up more runs this season than they did last season. The NL will probably still be the lower scoring of the two leagues because the AL teams are built to leverage the DH spot more effectively, but the difference is probably going to be an increase of about .1 to .2 in ERA and a corresponding shift in WHIP. There’s a difference in strikeouts as well, but it’s a bit more marginal.

That leaves drafters needing to devalue NL pitchers by about $1.5 from their preseason-March values. For instance, that moves a pitcher like Walker Buehler from being projected as the 15th most valuable player to the 22nd. For a pitcher like Zach Wheeler, it moves him from 142nd to 153rd. Obviously, those numbers shift depending on the projection systems, player-value weighting, etc. Regardless, drafters should apply a definite discount to the original price of NL pitchers from before the shutdown. Hopefully, I’ll have time to publish a longer article on this topic next week.

For hitters, fantasy managers find themselves in a veritable gold rush of outcomes. Everyone is looking at batters like Howie Kendrick, Dominic Smith, and Kevin Cron as potential bonanzas. Kendrick’s positional eligibility and balanced splits make him particularly attractive, but remember that if most of these hitters were absolute studs capable of hammering both lefties and righties, they wouldn’t need the universal DH to give them full-time jobs. To that end, if you’re looking to calculate the real increase to a player’s value, you need to use a player’s splits when you calculate the additional volume. Many of the new NL DH candidates are strong platoon players and marginal or unusable against their weak side.

For more names and ideas, check out Matt Wallach’s DH candidates in the National League.

 

Expanded Rosters and Taxi Squads Will Allow Teams to be More Aggressive

For teams with playoff aspirations and a particular weakness, we’ll likely see them use the expanded roster and taxi squad to add flexibility or options to shore up that weakness. That could mean that marginal fantasy players will lose playing time as teams try to leverage their opportunity for victories. Two of the most obvious example of that will be starting pitchers who struggle with the third time through the order or closers who are going through rough patches.

For example, regardless of whether Freddy Peralta has successfully added a new pitch, I fully expect that the Brewers are going to do everything in their power to limit him to two times through the batting order, especially early in the season. That might very well make him a stud for ratio stats, but it probably hamstrings his potential wins. I still want Peralta, but fantasy managers need to be cognizant of how that impacts a pitcher’s potential to earn wins. 2020 is likely to give us a higher percentage of tandem starts and bullpen days than any previous season.

Strong teams with sketchy closers or bullpens are going to experiment with using their best reliever in different roles. Alex Fast has written extensively on this topic, and Eric Samulski just released two articles about the ramifications. Both authors are required reading.

Eric’s article, “How to Draft Saves in a Shortened Season” is a must-read for recalibrating how to approach relievers: his premise is that teams without a clear understudy are more likely to stick with their established closer and that teams with strong setup men (or established committee patterns) are going to be more fluid with their approach. Eric offers far more insight and identifies specific teams and targets, so you need to give his piece your attention. His second article, “Why You Need Middle Relievers In 2020,” focuses on middle-relief pitchers and how to use low-cost relievers to boost your categories.

For me, I’m aiming for a star (singular) and scrubs approach with closers. I think we’re going to see reliever use that simulates what we normally see in the final two or three weeks of the pennant run: firemen being used in critical situations, multi-inning saves, and teams trying to ride two or three guys to eke out every win. My approach then is to get one of Hader, Yates, or Chapman if I can. After that, I’m just looking to diversify my saves at the lowest possible cost without putting myself in a position where I’m effectively punting saves. That will absolutely mean drafting setup men and committee guys who are afterthoughts for most managers.

 

Pool Play – Aim for the Shallow Central

Of the three regions (East, Central, and West), the Central has the clearest combination of weaker pitching staffs and weaker lineups. There are still some formidable players and teams, but where I’ve previously debated between Tim Anderson and Bo Bichette, I’m now set on Anderson. Likewise, in my personal conflict over Matthew Boyd and Dinelson Lamet, I’ve made my choice to target Boyd.

If all else is nearly equal, avoid players stuck facing the collective pitching staffs and batting orders of the East and West. Much better to have players who can capitalize against weaker opponents.

 

Make Lemonade

If nothing else, 2020 is the chance to experiment and try some different things in Lemonade Leagues*. Encourage your home league to try something unique: establish rivalry weeks, expand rosters, institute Sacko punishments, you know…fun, friendly things.

Similarly, consider new strategies: If you’ve never tried a LIMA strategy before, do it this season. Go stars and scrubs in auctions. Build a pitching staff based on streamers or middle relievers. Maybe you zig where I’ve recommended zagging, and you target as many streaky and upside players as possible. Experiment and have some fun. If we’re going to wander into the unknown of the 2020 baseball season, we might as well explore and enjoy the experience.

* Author’s Note: I spent 20 minutes googling and sifting through my podcasts to try to figure out who started using the term Lemonade League for their 2020 fantasy baseball league adjustments but to no avail. If you know, feel free to message me and claim it as your own or let me know who deserves credit for that term. 

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2019 Breakout Starters Who’ll Continue to Improve

Breakout starters are one of the great joys of fantasy baseball. There are few things more satisfying than adding or drafting a player who emerges as one of the season’s best values.

Starting pitchers are particularly prone to come out of nowhere and propel a team to a championship. However, that volatility makes it difficult to judge whether a breakout star will regress, repeat, or continue their growth.

Here are three starting pitchers whom fantasy managers can target to pick up where they left off in 2019.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox

Prior to 2019, Rodriguez had never pitched more than 137 innings in a year, never exceeded 150 strikeouts, and never managed to stay healthy for an entire MLB season. In his fifth season, E-Rod accumulated 203 IP, providing 19 wins, 16 quality starts, 213 Ks, and a 3.81 ERA.

On a per-start basis, Rodriguez’s 2019 looks like the healthy version of his 2018 season, actually worse on certain levels. If we were only judging by results, that would be the end of it, but the underlying stats and approach suggest that Rodriguez took another step forward in 2019.

Last season, Rodriguez threw his slider less often and at a lower velocity, but the pitch gave up fewer barrels. His fastball was a half tick slower, but he used it to get more whiffs than ever before. Finally, Rodriguez developed his sinker as a tool against hitters when he was ahead in the count. The righty used the pitch 25% of the time when he had two strikes on a hitter, and in 2019, hitters produced a pitiful .046 ISO and .205 BA against it. Over the last two seasons, Rodriguez’s sinker has evolved to better emulate his fastball, thereby adding a level of deception that he lacked prior to 2018.

So why are we expecting an improved 2020 from him? For starters, Rodriguez’s weakness had always been his ability to stay healthy over an entire season. He’s not likely to see as many innings, and 2019 suggests that he may finally have gotten healthy or have found a way to stay healthy as an MLB pitcher. Additionally, the changes above crystallized throughout the 2019 season, and Rodriguez posted a 2.95 ERA in the second half. Of course, we’d like to see more of a track record, but if he had that type of history, he’d be going 50 picks earlier alongside Jose Berrios.

 

Aaron Civale, Cleveland Indians

Civale has shown up in many places as a player who could outperform his draft slot. However, I think we need to take it a step further and be clear that while Civale probably won’t improve on his ratio stats, he should be more valuable in 2020 than he was in 2019.

Civale’s 3.36 xERA and a .278 xwOBA made him a StatCast darling. The simple story of those numbers is that Civale controls hard contact. In 57.2 innings with 164 batted ball events, Civale allowed just four barrels, giving him a 2.4% barrel rate, which was better than every other starting pitcher with at least 150 BBE.

Beyond Civale’s ability to prevent hitters from making good contact, he also pitches for Cleveland, which carries two distinct advantages. First, the Indians organization has shown the ability to develop pitchers and cultivate their repertoires. Civale’s situation in Cleveland is a more inspiring context than most other teams. Secondly, Civale pitches in the central, so he’ll have the advantage of pitching against the worst hitting of the three regions for 2020.

Owners should feel confident reaching for Civale ahead of his current draft slot at 239. Let’s not oversell him, but it’s hard to understand how Civale is being selected after pitchers like Jon Gray and Dakota Hudson.

 

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

Apparently, there are some owners who are still spooked by Boyd’s struggles in August and September. OK, it could also be related to the fact that he plays for Detroit. Regardless, Matthew Boyd did most of what he needed to do to win our respect last season.

From 2015 to 2018, the big lefty had a 19.9% strikeout rate. In 2019, that spiked to 30.2%, and his K-BB% improved to 23.9%. That was eighth-best among pitchers with at least 150 IP. Similarly, Boyd’s xFIP (3.88), SIERA (3.61), and xERA (3.86) suggest that we’ll see him dramatically outperform his 2019 ERA (4.56).

Using his slider more than ever, Boyd punished hitters by inducing more swings outside the zone (34.7% O-Swing) and more whiffs (14.0%). That latter number suggests that we might see some regression in his strikeouts. However, that’s why Boyd is such a compelling target for later in drafts: even if his peripherals regress from 2019, he could emerge as a quality SP3 for fantasy teams. Remember Boyd’s 23.9 K-BB%? It was better than Yu Darvish’s 23.7%, Stephen Strasburg’s 23.2%, and Charlie Morton’s 23.2%. By comparison, Boyd is available 100 picks later than any one of those three. While he’s not going to rack up the wins this year, it’s unlikely that we’re going to see many 7 or 8 game winners (the 2020 equivalent of a 20-game winner). The simple reality is that Boyd should still provide strong strikeouts, a 3.80 ERA, and enough wins to be a serious asset this season.

 

Honorable Mention

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers: I would like to announce my candidacy for the Brandon Woodruff fantasy fan club. The only reason he’s not listed above is that I’m concerned that some natural strikeout regression might mitigate his value. Despite that very very very modest concern, Woodruff could leverage his velocity and improved control into a top-10 performance this season. Woodruff's underlying statistics and fantasy numbers were already quite good for 2019. Go deeper and you can see that as the season progressed, he gained velocity and forced hitters to chase more and more pitches outside the zone. Plus, Woodruff also has the advantage of pitching in the central this season.

Frankie Montas, Oakland A's: Buy Montas’ improvement. He’s being valued alongside pitchers with just as many warts and who are further removed from the type of success Montas demonstrated last year. The changes in Montas' pitch mix and approach won't rely on the PED enhancement.

Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates: I’m not sure if Joe Musgrove broke out or not. Some of the stats suggest that he did, and some aspects make Musgrove look like a poor man's Matthew Boyd. However, we never got to see stretches where Musgrove put it all together in the same way that Boyd did. He’s an interesting late-round flyer, and he should outperform his 2019 numbers especially now that Pittsburgh finally has a new regime.

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Eliminating Park Factors: Which Hitters Will Benefit Most

As Major League Baseball seeks a way to open the season in early July, one proposal has teams starting or playing the entire season in warm-weather locations (Arizona and Florida) or hub cities. That leaves fantasy managers to re-evaluate hitters whose parks impact their performance and value.

For hitters, it’s primarily a matter of considering which parks impact hitters most significantly. Park factors tend to have an uneven impact on hitters based on handedness, so it’s worth differentiating parks on that basis.

We've already looked at pitchers who may benefit and pitchers who may suffer with home park factors out of the equation. Let's jump into the hitters now.

 

Negative Park Factors for Hitters

Below are the three-year averages for those stadiums which hurt hitters the most (100 is a normalized score representing the average ballpark).

TEAM SIDE 2017-2019 HR 2017-2019 R 3 Year Composite HR Weighted Composite
Giants LHB 81.0 91.3 86.2 84.4
Giants RHB 87.3 94.7 91.0 89.8
Marlins RHB 87.3 95.3 91.3 90.0
Pirates RHB 89.0 96.3 92.7 91.4
Marlins LHB 90.7 93.7 92.2 91.7
Cardinals RHB 90.7 95.7 93.2 92.3
Padres LHB 91.3 94.3 92.8 92.3
Athletics LHB 92.7 93.7 93.2 93.0
Royals RHB 90.3 99.7 95.0 93.4
Red Sox LHB 90.7 101.7 96.2 94.3

For fantasy managers familiar with park factors, it’s not a surprise to see Miami and San Francisco at the top of that list. And depending on league size and format, some players like Jose Peraza, Harrison Bader, and Alex Dickerson might become more interesting. That’s particularly true for Dickerson in a universal-DH system.

Park factors might be a reason to bump marginal players deeper in the draft, but which early and mid-round players would benefit the most from a change of scenery?

 

Jorge Soler (OF, KC)

Jorge Soler’s 2019 breakout was the long-expected emergence of a toolsy player who has had fantasy managers drooling for years. Soler improved his plate discipline and took advantage of being on the field for 162 games. However, Kaufman Stadium is one of the most challenging environments for right-handed hitters, and it's worth wondering what Soler would have done if he hadn't been forced to play half his games in Kansas City.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 44 21 44 .265 .358 .376
Away 51 27 51 .264 .359 .381

Soler's HR totals clearly reflect the challenge of playing in Kauffman. While Soler leveraged his power by pulling the ball, he suffered from the stadium's deep fence in left-center. The left-center power alley, where Soler hit most of his home runs is 387, 12 feet deeper than the more neutral Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.

It would be too ambitious to predict a simple 100/54/100 pace from Soler in a neutral environment, but it would make him far more likely to outperform his projections.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)

Like Soler, Mondesi would be freed from the Kaufman’s spacious fences. Mondesi actually pushes most of his home runs to the opposite field, but those still end up between the left-center to right-center. In the last two seasons, 10 of Mondesi’s 23 home runs have been to the deepest parts of Kaufman field, and his spray charts suggest that deep drives are falling to doubles and flyouts on the Kaufman warning track.

