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The Toughest Players to Rank for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

hunter greene fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers pitcher waiver wire

The name of the game in fantasy baseball is projections. If you ever hear anybody telling you to "draft with your gut" or "listen to your instincts" – run. It's a numbers game, we need to use numbers. Your gut has no say in the matter other than digesting the potato chips you ate while sweating that Byron Buxton decision for a fourth straight year.

Sometimes in the projection business, we get dealt an easy hand. The world asks us to project what Nolan Arenado will do next season and we can just robotically spit out "85 runs, 30 homers, 100 RBI, .275 batting average". Sometimes, we get dealt a Byron Buxton or a Gunnar Henderson.

This article mini-series will be about the latter. I will be diving a bit deeper into a handful (or two handfuls) of hitter names that I find most difficult to project (and therefore rank). We will leave each player section with a newfound sense of uncertainty. We'll still have no idea what to do, but at least we will have tried.

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Michael Harris II, Atlanta Braves

Harris is the player who inspired this post series. I wrote a projection system and it spits out this line for Harris:

Player PA R HR RBI SB AVG
Michael Harris II 629 100 24 86 34 .285

That stat line makes him the seventh-best hitter overall. Seeing that made me question my entire existence. Should a player with this little Major League experience really be projecting this well? This is Trea Turner-esque stuff here.

It's true that Harris truly was that good in 2022. He saw 441 Major League plate appearances and hit .297/.339/.514 with 19 homers, 20 steals, 75 runs, and 64 RBI. A good amount of that was him hitting lower in the batting order too, so there would be perceived room for growth in that regard. He was a top-ten fantasy hitter while in the league, but should we really expect a repeat?

Under the surface, a little bit of doubt starts to set in.

The Strikeout Rate

Harris posted a 24.3% K% in the Majors last year. That's not a bad number (the league average was 22.5%), but it is a mark that makes a .280 batting average a bit harder to believe. If we look at all hitters that went for 200+ PAs and a K% between 23% and 25%, their collective batting average was .245.

Of course, K% isn't the only input to batting average, but it is important. Here's a plot of all K% and AVG from qualified hitters from 2021 and 2022:

You can see that there are plenty of examples of a high batting average with a high K%, but the general trend is downwards. If you just take the strikeout rate all by itself to predict the batting average, you would be predicting something like .250.

As I already said, there is much more to batting average than just how often you put a ball in play. The key to a high BABIP is three-fold

  • Hitting the ball hard
  • Hitting the ball at a certain angle range (line drives are best)
  • Being fast enough to beat out some ground balls

On the first point, thumbs up! Harris posted the 16th-best 90th-percentile exit velocity in 2022, and he had more than enough balls in play to trust in that number.

 

On the third point, thumbs up! Harris' max sprint speed ranked him in the top 50 in the league over the last two seasons at 29.4 feet per second.

 

On the second point, hold your horses!

Player GB% LD% FB%
League Average 43.5% 23.9% 25.7%
Michael Harris II 55.8% 22.4% 17.9%

That GB% was crazy high, and it's the biggest (maybe only?) concern in the profile. The league average BABIP on ground balls last year was .241. Only five hitters that had 300+ PAs and a GB% above 53% had a batting average above .280 (Tim Anderson, Yonathan Daza, Harris, Jose Iglesias, and Brendan Donovan), and the sample average for that group of hitters was .258.

Stats like GB% typically do not change much year-over-year, but with a young hitter and a 56% GB% – the most likely outcome next year is an improvement. I would project a 50-52% GB% for him next year. If those grounders are traded for fly balls, he might lose some batting average (but gain some power), and if those ground balls are traded for line drives (this is more likely), he'll likely keep a high BABIP.

You could argue that we can't really go wrong here.

The first scenario is that he keeps a high GB%/LD% profile like he did last year. In this scenario, he probably still puts up a pretty good batting average (at least .265, I would say), which gives him plenty of opportunities for stealing second base. I still think he hits at least 15 homers even with a 57% GB% or something given how hard he's hitting the ball when he does get it into the air.

