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Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first, second, and third base before going to shortstop, and after the infield was done we hit up the outfield. After that, it was time for starting pitchers, and finally we're wrapping up with my top-12 for relief pitchers heading into 2017.
Early 2017 Rankings: Relief Pitchers1. Aroldis Chapman, CHC* – It really doesn’t matter where he lands this offseason, his incredible heat and slider were joined in 2016 by a modicum of control. His walk rate dropped from 11.9% to 8.1%, which is still pretty high but given how difficult it is to make contact off of him, limiting walks by any real margin is noteworthy. He strikes out 40.5% of batters! He is #1. 2. Zach Britton, BAL – Britton converted all 47 of his save opportunities in 2016 to the tune of an unreal 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. His insane sinker yielded an 80% groundball rate. He had a 17.2% swinging-strike rate as well, which gave him 74 Ks in 67 innings. He just provided legitimate value all across the board. Much like Mariano Rivera’s cutter, Britton doesn’t really need much else to dominate. Much like Rivera, Britton should be drafted with confidence. 3. Kenley Jansen, LAD* – Jansen also saved 47 games in 2016, but struck out 30 more hitters than Britton in only 1 2/3 additional innings. He continues to be an absolute menace on the mound, and turned in his sixth-straight season of a SIERA below 1.90. That sort of consistent kingship over opponents needs to be respected. 4. Dellin Betances, NYY – Betances’ poor September left a sour taste in most fantasy owners’ mouths, allowing 13 runs (10 earned) in only 9 1/3 innings with a poor (for Dellin) 16:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He may have just finally crumbled a bit under the workload, as Joe Girardi hasn’t been afraid of trotting Betances out like he’s a cyborg. September aside, his season-long 42.1% strikeout rate is still the best of his career and was second only to Andrew Miller’s 44.7% mark. 5. Jeurys Familia, NYM – Most will remember his most recent unraveling against the Giants in the Wild Card game this postseason, but before that he did save an MLB-leading 51 games with a snappy 2.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Unfortunately, he couldn’t build off of his masterful 2015 as he gave back all of the control gains that he had made, with his walk rate jumping back up to 9.7% from 6.2%. Location is important so that he can utilize that nasty splitter of his to full effect. 6. Andrew Miller,CLE – That's ALCS MVP Andrew Miller to you. The righty somehow one-upped his amazing 2014 and 2015 campaigns this season thanks to that aforementioned 44.7% strikeout rate that led the MLB and a walk rate that he more than cut in half (3.3%, down from 8.1%). He had a 1.10 SIERA as a result, which was half a run better than the runner-up (Jansen) out of all pitchers with a minimum of 40 innings. You know how crazy that is to have such a wide margin so close to zero? 7. Craig Kimbrel, BOS – Craigy was able to turn in 31 saves despite undergoing left knee surgery on July 11 (thanks to shagging fly balls during BP) and missed about three weeks. It was a freak occurrence and his durability really shouldn’t be brought into question as a result. What does get brought into question is his control, as his walk rate shot up from 9.2% to 13.6%. He’ll need to bring that back down to be one of the elite in 2017. 8. Seung Hwan Oh, STL – “The Final Boss” was able to make his role for St. Louis fit his nickname, as he took over closing duties in July and proceeded to save 19 games the rest of the way. Trevor Rosenthal was no good, very bad, and all Oh did was strike out 103 Major Leaguers while walking only 18 and allowing five homers in his 79 2/3 innings of work to earn manager Mike Matheny’s trust. That’s one way to make a first impression. 9. Edwin Diaz, SEA – Seattle’s 22-year-old righty had the fourth-best SIERA (1.82) and fourth-best strikeout rate (40.6%), which puts him in the company of arms like Miller, Betances, Jansen and Chapman. That is impressive. Whiffs aside, he also had a robust 46.8% ground-ball rate. While his MLB sample size is small, look for the .377 BABIP to come down a bit, leading to a successful 2017. 10. Wade Davis, KC – Kansas City’s closer is apparently drawing lots of trade interest, but for now we’re talking about a 31-year-old righty who was sent to the DL twice with an elbow injury. While it’s great that he came back in the last month to record six saves with 15 strikeouts and only one walk in 9 2/3 innings of work, the long-term worries have to be there somewhere. The talent is there, but so is the risk. 11. Mark Melancon, WAS* - Melancon’s 47 saves tied with Britton and Jansen for second-most in the MLB, but he really made his value on the back of his 1.64 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He won’t ever strike out more than a batter per inning, but he tends to hover around an 8.00-9.00 K/9 (24%) – a more than serviceable amount. He hasn’t posted a WHIP above 1.00 in each of his last four seasons, and he should be a very bankable asset in 2017. 12. Roberto Osuna, TOR – This 21-year-old is the real deal. He essentially replicated his 2015 ratios while taking modest strides forward in strikeouts (27.7% to 28.5%) and walks (5.9% to 4.9%), and of course he tallied 36 saves with a full year of ninth-inning work.
Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first, second, and third base before going to shortstop, and after the infield was done we hit up the outfield. Now we're checking in on my top-25 for starting pitchers heading into 2017. It felt really weird not including Jose Fernandez, but we do our best to remember his greatness and have to move on. For what it's worth, he'd be my #3.
