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ESPN Player Rater Retrospective

It can often be difficult to place into context how well (or how poorly) certain players have performed recently. A glance at ESPN’s Player Rater, which attempts to quantify a player’s overall fantasy value by analyzing their performance in each facet of the game, can focus targets for fantasy owners looking for help on the waiver wire. Of course, when dealing with small sample sizes, a player’s results can be fluky, but placement at or near the top of these lists could be indicative of a substantive change to a player’s profile. Here are the top 10 players at each position for the past 15 days, according to the ESPN Player Rater.


1. Welington Castillo
2. Gary Sanchez
3. Roberto Perez
4. Mike Zunino
5. Yan Gomes
6. Robinson Chirinos
7. John Hicks
8. Chris Iannetta
9. Chris Herrmann
10. Raffy Lopez

I noted last week that Welington Castillo’s batted ball authority, plate discipline and contact rates were trending upwards, opining that Castillo would be one of the better catchers available in most leagues on the waiver wire, particularly for owners needing a temporary replacement for Gary Sanchez. Since then, Castillo has done nothing to disprove that, slashing a stellar .400/.423/.920 over 26 plate appearances, continuing to make solid contact in the process. Given his batted ball authority, Castillo continues to profile as a serviceable regular catcher in most leagues. Mike Zunino reappears on the Player Rater thanks to a .368/.429/.711 line since August 22, with the gaudy slash line again propped up by ridiculous ball-in-play results. Zunino’s BABIP over his last 42 plate appearances is .611, a figure over twice his career average that masks the fact that he has struck out 17 times over that stretch. Zunino’s batted-ball authority is better than ever this season (he has set career-highs in hard contact and line drive rates, the latter of which he may struggle to sustain moving forward), but his contact quality is likely not enough to make him an above-average hitter moving forward due to his ongoing problems with making contact. Always one to run high strikeout totals, Zunino has a career-low rate of contact when swinging at pitches in the zone this season, en route to a career-high 37.8% strikeout rate. With that level of strikeouts, Zunino needs to continue to run a BABIP nearly .070 points higher than his career mark to remain productive, something that he likely will not be able to do moving forward. Raffy Lopez cracks the Player Rater despite only having drawn 23 plate appearances over the past two weeks. Lopez has, in many ways, run an even more extreme version of the Zunino profile, cutting his soft contact rate beneath 10% but running a contact rate even slightly lower than Zunino’s. Because of the solid contact and fly-ball approach (continuing a trend from the minors) he may hit for some power, but his strikeout problem will, in all likelihood, limit his overall productivity. Given that Lopez is already 29 years old and never considered much of a prospect, he seems even less likely than the younger, more athletic Zunino to hit for a passable batting average to become a worthwhile fantasy add.

First Base

1. Rhys Hoskins
2. Anthony Rizzo
3. Logan Morrison
4. Matt Olson
5. Kendrys Morales
6. Paul Goldschmidt
7. Albert Pujols
8. C.J. Cron
9. Chase Headley
10. Carlos Santana

[the_ad id=”384″]Rhys Hoskins continues to make my initial skepticism look foolish, slashing .348/.500/.565 over the last week with more walks than strikeouts. His historic power binge has predictably slowed down, but his quality of contact has largely improved. His line drive rate at the major-league level dwarfs anything that he has done in the minors and is likely due for some oncoming regression, but Hoskins has continued to combine elite batted-ball authority with an elite contact rate and above-average plate discipline. His career start could not possibly have been more impressive, and he continues to look more legit with every passing elite week. Kendrys Morales’ six home runs since August 22 are the main reason for his inclusion on the Player Rater this week. His batted-ball authority is down a bit this year, although still quite solid, but his ground-ball rate has spiked six percentage points from last season, a terrible trend for one of the league’s slowest players. Additionally, his contact rate has fallen precipitously, his chase rate has spiked (and even during his recent hot streak, he has run a subpar 14:2 strikeout-walk ratio, indicating that he has not solved either of those issues), and his lack of speed not only makes him a complete non-factor for stolen bases, but also potentially limits his run-scoring opportunities. He has hit 27 home runs this season, and his batted-ball authority indicates that his power is still extant, but he increasingly looks like a truly one-dimensional player at this stage of his career- and his bout with ground balls may prevent him from reaching the game’s upper tier among power hitters regardless. Continuing with the theme of the league’s slowest players, Albert Pujols has been one of the worst everyday players this season, combining a below-average offensive output with non-existent defense. Unlike Morales’, however, Pujols’ batted ball output is much more conducive to hitting for power, as he has nearly a 1:1 GB:FB ratio, as well as a much more pull-oriented approach. Pujols’ contact rate also remains serviceable (albeit down quite a bit from his heyday), and his placement directly behind two of the best hitters in baseball should afford him ample opportunities to hit in RBI opportunities. That his chase rate has spiked this season, limiting his walk totals, is more impactful to the Angels than to fantasy owners, and his decline in HR/FB ratio at a time when everybody else’s home-run rate is spiking indicates that Pujols has likely been a bit unlucky to have only hit 21 home runs. From a real-life perspective, his value is negligible, but he still looks like a decent bench option for fantasy purposes given his power, lack of strikeouts and the fact that he gets to hit directly behind Mike Trout and Justin Upton.