Mondesi’s value also benefits from the extra time for his shoulder to heal, and a neutral site would help mitigate concerns about a loss of power after his shoulder surgery. In the preseason, I was particularly concerned that any loss of power would hurt Mondesi’s overall value, but the additional time and a more neutral site would basically guarantee that the mercurial shortstop would provide positive value to owners who drafted him aggressively this season.

 

Mike Yastrzemski (OF, SF)

If I were recommending one hitter on this list, it would be Yastrzemski. Before the season, ATC projected him for 22 HR while playing half his games at Oracle Park. Depending on your methods, the Giants' home stadium suppresses left-handed HR by up to 33%. Take Yastrzemski, give him a neutral park as well as the universal DH, and we might expect more at-bats and a more productive context.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 25 8 25 .238 .306 .317
Away 39 13 39 .300 .357 .382

Of all the hitters on this list, the difference in these numbers might be the most representative of the actual difference for the player. That’s because Oracle Park hurts both right-handers and left-handers alike. I

t’s not likely the Giants offense would suddenly rival the Dodgers output, but they would likely jump from being the 28th ranked offense last year to league average. That shift would make Yastrzemski one of the most undervalued assets in fantasy baseball.

 

Matt Olson (1B, OAK)

Olson’s power hasn’t suffered in the last two seasons, but like Soler, he is a power hitter who would be more prodigious in a friendlier ballpark. The low-altitude of the Oakland Coliseum is basically a built-in humidor, and the expansive foul territory turns fly balls into outs.

As a hitter with a 44.6% fly ball rate (13th highest among qualified hitters), Olson is exactly the type of player who would be hurt by the foul territory at the Coliseum. A neutral environment would give him back some of those outs.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 31 13 38 .236 .325 .325
Away 42 23 53 .300 .379 .414

The splits here are extreme, and Olson's career numbers indicate that the difference is substantive and enduring: he owns a career .800 OPS at home and .911 away. His ADP at 51 is a little concerning to me, but a better park would move him towards top-40 production.

 

Josh Bell (1B, PIT)

As a righty with a 42.5% pull rate, Josh Bell may have been hurt by PNC park more than any other Pirate. Despite hitting the ball harder and more effectively when he pulled the ball, Bell’s home runs are almost equally distributed around the field. That’s because PNC Park has a cutout that makes part of left-center deeper than straightaway center.

While the rest of the park is relatively small, the left-center power alley is almost designed to suppress right-handed sluggers.

2019 PA R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 291 44 17 52 .254 .361 .369
Away 322 50 20 64 .297 .373 .387

Remember that Bell missed time last season, so the difference in his counting stats is somewhat less pronounced than what the chart above indicates. However, the wOBA difference should suggest the type of improvement we might expect from Bell, and that number would push him up towards Jose Abreu territory of a mid-70s ADP rather than Bell’s current position at 90.

 

Other Notable Players

Peter Alonso (1B) Mets; Alex Verdugo (OF) Red Sox; Trent Grisham (OF) Padres; Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B) Pirates; Bryan Reynolds (LF) Pirates; Buster Posey (C) Giants; Mauricio Dubon (2B) Giants; Hunter Dozier (3B) Royals; Whit Merrifield (2B/OF) Royals

Jonathan Villar and the Miami Marlins: I opted not to include any Marlins on the list above because they are more likely to remain in their home stadium. However, if we knew that the Marlins would be moving out to a park in Arizona, their offensive value would increase dramatically. In particular, Villar, like Mondesi, would jump to near Starling Marte-type value.

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FOMO and the Hype Machine

We’ve officially entered one of my favorite parts of the fantasy baseball season, the cavalcade of articles on sleepers, upcoming prospects, and breakout players. It’s a time of fresh starts, opportunity, and hope, but I’ve also come to wonder if it isn’t potentially distortive and misleading.

Case in point: When Luis Robert signed a long-term contract with Chicago, he jumped up ADP charts in redraft leagues. The contract and recent analysis have amplified the buzz surrounding the 22-year-old who slugged 31 HR and stole 36 bases while hitting .328 across three MiLB levels in 2019. How could fantasy analysts and owners not get excited?

Over the last three weeks, Robert’s ADP has risen to 80 on NFBC draft boards, ahead of Nelson Cruz (82), Eddie Rosario (93), and Marcell Ozuna (96). By sheer projections, that’s difficult to reconcile. Yes, Robert has had an excellent minor-league career, and he is a strong candidate to be this season’s Fernando Tatis Jr. In fact, you could argue that the major difference between Tatis Jr. and Robert is simply when their contracts were announced. Regardless, Robert’s ADP begs the question, why would baseball managers, especially a crew as data-savvy as NFBC players, overinvest in a player whose projections are already below those of players available later?

 

The Three Forces of Fantasy FOMO

There are a few key reasons. The first is that we have watched others win leagues on the backs of two or three breakout players. For instance, Yordan Alvarez and Tatis Jr. last year, Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto in 2018, and Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger in 2017. We do not want to be left behind, so we find ourselves scouring the web for articles and chasing players who could emerge as “league winners.”

The second is the simple reality that hope is indivisible. Baseball, gambling, and fantasy sports trade on our faith that this year will be our year. Fantasy sports (and the relative gambling inherent to the game) require a positive belief that things will work out. We are predisposed to believe the promise of the good news offered by preseason articles. We covet hidden-gem, undervalued, secret-talent, get-rich-quick players.

The third is that Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, podcasts, even Facebook bombard us with new, breaking valuations of players. The democratization of information and the myriad of sources have done the same thing to fantasy managers that they have done to many social media users: Given us an unhealthy dose of the Fear Of Missing Out.

If optimism is the carrot for this pattern, social media, with its ability to induce the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), is the stick.

 

When The Hype Machine Booms, You Dance (The Cool Kids are Drafting Nick Pivetta)

The various platforms and content creators have so dramatically expanded the content that it’s impossible to take stock of that information. That’s not a complaint: I believe there is more good content than ever before. I love finding new writers and getting their perspective. However, in the last three years, I’ve had an absolute sense of being unable to keep up. To be clear, there has always been too much information to process, but we didn’t use to have the constant flow of content beamed to us directly in a way that induces phantom notifications.

The result is that too often we take the conclusions and ideas of articles, podcasts, videos, and tweets for granted: Zac Gallen is undervalued. Mid-tier speed guys are more valuable than ever. Astros’ hitters are destined to underperform. Mitch Keller’s bad luck in 2019 makes him a great pick for 2020. Any single one or all of those things could be true, but we hear so many of them that we lose the how and why behind the claims.

Once we lose that how and why, we lose clarity on a player’s real value, and we see guys arguing in a forum that Mitch Keller is definitely going to be a top-30 starter this season. Do you know who had a great K-BB% and bad luck in 2018? Nick Pivetta.

We see a player praised in one source. Then we see him referenced again in another. By the time we get a player alert on our platform app, we’re taking Nick Pivetta’s ascent for granted, and we find ourselves thinking that if we don't draft a 25-year-old pitcher with a career 5.33 ERA in the 10th round, then we’re going to lose out on this year’s breakout ace. For those of you trying to remember, Pivetta's ADP was 151 last year.

Full disclosure, my body is 100% ready to pick up Nick Pivetta at the first sign of even one good start in April. 

In fantasy baseball, the pattern is easy to understand. I‘d go so far as to say that it’s a natural outcome. Fantasy analysts write about players we like or believe in. We write about these players with enthusiasm, and we share that enthusiasm with readers and one another. Fantasy sports retain the raw energy of traditional fandom. Social media and contemporary platforms distribute those ideas, often to other writers who pick up the idea or player.

On a certain level, social media has made the fantasy biosphere smaller. Ideas permeate the community faster. As with politics, we’re overwhelmed by the amount of information, often condensed to a tweet or an article that can be read in five minutes.

Whatever you have to say, it had better be quick. I’ve already missed 12 player updates while I’ve been reading this.

 

Dialing Back the Hype Machine

The solution isn’t to delete Twitter or to stop reading analysis, but to keep perspective. When the Hype Machine goes to 11, it’s time to start asking, “What’s the cost?” or “What are we missing?”

Over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to do that. Maybe they will help you.

Firstly, consider getting out of FA unlimited add/drop leagues. I used to love the rush to pick up the most recent callups or fill-in closers, but it only makes this phenomenon worse. Encourage your commissioners to adopt FAAB or at least an overnight waivers process. It adds a level of strategy to the game, and it makes it less essential to be on constant alert for fantasy news. By all means, track the games all day long, just don’t put yourself in a position where you’re trying to add a player while you’re driving home from work.

A clear understanding of the numbers is essential. If a player is in the midst of a production hot streak, but they’d need a major increase OBP jump to maintain that pace, it gives me clarity about their true performance range.  If a player’s run production spikes, the first thing I’m going to look for is a difference in his OBP or player context. If that's not there, I’ve got an immediate reason to be skeptical. Likewise, I’m always wary of a pitcher whose strikeout rate spikes at way more than twice his Swinging-Strike rate.

Remember that most fantasy “profit” is made on lower-cost players. Owners need value and base from earlier rounds. With early round (rounds 1-8) players, there has to be some assurance of production. There are always season-ending injuries and guys who collapse, but the earlier in a draft, the more confidence a manager should have in a player’s floor.

Be mindful of when you’re starting to feel about a player rather than think about a player. I’m a Red Sox fan, and when I was younger, I used to overdraft Boston players like it was a roto category. Now, I hardly ever draft one because I struggle to separate my own personal feelings from my evaluation of them.

I’ve also adopted two or three analysts whose opinions I value over others. I use them as touchstones to guide my sentiment. They’re analysts who tend to be precise and avoid hyperbole. They write measured, thoughtful things like, “I like him, but not at that price point because…”

 

Conclusion

This article is not designed to discourage owners from drafting for upside. Ignoring upside and potential breakouts is a ruinous strategy. The profit lies in finding players whose draft prices aren’t being inflated by the sentiment around them.

While my example with Luis Robert focuses on rookies, the larger point is about unproven players with sensational hype surrounding them. If owners are looking for upside, they’re better off focusing on it later in the draft. Consider those league winners from above. Here are their ADPs in their breakout seasons:

Player ADP in Breakout Season
Yordan Alvarez 730
Fernando Tatis Jr. 253
Ronald Acuna 114
Juan Soto Undrafted
Aaron Judge 264
Cody Bellinger 404

With the exception of Acuna, the players above were drafted as lottery tickets. Rookie-status and unproven players can be productive players, but they’re erratic and difficult to project. As a result, the real value for high-variance players comes in late rounds or on the waiver wire.

I’ve been excited to see Robert since he belted a home run in his Spring Training debut in 2018, but I can’t imagine I’ll be able to draft him this season. If he were going closer to Kyle Tucker (144 ADP), I could maybe do it. Tucker at least has an MLB track record. Robert has played 47 games at AAA, where he had a 4.9 BB% and a 24.7 K%.

Truthfully, I think Robert’s likely floor (his 25th percentile outcome) is the 2018 version of Tim Anderson: a 20-20 player with a .240 BA. After all, that's been the White Sox type for a few seasons. However, the real floor is a player who gets demoted to AAA while he works on his approach. By comparison, isn’t Marcell Ozuna, who is entering his most offensive-friendly context, just as likely to match the value of the 75th percentile version of Luis Robert?

Robert is just a single example, but the coming weeks are going to give us many others. I’m already anxious to read an article telling me just how excited I should be about Wander Franco’s impending callup.

I want you to get excited for draft season and opening day. Read, listen, and draft with enthusiasm. Keep your player news feed on. Just make sure the hype machine doesn’t drown out good sense.

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Elite Starters and Pitching Trends Revisited

Last year I wrote a series [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3] on whether we were properly valuing elite starting pitchers. The basic premise was that we were likely to see fantasy-relevant starters (not openers) throw fewer innings again in 2019. I hypothesized that if there were fewer and fewer starting pitchers providing 200 innings of excellent quality, then elite starters were being undervalued, especially in leagues using quality starts.

That research led me to investigate which pitchers were most likely to produce elite seasons. I concluded that pitchers who were coming off an elite season were more likely to return top-tier, if not elite, value. As a result, I argued that those pitchers should be drafted more aggressively than starters going just one or two rounds later. I'm condensing the points a bit, but that was the spirit of the series.

Did those conclusions hold up? I think so, but I’ll let you judge.

 

Trends in Pitching Use

2019 extended some but not all of the patterns I described last year.

QS% IPS CG Pitchers with 180 IP Pitchers with 180 IP and Above-Average ERA
2013 52 5.89 124 64 48
2014 54 6 118 66 49
2015 50 5.8 104 56 45
2016 47 5.6 83 46 34
2017 44 5.5 59 35 25
2018 41 5.4 42 32 28
2019 37 5.2 45 33 30

Certainly, the expansion of the starter and the increased reliance on bullpens continued to eat into starter innings. Innings per Start dropped from 5.4 (base 10) in 2018 to 5.2 in 2019. Likewise, the number of quality starts dropped from 1,996 down to 1,794, a 10% year-over-year decline.

Conversely, 2019 had three more complete games than 2018, and one more starter who reached 180 IP. This year, it occurred to me to check how many of those pitchers with more than 180 IP were able to maintain an ERA better than league average. It turns out that number increased from 25 pitchers in 2017, to 28 in 2018, and to 30 in 2019. That’s two straight years of growth. Those increases are modest enough that maybe they are an anomaly. Or it may be that despite reduced starter usage, managers and teams have calculated how and when to use starters more effectively. Those increases are minor enough that they aren't a clear reversal in the trend, but they are significant enough to suggest that we've reached the saturation point for relievers and the trend for starters has leveled off or even started to rebound.