Early 2017 Rankings: Starting Pitchers1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – As if. Kershaw’s 6.5 fWAR was tied for the best out of any pitcher with Thor, except Kershaw did it in only 149 innings and Thor needed 183 2/3 innings. He was just that dominant. For all starters with at least 140 innings logged, Kershaw's 2.41 SIERA easily beat JoFer's 2.81 in second place. His 2% walk rate paced the entire league, as did his stellar 29.6 K-BB%. It's great to see that he's back to normal after that back injury scare, and he should be the unquestioned King of the Mound in 2017. 2. Max Scherzer, WAS – Scherzer decimated hitters by allowing them to only register a .196 batting average against while striking out 31.5% of those who dared to step into the batter’s box. The craziest part might be that he doesn’t only rack up the whiffs, but he induced soft contact at a 22.2% clip – seventh best in the Majors out of qualified starters. That 1.22 HR/9 was his only real blemish, but luckily they always seemed to be solo shots since no one else could get on base. 3. Noah Syndergaard, NYM – The Norse God of thunder blew his opponents away with his filthy 100+ MPH fastball, a 91 MPH slider and a changeup that travels at a mere 90 MPH. He was one of only two qualified starters to finish the season with a sub-3 SIERA, and his 2.11 BB/9 only further illustrated how lethal his pitches could be. He isn’t just a hurler throwing heat, he’s got the ability to locate his fire and make hitters earn their way on base. He’s only recently turned 24. The sky is the limit, but one is also drafting a little risk with that elbow. 4. Madison Bumgarner, SF – Bumgarner, he of the insane postseason stats, also happened to be pretty good in the regular season as well. His K/9 crept up for a fourth-straight season in 2016 and this was also his third straight season of a sub-3 ERA, but his fielding-independent metrics were more mid-threes than threes (3.24 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, 3.36 SIERA). He's really not someone you worry about, but it'd be nice if he went back to 2015's 4.5% walk rate compared to this season's 5.9% mark. We're nitpicking a bit of course, this is a bona fide ace. 5. Chris Sale, CWS – Sale set out on a quest to be more efficient in 2016, working deeper into games with less of an emphasis on overpowering hitters. His first 17 starts yielded a 14-2 (!) record with a 2.93 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 120 innings, but his SIERA was 3.52. His final 15 starts gave way to a 3-8 record, though his 115:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio reflected a more aggressive approach and his SIERA actually improved to 3.34 after the All-Star break. Trust the metrics, as he’s still absolutely a stud but his approach is a big piece of the puzzle. 6. Corey Kluber, CLE– Kluber actually wasn’t his sharpest in 2016, and yet he still struck out 227 in only 215 innings while posting plus ratios (3.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) and seeing his win-loss record rebound from 2015’s mutinous 9-16 to 18-9. The Klubot’s SIERA has sat below 3.00 in 2014 and 2015, but this season it was at 3.50 as his strikeouts dropped a tick (-1.3%) and his walk rate went up 1.5%. He’s still amazing though, and it showed. 7. Yu Darvish, TEX – Darvish’s 2016 didn’t get started until July 16 after recovery from TJS took quite a while, though he made three starts in late May/early June before needing additional time off. Excluding those three outings and his first start back when he was on a pitch count, Darvish posted a 3.47 ERA (3.01 SIERA) alongside a 24% soft contact rate, 31.3% K rate and 6.3% walk rate. 8. Justin Verlander, DET – Verlander showed a form we haven’t seen in five years, as he went ballistic on opponents with a 16-9 record, 254 Ks in 227 2/3 innings to the tune of a career-high 28.1 K%. At age-33, some might think that this is a little late for such a renaissance, but rest assured this was a talent-fueled campaign for the Detroit ace. 9. Jon Lester, CHC – Chicago’s ace finished with an impressive 19-5 record thanks to an electric second half that didn’t see him take a loss until the very last start of the regular season on Oct. 1. He went 10-1 with a pristine 1.76 ERA from the Midsummer Classic on, much to his fantasy owners’ delight. Lester’s ridiculously low 2.44 overall ERA checked in as the second-best mark in the Major Leagues out of qualified starters, though he didn’t even lead the Cubs in that department thanks to this next guy… 10. Kyle Hendricks, CHC – AKA “The Maestro” due to his insane ability to place the ball where he wants with the right amount of break on the pitch to induce soft contact at a league-leading 25%. In an era where everyone is dazzled by velocity, Hendricks led the league with a wild 2.13 ERA and a solid 0.98 WHIP. It’s not like he can’t miss bats either, as he bumped up his swinging-strike rate from 8.1% to 10% this season even though his K% only rose 0.2%. 11. Jake Arrieta, CHC – All of the Cubs! It’s difficult to complain about an 18-8 record with a 3.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 190 Ks in 197 1/3 innings, but there were some troubling signs underneath the hood. His K% sunk from 27.1% to 23.9%, but his walk rate shot up from 5.5% to 9.6%. That lack of command resulted in a 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP and 3.94 SIERA (his numbers last year: 2.35 FIP, 2.61 xFIP, 2.75 SIERA). He’s shown enough over the past three years to still be considered a top pitcher, but 2015 Arrieta is in the wind. 12. Johnny Cueto, SF – Cueto’s 2015 was a tale of two halves, with a 2.73 first-half ERA (3.12 FIP) that rose to 4.34 in the second half (4.04 FIP). 2016 showed the same trend, but he brought both figures down with a 2.47 first-half ERA (2.67 FIP) and a 3.26 second-half ERA (3.37 FIP). His overall 2.96 FIP is encouraging, and his 50.2% ground-ball rate and 0.61 HR/9 really helped minimize the damage. 13. Stephen Strasburg, WAS – Upside, thy name is Strasburg. Washington’s young arm is dealing with an elbow injury at the moment, but before that he had posted a 15-4 record with a 3.60 ERA and 1.10 WHIP alongside a dynamite 30.6 K%. His 2.92 FIP, 3.20 xFIP and 3.18 SIERA are all bankable metrics, but it’s really just about that nagging feeling that you’re not going to get a full season out of him. 14. David Price, BOS – This was one weird season for the southpaw, as he posted his worst ERA (3.99) in a full season thanks to a huge jump in hard-hit rate (+6.6%), pull rate (+10.8%) and a HR/FB rate that rose 5.7% as a result. He still struck out 24% of batters faced for his third-straight season of 225+ Ks, and even posted his fourth-straight season with a walk rate under 5.5% -- both very strong figures – but he simply got hit too hard when contact was made. The AL East and Fenway can be unforgiving in these regards, but he should be a solid “bounceback” candidate in 2017. 15. Carlos Carrasco, CLE – He improved his ERA from last season’s 3.63 to 3.32, but he was nowhere near the force that he was in 2015. His SIERA went from 2.74 to 3.44 as his strikeout rate dropped from 29.6% to 25% and his hard-hit rate allowed soared from 27.5% to 36.4%. This led to an ordinary 1.29 HR/9 (up from 0.88) and paints him as above-average rather than a borderline SP1. 16. