Welcome, to Baseball Prospectus’ first (or at least first time in a long time) in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did during the preseason, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will provide first or second round draft value and will be worth $30 or more in auction formats. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will earn more than $20 in auction formats. 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 in auctions. One-star players are the types of players who provide back end roster value. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of what has happened year-to-date but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen the rest of 2016.
If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.
The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5×5 Roto 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). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.
Today: Catcher, First Base, Second Base
Tuesday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Wednesday, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
The premier tier of the premier offensive position has lost one member since the preseason rankings came out three months ago. Cabrera has been on an absolute tear of late, hitting .370 with five homers since the start of May (wait, that actually just looks like Miguel Cabrera), but is likely going to miss at least a few days with a bruised knee after being hit by a pitch on Sunday. Assuming it’s not an issue, he continues to be four-category money in the bank.
Five-Star Value Pick: Paul Goldschmidt
Given that the Diamondbacks have scored the fourth-most runs in the National League so far this year (and in some quite interesting ways) and their venerable first baseman leading the senior circuit in plate appearances, Goldschmidt pacing for less than 100 runs and RBI is fluky. The power, the steals, and the walk rate are all right in line with what was expected in the preseason, so don’t let the dip in batting average fool you.
The casualty of the first tier barely checks in atop the four-star group. Rizzo has hit a nasty cold streak to push his batting average down below .250—which isn’t great, but isn’t the main problem. The premise of Rizzo as a five-star guy and first-round talent was built on the step forward in steals, which I was skeptical of to start with. With only two steals to his name so far, he’ll need the batting average to bounce back above .300 to move back up to where he started.
This is the Hosmer the Gods spoke of; it’s just taken us longer to get here than many of us hoped. The batting average and power are real, but the counting stats in a less-than-impressive Royals lineup are holding him back from elite status. Once that changes, watch out. It hasn’t been the most memorable April or May for Votto and Abreu, but the track records of both keep them firmly members of this tier. For now. Votto is dealing with a shake in plate discipline stats that we haven’t seen from him since, well, his rookie season—though he was still a very strong fantasy first baseman then.
Four-Star Value Pick: David Ortiz
The calls for Ortiz to undo his preseason retirement announcement have been loud, and coming from much further and wider than New England. By True Average, he is on pace to be noticeably better than each of his last two seasons—both of which were age-defying works of wonder. By batting average, as well. And while he almost certainly won’t finish the season hitting over .300, he stands a pretty good chance at being the first 40-year-old to hit 35 homers in a season. Yes, not even Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, or (cough) Raul Ibanez accomplished that.
If it’s been an ugly start to the season for Votto and Abreu, it’s been a nightmarish hellscape for Fielder. With two homers and a .200 average to his name through 43 games, he’s earned less in mixed leagues than such fantasy luminaries as Tony Wolters, Oswaldo Arcia, and Danny Espinosa. It’s never a good combination when you swing at 10 percent more pitches out of the zone and whiff on 10 percent more of said pitches out of the strike zone. That compounding problem has led to an increase in strikeouts, but his contact rate has improved as the season has gone on and he fights through this wicked slump. He’s not a comfortable buy-low candidate right now, but that only means he’s probably a very good one (if such a thing even exists).
Three-Star Value Pick: Chris Carter
I’m tired of being told that I’m too high on Carter. Yes, he strikes out far too much to help your team in batting average, and he’s not going to be too much help in runs scored (even though he’s already scored 25 for a surprisingly competent Brewers offense). But when he makes contact, it’s aggressive contact, and 40 homers is attainable if he stays in Milwaukee all season. It’s a perfect fit from a ballpark standpoint, and National League pitching isn’t exactly a marketing tool in 2016.
So many low-average, decent-power options here—and no great way to rank them. Duda would be the top dog in this tier, were he not dealing with potentially serious back issues. Park has definitely showed his big-time raw power in his first season stateside, but the pitchers are adjusting and I’m still not confident he’s going to make enough contact to be an everyday player. On top of that, the dreadful Twins offense will keep his counting stats in check. Bour ended April looking like last September was an absolute fluke, with the only three homers to his name hit off Bud Norris, Zach Davies, and Blaine Boyer. But he’s heated up enough in May to surpass a few names very much his senior in the re-rank. I’m still not sure he’ll get to 20 homers, but at least he’s not embarrassing himself—which is more than I can say about many of the remaining names on this list. Napoli has shown the power we thought, but he’s doing whatever the plate discipline version of self-immolation is with his 13 walks and 62 strikeouts in just 164 plate appearances. He has the talent to do better, but he’s going to have to show it to avoid being labeled as washed up.
On the other side of the coin, it looked like the incredibly heart-warming story of Mauer returning to form at the outset of the season, yet with just nine hits in the last three weeks (with just one for extra bases) and more than twice as many strikeouts and walks, it seems like that honeymoon is over. I guess Twins fans can go back to really hating him, as opposed to just moderately hating him.
Two-Star Value Pick: Albert Pujols
Considering that Pujols’ contact rate is back near his peak levels and he’s still showing power, it’s surprising how little he’s thought of among fantasy owners. Despite being a mere flake of his former self, Pujols has the talent and peripherals to hit .260 with 30 homers—and though it comes with injury risk, the company he keeps reflects this.
Choose your weapon, fantasy owners. Do you want extreme health risk (Zimmerman)? Do you want a “slugger” who has been a well-below average major league hitter in four of the last five seasons (Morales)? Do you want another extreme health risk (Rodriguez)? Do you want someone who might lose their job to a prospect in a couple of weeks (Moreland)? Do you want a prospect who might have a job in a few weeks but also might not (Reed)? Do you want a large human being who can’t seem to hit for enough power to matter at the position (Cron)? Do you want Adam Lind?
One-Star Value Pick:
Death. Sweet, sweet death. Ryan Zimmerman
With four homers in May and a reasonably potent lineup around him, Zimmerman should at least perform like a two-star player while he stays healthy. Of course, he’s also the most likely player on this list to injure himself between now and when this article publishes in approximately eight hours (even though the Nationals don’t play their next game for another 21 hours).