One potential reason to be skeptical of that is the addition of the extra roster slot for 2020. That seems like a further opportunity for teams to lean on their bullpen to get through games, especially as more teams focus on load management. On the other hand, teams won’t be able to rely on lefty specialists to carve through perilous sections of an opposing lineup, so maybe we will see managers give more opportunities to their starting pitchers.

At the very least, 2019 was close enough to what I expected that the core concept about the scarcity of top-tier starters held true, but if anything, the situation seems more complicated than it did last season.

 

Were Elite Starters More Valuable?

Last year, I defined an “elite starter” as a starting pitcher who returned a value of at least $26.88 in a $260, 12-team league while using a 70/30 split. My thoughts on that have evolved some, but I’m going to keep that definition because it’s still functional. I picked the original setup because it offered middle-of-the-road settings with an aggressive hitting-to-pitching split that recognized how most leagues allocate more space and budget to hitters rather than pitchers. Here are the top 20 pitchers for Wins leagues in 2019:

Pitcher Values in W Leagues
Justin Verlander $45.8
Gerrit Cole $42.4
Jacob deGrom $28.7
Zack Greinke $26.0
Jack Flaherty $24.6
Stephen Strasburg $24.5
Hyun-Jin Ryu $24.0
Shane Bieber $21.9
Charlie Morton $21.7
Max Scherzer $20.7
Clayton Kershaw $20.0
Walker Buehler $18.4
Lucas Giolito $17.4
Sonny Gray $16.9
Mike Clevinger $16.3
Mike Soroka $15.3
Luis Castillo $15.2
Patrick Corbin $15.1
Chris Paddack $11.7
Lance Lynn $11.6

And here is that data graphed against previous years:

The 11th through 20th best starters actually improved relative to the top 10, but the stratification that I described last year is still present in this data set.

From the data above, we can see how elite starters were exceptionally more valuable than other starters just a few spots below them. For example, Gerrit Cole ($42.4) was marginally more valuable than Clayton Kershaw ($20) and Walker Buehler ($18.4) combined. That’s confounding to think about, but here's the comparison:

Player IP W QS ERA WHIP K
Walker Buehler 182.1 14 17 3.26 1.04 215
Clayton Kershaw 178.1 16 22 3.03 1.04 189
Buehler+Kershaw 360.2 30 39 3.15 1.04 404
Gerrit Cole 212.1 20 26 2.50 0.89 326

Some of the difference is that 212 innings of a 2.50 ERA might not look like it provides twice the value of a 3.15 ERA, but Cole’s ERA value is worth about $7 compared with the $3.50 of value from Kershaw and Buehler’s 360.2 innings of 3.15 ERA.

To illustrate the difference in the stratification between top-ranked hitters and the top-ranked pitchers, here are the top 20 hitters for that same league:

Top-20 Hitter Values
Player Value
Ronald Acuna $46.1
Christian Yelich $44.9
Cody Bellinger $44.7
Rafael Devers $39.4
Anthony Rendon $38.9
Alex Bregman $36.5
Nolan Arenado $36.1
Mike Trout $35.5
Freddie Freeman $35.4
Xander Bogaerts $34.1
Trevor Story $34.0
Mookie Betts $32.8
DJ LeMahieu $31.6
Juan Soto $31.6
Ketel Marte $31.5
Peter Alonso $31.4
Jonathan Villar $31.0
Marcus Semien $30.2
Jorge Soler $28.9
J.D. Martinez $28.6

In Wins leagues, there were 30 hitters between Justin Verlander at $45.8 and Zack Greinke at $26.0.

Meanwhile, Quality Starts leagues had markedly similar results.

Pitcher Values in QS Leagues
Player Value
Justin Verlander $45.7
Gerrit Cole $42.9
Jacob deGrom $34.4
Jack Flaherty $28.7
Hyun-Jin Ryu $26.6
Zack Greinke $26.4
Shane Bieber $24.5
Stephen Strasburg $24.0
Max Scherzer $23.3
Charlie Morton $21.2
Clayton Kershaw $20.8
Sonny Gray $19.3
Walker Buehler $18.5
Patrick Corbin $18.2
Lucas Giolito $17.4
Mike Soroka $16.5
Luis Castillo $15.7
Mike Clevinger $15.3
Chris Paddack $12.2
Lance Lynn $11.2

Surprisingly, 2019 had the closest alignment I’ve seen in pitcher value between QS leagues and Wins leagues. Based on what I saw last winter, I would have expected QS leagues to have an even greater exaggeration in elite-starter value, but in 2019 they had slightly less stratification. I don't have any reason to explain that except for my hypothesis above that teams are finding ways to use their starters more effectively.

We can say with confidence that elite starters were still exceptionally valuable compared to starters just a tier below them. Of the three elite starters in Wins leagues and the four in QS leagues, two were players from the pool of elite starters the year before. The other two were candidates I identified last season.

 

Do Elite Starters Return Their Draft Cost?

Here things get trickier. Early-round picks provide little opportunity for profit. Managers can either hope that picks return their value in an absolute sense OR that positional scarcity will provide greater profitability over other players at that position.

As I wrote above, the second half of my conclusion was that elite starters were most likely to come from those starters who’d been elite the year before and who had been a top-100 player in the previous season. For 2019, that meant Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Corey Kluber. The core conclusion that I reached last year was that those five starters were significantly more valuable and more likely to return fair value than those starters going immediately after them. That part turned out to be mostly true.

ADP 2019 Value
Max Scherzer 4.8 $20.70
Jacob deGrom 10.4 $28.70
Chris Sale 12.4 $5.10
Justin Verlander 21.2 $45.80
Corey Kluber 22.8 $0.00
Aaron Nola 24.6 $5.00
Gerrit Cole 26.8 $41.20
Blake Snell 27.8 $0.00
Trevor Bauer 31.0 $0.00
Noah Syndergaard 34.8 $0.00


The five starters did outperform those starters going nearby, but the real story here was that six of the top-10 starters provided $5.10 of value or less. Those top-five starters, the ones who were at least top-100 players in 2018 and then elite in 2019 provided an average value of $20.06 with a median of $20.70. By comparison, starters 6-10 provided an average value of $9.24 with a median value of $0. If you were taking one of the first ten starters off the board, you wanted one of those top-five players. It gave you much higher odds of getting your money's worth out of the player.

The average value of $20.06 for those five starters was still below my expected average of $28.20 for a post-elite starter. Maybe that’s just year-to-year variance. Maybe it is the small sample size of five players with a single year’s data. After all, 2018 did offer the highest number of elite starters (six) at any time in the last eight years. Perhaps it made sense that we would see a correction back to only three elite starters in 2019. Regardless, for elite pitchers, it was the greatest variance in year-after results since 2013, and it’s difficult to look past.

Moreover, the elite starters came from where we expected: Verlander and deGrom were on last year's list, and Gerrit Cole was one of the candidates I tagged as most likely to emerge as an elite starter. For QS leagues, Flaherty was on the list, but the measures weren't nearly as confident in his ascent.

 

Sale, Kluber, and Snell

Last year, I concluded that previously elite starters were more likely to provide useful (even if not elite) seasons to fantasy owners. That didn't happen for Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Blake Snell. Corey Kluber’s 35.2 innings had a net value of $0 while Chris Sale’s injury disrupted 25 starts provided a pitiful $5. Both of those players fell below my 20th percentile outcome of previously elite pitchers. If it happened to only one of them, I’d feel better. However, for two of the five to suffer from that fate, it feels like a distinct loss. Obviously, we're talking about a difference of a single-player season, and maybe just one injury, but it raises questions about the stability of elite pitcher value in comparison to those hitters going near them. I'll address this more at the end.

Blake Snell was a different case, I think fantasy managers had reason to hope he could repeat, and his injury luck feels even more random than Kluber's or Sale's. However, Snell didn't have the previous track record of players likely to be elite starters. Consider Gerrit Cole’s status this season. Compare Cole’s excellent 2018 and elite 2019 to Blake Snell’s mediocre 2017 and elite 2018. Blake Snell exemplifies the type of elite starter who was less likely to repeat with another elite performance. That’s not to suggest that Snell won’t bounce back this season, but his lack of track record didn’t have clear analogs among pitchers who provided elite seasons.

In contrast to Snell, Cole’s two-year combination doesn’t guarantee that he will again offer elite value, but based on the elite starter performances of the last seven years, he and Jacob deGrom are about as safe a bet as anyone in the league.

Justin Verlander is a close third, but the prospect of age regression is awfully steep as he enters his age-37 season. In the seven years of data I’ve examined, only one pitcher was elite at the age of 36, Justin Verlander. To find another example of a pitcher generating an elite season at the age of 36 or older, I had to go back to Roger Clemens at the age of 42 in 2005. Clemen's use of PEDs makes him a problematic comparison, but at this point, I think we can say that Verlander, like Clemens, has had a Hall of Fame career. That makes him exceptional in ways that will defy categorization.

 

Conclusion

Despite 2019's chaos, we do have relative clarity on where elite starters come from and that those players who offered elite value are more likely than other early-round starters to return their value in the season after. After I had written the first two articles in the series, my editor Alex Roberts referred me to a piece from Ariel Cohen that drew a similar conclusion. I would certainly recommend that piece as well.

The last point I thought about after publishing the series last season was about early-round hitter value compared to early-round pitcher value. Last year Corey Kluber, as the last elite starter off the board, was going as pick number 24, and Aaron Nola was going as pick number 25. That provides us with a simple breakpoint to divide the difference between elite starters and second-tier starters. We can then compare that to the hitters going in that same range. Here's the difference:

 Picks 1-24  25-50 $ Diff % Diff
Pitchers  $ 20.30  $ 8.90  $ 11.40 56%
Hitters  $ 28.50  $ 21.30  $ 7.20 25%

There are different ways to cut up the data for this, but most of the ones I tried gave me similar results. Early round hitters are the safer play, but there is a more significant difference in value between the elite starters versus another starter going just one or two rounds later.

I'm not inclined to make the argument that this means everyone should be rushing out to draft deGrom, Cole, or Verlander. The evidence above could easily be interpreted as a demonstration of why the LIMA strategy is more useful than ever.

In the next article, I'll go into how I'm planning to draft starting pitchers this season. Certainly, I want to get one of those three arms, but I'm concerned about the recent "pocket aces" trend, and my guidance is not as simple as "spend your first-round pick on the best starter available."

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Talking Projections and Data-Based Drafting with Ariel Cohen

The fantasy baseball industry is driven by data and many analysts go so far as to develop their own systems for projecting value. Recently, ATC has become more popular as a baseline for those who are seeking a way to rank players for the upcoming season.

I recently had a conversation with the man behind the numbers in order to gain perspective on his unique system and how to best apply it on draft day.

Ariel Cohen is the creator of ATC projections, reigning FSWA baseball writer of the year, and former presidential candidate (really). 

 

How to Use Projections

David Emerick:  As someone who publishes projections, can you tell us how most projection systems work and what made you design ATC in response to what was already out there?

Ariel Cohen: I’ll tackle how ATC came about first. In the year 2010, I simply wanted to improve my odds of winning my home leagues. I figured, let’s start by using the most accurate projections that I could possibly find. I didn’t know which projections were better than others, so as any good actuary would do, I initially just used them all. I compiled spreadsheets of all the projections that I could get my hands on and averaged them. Everything that I’ve learned in the actuarial field suggested that averaging different models would produce a better overall result.

ATC isn’t a substitute for other projections... it allows the best components of each system to shine brighter.

That was a great start. At the end of the year, I went back to look and see which individual projections performed better than others. When I started to look into each statistic by projection system - different projections performed better or worse for certain stats. One system might have been awesome for HRs, but was poor for pitcher strikeouts. Another might have been mid-pack in RBI - but was lousy in pitcher walks.

It dawned on me that using a straight average of projections is not the ideal way to aggregate the lot. Instead, weights should be drawn closer to the individual accuracy of its components. So I ran regressions and calculated some prospective weights. The better power systems got a larger share of the total for power, and the better speed systems earned more weight in the speed totals. The following year, the first iteration of ATC was created. ATC stands for Average Total Cost [and yes, ATC are also my initials].

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated and the data is more robust. With each passing season, I am more accurate. But the general method and principle from the first iteration still holds true today.

Most projection systems use external variables to project stats. Power might be projected based on a player’s average flyball distance, launch angle, barrels, and a bunch of others. Initial HR totals are calculated, and then are ballpark adjusted, regressed for age, and possibly compared to historical levels. ATC isn’t a substitute or competition for other projections. Rather, it is an enhancement; it allows the best components of each projection system to shine brighter.

The key is not to get any one player right - the key is to be directionally right on more players.

DE:  How do you think fantasy managers misuse projection systems?  When we’re looking at ATC projections, what should we be thinking about in terms of variability and reliability? 

AC:  To be honest, I think that most fantasy managers either disregard projections or simply use them as a tool mid-draft to take a sneak peek at a player’s stat line. Others use projections simply to confirm or deny their own general intuitions.

ATC is orchestrated to reduce minimum bias via the “wisdom of crowds.” While other projections could show huge outlier players (either up or down), ATC will be more reliable. Because ATC is an average of other projections, you won’t find an outlandish set of figures; its stability is its key. ATC will help you identify more “profitable” players than other systems, and similarly, it will steer you away from a larger number of “unprofitable” players. The key is not to get any one player right - the key is to be directionally right on more players - which is what ATC facilitates.

