May 31, 2017
Updating the Tiers
It’s a strange time to be a fantasy baseball owner. Mike Trout is on the disabled list for the first time in his illustrious career. Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland were involved in a fight on Memorial Day that featured more lettuce than a 1980’s music video. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw have performed like mere mortals, and every pitcher (seemingly) is injured.
On that note, allow me to present an in-season update of our fantasy positional rankings series at Baseball Prospectus. The cold corner landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last two months. Despite losing burgeoning superstar Freddie Freeman to a major wrist injury, renaissance campaigns from injury-plagued veterans such as Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds, in tandem with (unforeseen) legitimate skills-based breakout campaigns from Eric Thames, Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Justin Smoak, have infused this vanilla position group with a much-needed injection of fresh talent.
In case you forgot how these rankings work (the offseason does feel like a lifetime ago) here is a brief refresher:
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and will fetch mixed-league auction bids over $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They also will be early round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value at auction. One-star players are late-round sleepers and roster placeholders.
Positional eligibility for the series is determined by 20 games or more at a position in the majors, with priority determined using the following order: catcher, shortstop, second base, third base, outfield, and first base, and designated hitter. Designated hitters are ranked with first basemen. Players who appeared at fewer than 20 games at a position in the majors are ranked at the position they played most frequently.
Dollar values come from BP’s PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players' dollar values.
Here's the full schedule:
Thursday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Friday: Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
I know what you’re thinking: “Where is Cody Bellinger?” Trust me, I didn’t forget about him (or Chris Davis). He will be covered in Bret Sayre’s outfield rankings later this week. The 21-year-old phenom would rank just behind Freeman (ahead of Josh Bell) in the three-star tier if he were eligible exclusively at first base. Without further delay, let’s dive into the rankings:
The upper echelon remains relatively un-changed from the pre-season installment, with the notable exception of Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting just .235/.370/.465 with 12 home runs and four steals. The Cubs slugger falls to the four-star tier, but has the potential to rebound with a little batted-ball luck. He won’t run a preposterously-low .216 BABIP all year, but the precipitous decline in batting average is enough to knock him from the first base pantheon. The fact that Goldy has more stolen bases than home runs is wild. It’s way too early to be concerned about Miggy. Let’s not even go there.
Five-Star Trade Target: Joey Votto—Reds
The 33-year-old veteran is on pace to eclipse the 30-home run plateau for the first time since 2010. In addition to the slight uptick in the power department, Votto also is making a ridiculous amount of contact, striking out in a career-low 12.3 percent of his 220 plate appearances this season. A notorious second-half monster each of the past two years, he’s the ultimate combination of superstar floor and truly insane upside. If the batting average back ticks up (#BABIPDragons) and he maintains this level of power production simultaneously, look out. I’m not going to guarantee it, but get ready. This might get fun.
If Myers, who has been thrown out three times in eight stolen base attempts this season, isn’t going to get to 20 steals, then it becomes difficult to justify keeping him in this tier. Double-digit speed will be enough to buoy his fantasy floor, but there isn’t enough of a ceiling in the other categories to envision him getting back to unprecedented heights without the elite steals of a season ago.
Four-Star Trade Target: Jose Abreu—White Sox
Thames is fantastic. I’m not sure his fantasy owners would be interested in dealing him, especially if they’re remotely in the playoff picture. Abreu is a fascinating case, simply because he’s morphed back into the elite power hitter who took the league by storm upon arrival in 2014. If he can slug 30-plus home runs while maintaining a .300 batting average, he’s truly just a cut below the five-star tier.
There’s a great deal of potential in this three-star tier, but it’s tethered to plenty of injury, playing time, and/or performance risk. Freeman is out until mid-July with a fractured wrist. Simply put, there’s no guarantee that he comes back and produces at an elite level. The 24-year-old Pirates sensation has showcased a tremendous approach at the plate, walking nearly as many times (20) as he’s struck out (37) in 190 plate appearances. He’s also never hit for this type of power in his professional career. Encarancion has struggled mightily, hitting just .226/.346/.418 through 49 games, after signing a massive deal with Cleveland as a free agent this past offseason. The Phillies newly minted first baseman of the future, Joseph, got off to an icy cold start and was at risk of losing his every day at-bats. Fortunately, he’s heated up enough in May to re-establish himself as a viable mixed league option.
Three-Star Trade Target: Ryan Zimmerman—Nationals
What more do you want to see? He’s healthy. He’s driving the ball. He’s hitting more fly balls. There are major health concerns that will never full fade, but if he’s on the field, the 32-year-old veteran will remain insanely productive for the Nationals high-powered offense.
I’ve covered Smoak and Bour extensively in the BP Free Agent Watch over the past few weeks. I’m in. The same applies to Duda, who owns the exact same True Average (.320 TAv) through 115 plate appearances as he posted in his 27-homer campaign back in 2015. As the late Dennis Green would say, “he is who we thought he was.” On the other hand, I’m at a complete loss when it comes to Mark Reynolds. I’m not very confident in my ability to forecast his performance moving forward, but he’s at least cemented his status as the Rockies everyday first baseman moving forward. That’s enough to keep him in this two-star tier, despite the long-term concerns. Finally, it’s becoming difficult to justify owning Victor Martinez and Chris Davis (especially in shallow re-draft leagues), given the emergence of numerous alternatives and the state of power production league-wide.
Two-Star Trade Target: Yonder Alonso—Athletics
Bring me all of the Alonso shares, please. The 30-year-old’s swing changes and overhauled approach are very real. I’m not sure what else to say. He’s crushing the ball, hitting .273/.372/.648 with 14 home runs in 148 plate appearances.
Speaking of ugly, Albert Pujols has been downright atrocious. It’s not entirely his fault. There’s still plenty of power, but the on-base skills (.296 OBP) have eroded to the extent that he’s become indistinguishable from the younger, emerging alternatives at the position. Losing Mike Trout for two months is also going to have a major impact on his RBI opportunities. The 37-year-old isn’t done just yet, but he’s been on the back nine for a while. There are better alternatives.
One Star Trade Target: Logan Morrison—Rays
He won’t be much of an asset in terms of batting average, but Morrison has tapped into his tremendous raw power with greater frequency over the past two months than at any other point in his seven-year career. There isn’t tremendous upside, but in deeper formats, the power and counting stats profile carries significant value. He’s easily the most attractive option in this tier. Joe Mauer has had an encouraging campaign, hitting .287/.364/.408 in 176 plate appearances, but he’s still not hitting for enough power to justify a roster spot, even in deep mixers.