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY – The Yankees ace had the third-lowest ERA in the AL (3.07) as he made modest improvements to his ground-ball rate (47% to 48.2%) and first-strike rate (62.6% to 64.5%). The biggest impact came from lowering his HR/9 from 1.46 to 0.99, though his SIERA did rise from 3.36 to 3.79. His K% did drop to 20.5% from 22.8%, but his splitter and strong control (4.5% walk rate) should keep him viable as a high-end SP2 in 2017. 17. Jacob deGrom, NYM – In his third season, deGrom clearly wasn’t 100% for much of it and he still posted a 3.04 ERA (3.66 SIERA) and 1.20 WHIP with a 23.7% strikeout rate. The 7-8 record wasn’t really his fault, we’re past that thinking, but his BABIP rose from .271 to .312 thanks to a hard-hit rate that jumped 5%. He’s been a great arm for the greater part of three seasons now, and if he handles rehab and Spring Training well then he’s a nice value in the NL East. 18. Kenta Maeda, LAD – Maeda performed admirably in his first MLB season, going 16-11 with 179 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings (25% K rate) and a 3.48 ERA (3.69 SIERA). His 11.6% swinging-strike rate backs up those Ks, and his 7% walk rate illustrates a pitcher who was more than ready to take on this level of competition. He’ll turn 29 a couple of weeks into the 2017 season, and should be a good bet to turn up again next year. 19. Danny Duffy, KC – Duffy made quite the leap in 2016. In his 161 2/3 innings as a starter, he posted a 3.56 ERA while allowing a .238/.291/.424 triple slash to opposing hitters. He also had an incredible 25.4% strikeout rate alongside a mere 5.6% walk rate. The thing he needs to improve on is arm strength, as his fastball velocity sat around 96 MPH when he first entered the rotation on May 15 but steadily dropped to just a shade under 94 MPH in late September. I like his chances. 20. Chris Archer, TB – We all know the surface stats were pretty gross (9-19, 4.02 ERA), but his fielding-independent metrics still provided hope (3.50 SIERA) – some of which we saw in the second half. His K/BB rose from 2.71 in the first half to 5.42 in the second, and his WHIP plummeted from 1.44 to 1.01. 21. Carlos Martinez, STL – The strikeouts were down as he put an emphasis on locating the ball low in the zone, which resulted in a drop in strikeouts from 24.4% to 21.5% but also a .286 BABIP compared to 2015’s .318 mark. While his 3.04 ERA was near-identical to last season’s 3.01 ERA, his SIERA blew up from 3.44 to 3.97 as a result of this approach. 22. Cole Hamels, TEX – The walks are concerning (7.1% in 2015 to 9.1% this season), but he actually managed to dance around ugly first-half metrics (4.53 FIP) to improve in the second half (3.28 FIP) and put together a solid campaign. The 3.99 SIERA was easily a career-worst mark, even though his 3.32 ERA was actually 33 points down from 2015’s 3.65 ERA. 23. Rich Hill, LAD - Everyone's favorite posterchild for blisters in 2016, Hill was incredible when he was able to stay on the bump. His 2.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP joined a 29.4% strikeout rate. It will be interesting to see what uniform he's wearing in 2017, as park factors and the division he's stuck in will certainly matter, but the reinvented 36-year-old should still be solid for fantasy owners regardless of his surroundings. 24. Rick Porcello, BOS - Boston's surprise ace had an incredible reversal of fortune considering all he really did metrics-wise was drop his walk rate from 5.2% to 3.6% and shave 3% off of his line-drive rate. This, combined with a rather unlucky 2015, helped his .332 BABIP of last season to nosedive to .269. This resulted in a 35-point drop in his WHIP, and of course his 22-4 record didn't hurt anyone either. His xFIP actually rose 17 points and his SIERA crept up five points compared to 2015 though, so color me skeptical. 25. Jose Quintana, CWS - In each of his last three seasons, Quintana has logged 200+ innings with an ERA ranging from 3.32 to 3.51 -- admirable marks -- yet has only been rewarded with nine wins in each of those seasons. He still fought off some poor luck to only finish 13-12 despite finishing sixth in the MLB with 23 quality starts, an identical mark to teammate Chris Sale. Behind all of his career-best marks was a career-worst 4.01 SIERA and 32.7% hard-hit rate, but his age-28 season should still have a good shot at providing SP3-caliber stats. Honorable Mentions: Danny Salazar, CLE. Aaron Sanchez, TOR. Tanner Roark, WAS. Marcus Stroman, TOR. Jon Gray, COL.
Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first, second, and third base as well as shortstop. With outfield we're going to expand to the top 30, in the spirit of 10-team leagues starting three outfielders. It's the least I can do. Please note that 2016 was a wild year for homers all around, with its 5,610 homers being the second-most all time (2000: 5,692), so my soft advisory is to take the gains with a grain of salt.
Early 2017 Rankings: Outfielders1. Mike Trout, LAA – We are truly spoiled by Trout, as he was incredible in his fifth full season and yet it just feels like another day to many of us. He went 123-29-100-30-.315 across the 5x5 standard categories (R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG), and has delivered undebatable first-round production on an annual basis. It isn’t splashy at this point, but you can’t go anywhere else with #1. 2. Mookie Betts, BOS – This freshly-minted 24-year-old is threatening Trout’s stronghold atop the outfield rankings thanks to a wild 122-31-114-26-.318 season, but did have 49 more PAs than Trouty. This isn’t to diminish what Betts did, but do realize that his amazing 2016 is what Trout’s been doing for several years. Betts regularly batted cleanup starting in mid-August, and it’ll be very interesting (and great for his counting stats) if he stays there in 2017 with David Ortiz gone. 3. Kris Bryant, CHC - KB’s sophomore season saw him fall one longball shy of a 40-homer season, and he also eclipsed 100 runs (121) and 100 RBIs (102) while turning in a .292 average. He lowered his strikeout rate from 30.6% to 22%, and he was one of only 13 qualified hitters with a hard-hit rate above 40%. The Cubs offense should continue to be a fountain of runs in 2017, with Bryant at the center of it. 4. Bryce Harper, WAS - *Flop*. Well, flop in terms of being a top-three pick that is. He still hit 24 homers and stole 21 bases (he combined for 48 HRs + SBs last season), but his counting stats took on water. The biggest ding was to his batting average though, with that beautiful .330 mark dropping to a horrid .243. He still walked at a crazy 17.2% clip and actually dropped his strikeout rate by 1.3% and his swinging-strike rate by 2.2%, so look for a fully-healthy Harper to deliver in 2017. 5. Charlie Blackmon, COL – Blackmon blitzed the entire league in 2017, kicking every single facet of his batting game up a notch. Here are his 2016 totals with 2015’s numbers in parenthesis: 111 runs (93), 29 homers (17), 82 RBIs (58), .324 average (.287). This helped him balance out a dip in steals, as he only swiped 17 bags after stealing 43 in 2015. This is likely due to a turf toe injury that sidelined him for a bit in mid-April. 