At this point in the fantasy baseball season, if you are still paying attention to your roster daily, you know that every hit, run, steal, and homer counts. It’s all about getting to that sweet, sweet playoff or claiming the top spot in the roto standings. With so few weeks left in the season, a player that is hot now could stay that way the rest of the year and carry you to a championship. However, how can you tell the guys who will regress back to “normal” in September from those that can keep it up?
That’s what I’m here for, I hope. Let’s take a look at the top 25 players on ESPN’s Player Rater over the past 30 days and sort them into three groups: Good to Go, Regression Looms, and TBD.
Here’s the full list, with their player rater score, which combines their contributions in the traditional 5x5 categories. Pitchers and hitters are graded on the same scale, so they can be compared directly.
|1||Giancarlo Stanton, Mia OF||14.81|
|2||Manny Machado, Bal SS, 3B||10.85|
|3||Justin Verlander, Det SP||9.59|
|4||Jose Altuve, Hou 2B||9.41|
|5||Brian Dozier, Min 2B||9.35|
|6||Corey Kluber, Cle SP||9.22|
|7||Josh Donaldson, Tor 3B||9.21|
|8||Lorenzo Cain, KC OF||9.21|
|9||Gio Gonzalez, Wsh SP||8.98|
|10||Kenley Jansen, LAD RP||8.97|
|11||Andrew Benintendi, Bos OF||8.89|
|12||Charlie Blackmon, Col OF||8.7|
|13||Mike Trout, LAA OF S||8.7|
|14||Nelson Cruz, Sea OF, DH||8.58|
|15||Alex Bregman, Hou 3B, SS||8.42|
|16||Paul Goldschmidt, Ari 1B||8.35|
|17||Anthony Rizzo, ChC 1B, 2B||8.29|
|18||Justin Upton, Det OF||8.24|
|19||Corey Knebel, Mil RP||8.18|
|20||Eddie Rosario, Min OF||8.08|
|21||Joey Votto, Cin 1B||7.98|
|22||Eduardo Nunez, Bos SS, 2B, 3B, OF||7.93|
|23||Dee Gordon, Mia 2B||7.87|
|24||Gary Sanchez, NYY C, DH||7.73|
|25||Tim Beckham, Bal SS, 2B||7.67|
Good to Go
No doubters: Stanton, Machado, Altuve, Kluber, Donaldson, Jansen, Blackmon, Trout, Cruz, Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Upton, Knebel, Votto, Kimbrel
Ok, so some of these are stupid easy. Trout, Stanton, Altuve, Kluber and company are no-brainers and should be elite all the way to the end. This whole group of no doubters needs no further explanation.
The rest of the good to go:
Brian Dozier has been red hot recently, but it all looks legit. We know from last year that he is very capable of staying hot for most of the year. The only stat that looks like it could regress some is his 26% HR/FB%, but he finished last year at 18%, so 26% isn’t crazy for him. He’s pulling the ball, hitting lots of flies, and hitting the ball hard, so everything seems totally normal. Throw in a 0.306 BABIP and you’ve got a guy you can count on.
Benintendo 64 has been the best AL Rookie not named Judge this year, but he has taken it to another level recently. The good news for his owners is that nothing looks fluky here. A 0.321 BABIP, solid walk and strikeout rates, an all fields approach (pull, center, and oppo % are all about the same), and a good amount of fly balls (37%) mean he can keep this up. The only concerns I have are the 28% line drive rate, which will definitely come down, and the 19% HR/FB% which is probably high for a guy with his power. All that being said, his overall approach is so solid that the regression in those areas won’t hit very hard.
Gordon is just doing what he always does: score runs and steal lots of bases. His BABIP is always high, so a 0.346 mark in the past month doesn’t scare me. His power remains non-existent during this streak, so nothing alarming there. He’s got his usual 50+% GB% and has no pop-ups in the past 30 days, so he’s doing everything he needs to in order to succeed as a speedy, no-power hitter. Carry on, Mr. Gordon.