ATC is the best “base” set of projections that you can have. Start your exploration into the overvalued and undervalued players with the wisdom of crowds.

DE:  How can we do better? How can we use projections more effectively? 

AC:  To me, projections should be the starting point of anyone’s journey into player evaluation. You could be found guilty of hubris if you think that on the whole, you yourself - unaided - can outperform calibrated projection models. Sure, for any individual player you may have better insight, or you may discover a flaw in the model. But against any fairly accurate projection model, you cannot beat them in the long run.

I believe that the best advice is to always start with a projection set - and then adjust according to your own intuition or knowledge. ATC is the best “base” set of projections that you can have. Start your exploration into the overvalued and undervalued players with the “wisdom of crowds.” ATC represents the best of the projections, so why not start here?

 

Strengths and Weaknesses of Projection Systems

DE:  Certain stats, like batting average and ERA, are heavily regressed in most ranking systems. How should fantasy managers handle categories where the projections seem so close to one another? 

AC:  If I were to tell you that a player will either exactly hit .290 this season or .270 this season - what would you project him for? If you say .280 - you would be projecting the average, but of course, you would also be wrong. That player can’t hit .280, as we said. But I’d still guess .280 - to obtain the least amount of possible variance in the long run.

Projections are regressed. They won’t encompass the true variance of the final individual batting average distribution, but they will be the best guess for each individual player in its own right. The average of players will all seem closer to one another than what actually happens in a single season alone. That is intended.

There isn’t much to do here. The idea is to get your individual player selections right, rather than model the MLB distribution. You want to find the long-term undervalued players, and the regressed averages still give you the correct relationship between player skills.

That being said, when I do prospective valuation of players (generating player auction prices) - I add in a slight alteration in my process to account for this.

If the projected range of a category is markedly different from that of the past season, I will tilt the range number to align more with the past range. So if the standard deviation of saves in 2019 is 20, but I am projecting only a 10 S.D. for 2020, I’ll adjust that range. I’ll employ a value closer to 15, etc. I do so because I want to make sure that the projections aren’t totally misaligned with the true nature of the statistical distribution. In that way, I implicitly adjust the distribution of projections to a more realistic curve.

Was that too technical? 🙂

DE:  You mentioned that ATC’s stability is its strength. I think that one reason managers tend to undervalue projections is a sense that projections don’t seem to reflect breakouts or collapses. First of all, is it accurate that projection systems don’t capture breakouts and collapses? Secondly, if it is accurate, is that just because projections follow the pattern and breakouts/collapses are exceptional events?

AC: I don’t believe we need projections to predict full breakouts or collapses. Sure, obviously if our projection systems knew that Josh Bell would hit 37 homers and 116 RBI last year, that would have been fantastically helpful.

But the truth is - all that you would have needed to profit from Josh Bell last year from projections was for them to be somewhat above market value. If Bell’s ADP was in the 10th round - all you would have needed was for Bell to be valued as an 8th-round player. That’s called a “BUY” signal. If Bell is undervalued, he will make his way onto several of your fantasy rosters. Once on the roster - you enjoy the entirety of the upside and profit that he generated.

On the flip side, and perhaps even easier - all you need not to realize a collapse on your roster is for your projections to be somewhat below market. That would signal a “PASS” on the player. You don’t need a pitcher to be projected for a 5.50 ERA, if a 4.50 ERA projection will make you pass on a player that the market values as a 4.20 ERA player.

As for outsized results - projections are just the averages or medians of player expectation. Breakouts or collapses should occur for some each season - simply by the process risk alone.

DE:  Do recent changes to the baseball distort our ability to project player performance?

AC:  Yes, it does, in that the composition of the ball greatly affects the major league run environment. Pitchers who are fly-ball oriented would have an outsized difference in their ERA resulting from a change in HR/FB. Hitters who have “warning track power” may show a 5-10 HR difference in their power output. For a number of players, the ball matters greatly.

Max Kepler was recently asked if his career year in 2019 of 36 HRs had anything to do with the ball. The quick recap of his response was, “yeah.”

For most, as for the change in the ball - we can simply just scale home runs up to fit the average change in power. In that scenario, the ball does not matter as much since everyone scales accordingly. For some though, the power increase may be outsized, which distorts our ability for adjusting projections. Likewise with the pitchers.

Don’t rely on the straight projections alone - analyze the players yourself. If you have a reason to believe the projection is off - go ahead and adjust it.

 

Are Stats Alone Enough?

DE:  How much do you follow your own system? Do you watch a game or see a stat line and think, “I should go add him,” then check the projection and think “Nah”?

AC:  I always start with ATC. I say ‘start’ because part of the fun, and part of being a good analyst is to have your own opinions. If I identify a player as potentially undervalued by ATC - I will then do my own deep dive to see if my own intuition agrees. Is a newfound level a skill - or perhaps it was just dumb luck? Will a higher strikeout rate continue onwards? If Statcast thinks that the player was lucky - do I agree? And so on.

Don’t rely on the straight projections alone - analyze the players yourself. If you have a reason to believe the projection is off - go ahead and adjust it.

The most common case that I will adjust projections is for playing time. If I believe that the projections don’t realize that a particular player hurt his wrist - and won’t have his power stroke back until mid-season - I’ll take down the power totals when I run my own valuations.

As far as seeing a player play live - sure! If I see something I like or don’t like in a player - I’ll change the projection for my own use. That’s part of the fun in this game!

ATC is an amazing tool, and probably the best starting tool that you can use. But you don’t have to, and shouldn’t use it as the lone source of your draft prep.

If what you personally observe can make a strong case to veer from projections - by all means, adjust!

DE:  Do you ever use the eye test and think that the numbers get it wrong?

AC:  Similar to the question above - absolutely! Computers can’t do what the human eye can. Models do what they do - but the human eye is more trained to spot nuances. GIGO. If what you personally observe can make a strong case to veer from projections - by all means, adjust! You are probably right!

Remember - projections are based on algorithms. They look at 2017, 2018 and 2019 data. If an event or injury that occurred in 2018 affected a player’s statistics, AND it is NOT something that is properly accounted for a model - a going forward projection wouldn’t be accurate.

Let’s say that a player’s wife had cancer in 2018. He was completely healthy, but his power was cut in half that year. Perhaps he was more tired and worried about his family. A projection algorithm does not have a “worried about family” variable. The algorithm will simply assume that his skills are diminished. In this case, the human eye and reasoning ability will be the better predictor.

I speak of this example from experience. I believe that in 2011, Adam Dunn’s daughter was sick - and it weighed on him. His 11 home runs were uncharacteristically low for the White Sox slugger. I knew of this and realized that projections took 2011 as a skills decline. But the reality was that his skills were the same. I was able to draft a 40 HR player for just $1 that season en route to winning a few home league championships.

DE:  Based on projections versus ADP or human elements that aren’t captured by the numbers, who are a couple of players you’re targeting this year?

AC:  In general, I try not to call players “targets.” Obviously, there are players that I view as somewhat undervalued and a handful that are very undervalued. There are players I will have more shares of than others - I call them “potential bargains.”

Brian Anderson and Bryan Reynolds are two players that appear to be strong potential bargains. None are that exciting (to others), which helps keep their draft price down. But both provide enough support in at least four of five of the roto categories and are a safe bet to return a profit.

On the pitching side, Miles Mikolas is a player that had a poor 2019 after a wonderful 2018. The pendulum has swung both ways - and the question is … where will 2020 end up? While I don’t believe that the pendulum will sway all the way to his incredible ’18 results - I believe that the shadow of ’19 sets market expectations closer to the dark side. It also doesn’t help that he has a relatively low strikeout rate for a fantasy pitcher.

If you simply set Mikolas’s value close to the middle of the prior two seasons, he will earn a nice profit as a mid to late-round draft pick. I personally believe he will exceed projections, but the point is he should be profitable either way.

I will also be drafting Chris Archer this year. Just kidding.

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Will the Real Shohei Ohtani Please Stand Up?

When he arrived in 2018, Shohei Ohtani was regarded as one of the most dynamic and difficult-to-value players in the league. After two excellent, but injury-marred seasons, that much hasn’t changed. We have a clearer sense of Ohtani’s talent, but drafting him is still a unique challenge. In fact, the fantasy owners I've talked to seem to think drafting Ohtani this season is as uncertain as picking a rookie with no MLB track record, e.g., Luis Robert.

Ohtani generates top-20 value per game on offense, and his reduced innings will be less of an issue when starters are throwing fewer innings than ever...

Here’s what we know about Ohtani’s last two seasons: As a pitcher, Ohtani logged only 51.2 innings during 2018. He provided a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 63 strikeouts, and 4 wins. It was a promising, if limited debut. Fortunately, the xStats help us a little here. If he had generated enough innings, Ohtani’s .286 xwOBA would have made him 21st among qualified starters. That’s not world-beating, but it's close to high-value starters like Charlie Morton (.284) and Mike Clevinger (.285).

As a hitter, Ohtani has given owners more to assess. Since 2018, he’s had 792 plate appearances resulting in 40 HR, 110 R, 123 RBI, 22 SB, and a .286 average. If Ohtani were a full-time outfielder, he’d probably be drafted somewhere between Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. His career xwOBA sits around .370, but it’s easy to imagine some of that is still recovery from Tommy John surgery. Jeff Zimmerman wrote a fascinating article that describes how hitters seemed to struggle for the first two months after they returned from that surgery. While the results are uncertain, Ohtani’s progress and difficult first months matched Corey Seager’s and Didi Gregorius’s respective recoveries. Still, we’re talking about a hitter who managed 18 HR in 425 PA last season. It’s not as though Ohtani muddled through a poor 2019.

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2020 Projected Outlook

The Angels recently announced that Ohtani will pitch only once a week during the heart of the season (obviously less often in the early weeks), so owners can only expect around 18-20 starts or so. Steamer and ATC peg him for 18 and 19 starts respectively. In daily leagues, managers may want to think of Ohtani as Brandon Woodruff with reduced counting stats. For clarity's sake, I am a Brandon Woodruff true believer. From a pitching perspective, that will likely mean 125 innings of 3.60 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 135 Ks, and 10 wins. Pitching-wise, that makes him around a top-100 player, but the lower volume will exacerbate any variance. For instance, if Ohtani only earns only 7 wins, rather than 10, it will significantly impact his value.

Offensively, Joe Maddon has said he is open to using Ohtani as a hitter more aggressively than we’ve seen in the past. That includes using Ohtani as a hitter even when he pitches, and that is where things become exceptionally interesting. It’s worth noting that if the team uses Ohtani as both a hitter and pitcher when he starts, the team is locked into playing without a DH for that night. Once Ohtani leaves the game, the Angels would have to cycle through pinch hitters every time through the order as though they were an NL team. The roster expansion makes that easier, but fantasy managers should not count on it.

ATC provides a nice conservative projection of 112 games with 455 PA, 22 HR, 62 R, 72 RBI, 12 SB, and a .282 average. Those numbers are good enough to make him a top-130 player based solely on his offensive production.

On the other hand, Steamer projects Ohtani as though he will hit on almost every “rest” day or that he will bat for at least some of his starts. It gives him 130 games with 555 PA, 29 HR, 80 R, 89 RBI, 13 SB, but only a .280 BA. That production would make him a top-60 player

A reasonable expectation is for Ohtani to provide 480 plate appearances with something near .285 batting average, 24 HR, 72 R, 80 RBI, and 10 SB.

One thing to remember is that those rankings are calculated as if managers dropped Ohtani into the Utility spot and played him every single day regardless of whether he started or not. For weekly leagues, that may be the case (more on this later), but for daily leagues, owners will be able get more value out of their supporting bench players.

Simply put, Ohtani generates top-20 value per game on offense alone. As a pitcher, his innings limit is less of an issue when starters are throwing fewer innings than ever. Getting the best value out of him requires managers to understand whether their league allows them to exploit that high-level lower-volume performance OR if they need the higher volume for Ohtani to pan out.

 

League Context is King

Every league is different, that’s true because of things like settings, format, and platform, as well as the specific league managers. JB Branson just published an excellent article on core fantasy principles that managers tend to forget, and his first, second, and third principles focus on understanding your league and knowing how to value players based on that. That’s true for all players, but there’s no player to whom it applies more than Shohei Ohtani.

Remember that Yahoo treats Ohtani as two separate players, a Utility-eligible hitter and a Starting Pitcher. For Fantrax, ESPN, and NFBC, Ohtani is a two-way player who can only be slotted into one position (Util or SP) each night. No matter which platform you use, keep lineup settings in mind. Generally speaking, while daily leagues make Ohtani more valuable, weekly leagues reduce his value.

 

Separate Pitcher Value in Yahoo Leagues

As a pitcher in daily leagues, Ohtani should offer a strong value given his current 207.5 ADP on Yahoo. He’s currently being taken after players like Andrew Heaney, Lance McCullers, and Kenta Maeda. All three of those players present at least as much uncertainty as Ohtani, and only Maeda has ever achieved the type of performance projected for Ohtani. In a daily league, if he's is available after pick 170, and someone like Max Fried or Lance Lynn hasn’t fallen (and they probably won’t), Ohtani is likely the best pitcher still on the board.

