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.
Yesterday: Catcher, First Base, Second Base
Today: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Wednesday, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
Machado migrates over to shortstop while the rest of this tier stays intact. All three of these players are elite, and at the moment all three are matching or coming close to matching their first round ADP. Arenado has been the best of the three thus far, but it would not surprise anyone if either Donaldson or Bryant lapped him before the conclusion of the 2016 campaign. What a time to be alive, although here I am using the phrase in earnest.
Five-Star Value Pick: None
As with the elite second basemen, none of these players is below a 99 percent ownership threshold in ESPN leagues, so none can be deemed a value.
Many wondered if Carpenter’s power spike last year would carry over into 2016, and thus far the answer is a resounding yes. The bad news is that it appears likely that Carpenter won’t hit much higher than .275, if he even gets to that level. However, if this is his level, a 30 home run, 90 RBI, .270 AVG hitter is something you’ll learn to live with at the hot corner.
Which hitter in this tier is your “best” choice in this tier largely depends upon your team’s needs. In dynasty, I want Franco and it isn’t particularly close but in non-keeper leagues a poor start has put a damper on Franco’s present value. His .300 OBP is third to last among third base qualifiers. Frazier’s stolen base totals have dropped off considerably but the power remains prodigious and he is riding a hot streak over the last few days that has pushed up his batting average. Seager soldiers on as a boring model of 20-25 home run consistency. Like Franco, Beltre’s real life results haven’t been great but after a thumb injury hampered Beltre in 2015, the power has come back this season.
Four-Star Value Pick: Maikel Franco
No one is going to abandon ship on Franco—even in the shallowest of leagues—but the combination of his slow start and the Phillies lousy surrounding cast on offense could lead to buying opportunities in redraft leagues. Franco goes through an adjustment period at nearly every level, and while it is impossible to expect a spike in his home run pace, the batting average should get better, if only because nothing in Franco’s batted-ball profile is significantly different from this year and last year.
The three-star tier jumps from four in the preseason to seven in the first in-season update. A small part of this is due to Sano, who moves over from first base (where we stashed the multitude of DH-only hitters in the offseason) to third base. On power potential alone, Sano could easily rest in the four-star tier but thus far he has been prone to the strikeout and isn’t slugging dingers at the 30-35 home run pace he did in the second half of 2015. Sano certainly isn’t a complete failure, but he is coming nowhere close to delivering on his preseason ADP.
There are a number of surprises in this tier, but given their second-half performances in 2015, perhaps we shouldn’t have been taken off guard by either Shaw or Valencia. Shaw’s 13 home runs in 248 plate appearances and Valencia’s 18 home runs in 378 plate appearances may not have seemed sustainable, but this reflects more on our biases as analysts when it comes to unheralded minor leaguers and late blooming journeymen than it does on any flaws that Shaw or Valencia may have had coming into the year.
Three-Star Value Pick: Jake Lamb
No one ever questioned Lamb’s long term viability as a major leaguer because of his strength with the glove but with a pedestrian .254/.314/.382 slash line in his first 523 big-league plate appearances it didn’t seem like Lamb would be much more than a deep league starter. Instead, Lamb has jumped out of the gate with a .245 ISO. He isn’t this much of a power hitter, but he did show some power in the minors and at a minimum looks like more than just a third corner infielder in fantasy.
Welcome to the two-star tier, where we’re clearly in deep mixed league territory, and perhaps even beyond that threshold. With first base as deep as it is in mixed a few of these guys are solely for mono formats. Duffy was in the three-star tier in the preseason but his limited track record combined with a poor start makes him a cause for concern in the early going.
The two-star tier is populated with a significant number of low-power options who when they’re going right fill the stat sheet everywhere else. Turner, Prado, Escobar, and Duffy are all players cut from this cloth. You’re not looking for upside with any of these players. You are looking for a full season of productive at bats that don’t hurt your batting average.
Tomas and Wright are both the kind of players who could produce strong value if they can stay healthy and/or consistent. Tomas has showed flashes of the power expected from him in his rookie campaign in 2015 while Wright has faded after a strong start.
Two-Star Value Pick: Trevor Plouffe
An early injury and a slow start made Plouffe a forgotten man in fantasy, but he is only months removed from a 22 home run campaign for the Twins. There is still power in the bat, and no one outside of Alvarez has more power potential in this tier. The batting average isn’t anything to write home about, but if your team can take the AVG hit, Plouffe is worth the shot.
This tier looked bad in the preseason; it looks even worse now. I was tempted to try and cheat and put Alex Bregman here, but even in leagues that use minor league games played he doesn’t qualify at third base yet. Reynolds has performed by best by far of anyone in this group, but betting on the strikeout heavy slugger to keep hitting .328 the rest of the way is foolish.
One-Star Value Pick: Yangervis Solarte
In standard mixers with limited DL slots, players like Solarte get dropped like a hot potato at an oven mitts hater convention. Solarte is owned in a fraction of ESPN leagues (eight percent) even though he was just activated off of the DL on Saturday. His 10-14 home run power and .260-.270 batting average plays as two-star material in this thin climate for hot corners.