The second scenario is he drops the GB% substantially. If these all turn into fly balls you would see a .260 batting average or something, but 30+ homers become a real possibility.

The Power

I think Harris' power production is a bigger concern than his batting average or steals production. If we look back to that sample of hitters with GB% over 53% last year – Harris had the second-best home run rate (a homer every 23.2 PA, second only to his former teammates William Contreras). The average PA/HR for this group of hitters was 62.1 – a very bad rate. Harris hits the ball harder than almost all of these people, so we would expect at least a 45 PA/HR, I think. That would still leave him short of 15 homers over 600 PAs, so it's a bit scary here.

We definitely need to see a GB% under 52% or so for Harris to realize 25+ homer production. And with where he's going in drafts, you probably do want those 25 homers.

The Conclusion

With players we haven't seen a ton of yet, sometimes it's best to take their base skill level and find comparable players. Doing this with Harris' 90th percentile exit velocity and his max sprint speed, we find some pretty elite comps. I looked for all hitters with a 90th percentile exit velocity of at least 107 miles per hour (Harris was at 108.3) and a max sprint speed of at least 28 ft/sec (Harris was at 29.4), here's the list:

Player 90th Pct Velo Sprint Speed
Oneil Cruz 111.4 29.9
Mike Trout 109.1 29.3
Julio Rodriguez 109.0 29.8
Byron Buxton 108.9 29.6
Michael Harris II 108.3 29.4

The only non-stud here is Cruz, and for him, it's probably only a matter of time. If we loosen up the criteria a little bit more, these names come into play:

Bobby Witt Jr., Randy Arozarena, Oscar Gonzalez, Jack Suwinski, Jose Siri

We see a few less-than-exciting players there, but overall there's a ton of fantasy goodness in this player type. Given that Harris' strikeout rate is much closer to that of Rodriguez and Trout as compared to that of Cruz, it really does seem that Harris' fantasy ceiling is right there with the best hitters in the league.

My conclusion is that I think the ceiling more than justifies the cost here. I can't see Harris having a bad season given how talented he is and how well he handled Major League pitching in more than half of a season. Almost all of the underlying metrics are encouraging, and even the bad ones (launch angle) aren't dealbreakers. I'm in on Harris.

Outfielders I'd definitely take ahead of him: Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Mookie Betts, Julio Rodriguez, Kyle Tucker Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto

That's only six. After that, I think Harris will show up in my final rankings. He's certainly a top-ten OF for me.

 

Vinnie Pasquantino, Kansas City Royals

The field of fantasy players is pretty sharp these days. It doesn't take us very long to identify a very interesting player that will likely be a very good contributor to the fantasy game. That's true with Harris as we mentioned above, and it's also true with Pasquantino. The Royals' first baseman is a top-100 pick this year after less than 300 plate appearances in The Show.

In those 298 PAs, he homered only 10 times, which is a league-average home run rate. He also stole just one base, scored 25 runs, and drove in 27. None of those stats would seem to make a second-year player a top-100 pick, but things are different in this case.

In AAA last season, Pasquantino hit .277/.369/.558 with 18 homers and three steals. He managed strikeouts beautifully down there (12%) and walked a bunch (12.6%). Those two things translated pretty well to the Majors with an 11.4% K% and an 11.7% BB%. That's right, more walks than strikeouts for a rookie - an incredibly rare thing to find.

The most interesting that I have to say about Pasquantino is the fact he did this in the Majors last year

  • Made contact on 84.7% of his swings
  • Hit the ball hard (95+ mph) on 46.9% of his balls his play
  • Kept the GB% down (41%)

The only other hitters in the league last year with a contact rate above 80%, a barrel rate above 8%, and a hard-hit rate above 45% were Juan Soto and Freddie Freeman. It's just a nearly impossible thing to do; hitting the ball this hard and this frequently at the same time.