Ohtani’s pitcher value in weekly leagues is shakier, but still solid. He’s never going to offer a two-start week, so the bonus value that goes with that is gone, but otherwise the things that make him valuable in daily leagues still apply. The patterns above, an innings-capped high-value pitcher,  keep Ohtani’s value as a pitcher quite high. Will he outperform Woodruff who is going 100 picks earlier? Probably not, but there’s far more room for profit with Ohtani.

 

Hitter Value in Daily Lineup Leagues

As a hitter in daily leagues, Ohtani’s value is bolstered by having a fantasy team with some quality bench depth. Because he generates his value in fewer games, managers can use one of their bench players to fill those starts. Ohtani should easily exceed his current ADP of 117 on Yahoo. Owning Ohtani will be like owning a strong-side platoon player, except that he’s not easily marginalized late in games by relievers exploiting matchups.

If we think about Ohtani being able to add value based on individual starts and add a 12-team league replacement-level player's production to his performance, we get an aggregate player who is well ahead of Ohtani’s draft slot at 117. To illustrate, let’s use Eric Hosmer as our waiver-wire stand-in: If we give Ohtani’s offensive line 120 PA of Hosmer’s production, we end up with 600 PAs of a .281 BA, 28 HR, 85 R, 95 RBI, and 12 SB. Compare that to Eddie Rosario, who is going 30 picks earlier than 117, and whose ATC projection is 596 AB of .280 BA, 31 HR, 87 R, 97 RBI, and 4 SB. Our Ohtani-Hosmer monster loses a little in HR, R, and RBI, but makes up for it in SB. Obviously, if you believe in Steamer’s projection more than my balance between Steamer and ATC, then Ohtani’s ceiling starts to rise. Even if the waiver wire player you platoon with Ohtani isn't quite at Hosmer's production level, there is still a lot of room for profit.

The only tricky thing about drafting Ohtani as a hitter in daily leagues is that he’s available near many other high-upside outfielders. Currently, Trey Mancini, Yasiel Puig, and Michael Conforto are going just ahead of him. Meanwhile, Oscar Mercado and Marcell Ozuna are going just after him. Those players may end up outperforming Ohtani, but as I described earlier, they’re not likely to outperform his value per game. In order for managers to get real value out of Ohtani, they will need to be aware of their roster construction. If you aren’t well-positioned to take a Utility-only player, drafting Ohtani may limit your lineup options. If that happens, those everyday starters may well be better choices. Otherwise, Ohtani offers a compelling option at his current price point.

By contrast, Ohtani’s value in a weekly league is exactly in line with his projections. His playing time limits his absolute value, and in weekly leagues, owners will do just as well if they draft a player with a full-time starting role. If Maddon does start using Ohtani as a hitter during his starts, this problem is reduced, but it would absurd to count on that.

 

Dual Value in Daily

In daily leagues with dual eligibility, where Ohtani can start as a hitter or pitcher, he's a silly value. I’ve checked it a few times to try to figure out what I’m missing. One issue is that the combined values of Ohtani's Steamer projections don't take into account that owners cannot start him as both a hitter and pitcher, so we need to use ATC’s more conservative projections to give us a baseline because it does not seem to count on him hitting as often. If we combine Ohtani’s value as a hitter and pitcher, we end up with a $16 player ranking around the top 80. Ohtani’s current ADP on Fantrax is 126; on NFBC, it’s 102.

If we use the value of our Hosmer-Ohtani aggregate, the marginal value increase jumps to around $20, a top-40 player. Keep in mind that in this scenario, Ohtani provides value on both sides and he effectively clears up a roster spot. That’s part of the reason it makes sense to think about his value with the additional stats of his platoon partner.

 

Dual Value in Weekly

In weekly leagues with dual eligibility, Ohtani gives up almost all of the value above and returns to basically being the best version of his single-position self: a player likely to finish around the top 100. The caveat is that he does offer owners the ability to flex between having an excellent hitter or an excellent starter from one week to the next. That added flexibility is helpful on a week when the pitching staff has a number of undesirable matchups or when a manager has another hitter with only four scheduled starts. However, the upside value is more limited.

 

Leagues with Maximum Weekly Starts

In leagues with maximum weekly starts, Ohtani gets a very minor bump because even when pitchers have two-start weeks, one of those often comes against an undesirable opponent. Additionally, since owners are capped in the number of starts they can make, Ohtani’s lower-volume work is less of an issue. Owners will simply get the full value of a single start.

 

Conclusion

The uncertainty around Ohtani seems to be driving owners to undervalue him. Owners are shying away from a player who has lost his prospect hype and who doesn’t fit our expectations of how to value players. Despite that confusion, we can say this: Ohtani is absolutely more valuable in daily leagues and/or leagues that offer dual eligibility. However, with the exception of being a DH-only player in weekly leagues, Ohtani should offer fair-to-excellent value depending on context.

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SP Strikeout Risers: 2019 Season Review

For the last four seasons, MLB has seen an increase in strikeout rate (K%). Since 2015, K% has increased from 20.4% to 23.0%. We’ve also seen an increase in walk rates and a poorer league-wide ERA. Those trends can make it difficult to assess whether a pitcher is actually better at inducing swings and misses.

Despite that potential difficulty, K% is critical in evaluating a pitcher’s future success: as one half of K-BB%, and a significant component in a number of ERA predictors, strikeouts help explain changes in a player’s performance and indicate future performance.

Without further ado, here are 2019’s biggest K% risers:

 

Top Strikeout Risers (SP)

Player K% Change
Lucas Giolito 16.2%
Frankie Montas 10.9%
Mike Clevinger 8.3%
Elieser Hernandez 8.2%
Wilmer Font 7.9%
Sonny Gray 7.9%
Matthew Boyd 7.8%
Luke Weaver 6.6%
Homer Bailey 6.2%
Shane Bieber 5.9%
Luis Castillo 5.6%
Gerrit Cole 5.4%
Martin Perez 5.2%
Lance Lynn 5.1%
Andrew Heaney 4.9%

 

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
2018 K-Rate: 16.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 32.3%

It’s no surprise to see Giolito’s name at the top of this list. He was a late-round buy in most leagues, and his ascent to ace-status was directly paralleled by his K%. The increase in his K% was unrivaled this season, and it helped him to finish the season as SP13 in standard formats. His 32.3% strikeout rate was the fourth-highest among qualified starters with 228 total strikeouts. The improvement came from a combination of improved control and velocity, which forced batters to chase more frequently and induced more swinging strikes.

Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics
2018 K-Rate: 15.2%; 2019 K-Rate: 26.1%

It’s hard to say exactly how much of Montas’ growth was tied to the PEDs, but we do know that he added a splitter, and he was just 25 years old entering last season. Montas has always thrown heat, so we should not dismiss his progress. In 2019, he threw fewer pitches in the zone than he has at any point in his career, and he did that while maintaining a 60.7% first-pitch strike rate and achieving the best O-Swing% (32.7%) and Swing% (49.1%) of his career. It’s possible that the PEDs allowed Montas to throw harder with less effort and thus improved his control, but it certainly seems like we’re talking about more development than that.

Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
2018 K-Rate: 25.6%; 2019 K-Rate: 33.9%

On a certain level, this was the season that Mike Clevinger was supposed to have. By that, I mean that pre-season expectations were already sky-high for Clevinger proponents. After all, he finished 2018 with a 3.02 ERA and 169 Ks in 200 IP. In 2019, however, Clevinger’s strikeout rate shot up, and his 33.9% sits right between Max Scherzer’s 35.1% and Giolito’s 32.3%. Of course, Clevinger only threw 126 IP due to injuries, but on a certain level, that makes his strikeout rate even more impressive. The Cleveland righthander increased his fastball velocity to 95.5 MPH and his swinging-strike rate from 12.0% to 15.2%. Those changes combined with a lower BB%, and they forced batters into pitcher-friendly counts far more often than 2018.

Elieser Hernandez, Miami Marlins
2018 K-Rate: 15.9%; 2019 K-Rate: 24.1%

Inconsistency defined Hernandez’s 2019 season. He did pitch six games in relief, but in a surprise, he struck out batters more frequently when he was starting, so he’s on this list for having bumped his strikeout rate by 8.2%. Despite not being a high-velocity or high-whiff pitcher, Hernandez’s strikeout rate of 24.1% is much closer to the 25% he managed in the minors. Unfortunately, Hernandez struggled in the second half of the season, and those struggles directly correlated to his inability to earn strikeouts after the All-Star break. Notably, Hernandez’s O-Swing% seemed to fluctuate in similar patterns to his strikeouts and overall success. That pattern was definitely tied to his pitch use. The more Hernandez relied on his fastball, the more he tended to struggle. When he used his changeup and slider more frequently, he improved his O-Swing% and saw greater success. If he can rely less on his fastball, he’s a candidate to take a step forward in 2020.

Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds
2018 K-Rate: 21.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 29.0%

As MLB’s league-wide K% increased over the last three years, Gray’s personal rate stagnated during his time with the Yankees. Gray asserts that New York asked him to change his approach and to use his slider in more situations than he wanted. After arriving in Cincinnati, Gray used his curve more frequently and threw fewer fastballs. However, he actually threw more sliders than he did in either season with the Yankees. Interestingly, even though the Reds did less to push the pitch, Gray used it to generate 68% more swinging strikes than in 2018. If Gray is to be believed, the change was simply about how and when he was using the slider. If that change is lasting, Gray may well be a poor man’s Patrick Corbin.

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers
2018 K-Rate: 22.4%; 2019 K-Rate: 30.2%

Boyd’s hot run at the start of the season garnered plenty of attention. The Detroit righty started throwing his best pitch, his slider, more and more. From March through July, Boyd used his slider 37.1% of the time. That peaked in July when he was throwing it at a rate of 41%. Unfortunately, he struggled in the second half, and there was a definite correlation to how much he was using his curve and slider during those months. In late July and early August, Boyd was throwing his slider almost as much as his fastball, and it appears that hitters responded by starting to wait for the slider. During his August and September, the ISO against Boyd’s slider spiked to .220 and .350 respectively. His K% dropped to 25.0 during those months, and his ERA jumped accordingly. It’s not clear where that leaves him. Certainly, the ability is there, and Boyd showed he’s capable of adjusting to how hitters approach him, but he may not be able to recapture the same level of strikeout success in 2020.

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks
2018 K-Rate: 19.9%; 2019 K-Rate: 26.5%

Coming into 2019, we all knew what Luke Weaver was: a guy with two strong pitches and limited strikeout ability once the league had scouted him. During the 2018-2019 offseason, Weaver retooled his curveball and decided to bring back the cutter he used in 2016. The change allowed Weaver to be far more dynamic. Despite throwing his fastball and changeup less frequently, the pitches generated higher pVal scores (a volume-based metric). Weaver advanced in nearly every facet of batter-hitter contests: he set career bests in O-Swing% (30.2), Z-Swing (46.4), and SwStr% (10.4). Weaver’s final K total of 69 in 64.1 IP was modest because he spent most of the year recovering from a forearm strain and UCL strain, but 2019 gave plenty of reasons for optimism about the 26-year-old.

Homer Bailey, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 15.2%; 2019 K-Rate: 21.4%

The change in Bailey’s K% isn’t a revelation or personal overhaul as much as a return to health. The last time Homer Bailey had more than 30 starts in a season was 2013, when he was 27 and managed a K% of 23.4%. Bailey has lost two MPH since then, and his splitter has become his best pitch, but he looks like the same pitcher he was for the last two seasons, just with better health. If he’s healthy to start 2020, he’s worth a late-round flyer for next season. Managers shouldn’t rely on more than 100 IP from him. Steamer projects Bailey at 142 IP, but he’s averaged only 90.3 IP since 2014.

Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
2018 K-Rate: 24.3%; 2019 K-Rate: 30.2%

Which superlatives best describe Bieber’s season? Extraordinary? Exceptional? Electric? The Cleveland right-hander started his sophomore season as a promising arm who projected as a top-25 starter, and he now seems like a contender for next year’s Cy Young. Bieber’s K% surged to 30.2%, which was good enough for 10th among qualified leaders. In 2019, he threw all of his breaking pitches harder than the year before. Bieber also seems to have made it harder to distinguish between his slider and curve; the pair confounded hitters, and Bieber used the combination to achieve a 35% O-Swing% and a 14.0% SwSt%. Managers should see him as one of the more reliable arms in the early draft.

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
2018 K-Rate: 23.3%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.9%
Castillo might be the most interesting story of all the names here. In 2019, he dropped his fastball use to a mere 30% and increased his changeup to 32%. He was able to get away with that change because he still throws his sinker at 96 MPH and because he added movement to his changeup. The result was improvement across the board. Batters chased more pitches outside the zone, they watched more pitches inside the zone, and they swung and missed at a rate of 15.9% (4th best among qualified starters). Castillo’s inconsistency may scare off some owners, but the strikeout ability is real.

 

Honorable Mentions

Gerrit Cole, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 34.5%; 2019 K-Rate: 39.9%

The league’s best pitcher right now, striking out fools at a nearly 40% clip. Elite reliever K%, but seven innings at a time. Unreal.

Martin Perez, Free Agent
2018 K-Rate: 13.1%; 2019 K-Rate: 18.3%

Through June, he was averaging a 21.3 K% and a 3.74 FIP. Somehow only 28 years old and showing the best plate discipline numbers of his career. He’s worth a flier in deep leagues.

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers
2018 K-Rate: 23.0%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.1%
At the age of 32, he increased his velocity for the second year in a row and set a career-high in strikeouts. I keep thinking about Charlie Morton.