6. Trea Turner, WAS – The TT Cruiser took the baseball universe by storm with an electric 53-13-40-34-.342 line in only 73 games (327 PAs). Yes, that would prorate out to roughly a 115-30-90-75-.340 line. Ohhh-kay. Don’t anchor yourself to that, but this is a five-tool guy that will deliver from atop Washington’s lineup. Do note that he started 25 games at 2B, and is much more valuable there than at OF, but his versatility only further helps his case. 7. A.J. Pollock, ARI – His 2016 was shaping up to be one of the more intriguing seasons to witness after redefined “breakout season” with a wild 111-20-76-39-.315 line in 2015, but fractured his right elbow on April 1 in a Spring Training game. He managed to briefly return in September, but then a groin injury took him out of the equation again. His intriguing blend of power, contact and speed makes him a threat to dominate for fantasy owners, and will likely make him a top pick in 2017 drafts. 8. Starling Marte, PIT – The good news: he stolen a career-high 47 bases with a fantastic .311 average. The bad news: he only hit nine homers in 529 PAs thanks to an awful 8.4% HR/FB rate, which led to a skinny RBI total of 46. While last year’s 18.6% HR/FB mark was over his head, he still has a career rate of 13.3% that he fell well short of despite a career-high 34.7% hard-hit rate and a fly-ball rate that increased by 5.7%. Weird. Expect more in the power department in 2017. 9. Nelson Cruz, SEA – Nellie Cruuuuz turned in his third-straight 40+ homer season in 2016, further showing everyone that his power cannot be contained no matter what park he calls home. Going hand-in-hand with his solid counting stats is also his clean bill of health, as Cruz has now played in more than 150 games in each of the past three seasons (and four of the last five). Sure, the guy is going to turn 37 in the middle of next season, but his bat should continue to produce. 10. Carlos Gonzalez, COL – It’s a little disheartening to realize that he hit 27 homers in the second half last season in only 285 PAs, and then see that he hit a grand total of 25 in 632 PAs over the course of the full season in 2016. I mean it was one hell of a second half last season, but hopefully hopes were not pegged too high. His counting stats were still healthy, and 2016 was actually his first 100-RBI season since 2010, but homers tend to overshadow everything. He’s been healthy for two seasons in a row now and still gets to call Coors Field home, which makes the slugger a top-10 option. 11. Yoenis Cespedes, NYM – Well if anyone thought that 2015’s power spike was a fluke, he dispelled that notion real quick. His 35 homers in 676 PAs last season were lovely, and he followed that up by smacking 31 taters in only 543 PAs alongside an identical .251 ISO. It’ll be interesting to see how his contract situation plays out when it comes to his option, but wherever he lands he should be viewed as a reliable big bat. 12. George Springer, HOU – Springer sprung into action as Houston’s leadoff man for much of 2016, which helped him tally 116 runs alongside his usual pop (29 homers), but his average dipped 15 points and that wasn’t even the worst part. He was caught stealing 10 times on only 19 attempts after showing great awareness on the basepaths through his entire career (he was 16-for-20 in 2015). He still posted above-average numbers in three of the five major fantasy categories, but a blah average and a drain on steals knocks him down a bit. 13. J.D. Martinez, DET – Martinez was doing alright in the first two-and-a-half months of the season, with 12 homers, 39 RBIs and a .286 average, before a collision with the wall resulted in a nasty elbow dislocation that sidelined him for a month and a half. While the concern loomed that this would mess with his swing, he came back with a vengeance by hitting .332 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in his final 55 games. He should post over 30 homers with a plus average in 2017, making him a great pick. 14. Ryan Braun, MIL – Braun and the Brewers made a concerted effort to keep him healthy in 2016 by providing him with regular rest, and while he only played in 135 games (564 PAs), he still hit 30 bombs with 91 RBIs and a solid .305 average. Those numbers were his best since that beautiful 2012 campaign, and he even stole 16 bases to show he’s still not afraid to run out there. 15. Justin Upton, DET – Did you ever have any doubt?! If you didn’t then you are a cold-blooded fantasy assassin and we should be friends. Upton signed a big six-year deal worth $132.8M with Detroit and promptly hit a horrific three homers with 11 RBIs and a strikeout rate in the mid-30s over the first two months of the season. Beyond bad. He brought that K rate down to the mid-20s and hit five homers in each of the next three months, but then Aug. 21 came. Upton blasted two homers that day, and the switch was effectively jammed into the “on” position. He went on to hit 18 homers with 41 RBIs and a .303 average in only 37 games (152 PAs) to inconceivably end his season with his highest homer total (31) since 2011. He’s still a top bat, but boy are those streaks wild. 16. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA – Stanton’s 2016 was a roller coaster of emotions and streaks, with him flying high as he hoisted the Home Run Derby trophy and also crazy low in May when he could only muster a .173 average with only four round-trippers on the month. That month also housed a horrid 35.2% strikeout rate, as many toyed with the idea that Barry Bonds was trying to recreate Stanton’s swing. Fan theories aside, the performance clearly plummeted for extended periods of time but the raw strength and power is still there. His “bad” season still resulted in 27 homers in only 470 PAs. Not a bad bet. 17. Mark Trumbo, BAL – I mean, did you think we’d forget the guy who led the MLB with 47 home runs? Trumbo made himself right at home in Camden Yards, but notably hit 25 dingers in Baltimore and 22 on the road. However he wasn’t able to stave off his familiar foe on the second-half split. He hit 28 homers with a .288 average before the All-Star break, but only hit .214 after that. At least he still blasted 19 homers to maintain value. Pay attention to where he lands, but this is as powerful a guy as any. 18. Khris Davis, OAK – So your HR leader over the last two seasons combined is Nelson Cruz with 87 dingers, but if you change the start date to Aug. 1, 2015…guess who has more than Cruz (60)? Khris Davis, with 62. This guy is a tank, and while many suspected that his power would fall off due to his moving to pitcher-friendly Oakland from hitter-friendly Milwaukee, it just didn’t break that way. Like Cruz, his pop has shown that it can play anywhere, but the difference is that he’ll only hit in the .240s. 19. Andrew McCutchen, PIT – Well, Cutch’s counting stats weren’t too far off from his 2015 totals, but boy that .256 average is an eyesore compared to his .292 career rate. He struck out a career-worst 21.2% of the time, and his 10.2% walk rate was also a career low. Here’s the thing, he did show some encouraging signs in the second half. He lowered that same strikeout rate from 24.7% to 16.9% as he bumped his average up from .247 in the first half to .267. While the sky wasn’t falling anymore, he still has a lot of work to do here. 20. Matt Kemp, ATL – Many might be surprised to learn that Kemp actually had 35 homers and over 100 RBIs (108) in 2016, as his production didn’t tail off at all upon his arrival in Atlanta. With the Bravos’ lineup trending upwards (there wasn’t much room to sink lower), Kemp’s power should give him a good shot at sustaining those solid counting stats in his age-32 season in 2017. 21. Jose Bautista, TOR – Joey Bats was dinged up in 2016 and it showed, as he only hit .234 with 22 homers in 517 PAs. Of course, he still used his strong batting eye and the threat of his bat to draw walks at a robust 16.8% rate, which prompted Toronto to bat him leadoff from mid-May to early September. This doesn’t help the RBI department, but did finish the season as their regular cleanup hitter. You'll need his health to bounce back, but the pop is still tremendous. 