I queried statcast history (2015 and beyond) to find every single hitter season with

  • 250+ PA
  • Contact Rate > 82%
  • Barrel Rate > 8%

 

Here is the full list

Player Year PA Cont% Brl%
Adrian Beltre 2016 634 84.8% 8.5%
Albert Pujols 2016 644 88.0% 9.2%
Daniel Murphy 2016 572 88.0% 8.5%
Victor Martinez 2016 602 82.8% 8.4%
Adam Lind 2017 296 82.0% 8.4%
Joey Votto 2017 687 84.6% 9.1%
Justin Turner 2017 538 84.3% 8.6%
Anthony Rendon 2018 592 86.1% 10.1%
Francisco Lindor 2018 738 82.4% 9.5%
Jose Ramirez 2018 683 86.4% 8.3%
Mookie Betts 2018 606 84.5% 14.1%
Anthony Rendon 2019 638 87.1% 12.0%
Howie Kendrick 2019 369 83.0% 11.4%
Ketel Marte 2019 626 82.4% 9.3%
Jose Ramirez 2020 254 83.4% 10.2%
Jose Ramirez 2021 626 85.1% 11.1%
Ketel Marte 2021 371 82.7% 8.9%
Mookie Betts 2022 639 83.5% 9.7%
Vinnie Pasquantino 2022 298 84.7% 8.8%

There are 19 hitters here, an incredibly small percentage of all hitters, and they were nearly all very, very good fantasy players. There is the Howie Kendrick exception, who was good over that time – but it was seemingly a random and lucky stretch of an otherwise mediocre career, but the vast majority of the data here is pointing towards Pasquantino being one of the league's best hitters already.

Provided he stays healthy, it seems like a very, very good bet that Pasquantino is among the league leaders in hard-hit line drives and fly balls next year. This should result in a bunch of hits. I don't think the batting average is in question here, especially since they won't be able to shift on him the way they could before.

So, what can possibly pull this guy out of the top 50 or so hitters? A lack of steals will contribute (stole just four total last year, and has 15th-percentile sprint speed), and we have these other questions about the home ballpark and lineup around him.

First, I'll highlight the fact that Kauffman Stadium is not a good place for left-handed power. That park ranks bottom-five in most metrics, and since 2021, left-handed barrels have gone for homers just 40.8% of the time (the league average would be around 50%).

2021-2022 Park Data - Bottom Five LHB Brl/HR Rates

Park Brl/HR
DET 32.4%
STL 36.4%
BOS 38.6%
KC 40.8%
SF 41.7%

So that drops his home run expectation by a few (using 600 PA, a 15% K%, and a 10% BB% for Vinnie - he would lose two homers in Kauffman compared to the league average ballpark).

Secondly, the Royals were a bottom-ten scoring offense last year. The presence of Vinnie and a couple of other young players hanging around there could push them up a bit, but it does not seem like a lineup that is going to score a ton of runs next year. Generally, making decisions based on external factors like park and lineup is a bad idea, they just don't really have as big of an impact as you assume – but they are certainly things to consider.

Despite the short sample we have on Pasquantino, I am feeling pretty confident about him for 2023. There are just so few hitters in recent memory who have the skills he clearly possesses, and it's hard to fail when you're that good. My projection system has him for 23 HR, 72 R, 84 RBI, 2 SB, and a .284 batting average - which makes him a tier-two first baseman (I would probably draft him #6 behind Freeman, Vlad, Olson, Alonso, and Goldschmidt). That's about right where he's priced - so I'm perfectly fine with the aggressive ADP and certainly will have a couple of situations where I draft him this year - and I won't be surprised at all if the man gets some MVP votes.

 

Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds

Here's a pretty good summary of Hunter Greene's 2022 season:

 

He was all the F over the place. I could write hundreds of words here on this guy, but really – it's pretty simple.

  • He has dominant stuff. His four-seamer and slider are both great pitches and led to a 15.6% SwStr% and a 30.9% K%. I can allow for a little bit of regression on those two dominant numbers, but I think he'll remain one of the best pitchers in the league at getting strikeouts.
  • He has a very shallow pitch arsenal, throwing that four-seamer 54% of the time and the slider at 41%.
  • He struggles with command, with a 9% walk rate and a 9.4% Brl% allowed.