Sanchez might just be the best fantasy catcher already. Yes, his 0.379 ISO in the past month is too high to sustain, but he’s 10th in baseball in average exit velocity and he’s pulling the ball in the air a lot (50% Pull%, 41% FB%) with a 38.5% Hard hit rate. The biggest concern is his 34% HR/FB%, which is going to fall. However, with his raw power, I think a 20+% rate is reasonable and that means he should stay elite. I think he has a bright future as the #1 fantasy catcher.
Verlander is here because of his 94.5% strand rate, 27% GB%, and 0.219 BABIP in the past 30 days. His career rates are 73.6%, 39%, and 0.287. I expect him to allow more homers with all those fly balls and strand fewer runners. His 3.72 xFIP versus a 2.39 ERA in the past month further shows that this hot streak will probably cool off. He’s still ownable and startable in all leagues, but just don’t expect MVP Verlander the rest of the way.
Cain is fast, can hit for average, and steals lots of bags. However, he’s not a true-talent 0.427 BABIP guy or a 0.371 hitter like he has been in the previous 30 days. Even with all that luck on his side, he’s still only hit 2 HR and has a 0.129 ISO. He should stay owned everywhere, but he won’t keep this up.
Gonzalez is headed to regression town. He checks all the boxes. In the past 30 days, low BABIP? Check (0.209). High strand rate? Check (85.2%). ERA and xFIP far apart? Double check (ERA=1.56, xFIP=4.33). HR/FB% well below league average? Yep (4.7%). If you can sell high, now might be a good time to move him. He will probably return to being the mediocre guy he has been the last two years.
Maybe you don’t need me to tell you Eddie Rosario won’t maintain a 0.310 ISO. He’s done it for a month now, but it will end. His career ISO is 0.187. His 0.337 BABIP is fine for someone with his speed, but I just can’t buy him maintaining a 17% HR/FB%, when his previous career high was 11.9%. Rosario’s season average exit velocity of just 86.4 mph puts him in the bottom third of the league. His power is going to dry up, is what I’m saying.
Bregman is down here because nothing in his numbers screams regression, specifically. He has a reasonable 0.300 BABIP, 9% BB%, 9.8% K%, 17% HR/FB%, and 42% FB% in the past 30 days, when he’s hit 0.318/0.385/0.664. However, he also has a 50% pull rate, 15% IFFB%, and a crazy 0.346 ISO. The pull rate could come back to bite him due to shifts, the IFFB% leads to easy outs and should bring down his average, and that ISO is way different from his career mark of 0.207. It is rare for hitters to suddenly gain that kind of power. For more context, here are the hitters with an ISO over 0.300 for the season: Stanton, Gallo, Bellinger, Judge. That’s it. For all those reasons, I’m on the fence with Bregman. I think he should be owned everywhere for the stretch run, but I would bet the under on the power.
As much as I love the newest Red Sox infielder, Nunez has some warning signs. His 0.367 BABIP (last 30 days) with a 47% GB% and 18.8% IFFB% come to mind. On the other hand, his 12.8% K%, 0.202 ISO, and 21% LD% are all very reasonable and solid. That K% should keep his average up. Stacast says his power will fade, since he is in the bottom third in terms of exit velocity and barreled balls per PA. He’s been batting high in a sometimes potent lineup, which gives him lots of run and steal opportunities. I think this is a case where you hold and enjoy the streak, even if he may slow down a bit.
Let’s start with the bad news about Tim Beckham. A 0.414 BABIP, 0.252 ISO (career 0.188), and mediocre 31% hard hit rate in the past month point to regression. However, his average exit velocity is above average and his barrels per PA is well above average at 5.7%. I was all ready to write him off after the BABIP and the sudden power jump, but there is a little something here. I expect big regression in batting average, but the power might not change too much. His 17% HR/FB% in the past 30 days isn’t crazy high. He’s now on the Orioles, so he might benefit from a better lineup around him. He is firmly in the TBD camp for me.
That’s it for the top 25 players in the past 30 days. Tschus!