22. David Dahl, COL – Another benefactor of Coors Field, Dahl got off to a torrid start by logging a hit in each of his first 17 games – a mark that tied a modern-day baseball record. He hit seven homers and stole five bases while hitting .315 in his first 63 Major-League contests (237 PAs), but the upside you’re after is the guy who hit 13 homers and stole 16 bases in 332 Double-A PAs. When a player’s “adjustment period” includes him hitting over .300 with some pop and speed mixed in, you pay attention. And again, Coors. 23. Ian Desmond, TEX – Desmond got back on the 20/20 season horse in 2016, and absolutely obliterated his previous career-high of 77 runs scored by crossing the plate 107 times for Texas. Most promising might be how he reversed a horrible batting-average trend that had bottomed out at an awful .233 last season by hitting .285. Those who owned him know that was floated by a .322 first-half average, because he fell on his face in the second half with a .237 average. Still, a 20/20 talent needs to be respected. 24. Gregory Polanco, PIT – Yet another tale-of-two-halves player, Polanco hit .287 in the first half with 12 homers, nine steals and exactly 50 runs and 50 RBIs in 344 PAs. He kept the power and speed coming with 10 second-half homers and eight steals in 243 PAs, but his average plummeted to .220. However, the emergent 25-year-old admitted after the season ended that he received PRP injections in the second half to deal with his shoulder and knee injuries. Buy a little more confidently in 2017 than you would just blindly seeing the dropoff. 25. Adam Jones, BAL – Honestly, his season wasn’t all that great all around, but he also battled through a rib injury that clearly affected his swing for much of the early going. He then dazzled us with a wild month of June that saw him jack 11 homers, score 30 runs and knock in 27 guys alongside a .314 average. The 31-year-old may be more of a .270, 28-homer guy moving forward, but there’s still value there when you count the likely run and RBI totals in the 80s. 26. Jackie Bradley, BOS – If one just looked at JBJ’s final statline of 94-26-87-9-.267 then you’d be very pleased, but this is a guy who had some concerns surrounding his streakiness coming into the season -- and they showed. In May he hit .381 with eight homers and 24 RBIs, but followed that up with a four-homer, .218-hitting June. Then he hit .298 in July before dropping 100 points to .198 in August. His power helped buoy his value, but this is a tricky guy to peg. 27. Christian Yelich, MIA – “Christian learned how to hit homers. Uh-oh.” After hitting only seven homers in 2015, the young Marlin tripled that figure in 2016 with 21 dingers and 98 RBIs – up from 44 last season. Yes, that is very good. He didn’t lose his affinity for contact either, as he only saw two points slip off from his .300 average from 2015. Don’t get attached to the power trend as he still only hit fly balls 20% of the time, but a wild 23.6% HR/FB rate helped the cause. 28. Jose Ramirez, CLE – Ramirez breathed life back into his line-drive rate in 2016 (22.8% from 16.2%) and the results were impossible to miss. His 84-11-76-22-.312 5x5 line made him a great pickup who provided great speed and counting stats alongside a great average and a power total that didn’t zap owners’ overall numbers. He grew into enough pop to go along with the speed and plus bat to make him a fine later option. 29. Michael Brantley, CLE – His 2016 was a lost cause thanks to a shoulder injury that he just never got a chance to fully recover from, but the dynamic outfielder should be 100% for the beginning of the 2017 season. In only 137 games (596 PAs) in 2015, he went 15/15 with a nice .310 average, which of course came after his breakout 2014 season that saw him hit 20 bombs with 23 steals alongside a .327 average. Anyone who can be a reliable five-category contributor needs to be listed. 30. Odubel Herrera, PHI – Odubel may not be as good as his first two months hinted at (.319/.425/.449 with five homers and six steals), but outside of a rough July (.227) he never had a monthly split below .276. His consistent, albeit modest, power and speed contributions came together to give the 24-year-old a 15/25 season – a combo only achieved by Mike Trout, Wil Myers, Melvin Upton and Herrera. Honorable Mentions: Adam Duvall (CIN), Hunter Pence (SF), Stephen Piscotty (STL), Dexter Fowler (CHC), Hernan Perez (MIL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Marcell Ozuna (MIA), Melvin Upton (TOR).
Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first, second and third base, and now we check in with the quarterbacks of the infield -- the shortstops. Please note that 2016 was a wild year for homers all around, with its 5,610 homers being the second-most all time (2000: 5,692), so my soft advisory is to take the gains with a grain of salt.
Early 2017 Rankings: Shortstops1. Manny Machado, BAL - Elephant in the room: Machado stole zero bases in 2016 after swiping 20 bags in 2015. But he took modest steps forward in each of the other four standard fantasy categories, and has now hit 35+ homers in his last two seasons. His dual eligibility as a SS/3B player adds to his value, but boy would it be nice if he stole a few bags in 2017. 2. Trevor Story, COL – If you go to the stats leaderboard for shortstops and sort by homers, you’ll see Story tied for second with 27. Normally that’d be impressive on its own, but then you look at his at-bat totals compared to those around him and the jaw drops. He had 372 ABs, and everyone else who hit at least 20 dingers from the shortstop slot did so with at least 492 ABs. He was the only SS with an OPS over .900. His .296 ISO was second in the entire Major Leagues to only David Ortiz out of hitters with at least 400 PAs. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but he improved on it as the season wore on. He calls Coors Field home and has speed to back the power, having stolen more than 20 bases in each Minor-League season from 2013-2015. Buy, buy, buy. 3. Corey Seager, LAD – The heavy favorite for NL Rookie of the Year followed up his impressive cup of coffee in the 2015 season (.337/.425/.561 in 113 PAs) with a robust .308/.365/.512 triple slash through 687 PAs in 2016. His 105 runs were second-best among all shortstops and his 26 homers were fifth-most among all SS-eligible players. His 24.4% line-drive rate was #1 out of all shortstops. His 39.7% hard-hit rate was second only to Story’s 44.9%. He’ll turn 23 on April 27 next year, so he’s not done growing either. Hype it up. 4. Carlos Correa, HOU – Correa didn’t have the fringe first-round value in 2016 that many projected for him, as he hit two fewer homers (20) in his sophomore season than his rookie campaign despite logging 228 more PAs. That’s disconcerting, but also speaks to the dangers of pegging your hopes to a small sample size (out of a 20-year-old, no less). His 96 RBIs were still tied for the lead out of all shortstops, and it is well within reason to project further growth for a guy who has 252 games of Major-League experience under his belt already as he heads toward his age-22 season. 