 

 

It's the classic case of a young pitcher with crazy good stuff that just hasn't perfected the art of pitching. You can get away with just having the stuff in the minors, but it doesn't fly in the Majors. We saw that with Greene last year, as he gave up a ton of hard contact when he wasn't executing his pitch location.

Greene had an outing where he allowed six barrels last year. He had two outings allowing three barrels, six outings allowing two, and five more allowing one. Pitching in Cincinnati, that's a problem. You're not going to have many great fantasy starts in a Reds uniform while allowing a couple of walks and a couple of barrels.

We have seen this kind of stuff before. Very few of the league's best pitchers were elite in their rookie year. It's a tough job, and a lot of experience is required to perfect the craft enough to succeed successfully at that level. I have no trouble believing that Greene can someday be a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, his stuff is that good. But the question we have today is what will he do in 2023 - and I just can't be confident enough here to draft with confidence.

The Reds are going to stink, Great American Ballpark is the second-worst park in the league to pitch in (especially true for a guy like Greene that doesn't get many ground balls), and Greene certainly lacks polish. It's possible he improves enough to overcome all of this, but it's not a risk I want to take this year.

 

Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians

Kwan made a bunch of noise in the spring and in the first couple of weeks of the regular season. He quickly proved to be one of the league's best contact hitters, almost never whiffing even when facing Major League pitching for the first time. At the end of the season, Kwan had done this:

638 PA, 89 R, 6 HR, 52 RBI, 19 SB, .298 AVG, 373 OBP, .400 SLG

That ranked him 12th in batting average, 25th in runs scored, and 25th in steals amongst qualified hitters in 2022. It ended up being a pretty successful fantasy season for Kwan, who was barely drafted.

Now, Kwan has skyrocketed to being a top 120 (or so) pick. That means you'll likely have to draft him in the first 10 rounds of your fantasy draft, so the question would be – is he worth it?

The obvious problem is that he hits six homers and drove in 52 in a full season of PAs. That's an issue – those are terrible numbers. The 1.4% barrel rate he posted certainly does not give us any hope of improvement here, so let me drive home that point.

I looked for all of the hitters in 2021 or 2022 that posted a barrel rate below 3%, and the highest home run count to be found is Amed Rosario's 11 in 2021. It turns out that it's really tough to hit home runs when you are unable to barrel the ball.

The only real chance Kwan has at fantasy relevance is leading off for enough PAs to get enough runs and steals to matter. That's pretty likely, but it does come with the side effect of having very few RBI opportunities. Almost all of Kwan's hits are singles, and there will rarely be guys in scoring position for a lead-off man, so he's going to be a liability in both home runs and RBI.

Can he steal 25 bags? Definitely. He swiped 19 last year and he did spend a good portion of the year hitting in the bottom of the order. The new pickoff rules and bigger bases should benefit him just as much as they benefit everyone else, so 25 steals is perfectly reasonable. He will also almost surely get on base around 35% of the time given that sweet, sweet contact ability - so yeah, he'll score a bunch of runs if he leads off for 150+ games. There's very little question that he'll hit for a good batting average, but I think it's fair to wonder about how good that can be. He hits the ball very softly (5th lowest 90th-percentile exit velocity), so he doesn't buy himself any extra hits in that regard. His contact rate and foot speed do guarantee a high floor of a batting average, but it's surely far from a slam-dunk that he'll compete for a batting title next year.

The best-case scenario for Kwan would seem to be 100 runs, 10 homers, 60 RBI, 25 steals, and a .300 batting average. That justifies a top 100 pick, to be sure - but there are a lot of ways this can go wrong. He could struggle early on and get dropped down in the lineup (this would be devastating for him). He could be the victim of variance and have a 15-steal, .280 batting average season - which would be devastating. The point is, a guy with this little power has a narrow road to success with an ADP this high.

This is a lot of words to say that I'm not drafting Steven Kwan this year - but I'm not drafting Steven Kwan this year.

And there you have it - my thought-out opinions on four players that have given me the most trouble this offseason. I will be back with more names in a few days, thanks for reading!