Second Base

1. Jose Ramirez
2. Anthony Rizzo
3. Dee Gordon
4. Scooter Gennett
5. Whit Merrifield
6. Yolmer Sanchez
7. Jonathan Schoop
8. Jose Reyes
9. Eduardo Nunez
10. Javier Baez

Jose Ramirez’s performance on September 3, although largely overshadowed by J.D. Martinez’s four home-run game a day later, was one of the best single-game performances all season. Ramirez reached base safely all five times, tallying 14 total bases in the process. That game alone, however, does not entirely explain his ridiculous .386/.417/.930 line with seven home runs in his last 60 plate appearances that make him the top overall player for this week. Ramirez has only struck out four times in the last two weeks (continuing a season-long trend of elite contact ability) while making hard contact on 45% of his balls in play over that time. Ramirez has managed to combine elite hand-eye coordination, hard contact and a nearly 1:1 GB:FB ratio this season, making him one of the more balanced offensive performers this season. Of course, he will not continue to hit at his most recent pace, but he seems fully cemented as one of the game’s elite hitters and overall players. Yolmer Sanchez’s Player Rater placement is largely BABIP-fueled, as he has run a .432 mark since August 22. His line-drive rate has been inflated recently, but there is no reason to believe that he can continue to hit line drives at a 28% clip, and his batted-ball authority for the season has been relatively lackluster, consisting mainly of medium-hit ground balls. Sanchez also has subpar plate discipline and has made below-average contact, so while his solid-average speed and all-fields approach may prop up his BABIP somewhat, his lack of any defining skill makes him quite unexciting. He can safely remain on the wire despite his placement on the Rater.

Third Base

1. Jose Ramirez
2. Manny Machado
3. Scooter Gennett
4. Yolmer Sanchez
5. Alex Bregman
6. Jose Reyes
7. Eduardo Nunez
8. Javier Baez
9. Chase Headley
10. Eugenio Suarez

Chase Headley has had a slightly above-average couple of weeks in all five major fantasy categories, slashing .310/.404/.618 and chipping in four home runs and a stolen base. Headley demonstrated a good feel for the strike zone, with a 7:8 strikeout-walk ratio over that time, and made solid contact to all fields. Like Sanchez, Headley has relied on an unsustainable spike in his line-drive rate during this hot stretch, although Headley does have a history of running high line-drive rates to enable him to consistently post high batting averages on balls in play. His batted-ball profile this season is largely in line with his time in New York, although he has been more inclined to use the opposite field in 2017, causing his batting average to jump and his power output to fall slightly. His contact rates and plate discipline are also largely intact, and, while no one will ever mistake him for a burner, he has been a net positive on the bases overall and a solid option for steals among corner bats. Headley lacks any standout tool, and owners will likely not be rushing to grab him due particularly to his below-average power, but he is a capable five-category contributor on a good Yankee offense and in a fantastic home park, and he could warrant a bench spot down the stretch.


1. Manny Machado
2. Francisco Lindor
3. Jorge Polanco
4. Alex Bregman
5. Jose Reyes
6. Jose Iglesias
7. Elvis Andrus
8. Eduardo Nunez
9. Javier Baez
10. Brandon Crawford

Brandon Crawford’s offensive decline this season has been one of many maladies that have befallen the Giants in a dismal season. He’s shown signs of life with the bat recently, however, hitting .340/.400/.660 over his last 15 games. Crawford’s batted ball authority has improved substantially over that time, as his hard contact sits at a very solid 45.2%, he has used the whole field effectively and he has cut down his ground-ball rate in that time. Crawford’s underlying metrics this season are largely intact, with a .279 BABIP the main reason for his disappointing .245/.296/.403 line, so the uptick in hard contact may forecast some positive regression on his ball-in-play results. That said, Crawford’s home park kills left-handed power, his career-high in stolen bases is only seven, and the fact that his team is one of the league’s worst doesn’t help his runs scored and RBI totals. In short, even though one should expect Crawford to be better than he has so far this season from here on out, the confluence of factors against him may not be enough to make him worth owning in any leagues.