5. Francisco Lindor, CLE – Another youngster that really fell off as the season progressed, as he hit a wall at the end of his first full season (.233 Sept./Oct. average, next-lowest monthly split was .293 in April). From April through August, the 22-year-old hit .313 with 14 homers and 16 steals and assuming he gets a nice offseason strengthening regimen in to deal with the rigors of a full season, he should be a great pick in 2017. 6. Xander Bogaerts, BOS – Bogaerts’ 115 runs led all shortstops by 10, and his 89 RBIs were third best while also being one of four shortstops with 20+ homers and double-digit steals. The crazy part is how he did this while having a rather mediocre second half that saw his average drop to .253 after a .329 first-half mark. It’d be a lot to expect his first-half production to hold over an entire season, but he’s closer to that than the .250s hitter we saw later. 7. Jonathan Villar, MIL – Villar’s speed had made itself known in the Minor Leagues, with brief flashes in the Majors (17 SBs in 289 PAs in 2014), but the Brewers finally gave him an everyday job to show it off. The 25-year-old responded in kind with 62 steals on 80 attempts alongside 19 homers and a healthy .285 average. His incredible speed joined a healthy 75.9% combined line-drive and ground-ball rate to sustain a high .373 BABIP, a mark that he could certainly replicate in 2017. 8. Jean Segura, ARI – He started 17 games at SS (23 appearances), so he'll be eligible here in several formats. What a comeback season for Mean Jean, as he popped off for career highs in runs (102), homers (20), RBIs (64) and batting average (.319) alongside 33 steals on 43 attempts. This is a guy who has been through a lot on a personal level, and a fresh start in Arizona may have been just what was needed. His 13.5% HR/FB rate may come down a bit towards his 8.6% career mark, but the speed is real and the opportunity atop Arizona’s lineup should lead to him being another 100-run threat in 2017. 9. Addison Russell, CHC – While his batting average remained low (.242 in 2015, .238 in 2016), the 22-year-old’s power took a big stride forward as he mashed 21 taters with 95 RBIs in that stacked Cubs lineup. He began the season in the bottom third of the batting order, but by July he was seeing regular looks in the five-hole. All he did was deliver 22 RBIs in July before knocking in 23 Cubbies in August. His production did dip in September, likely due to a lowly 23.9% hard-hit rate, but September can be rough on young players and the growing pains are going to be there. The lineup around him gives him a great floor, let alone his own innate talent and raw power. 10. Aledmys Diaz, STL – Another “dang, why’d he have to get injured” youngster, Diaz jacked 17 homers alongside a .300 average in 460 PAs for the Cardinals. Many kept waiting for the magic to end, but it never did. Sure, his ridiculous .423 April average came down towards the high-.200s in his other monthly splits, but his production remained useful. 11. Troy Tulowitzki, TOR – The 24 homers were solid, though most important might be the 131 games played – his highest total since 2011 (143). The thing is, his batting average took a dramatic hit for the second season in a row (2014: .340, 2015: .280, 2016: .254). His hard-hit and line-drive rates were the worst marks of his last four seasons. His power keeps him viable, but not upper-tier. 12. Brad Miller, TB – Miller took well to finally getting the keys to an everyday job, as he blew up for 30 homers in 601 PAs after hitting 11 in 497 PAs in 2015 for Seattle. His April was awful (.185, 2 HRs) but the power really came on in June, as he hit 25 dingers over the last four months of the season. He’s much more valuable at SS/MI than 1B, but the versatility always helps. 13. Eduardo Nunez, SF – He of the perpetually lost batting helmet killed it for the Twins (12 HRs, 27-of-33 on steals, .296 average in 396 PAs) before being dealt to the Giants at the trade deadline, where he only hit four homers and went 13-for-17 on steal attempts with a .269 average in 199 PAs. He’s good and his speed should play in 2017, but he’s just not great. 14. Didi Gregorius, NYY – That’s Sir Didi Gregorius to you. The 26-year-old did well to finally become more than just “the guy who took over for Derek Jeter”, as his bat went to another level starting on June 14 when the Yankees traveled to Coors Field. In the following 381 PAs (94 games), all he did was post a 50-16-49-5-.281 line. Very promising heading into his age-27 season. 15. Dansby Swanson, ATL – His first cup of coffee in the bigs yielded a .302 average, three homers and three steals in his first 145 PAs (38 games). He’ll be limited until he gets lifted from the lower third of the batting order, but the 22-year-old likely won’t be buried for long. 16. Asdrubal Cabrera, NYM – His .280 average was his highest mark since 2009, and the 23 homers in only 568 PAs was definitely his best power pace (he hit 25 homers in 2011, but had 99 extra PAs to smack those other two dingers). His 14% HR/FB rate may regress a tad in 2017, but if he stays healthy then 20 homers and a solid average should follow if he can hold onto the career-best 36.7% hard-hit rate. 17. Jose Peraza, CIN – This dude is faaaast. It’s almost not fair considering they already have Billy Hamilton the roster, but his 21 steals (in 31 attempts) came with a robust .324 average across 256 PAs (72 games). He also made seven starts (12 appearances) at 2B and 19 starts (21 appearances) in the OF, for those keeping track of eligibility. 18. Marcus Semien, OAK – Semien’s wild .235 first-half ISO fell to .153 in the second half despite healthier batted-ball metrics (5.8% drop in soft contact, 6.9% rise in line-drive rate). Alas, his first-half 18.8% HR/FB rate fell to 9.6% in the second half anyway, resulting in eight second-half HRs compared to 19 in the first half. Both figures are likely too far on either end of the spectrum, with his true self holding steady in the middle in the 20-25 HR range. 19. Brandon Crawford, SF – As most thought, his 21-homer 2015 campaign now looks like a power outlier. His 16.2% HR/FB rate came back down to 7.5% this season (8.1% career) despite actually improving his fly-ball and hard-hit rates. He’s still a good hitter, but unless he dices up four leaf clovers in his pine tar again, he won’t hit enough homers or steal enough bags to give him top value. 20. Elvis Andrus, TEX – He set a new career high in homers in 2016! Alright calm down, the bar wasn’t that high. His eight homers and 69 RBIs are both bests, but it’s the 44-point bump in batting average to .302 alongside the usual 24 steals that made him a nice MI-slot play in 12-team mixed leagues. He’s not a standalone starting SS in most leagues, but this was a very encouraging age-27 season. Honorable Mention: Tim Anderson, CWS - This was a tricky omission, but blackjack goes to the White Sox. The rookie did well to post a 57-9-30-10-.283 5x5 line, but a 3% walk rate and 27.1% strikeout rate are a bit concerning moving forward, even for a youngster. He also didn't have a track record of power in the Minors, though it's well within reason for the 23-year-old to have grown into some power with his 6'1" frame. The potential is there, but some of those metrics need to step up (and the rest of the White Sox need to show a little consistency).
Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first and second base, and now we're being waved into third. Please note that 2016 was a wild year for homers all around, with its 5,610 homers being the second-most all time (2000: 5,692), so my soft advisory is to take the gains with a grain of salt.