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels
2018 K-Rate: 24.0%; 2019 K-Rate: 28.9%

Velocity seems back to 2016 levels, but he managed only 95.1 IP this year.

 

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Second-Half Surgers - Hitters to Buy Now

With all the recent emphasis on the MLB draft, striking on prospect call-ups, and finding early-season breakouts, it’s easy to get lured into complacency during the dog days of summer.

The All-Star break marks a clean checkpoint and gives us the opportunity to take stock of underperformers or players poised to outperform their current market value. With the exception of Acuna, each player below has his warts, but they also represent a real buying opportunity.

Let's examine some players who could see their fantasy value surge in the second half of the 2019 season.

 

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, NYY)

For E², context is king, and I’m a firm believer in the regenerative power of Yankee Stadium, a pennant race, and good lineup position. The Yankees traded for Encarnacion so they could play him, and there’s good reason to believe in New York’s decision. Encarnacion has suffered from bad luck on balls in play (.204 BABIP) despite showing positive signs in both plate discipline, exit velocity, and launch angle. Expect improvements in Encarnacion’s runs, RBI, and average, even as he maintains his impressive power output.

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR)

Biggio owns an elite 48.3 hard-hit rate, an excellent .60 FB/GB ratio, and a healthy 23% line-drive rate. Biggio's flyball rate is especially promising given his 11.4% Brls/BBE. To some extent, the rookie's solid debut has been lost in the shadow of Vlad's arrival and the Blue Jays’ larger woes. Granted Biggio did struggle when he was initially called up, but fantasy owners should see his -.22 xwOBA differential (.329 wOBA vs. .351 xwOBA) and realize that he’s been better than his production this season (111 wRC+). The batted ball profile suggests that he should be a top-5 second baseman for the rest of the season.

Notably, if you can still acquire Jose Ramirez at a discount, do it. If it doesn’t work out, you can blame the demise of your fantasy season on me. Ramirez might not be a 30-30 candidate this season, but his .330 xwOBA is still well ahead of his actual .296 wOBA. Expect him to finish the season with over 20 HR and 30 SB.

 

Josh Donaldson (3B, ATL)

We may have just missed the window to buy Donaldson, but there are certainly going to be owners looking to "sell high" on an aging star. If the Donaldson owner in your league is among those, then the third baseman is a valuable piece. Prior to the all-star break, Donaldson owned a .364 wOBA, a mark moderately below his .378 xwOBA. Moreover, Donaldson has overcome the groundball spike from early in the season: for the last month his GB/FB ratio has dropped to 1.12, much closer to the 1.04 that he averaged during his prime years of 2015 to 2017.

 

J.D. Davis (3B, NYM)

He is available in nearly all leagues, and he’s shown signs that he could be emerging as an excellent hitter. Early in the season, Davis popped up as a potential breakout player, but he ran into a stretch at the end of the June and early July when he was constantly driving the ball into the ground. In response, the Mets relegated him to pinch-hitting duty. He seems to have escaped that pattern and returned to the batted-ball profile that brought him success earlier in the season.

Even with that brutal stretch, Davis still owns a 7.6 Brls/PA%, which is better than Michael Conforto, Max Muncy, and Charlie Blackmon. If he can find playing time, Davis could help plenty of teams in deeper formats.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD)

After returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him 2018, the 25-year-old got off to a mediocre start this season. Fantasy owners were growing frustrated until Seager’s GB/FB and hard-hit ratios spiked and his production improved -- at least until a hamstring injury sent him back to the IL. The Dodgers gave Seager only three rehab games to get ready, so he’s likely going to show some rust for the next week or so. Use that window to get him.

The Dodgers have the third-best offense in baseball, and when healthy Seager has been featured in the two-hole. Even if Seager doesn’t provide prodigious power or steals, his career .856 OPS should enable him to be the type of player who finishes as a top-50 bat in the second half. Carlos Correa is another candidate here, but his brand is still strong enough that it will be difficult to get him off owners who spent a top-30 pick to get him.

 

Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS)

Another young player who suffered from a poor start. After last year’s offensive success, the Red Sox did the logical thing and shuffled their batting order. In particular, the team moved Benintendi from the number-two spot to leadoff. Last month, Boston reversed course and switched him back, and Benintendi has responded with an improved, if not exceptional, performance.

It’s hard to pin all of Benintendi’s early-season struggles on that issue alone, but he’s hit .303 in the two-hole versus .267 from the leadoff spot. Likewise, his strikeout, groundball, and slugging percentages have all improved since the change. Benintendi was probably overdrafted at the start of the season, but if he’s available as a top-75 player, he should return good value.

 

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

The eighth-best player in 5x5 formats seems like a crazy name for this list, but I’m trying to pry Acuna away if he’s available at all. The reality is that even as good as Acuna has been, he'll probably be even better in the second half. Last season, Acuna surged after the break; this year, his production (.371 wOBA) has somehow lagged behind his batted-ball profile (.393 xwOBA). For owners angling for an elite outfielder or a first-round talent, Acuna could be the best player in the second half, and he's likely more available than Betts, Yelich, Trout, or Bellinger.

 

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)

Conforto's perception and production have been depressed by his shoulder injury from 2018 and his concussion from earlier this season. The combo means that his statistics for the last calendar year and his overall projections are somewhat underwhelming. These days, it’s just hard to get too excited about 17 HR. However, Conforto’s career .226 ISO is still the 15th best among outfielders since he debuted in 2015 (and that's if we count Just Dongs Martinez as an outfielder).

Consider the fact that Conforto played through a traumatic shoulder injury that cost him power for two seasons. The second half should allow us to see an evolution similar, though not equal to the one Joey Gallo is showcasing. Expect a bump in batting average, and another 17 home runs in the second half.

 

A.J. Pollock (OF, LAD)

If Pollock only provides 100 games of real production a year, then we should have entered his productive period for this season. Obviously, the injury risk is constant, but the price has dropped to almost nothing. Currently owned in just half of all leagues, Pollock might be the best second-half value of any player on this list. For the last three years, Pollock has averaged 22 HR, 86 R, 74 RBI, 19 SB per 600 PA. Those numbers aren’t overwhelming, but like Seager, Pollock has the advantage of the Dodger offense, and even though the NL West has its share of pitcher-friendly parks, it also has three pitching staffs in the bottom half of the league.

 

Nomar Mazara (OF, TEX) and Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC)

The story here is the same for both players. They’re likely available for free or next to nothing, and they should both be solid OF4 or bench bats for the rest of the season. Both players have shown flashes of their talent this season and previously, and both players have suffered from bad luck. Despite similar peripherals to last season, Schwarber owns a .262 BABIP in contrast to last year’s .288. Baseball Savant thinks his batting average should be closer to .258 rather than his current .231.

Similarly, Mazara hasn't looked particularly good this season. Despite owning a stronger xwOBA, launch angle, and barrel rate, his statistics look similar to last season when he was barely relevant in fantasy leagues. Baseball Savant thinks Mazara’s slugging percentage is 40 points below where it should be. If the numbers are to be believed, his batted-ball numbers should have him closer to 16 home runs rather than 12. That doesn’t make him an exceptional fantasy talent, but he should be a useful bat for the second half.

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Welcome (Back) to the Show, Willie Calhoun

Despite being 5’8”, Willie Calhoun is widely regarded as one of the best pure hitters in baseball. However, Calhoun’s size and limited defensive abilities have prevented him from earning elite-prospect status and getting the same hype as similarly-talented batters.

Despite his limitations and that perception, the reality is that Calhoun profiles as a potential .290 hitter who could hit 30 home runs at his peak, which might be right now. When the Rangers called him up on May 15th, Calhoun finally looked like he had secured guaranteed playing time in the Rangers’ outfield, but six days later, a quad strain landed him on the IL. Fortunately for fantasy owners, his bat is finally back to the majors, again.

And what a bat it is: Calhoun owns a 60-grade hit-tool and 60-grade power. Even though he only had 21 batted-ball events in his first six games, his fly-ball and line-drive exit velocity was a Hunter Renfroe-esque 96.3 MPH. Likewise, during his MiLB career, Calhoun has averaged 27 HR and 95 RBI per 150 games. For fantasy owners and Rangers fans alike, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about his potential.

 

What Can You Do, Young Man?

Calhoun’s exceptional bat should be enough to make him an above average left-fielder, where teams usually hide defensive liabilities whose offensive prowess make them everyday starters. For instance, Justin Upton has fit that profile at times. It’s not impossible that Calhoun is good enough to generate a .200 ISO this season, but only if he re-secures his full-time job in the Rangers’ outfield.

Among other things, Calhoun’s defensive limitations delayed his promotion back in 2017, when he hit 31 HR in 128 games as a 22-year-old in AAA. Some of Calhoun’s success could be attributed to the offensively-friendly PCL, except that he hit 27 HR in 132 games as a 21-year-old in AA.

Currently, Calhoun profiles as a hitter who feasts when he can pull the ball and who is capable of driving the ball to the opposite field. Calhoun takes few walks, but he should provide a reasonable OBP because of his substantial contact skills. Even with its conservative approach, Steamer still projects Calhoun for a .188 ISO and a .331 OBP. Notably, Calhoun has averaged near even flyball-to-groundball ratios in the minors, and that ratio suggests that, like Ozzie Albies, Calhoun may be able to tap into even more power in the majors.

Again, all of that is contingent on being able to lock in an everyday job. While some Rangers’ journalists suggest that the crowded Texas roster will make it difficult for Calhoun to get full playing time, there are indications that leftfield is Calhoun’s spot to lose. Delino DeShields has been hitting better in the last two weeks, but he has exactly one extra-base hit during that time, so it doesn’t seem like he’s found a new approach at the plate.

In many ways, the open-ended opportunity makes sense for Calhoun and the Rangers. As a hitter, Calhoun has been major-league ready for years. The only time he has ever “struggled” against MiLB pitching was last season when he bristled at being left in AAA. Reports of his frustration are a worrisome sign of immaturity, but we saw the same thing from Ronald Acuna last season, and there are plenty of all-stars who have reported similar experiences.

 

Ready to Return

Calhoun played four rehab games at Triple-A so far, and went 3-for-11 with three RBI. It’s not the most inspiring line, but it doesn't really matter. The Rangers' bad run of injury luck continued when Hunter Pence injured his groin on Sunday the 16th, so Calhoun now inherits his spot. He made his return official on Monday, going 0-for-3 with a run scored while batting fifth. All things being equal, the Rangers would prefer an outfield of Calhoun, Gallo, and Mazara if all can stay healthy.

Calhoun is currently owned in just 13% of leagues, but the timeline for buying him might be a bit longer if he struggles to get his timing once he returns. The initial attention has passed, but if Calhoun re-establishes his power stroke in the first week back, he’ll re-appear on waiver-wire lists everywhere, and his ownership numbers will jump immediately. In weekly leagues and 12+ team leagues, owners can get a drop on their league-mates by adding him immediately. In shallower formats, you can wait to measure Calhoun against your current assets against Calhoun’s upside, which is probably a little below the 2018 version of Juan Soto.

 

Final Thoughts

If there is season-changing potential in Calhoun’s bat, there is also exceptional uncertainty. For starters, muscle strains are never as simple as we want them to be. Secondly, Calhoun’s size and approach force him to pull the ball to get to his power, and though he’s shown the ability to do that, it also leaves him exposed to pitchers capable of exploiting that if he starts to sell out for power.

Despite improving his plate discipline this season, Calhoun has sometimes struggled to take walks and avoid strikeouts. That pattern, combined with his approach, could leave him prone to unrosterable streakiness.

While the danger of washout is real, Calhoun has hit successfully at every level. In 32 games at AAA this season, he had a .252 ISO and had boosted his walk rate to a career-high 15.9%. The defense is still poor, but Texas needs help in the outfield, and the team is vying for a playoff spot. Unless Calhoun’s defense turns into this year’s blowout horror film, he should get the chance to show off his bat. He is worth an add if you need an outfielder. It’s not clear if he is a season-changing asset, but he has the potential to provide all-star caliber numbers this season.

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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 10

Week 10 provides a number of young arms and a few pitchers whose limitations make them easy to overlook. I’m particularly excited about the Indians’ calling up Zach Plesac. I’m not sure what happens when Mike Clevinger gets back, but Plesac looks like a legitimate SP2 talent.

A reminder before we begin: This column focuses on players who are owned in fewer than 50% Yahoo leagues, and standard 5x5 scoring. Your mileage may vary, in terms of availability or league settings.

Using that cutoff point for ownership rate, however, these are your starting pitcher waiver wire targets and adds for Week 10 of the 2019 fantasy baseball season.

 

Pickups for Shallow Leagues

Chris Bassitt (SP, OAK) — 43% Owned

Bassitt is quietly putting together an excellent season as he outperforms his peripherals. Like other bad-contact pitcher’s, Bassitt owns a 3.27 ERA that is better than his 4.17 xFIP and 4.08 SIERA. However, while pitchers like Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Keuchel usually offer few strikeouts, Bassitt has earned a 27.5% strikeout rate. Notably, Bassitt does not shy away from walks (9.9 BB%), but his approach is that he'd rather risk a walk than give up hard contact. Even with his willingness to allow a free pass, Bassitt’s 17.5 K-BB% is just off the 17.7% owned by Luis Castillo and Brad Peacock.

Notably, Bassitt’s velocity is up across the board, and that has allowed him to evolve as a pitcher. If the extra velocity disappears, he’ll probably lose the newfound ability to induce as many whiffs and soft grounders. Unless that happens, there’s good reason to believe in his breakout.