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Jayden Reed - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Wide Receiver Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

There should be a lot of changes atop the wide receiver group in fantasy football next year. Players like Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and Cooper Kupp will all fall in drafts, while Puka Nacua will fly up drafts boards in 2024. Nacua will go from undrafted in 2023 to a likely top-20 pick this upcoming... Read More


Dan Campbell - NFL Head Coach, NFC, Detroit Lions

FFPC Dynasty Fantasy Football Orphan Teams: An Authentic Challenge

At its very core, the game of fantasy football is intended to deliver a unique experience in which you are an NFL owner, general manager, and head coach, all in one role. Seasonal fantasy football replicates the responsibilities in fun, user-friendly packaging, but fantasy football dynasty leagues appeal even more to a savvy fantasy player... Read More


2024 Dynasty Rookie Mock Draft: Fantasy Football Studs, Sleepers, and Values

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With the Scouting Combine underway and the NFL Draft season heating up, the countdown is on for 2024 fantasy football. We're taking a first look at how things might shape up in Dynasty fantasy drafts with our first Rookie Mock Draft of 2024. RotoBaller analysts Brandon Murchison and LaQuan Jones... Read More


Dak Prescott - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Biggest Quarterback Surprises - Fantasy Football Year In Review

The 2023 fantasy football season is in the rearview mirror. While the upcoming fantasy season is still months away, it’s never too early to start preparing. One of the more critical things fantasy players can do to prepare is look back at the previous season and look at trends and surprises. Let’s look at the... Read More


Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Running Back Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

Running backs have always dominated the first round of fantasy drafts, but that has changed in recent years. Taking a wide receiver in the first round has become a more likely strategy by fantasy managers. In 2024 drafts, more wideouts should be going in the first round than running backs. However, that doesn't mean running... Read More


Latest Updates on Injured NFL Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Anthony Richardson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Daniel Jones

The 2024 offseason is still in the early stages, but it's time to check on six franchise quarterbacks who suffered major injuries during the 2023 campaign. A franchise missing its quarterback to begin a season can mightily derail its chances to win, creating a massive hole to climb out of. We have the latest injury... Read More


Rome Odunze - College Football Rankings, NCAA CFB DFS Lineup Picks

Best Fantasy Football Landing Spots For 2024 Rookie Wide Receivers

With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, the ramifications of where some of these players get selected will have a significant impact on their fantasy football value. In dynasty leagues, fantasy managers may not worry about landing spots as much because once you draft them in that kind of league, you have them for their entire... Read More


Jayden Daniels - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, QB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Coach Knows Ball: Jayden Daniels 2024 NFL Draft Film Breakdown Of LSU QB

Welcome to Coach Knows Ball, an NFL Draft series analyzing the top prospects in the 2024 class. I'm a college football coach with nine years of NCAA experience and have been scouting NFL Draft prospects for over 15 years. This series will give a deep dive into the film of some of the top players... Read More


Rome Odunze - College Football Rankings, NCAA CFB DFS Lineup Picks

Top Five WR Prospects Of The 2024 NFL Draft: Scouting Reports And Analysis

Ah, the sweet season of the NFL Draft, the light at the end of the post-Super Bowl tunnel of despair. As the last bits of confetti find their resting places and the echoes of the game's final moments whisper into silence, we all start to dream a little bigger. It's this enchanted time when losses... Read More


Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Fantasy Football Running Backs Rankings (Tiers 4-8)- 2024 Best Ball Leagues

We are now rapidly approaching the process of free agency, which will soon provide pathways for some running backs to seize significant roles in their new landing spots. Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, Austin Ekeler, and D'Andre Swift are among the collection of backs who could resurface in new environments. The player movement that will eventually... Read More


Anthony Richardson - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL News

Early 2024 Quarterback Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

The quarterback landscape in fantasy has changed in recent years with more and more managers selecting one early. Last year, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts all went in the first three rounds. That shouldn't change either in 2024 fantasy drafts, but the order of those quarterbacks might.  After another QB1 finish, Allen should... Read More