Early 2017 Rankings: Third Basemen1. Kris Bryant, CHC – KB’s sophomore season saw him fall one longball shy of a 40-homer season, and he also eclipsed 100 runs (121) and 100 RBIs (102) while turning in a .292 average. He lowered his strikeout rate from 30.6% to 22%, and he was one of only 13 qualified hitters with a hard-hit rate above 40%. The Cubs offense should continue to be a fountain of runs in 2017, with Bryant at the center of it. 2. Nolan Arenado, COL – The Rockies slugger turned in his second-straight 40-homer season in 2016, lifting 41 balls over the fence with 116 runs scored and 133 RBIs. Those are juicy, juicy numbers, and the guy is only 25. He still has room to grow, and Coors Field isn’t going to change, so there’s actually room for his ceiling to be a bit higher than we currently think. Scary, huh? 3. Manny Machado, BAL – Elephant in the room: Machado stole zero bases in 2016 after swiping 20 bags in 2015. But he took modest steps forward in each of the other four standard fantasy categories, and has now hit 35+ homers in his last two seasons. His dual eligibility as a SS/3B player adds to his value, but boy would it be nice if he stole a few bags in 2017. 4. Josh Donaldson, TOR – The bringer of rain may have taken a few steps back from his incredible 2015, but that just tells you how high the bar was set. His 122-37-99-7-.284 line is still something to marvel at, though his poor September/October (.222 average, three homers) may leave some soured heading into drafts. Their loss. 5. Kyle Seager, SEA – One of the quietest, most durable and consistent bats in the game belongs to Seattle’s third-bagger. His homer totals have increased in each season (20, 22, 25, 26, 30), and while expecting that trend to continue in 2017 would be pegging things too high, a 25-30 HR outcome makes up a huge portion of his range of outcomes. 6. Adrian Beltre, TEX – After two injury-plagued seasons where he played through some power-zapping dings, Texas’ HOF-hopeful returned to form in 2016 by topping the 30-homer and 100-RBI marks alongside a .300 average. This is a professional hitter folks, and while it’s true that he’ll be 38 years old next season, his safe floor still makes him a top-10 option. 7. Todd Frazier, CWS – Frazier had one weird 2016 season. He set new career highs in runs (89), homers (40), and RBIs (98) while swiping a healthy 15 bases, so why is he down here? Well, he only hit .225. That’s not good. His soft-contact rates were above 25% in the April and May, but the Toddfather still regularly blasted homers and did hit .281 in September/October, so there’s hope for his average yet. 8. Jonathan Villar, MIL - Villar’s speed had made itself known in the Minor Leagues, with brief flashes in the Majors (17 SBs in 289 PAs in 2014), but the Brewers finally gave him an everyday job to show it off. The 25-year-old responded in kind with 62 steals on 80 attempts alongside 19 homers and a healthy .285 average. His incredible speed joined a healthy 75.9% combined line-drive and ground-ball rate to sustain a high .373 BABIP, a mark that he could certainly replicate in 2017. 9. Matt Carpenter, STL – St. Louis’ Swiss army knife made 52 starts at 3B, 37 starts at 2B and 35 starts at 1B in 2016. The versatile Cardinal missed a month due to an oblique injury in early July, but still hit 21 homers with 81 runs and 68 RBIs in 566 PAs alongside a career-high 14.3% walk rate. That power rate means his 28-homer 2015 campaign was no outlier. 10. Evan Longoria, TB – Longo had quite the positive reaction to turning 30 years old, as he decided to smash a career-high 36 homers while increasing his batting average in a second-straight season after it had sunk to .253 in 2014. As with any big surge in the middle of a player’s career, don’t pay for the “new ceiling”, but his floor is healthy and it’s unlikely that a known commodity like him is reached for in drafts. 11. Alex Bregman, HOU – On the other side of the spectrum from Longoria is Bregman, a buzzy rookie who turned in a .313/.354/.577 triple slash alongside eight homers, 30 runs scored, 34 RBIs and two steals once his bat got going from Aug. 6 on. The guy crushed 20 homers with a .306 average in only 80 games between Double- and Triple-A, and clearly adjusted after going 2-for-38 in his first 10 Major League contests. The kid is ready. 12. Anthony Rendon, WAS – He never stole the spotlight, but still had a 91-20-85-12-.270 season as he quietly supported fantasy owners in all five standard categories. His 52 second-half RBIs were a product of batting around the 3-5 slots as opposed to the two-hole, and hitting .291 compared to .254 in the first half doesn’t hurt either. 13. Justin Turner, LAD – Remember his ugly .247-hitting, homerless April? Or his .225-hitting, three-homer May? Not many do considering from June 1 on he hit .292 with 24 homers and 74 RBIs in 428 PAs. His HR/FB rate didn’t spike, and he maintained a low soft-contact rate (12%) while boosting his hard-hit rate by 5.3%. That’ll take you places. 14. Jung Ho Kang, PIT – His 2015 rookie campaign: 15 HRs in 467 PAs, .287 average, .355 OBP. His 2016 season: 21 HRs in 370 PAs, .255 average, .354 OBP. He offset a 71-point slip in BABIP with an improved eye and power stroke. He should flirt with 30+ homers in a full season, which we hopefully get to see in 2017. 15. Jose Ramirez, CLE – Ramirez breathed life back into his line-drive rate in 2016 (22.8% from 16.2%) and the results were impossible to miss. His 84-11-76-22-.312 5x5 line made him a great pickup who provided great speed and counting stats alongside a great average and a power total that didn’t zap owners’ overall numbers. He grew into enough pop to go along with the speed and plus bat to make him a fine later option. 16. Mike Moustakas, KC – There’s no getting around the fact that tearing your ACL sucks, but this was a guy who was coming off of a semi-breakout 22-homer 2015 season and had hit seven homers in his first 27 games before the injury. While his .240 average might have some scared off considering his low-average past, his .214 BABIP was a sick joke considering his high 37.4% hard-hit rate and career-low 11.5% K-rate and 5.8% swinging-strike rate. Scoop him back. 17. Jake Lamb, ARI – This is a guy who was performing like an absolute superstar through Aug. 7. He had smashed 24 homers in only 404 PAs alongside a .287 average, but then a slump was compounded by a bruised hand and left him with a paltry .165 average and five homers in his final 190 PAs. I believe in the four-month, uninjured sample size much more so than the hurt-hand finish. 18. Miguel Sano, MIN – If you didn’t own him, you might be surprised to hear that the sophomore slugger still ripped 25 homers in only 116 games (495 PAs), but his sky-high 2015 BABIP of .396 did come back down to Earth (.329). As a result, his average sunk to .236 and really caps his upside as a high-power, low-average type on a subpar offense. 19. Maikel Franco, PHI – The good news is that he hit 25 homers with a surprising 88 RBIs despite hitting in a rather weak Philadelphia lineup. The bad news is that his average dropped 25 points to .255, which makes the lack of counting-stat upside go down a lot rougher. He’s still just 24, but it’s tough to invest in him as a top-12 starter right now. 20. Jose Reyes, NYM – It isn’t the splashiest move, taking a guy who will turn 34 next June, but in only 60 games he hit eight homers with nine steals (.267/.326/.443 triple slash). If he played 150 games, that’d give him roughly 20 homers and 25 steals, which I’m willing to bet many of you would enjoy. Now expecting 20 homers when he hasn’t topped more than 11 since 2008 is asking for too much, but 25 steals and double-digit dingers from a guy who might gain many positions as a super-utility player in 2017 ain’t bad. Honorable Mention: Nick Castellanos, DET - He hit 18 homers with 57 RBIs and a .291 average in his first four months of the season, and did hit .273 in the three months following his absurd .464 BABIP in April. He won't steal any bases, but he'll only be 25 years old in his fifth Major-League season and has some room to grow. Honorable Mention: Yoan Moncada, BOS – We’ll slap in the young Bostonian here due to the sheer upside that he brings to the table. We know by now that he .294 with 15 homers and 45 steals between High-A and Double-A ball last season, but struggled in his brief Major-League stint, going 4-for-19 with one extra-base hit and 12 Ks.
Welcome back to the series that further proves that the itch of fantasy baseball never goes away. We're gathered here to look at my thoughts on the top players at each position. Assume a standard 5x5 redraft league with the rankings. We led off with catchers before hitting first base, and now we're stealing second. Please note that 2016 was a wild year for homers all around, with its 5,610 homers being the second-most all time (2000: 5,692), so my soft advisory is to take the gains with a grain of salt.