Griffin Canning (SP, LAA) — 38% Owned

Canning is back for another tour on this week's SP Waiver Wire. Despite another strong performance at Oakland this week, Canning’s ownership numbers have only bumped by another five percent. Canning’s last three starts have been impressive: 18 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, 15 K, 1.00 ERA, .67 WHIP. Granted he only has two quality starts and one win during that time, but it’s hard to imagine what else owners are waiting for.

Canning needs to be owned in all leagues. Even on teams, where you have a strong pitching staff, I’d be looking to make a trade in order to make space for him. Canning gives up more flyballs than the ERA estimators would prefer, but his batted-ball data is reassuring: his FB/LD exit velocity is 91.9 MPH (tied with Mike Soroka), and his 4.7% Brls/PA rate is a hair better than Domingo German (4.8%) and Jose Berrios (5.0%). Moreover, Canning’s exit velocity for ground balls is just 76.9 MPH, which means that hitters are virtually always out when they do put the ball on the ground. I'll say it one more time for the other 62% of leagues, Canning needs to be owned in all formats.

Spencer Turnbull (SP, DET) — 35% Owned

As a member of the Detroit Tigers, Turnbull isn’t going to rack up wins, but he does appear poised to collect a solid number of quality starts and strikeouts while offering a healthy ERA. To some extent, Turnbull is a poor man’s Griffin Canning, so if the Angels’ starter has already been scooped in your league, Turnbull might offer a viable alternative. Turnbull’s 1.26 WHIP will scare off some owners. However, he’s progressively limited the number of walks while also forcing hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone. Turnbull’s ceiling for this season is probably within the top-50 SPs, but there are plenty of teams out there who could use the type of season he’ll likely provide.

 

Pickups for Deeper Leagues

Erick Fedde (SP, WAS) — 11% Owned

Fedde is another bad-contact pitcher who is currently thriving despite his inability to tally up strikeouts. However, he’s one of the more extreme examples of the form. If he qualified, Fedde would rank 22nd among starters with his 3.7% Brls/PA rate. Given how much harder it is for low strikeout pitchers to succeed at the Major League level, owners should regard Fedde’s initial 2.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with some skepticism.

Additionally, Fedde is not likely to contribute a significant number of strikeouts, though he has managed a 27.3% strikeout rate at AA this season, so perhaps he’s adjusted his game. Despite that, Fedde does pitch for the Nationals, and he can work deeper into games if the team lets him. In deep leagues, Fedde may be worth a flier for owners who need an arm.

Devin Smeltzer (SP, MIN) — 10% Owned

After asking the Twins to give him another chance as a starter in 2018, the club provided Smeltzer with a series of on-field and off-field goals to re-establish himself in that role. Smeltzer showed up to Spring Training and impressed the team so much that not only did they give him another chance at starting in AA, they promoted him to AAA last month, moved him up their depth chart, and then called him up to start against the very capable Milwaukee Brewers. In his Major League debut, Smeltzer struck out seven, gave up zero walks, and limited the Brewers to just three hits across seven innings. Smeltzer’s results at AAA haven’t been overwhelming, but he has had moments. Some of the inconsistency can be chalked up to the difference in the ball, which many pitchers have suggested makes the transition difficult. Moreover, Smeltzer looked dominant at AA for the first six weeks of the season, and he's obviously flashed glimpses of that since then.

Zach Plesac (SP, CLE) — 8% Owned

If the thought of waiting on Zac Gallen makes you want to roll your eyes and think of football season, then Zach Plesac is just the Zac(h/k) for you. Plesac has been excellent in the minors this season. Across 57.1 minor-league innings, Plesac owns a 1.41 ERA and 56 strikeouts while maintaining a 23.0% K-BB ratio. Plesac’s control has steadily improved since he missed all of 2016 after he needed Tommy John surgery. The injury and recovery set back Plesac’s already limited control, and it’s not shocking that he’s needed three seasons to recover and develop the type of command necessary to be a major league pitcher. To that end, while 24 may sound older for a high-ability prospect, Plesac has really spent only two years in the minor leagues. His first start against the Boston Red Sox so impressed opposing starter David Price, that Price was inspired to send him a hand-written note after the game. If that’s not a metaphor for the passing of the torch, I don’t know what is. Plesac has the feel of a pop-up all-star. He’ll likely suffer from some bouts of wildness that may make his starts erratic, but owners in all leagues should be watching him, and owners in deeper leagues should weigh him against their own rosters.

 

For Your Radar

Josh James (SP/RP, HOU) – 10% Owned

James has continued to pitch well recently. He had an ugly box score against the Cubs on Tuesday, but he gave up the runs when the Astros sent him out for a third frame after Corbin Martin couldn't get out of the fourth inning. James is back on the list for another week because of Martin's ineffectiveness and Forrest Whitley's recent injury. The combination pushes the Astros closer to stretching out James as a starter. The moment Martin loses his job or the rotation suffers an injury, James' ownership level will jump significantly as he can't be far off from getting his own spot in the rotation.

Julio Urias (SP/RP, MIA) – 19% Owned

Urias’s ownership dropped dramatically after he was put on administrative leave following a domestic battery charge for shoving a female companion to the ground. Even after returning and pitching successfully, Urias’ ownership level has continued to erode, and there’s a growing sense that he’ll never emerge as a starter this season. However, that’s not based on any data or information from the Dodgers. In some ways, Urias’ situation is the same now as it was before the incident, but he’s become more available. He’s not worth an immediate pickup, but like Josh James and Touki Toussaint, he might be worth a stash in very deep leagues and is worth watching as the first man likely to be promoted to the starting rotation.

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Griffin Canning (SP, LAA) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 9

BALLER MOVE: Add in All Leagues

OWNED IN: 33% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: You need a top-tier starter who can provide strikeouts, limit baserunners, win games, and provide a strong ERA? If so, why haven’t you added Griffin Canning, who owns a 3.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and a 28.3 K%? Canning’s numbers in the PCL were a little better than his performance in the majors, but the two are comparable enough that we are clearly dealing with a pitcher whose abilities match his success so far.

Among starters who have faced 100 batters, Canning’s .255 xwOBA ranks 13th. Canning only threw 112.1 IP last season, so it’s hard to imagine that the Angels will let him go far beyond 165 IP this season, but 165 IP at these rates is basically the equivalent of James Paxton. Canning has been on our SP Waiver Wire board for three weeks now, and the fact that he’s still available in over two-thirds of leagues is beyond all belief especially because he looks like an arm that can provide quality innings and wins with the support of the Angels’ 11th-ranked offense. Canning is one of few true upside pitchers left this season, and he needs to be owned in all formats.


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Alex Verdugo (SP, LAD) - Week 9 Waiver Wire Pickups

BALLER MOVE: Add in All Leagues

OWNED IN: 32% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: Only 23 years old, Verdugo owns a 60-grade hit tool and a strong plate approach. In the minors, he was a consistent .300 hitter with pop, but he’s struggled to find playing time in the majors. The concern about Verdugo coming into the season was his ability to hit lefties and whether he would get enough starts to justify owning him. The sample against left-handers may still be small, but both of those issues have disappeared.

Verdugo has taken over centerfield since AJ Pollock’s injury, and he’s hitting .333 with a .952 OPS against lefties this year. Overall, Verdugo looks like a solid second outfielder: .311 BA, .200 ISO, and run and RBI production in a strong team context. Verdugo also has enough speed that he could provide ten stolen bases this season. The only knock against him is that he’s batting in the bottom half of the Dodgers’ order, but it’s still a better context than most alternatives.

Pollock isn’t returning anytime soon, and Verdugo will continue to grow into his role as the everyday centerfielder. For now, owners should take advantage of the Verdugo’s opportunity and capitalize on his talent and newfound playing time.


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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 9

As I'm attempting to fill in for our inimitable Kyle Bishop, I want to point out that pitching help is tough to find, but that history favors owners who are willing to take risks and acknowledge that sometimes old dogs can learn new tricks.

This week's waiver wire list features a number of arms which might emerge to bolster teams in a variety of leagues. Occasionally, we're best off ignoring the name and focusing on the tools, performance, and statistics.

A reminder before we begin: This column focuses on players who are owned in fewer than 50% Yahoo leagues, and standard 5x5 scoring. Your mileage may vary, in terms of availability or league settings. Using that cutoff point for ownership rate, however, these are your starting pitcher waiver wire targets and adds for Week 9 of the 2019 fantasy baseball season.

 

Pickups for Shallow Leagues

Kyle Gibson (SP, MIN) — 38% Owned

I wasn’t going to include Gibson on the list because his ownership level is relatively high AND I championed him pretty hard last year only to be frustrated by a season of mediocrity. Despite those reservations, I couldn’t leave him off the list after he threw a gem against the White Sox on Saturday night. The Sox aren’t the greatest offensive team in the league, but they sure as heck aren’t the Marlins. The start improves Gibson’s season to a 4.08 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 25% K%, and a 1.21 WHIP. He’s not my favorite pitcher on this list, but he’s available in some leagues for the same reason that I almost left him off: we think we know what he is, a pitcher who will tease solid starts, but not deliver. However, the Twins will provide him real offensive support, and it entirely possible that Gibson could finish the season with a 3.90 ERA, 15 wins, and 180 strikeouts.

Trevor Williams (SP, PIT) — 35% Owned

2017-2018 IP ERA FIP WHIP K%
Pitcher A 224.2 3.16 3.72 1.17 18.2
Pitcher B 204.2 3.74 3.69 1.31 17.5

Those stat lines are the collected bodies of work from 2017 and 2018 for Williams and one other pitcher. The mystery pitcher was being selected in the top 200 and is still owned at a 54% rate. The mystery pitcher hasn’t thrown all year, and we don’t know when he’ll get back on a Major League mound. If you guessed that the mystery pitcher is Dallas Keuchel, you’re spot on. Even in the vacuum of playing time, Trevor Williams still looks like a better asset. Williams’ breakout was ignored last year, got some early-season chatter, and seems to be getting ignored again. Williams’ peripherals are better this season, and he’s continuing where he left off last year. He should be owned in all 12-teamers.

Gio Gonzalez (SP, MIL) — 34%

Gonzalez is one of those pitchers who seems to be aging well and disrupting what we know about how to predict pitcher performance. He outperformed his ERA predictors last year, and he’s doing it again this year. He’s bumped his Swinging-Strike rate to 10.4% and his O-Swing rate to 32.1%. Gonzalez is generating grounders (47.3%) and limiting opponent’s power output, which helps to explain how he’s outperformed his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, all of which have trouble with pitchers who induce poor contact. Notably, Gonzalez has been relying more on his slider and changeup this season, which seems to be working for him, especially at home, which is good given that he pitches half his games in Miller Park. Gonzalez is going to regress from his current 2.39 ERA, but he’s a good candidate to ride while he’s hot or faces weak opponents.

Griffin Canning (SP, LAA) — 33%

If Trevor Williams’ ownership rate is unjustifiable, then Canning’s is just silly. After a pair of strong starts, this might be the last window to acquire him. If Canning excels in his upcoming start against the middling Athletics, it wouldn’t be a shock to see his ownership level rise over 50%. Canning has gotten a bit overlooked in the prospect bonanza of the last month, but in the PCL, he did everything to warrant more hype than he’s getting. Let’s pump up those ownership levels by getting this guy on some additional rosters. If Canning had enough innings to qualify he would rank 19th in WHIP, 23rd in K%, 29th in K-BB%, 24th in O-Swing%, and 4th in SwStr%. Those aren’t Blake Snell numbers, but they definitely belong to a top-30 pitcher who should be owned in all leagues.

Tyler Skaggs (SP - LAA) — 31%

Skaggs came into this season as a potential breakout candidate, but he struggled to get swings and misses early in the season. Outside of an ugly start at Detroit where he was hurt by errors and poor defense, Skaggs has been useful as he’s racked up more than a strikeout per inning and a win every other start. Among the pitchers so far, he’s the least desirable, but he’s also coming off a year when his peripherals justified a top-50 pitcher in Steamer’s projections. If you need innings, he’s worth a look, but owners hunting for upside are likely better off with Canning or one of the pitchers lower on this list.

 

Pickups for Deeper Leagues

Jimmy Nelson (SP - MIL) — 19%

Recently removed from the IL and sent to AAA, Nelson should be called up as soon as he is stretched out and ready. It’s worth remembering that Nelson is two years removed from a breakout season when he delivered a 3.49 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 12 wins, and more than a strikeout per inning. He suffered a labrum tear that took all of last year to heal, and he’s been rehabbing this Spring. The Brewers have decided he is finally healthy and just needs reps to get himself ready for Major League action. Outside of Canning, Nelson’s upside is probably as high as any player on this list.

Tyler Mahle (SP, CIN) — 19%

As a seventh-round pick with modest strikeouts, Mahle hasn’t been the type of player to generate significant buzz. However, he’s bumped his strikeout rate to 26% and dropped his walk rate to 5.3%. Mahle’s 3.51 ERA and 1.17 WHIP are right in line with his 3.46 FIP, 3.27xFIP, and 3.56 SIERA. The sample size is up to 51.1 IP, so it’s odd to see his ownership rate at 19%, but again, if you asked most fantasy owners what they thought of when they heard the name Tyler Mahle, they’d probably answer with a blank stare and the noise of radio static. Mahle may not strike owners as a top-50 pitcher, but that’s what he has been, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t keep it up for the rest of the season.