1. Jose Ramirez
2. J.D. Martinez
3. Rhys Hoskins
4. Byron Buxton
5. Kevin Kiermaier
6. Giancarlo Stanton
7. Mike Trout
8. Scooter Gennett
9. Marcell Ozuna
10. Whit Merrifield

J.D. Martinez’s four home-run game on Labor Day punctuated a two-week stretch wherein he hit .300/.357/.900. Martinez is one of baseball’s best power hitters, a no-doubt premier outfield option down the stretch in the middle of the lineup of one of the hottest teams in baseball. Kevin Kiermaier has been outstanding since recovering from injury, hitting .371/.408/.600 since his return on August 18. He has largely avoided soft contact over this time, although he hasn’t exactingly obliterated the ball either, running a medium-contact rate of 52.6%. More encouragingly, his ground-ball rate is down nearly ten percentage points from earlier this season, more closely mirroring his output from 2016, a season in which he set a career-high in home runs. Merely adequate power from Kiermaier may suffice to make him a low-end starter in most fantasy leagues, given that his above-average speed makes him a perennial 20 stolen base threat and that his contact rate and ability to beat out infield singles should allow him to hit for a batting average around .265. Kiermaier offers more all-around value than the typical speed-oriented player, and if his batted-ball authority or his uptick in fly-balls from recent weeks should prove sustainable, he could be a top fantasy outfielder. At the very least, his speed gives owners reason to play him regularly while we wait to see if his underlying improvements are legitimate.

Starting Pitchers

1. Robbie Ray
2. Luke Weaver
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Corey Kluber
5. Patrick Corbin
6. Doug Fister
7. Luis Severino
8. Kyle Gibson
9. Masahiro Tanaka
10. Jeff Samardzija

Robbie Ray’s breakthrough season, one in which he finally managed to prevent runs at a rate that his peripherals always indicated that he should, continued recently, capped off by a truly dominating, 14 strikeout performance against the Dodgers. Ray is one of the league’s best strikeout artists, trailing only Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber in strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 130 innings this season. WHIP has been the biggest factor for Doug Fister’s placement on the Rater, as he has managed to allow only 15 baserunners in a span of 23 innings over his last three starts. Obviously, any pitcher who has limited opponents to a .130 batting average has benefitted substantially from some ball-in-play luck, but it is worth noting that Fister has generated a ton of soft ground balls over that time, potentially due to a 2 MPH increase on his sinker from last season. He lacks a true swing-and-miss secondary pitch at this point, and his still-lackluster velocity gives him both a very low floor and ceiling, but his ground-ball rate is back up three percentage points this season after a disappointing drop-off last year in Houston. Fister still does not have a guaranteed spot in Boston’s rotation down the stretch, and he certainly does not profile as an option any owner should feel comfortable deploying in a crucial playoff match-up, but for those in need of a deep-league streamer, Fister does at least seem to have recovered some of the ground balls that made him one of the league’s better starters at the beginning of the decade. It has largely been a miserable season for Kyle Gibson, who has been unable to follow-up a solid 2015 season over the past two years. His most recent three starts, however, have provided some reason for hope, as he has run a 20:2 strikeout-walk ratio with only three runs allowed, going at least six innings in each start. While the strikeout and walk rates have been encouraging, he has continued to give up tons of solid contact, relying on an unsustainable ability to work his way out of jams to prevent runs. As a ground-ball specialist, Gibson relies largely on movement for favorable ball-in-play results, and his sinker, slider and changeup have all been missing some downward movement this season, with his sinker in particular much less effective than it was in 2015. At this point, because of the downturn in stuff and the extremely-high strand rate, Gibson is best left on the wire in all but the deepest of leagues.

Relief Pitcher

1. Fernando Rodney
2. Ken Giles
3. Corey Knebel
4. Alex Colome
5. Cody Allen
6. Brad Hand
7. Blake Parker
8. Scott Alexander
9. Edwin Diaz
10. Hector Neris

Each of the relief pitchers on this list has been propped up by high save totals. Nine of the closers seem safe bets to continue to close for their teams moving forward, with team performance more important to their continued save totals than anything specific to the pitchers themselves. Scott Alexander has also perhaps put himself into the running for the ninth inning in Kansas City, riding a 93 MPH sinker to a 75% ground-ball rate this season. Alexander’s run prevention numbers have not entirely been supported by his peripherals (his strikeout rate, in particular, is sub par for a relief pitcher), but his sinker undoubtedly has worked to this point, and his picking up two saves over the past week may be a precursor to his taking the ninth inning for the remainder of the season.

Note: All player statistics have been drawn from

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