Early 2017 Rankings: Second Basemen1. Jose Altuve, HOU – Getting a 20/30 season out of anyone is going to make you a top-round pick. Let alone also scoring over 100 runs, coming four ribeyes shy of the century mark, and batting an AL-leading .338. Doing this all from second base is just icing on the decadent cake. The man can hit and the power has been trending up for two seasons now, buy confidently. 2. Trea Turner, WAS – The TT Cruiser took the baseball universe by storm with an electric 53-13-40-34-.342 line in only 73 games (327 PAs). Yes, that would prorate out to roughly a 115-30-90-75-.340 line. Ohhh-kay. Don’t anchor yourself to that, but this is a five-tool guy that will deliver from atop Washington’s lineup. Do note that he started 25 games at 2B and is much more valuable there than at OF, but the versatility only further helps his case. 3. Brian Dozier, MIN – How hard do you think you would’ve been slapped if you told someone that Dozier would finish the season with 42 homers on June 24, 2016? Through nearly three months he had cleared the fence only eight times and had a measly 29 RBIs. He went absolutely berserk from June 25 on, hitting 34 homers in 87 games and vaulting himself back into the top 2B discussion. Don’t expect the world, but the 29-year-old can clearly swing with the best of them. 4. Daniel Murphy, WAS – At 31 years old he came within inches of winning the Major-League batting title (.347, still prettay, prettay good), while hitting 25 dingers and 104 RBIs in his first year as a National. In 2015, he had a 31% hard-hit rate. That rose to 38.2% in 2016 alongside a 5.9% increase in fly balls. This explains the power, and his line-drive rate even crept forward a tick to help his average too. This is what sustainable growth and a changed swing looks like. 5. Robinson Cano, SEA – Robbie nearly doubled his 21 homers from 2015 with 39 in 2016, don’tcha know. It wasn’t fluky or cheap either, as he saw his fly-ball rate jump by a wild 10.8% (to 36.1%) to fuel the power surge. Heading into his age-34 season, the Seattle slugger should have a floor of 28 homers and a near-.300 average. 6. Matt Carpenter, STL - This is a guy you've already seen in the 1B rankings, and he's a guy you'll see again in the 3B rankings. Hitting leadoff means Carp should regularly flirt with 100+ runs, though missing a month due to an oblique injury will hinder the chances of that. He's posted respective ISOs of .233 and .235 in the last two seasons, and his 41.9% hard-hit rate led all second basemen (Murphy was second). 7. Ian Kinsler, DET – Kinsler hadn’t topped 20 homers since 2011, but nearly tripled his 2015 homer total (11) by hitting 28 homers in 2016. His 117 runs were also tops for all second baseman, besting superstar Jose Altuve’s total by nine. Runs are difficult to predict, but leading off in front of a powerful Detroit lineup (despite J.D. Martinez missing time) has its benefits. He also has stolen at least 10 bases in each of his 10 seasons in the bigs. 8. DJ LeMahieu, COL – Your 2016 MLB Batting Title Champion took huge strides at the plate at 27 years old. His hard-hit rate spiked from 26.6% to 35.2% while his swinging-strike rate dropped from an already-impressive 6.4% to 4.1%. It is mighty impressive when you cut down so mightily on whiffs while actually making stronger contact with the ball. Rumor has it that hitting in Coors Field never hurt anyone either (.391 home average, .303 road). 9. Jean Segura, ARI - What a comeback season for Mean Jean, as he popped off for career highs in runs (102), homers (20), RBIs (64) and batting average (.319) alongside 33 steals on 43 attempts. This is a guy who has been through a lot on a personal level, and a fresh start in Arizona may have been just what was needed. His 13.5% HR/FB rate may come down a bit towards his 8.6% career mark, but the speed is real and the opportunity atop Arizona’s lineup should lead to him being another 100-run threat in 2017. 10. Rougned Odor, TEX – It can be easy to forget that 2016 was his age-22 season, and all the kid did was blast 33 homers. Yes, his walk rate dropped to a measly 3% and his strikeout rate rose from 16.8% to 21.4%. One has to be much more encouraged by the power coming out to play than discouraged by the plate discipline slip. He’s growing into his power, and can hopefully improve the batting eye as he matures as well. Showing this much at such a young age is a mighty good sign. 11. Jason Kipnis, CLE – After hitting only 15 homers over his last two seasons, Kipnis crossed the 20-homer plane for the first time in his six-year career in 2016. His 23 homers yielded 82 RBIs, though his elevated power approach (fly-ball rate up 9.3%) did shave off some batting average points. Still, his .275 average is more than plenty alongside 20+ homer pop and his healthy double-digit steal potential. 12. Dustin Pedroia, BOS – Pedey topped the 100-run mark for the first time since 2011 (guess that’s going around) and also turned in his best batting average (.318) since 2008. His success came due to a resuscitated line-drive rate (24.2% from 2015’s career-low 17.7%) and a 6.2% bump in his hard-hit rate. The 33-year-old won’t have Big Papi to knock him in anymore, but should still post healthy numbers in Boston’s strong offense. 13. Dee Gordon, MIA - 80-game suspensions are going to really cut into one's productivity, but the speedy Marlin still swiped 30 bags in 79 games. His .268 average was way down from 2015's .333 mark though, thanks to a horrid 29.7% soft-contact rate. He should bounce back at least a little bit, but that .333 mark will likely be an outlier when his career is all said and done. 14. Devon Travis, TOR - While Travis is dealing with an unknown (as of 10/15) right knee injury at the moment that knocked him off of the postseason roster, he still posted a 54-11-50-.300 line in 101 games. Playing in Toronto's lineup does one's counting stats good, and hitting .300 always helps. 15. Ryan Schimpf, SD - One may be shocked to learn that Schimpf is 28, since 2016 was his first exposure to the Major Leagues. He had been in the Blue Jays' farm system since 2009, and notably hit 20 dingers in only 307 Double-A PAs in 2015. He then went to San Diego in 2016, and was called up after hitting 15 bombs in 190 Triple-A PAs before the 20 Maj0r-League HRs in 330 PAs. The power is real. 16. Jonathan Schoop, BAL - Looks like that 2015 batting average didn't regress that much after all. The power held steady, as he became one of only six 2Bs to hit 25 or more homers in 2016 while being the only one to play in all 162 games. 17. Ben Zobrist, CHC - Zob had a solid season, but an out-of-this-world May really buoyed it all. He posted a ridiculous 25-6-25-1-.406 line in 101 May ABs, but didn't hit better than .270 or knock in more than 13 runs in any other month. Careful now. 18. Logan Forsythe, TB - The 29-year-old missed some time in 2016 due to a hairline fracture in his scapula, but still hit 20 homers in only 127 games. While his batting average did fall, his line-drive rate rose by 3% and his hard-hit rate rose by 5%. Not a bad trend. 19. Neil Walker, NYM - Dude's season started off with a bang thanks to nine April homers, but he only hit eight in the following three months. He brought it back with six homers in 18 August games before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Streaky? Yeah. Still solid though? Yeah. 20. Starlin Castro, NYY - Well, a star wasn't born in New York or anything, but Castro still blew his old career-high in homers (14) out of the water in 2016. The counting stats weren't amazing, but they're serviceable, as was his .270 average.
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