Pablo Lopez (SP, MIA) — 10%

The rap on Pablo Lopez is fairly simple: He’s a great pitcher at home. He’s downright bad on the road. It doesn’t help that the NL East is a bit of a meat grinder this season, but I’d put just as much stock in the friendly confines of Marlins Park. He currently owns a 1.93 ERA at home and an 8.03 ERA away. He just added more evidence to that assessment over the last week with seven strikeouts across seven shutout innings at home against the Mets. Then he gave up four earned runs at Washington on Friday night. Maybe the splits make him a streamer, but when half of a pitcher's games are gems, he’s going to get scooped and held in deeper settings. For owners who desperately need innings but can’t afford to rely on streaming, Lopez presents a compelling option.

Felix Pena (SP/RP, LAA) — 8%

Pena is another outside the box arm. The 29-year-old primary pitcher for the Angels won’t get any quality starts, but he averages 4.2 IP per outing. With three arms on this list and the return of Andrew Heaney, the Angels just might be building themselves a solid rotation. The situation is good enough to position Pena to earn wins. With the Angels’ offense starting to look functional, Pena could offer some Ws to go with his strikeouts (40 Ks in 40 IP), healthy ERA (3.30) and WHIP (.96).

Mitch Keller (SP, PIT) — 5%

The Pirates just announced that they are calling up Keller who initially struggled to start this season at AAA, where he slogged through his first three starts with a WHIP of 2.00. Since then, he’s settled in, and over the last 30 days, he’s gotten comfortable with the new ball, capped his walks, and executed his pitches with authority. Since April 21st, Keller owns a 1.18 WHIP, a 31.1 K%, and 3.27 ERA. He's cut his walk rate to 7.4%, which is much closer to his minor-league average. The Pirates tend to insist that their pitching prospects limit and master 2 or 3 pitches rather than experimenting with other offerings, so it’s possible that Keller, like Taillon, could look underwhelming this season. However, it’s also possible that the Pirates see Keller as truly having command of his arsenal. He’s worth a speculative add before his big-league debut.

 

For Your Radar

Josh James (SP/RP, HOU) — 10%

James owns a 3.38 ERA 1.18 WHIP, 3.14 FIP since April 16th. The Astros have been open about using James in the bullpen to limit his innings and then wanting to transition him to the rotation later this summer. We’ve gotten to see James’ abilities for about a year now, and he’s demonstrated the ability to strike out and deal with Major League hitters. At this point, it’s just a matter of the Astros deciding when they want to shift him back to being a starter.

Zac Gallen (SP, MIA) — 5%

Pierre Camus just wrote a great piece on Zac Gallen where he outlined all of Gallen’s strengths and inconsistencies. There’s no guarantee the Marlins will promote Gallen anytime soon, and the cub has some motivation to leave him in the minors since he’s not on their 40-man roster. However, Gallen’s .65 WHIP, 1.79 ERA, and 29.6 K-BB% in PCL illustrate that he has nothing left to prove in the minors, AND Gallen is will turn 24 years old this season. At this point, it’s probably worth it for the Marlins to see what Gallen can do so they know what they have.

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Griffin Canning (SP, LAA) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 8

BALLER MOVE: Add in 12+ Team Leagues

OWNED IN: 21% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: Three weeks ago, when the Angels surprised everyone and called up Canning from AAA, the analysis focused on him as a pitcher who was "dominating" the PCL. Those skills and success didn't immediately translate into a great start for Canning, but he's now balanced two poor outings against Baltimore and Toronto with two strong ones against Kansas City and Detroit. None of those teams feature an excellent offense, but the four games give us some sense of Canning's ability. So far this season, Canning owns a solid 3.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, two wins, a 27.6 K%, 19.5% K-BB, and a 3.81 SIERA. Moreover, the Angels have allowed Canning to pitch longer in his last two outings, which enabled him to earn the quality start in his last performance against the Royals.

Canning features a four-seam fastball that generates results like Max Scherzer's: high whiff rate and lots of pop-ups. He also relies on his slider to induce whiffs and groundballs, which doesn't immediately show up in his opponents' batted-ball profile but has been evident in some of his starts when he's needed to keep the ball on the ground. On the whole, Canning presents a compelling package with 17.8% swinging-strike rate, a 33.1% O-swing rate, and an impressive 21.0% K-BB%.

Among the ERA estimators, his SIERA score (3.68) is the most bullish, but it's not hard to imagine a scenario where he outperforms that. Canning has generated a fair number of weak flyballs, and he's been hurt by an unusually high 22.2% HR/FB ratio. Even if his ERA gets stuck around 3.8, he should still offer real value because of his high strikeout rate.


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Chris Martin (RP, TEX) - Waiver Wire Pickups Week 8

BALLER MOVE: Add in 12+ Team Leagues

OWNED IN: 27% of Leagues

ANALYSIS: Since inheriting the Rangers' closing role on May 8, Chris Martin has averaged a strikeout per inning, allowed two hits (one was a home run), managed a .50 WHIP, and provided a 2.25 ERA. The Texas situation is one of the messiest closer situations in all of baseball right now, but owners in need of saves or looking to take a flyer on a potential closer would be wise to add Martin.

It initially looked like Martin's stint as closer would be shortlived because he was just taking over when Shawn Kelley was sent to the IL with a non-baseball illness. Kelley was initially placed on the IL with an infection, but he just had surgery to remove two lumps from his throat. He may return this coming week, but his situation remains unclear and unsettled. Kelley's health, Martin's success and Jose Leclerc's move to an opener role have left the door open for Martin to cement himself as a useful closer.

It's hard to argue with Martin's initial performance in the role. Despite an underwhelming 4.54 ERA in 2018, he was nearly as good last year as he has been this year (3.12 ERA, 3.04 SIERA). That bodes well for his ability to hold onto the role or at least offer owners a few saves until Kelley or Leclerc reclaim the position. If possession is 9/10ths of the fantasy law for closers, who cares what the other 1/10th is? For now, Martin is the one getting the save opportunities, best to roll with him until the situation changes.


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Franmil Reyes and the Javy Baez School of Hard Knocks

For almost a month straight, Franmil Reyes did not take a walk. While that’s not a good thing, I’m not convinced that it’s a bad thing either.

Since April 18th, Franmil Reyes has hit nine home runs, and that is definitely a good thing. Reyes’ carrying tool is his power. Walks don’t provide him a path to exploit that carrying tool, so perhaps they shouldn’t be a major part of his game.

In the three-true outcomes age of baseball, Reyes seems indifferent to walks. However, given his recent success, Reyes looks like he might be better off if that’s the direction he chooses for himself.

 

“Not Changing Anything”

Since his last walk on April 18th, Reyes has produced a .356ISO, .299 AVG., and .655 SLG. Given Reyes early struggles, it would be fair to ask what he’s changed in his approach. The most noticeable statistical difference between Reyes before April 23rd, when he started heating up, and after it is simple: he stopped walking and started swinging more often.

BB% Swing% O-Swing% SwSt% wRC+
3/28 - 4/18 11.5% 51.6% 34.3% 12.9% 104
4/19 - 5/15 0.0 61.9% 41.7% 20.2% 144

Reyes has attributed his recent success to just seeing the ball better and “not changing anything,” as he described in one postgame interview. Having read and watched too many postgame interviews, that could be a player being coy, but it feels more like a player confessing that his strategy is to see the ball, hit the ball, and run.

Given Reyes’ recent power surge, that's not necessarily a bad strategy. Reyes wouldn’t be the first prodigiously talented player who felt that tinkering didn’t improve his game. The 6'5" righty seems to have found his rhythm at the plate. Rely on a lifetime of hard work and don’t overcomplicate the game. Looking at his numbers and watching Reyes play reminded me eerily watching Javier Baez play last season.

 

The Javier Baez School of Hard Knocks

Baez is renowned as a player who swings the bat with a ferocity that would make little-league coaches cringe. So far this season, Baez has averaged a 92.8 MPH exit velocity. Franmil Reyes clocks in at 92.7. Before the start of the season, there was talk around baseball analysts who projected major regression from Baez, and maybe it still comes, but at this point, his performance looks sustainable.

Momentarily ignoring all of the tactical considerations between a hitter and pitcher, Baez strategy is simple: swing at anything that strikes his fancy, then hit the ball hard and often. Reyes’ core approach is eerily reminiscent of Javier Baez’s swing-at-all-the-pitches strategy. Consider Baez's numbers from 2018 in comparison to Reyes' from this year.

Swing Contact Z-Swing O-Swing SwSt% FB/GB ratio Brls/PA% wRC+ wOBA xwOBA
Baez 18 57.8% 68.0% 76.4% 43.8% 17.9% 1.41 8.7 131 .366 .349
Reyes 19 58.1% 70.0% 81.3% 50.0 17.2% .86 12.0 132 .351 .402

We could look at Baez’s numbers for 2019, but they tell a similar story, so I’m using last season because I’m interested in comparing Reyes’ breakout with Baez’s breakout. Both players own “poor” swing, chase, and swinging-strike rates. Yet neither one suffers from it because of how they turn those additional swings into extra-base hits.

In 2018, Baez ranked 21st in the league with 8.7 Barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA%) and 36th in the league with 12.6 Barrels per batted-ball event (Brls/BBE%). This season, Franmil Reyes ranks 11th in Brls/PA% with 12.0, and he is 21st with 17.1 Brls/BBE%. All four of those ratios are excellent, but the difference between their respective BBE and PA ranks suggests that Baez and Reyes have slightly worse barrels per batted-ball event than we might expect for hitters with their Brls/PA profile.

Baez and Reyes make ideal contact slightly less often than other high-caliber hitters with similar profiles... but make up for it by the sheer volume of strong contact.

That hypothesis is supported if we look at Statcast’s measurement for balls launched at an ideal angle, Sweet Spot Ratio (SwSp%), which it defines as a “launch angle between eight and 32 degrees.” Reyes and Baez both hit the ball hard, but they also generate a moderate number of less-than-ideal results. Reyes owns a 40.0% SwSp% and Baez has a 40.7%. Those ratios are good, but not great. Fortunately, however, Baez and Reyes make up for it by the sheer volume of strong contact. That's particularly true for Reyes, who ranks 130th plate appearances but 12th in barrels.

 

Disciples of the School of Hard Knocks

Looking more broadly there are a host of players around the league who fit this profile: hitters with high swing rates and ten or more barrels (top-100). They are arranged here by Barrels per plate appearance.

Name O-Swing% Swing% SwStr% wOBA FB/LD Velo Brrls/PA xwOBA Barrels Total
Franmil Reyes 38.4% 58.1% 17.2% 0.353 96.7 11.6% .397 17
Javier Baez 43.6% 54.7% 17.0% 0.406 97.8 9.9% .391 17
J.D. Martinez 34.7% 53.2% 13.3% 0.378 98.0 9.8% .456 19
Avisail Garcia 40.9% 55.5% 20.3% 0.352 95.8 9.8% .376 15
Eddie Rosario 42.8% 55.9% 10.7% 0.337 95.3 9.3% .347 15
Adalberto Mondesi 42.5% 57.4% 18.0% 0.332 93.5 8.4% .316 15
Yasiel Puig 39.9% 57.3% 15.8% 0.282 92.6 8.3% .324 14
Brandon Lowe 35.2% 54.7% 20.8% 0.371 96.1 8.3% .334 12

There are some impressive hitters on the list. As the most selective and strongest hitter, JD Martinez stands out in particular, but Rosario, Puig, and Mondesi are all players you want to own as well.

Avisail Garcia and Brandon Lowe both strike me as fascinating names here. Garcia has a history of impressive performance and notable hot streaks that have been interrupted by inconsistency or injury. Despite the fact that he seems to have been around forever, Garcia is still just 27 years old. Brandon Lowe could put up 2017-Joey-Gallo numbers: a 35% strikeout rate and 40 home runs. Lowe's batting average should be a little higher, but the fundamental production might be comparable.

I’m actually surprised not to see Gallo on this list, but he’s demonstrating such dramatically improved plate discipline that he looks to have graduated, but maybe the walks are just from teams pitching around him.

 

Prognostications of the End Times

None of this is to say that Baez and Reyes are totally immune to the type of trouble that many experts predicted for Baez. The core concern is that any player who exercises “poor plate discipline” and relies solely on contact to reach base is more susceptible to cold streaks and pitchers who work around the zone. For example, the start of Reyes’ 2019 season. Obviously, it would be better if Reyes was able to produce this type of power while also laying off pitches outside the zone.

At some point pitchers will just stop throwing strikes to Reyes, and they’ll attempt to exploit his willingness to swing outside the zone. There’s no doubt that Reyes will have to make some adjustments, but the reality is that Reyes' plate coverage has been exceptional this season (Image courtesy of Fangraphs):

“Plate discipline” and walks have become so sacrosanct that we’ll likely start seeing calls to sell Reyes in the same way that we did with Baez. The reality is that it’s unlikely owners will be able to get fair trade value out of Reyes. There will be some trade partners willing to pay a fair price, but that number will be limited.

Reyes may defy the prevailing wisdom about success and production in baseball, but his success is not without precedent or pattern. Given the reliance on batted balls, he'll be more prone to BABIP fluctuations. He’s likely to run into a cold stretch this season, as Baez did in May of last year, but keep an eye on his BABIP, velocity, and Sweet-Spot splits, which should give us an indication of whether he is genuinely struggling at the plate or just going through some bad luck.

Like Baez last season, Reyes makes a potential buy-high or hold candidate. I wouldn’t overvalue him, but he’s looking like a top-100 player in batting average leagues. And if Garcia or Lowe emerge as a potential all-star, you’ll have a sense of how to judge them.

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