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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. J.T. Realmuto
2. Willson Contreras
3. Salvador Perez
4. Kurt Suzuki
5. Buster Posey
6. Cameron Rupp
7. James McCann
8. Christian Vazquez
9. Evan Gattis
10. Gary Sanchez

I named J.T. Realmuto as my top catching target for the second-half when I examined second-half targets two weeks ago. Since July 19, Realmuto has hit .378/.465/.784 with an outrageous batted ball profile, adopting a fly-ball approach recently that he has not demonstrated throughout his career. He has also drawn six walks in 43 plate appearances over that time, continuing a trend of improved plate discipline this season. Whether Realmuto’s newfound loft and patience are merely the product of a temporary hot streak or the beginning of his taking his offensive game to another level remains to be seen. Even if Realmuto regresses to his old ground-ball, free-swinging profile, he profiles as one of the best offensive catchers in baseball due to his elite contact skills. If he has truly matured as a hitter, he has a chance to be one of the better hitters in baseball, independent of position, down the stretch. James McCann has hit .459 over the past two weeks, with the gaudy batting average responsible for his placement on the Player Rater. To McCann’s credit, he has hit quite a few hard line drives to support his .571 BABIP over that time, but his 44.8% line drive rate cannot possibly be expected to continue. Nevertheless, McCann makes contact at a decent rate, draws a solid number of walks and has cut his ground-ball rate in each of his three major league seasons. With Alex Avila now traded to Chicago, McCann should have a strong hold on the catching position in Detroit, and there are enough positive indicators in his underlying numbers to make him a high-end reserve option in most leagues, even factoring in some inevitable batting average regression. Christian Vazquez’s Player Rater appearance is, like McCann’s, supported by a high batting average, although they have achieved those gaudy totals in different ways. Vazquez’s contact quality over this hot streak has been underwhelming, but his miniscule strikeout rate (two strikeouts in 32 plate appearances) has more than made up for that. His bat control is fantastic (his out-of-zone contact rate of 79.1% dwarfs the league average of 62.9%), but his plate discipline and contact quality are below-average. He should continue to get opportunities to hit with men on base given Boston’s strong team offense, but Vazquez should not be counted on to contribute in anything more than batting average.

First Base

1. Eric Hosmer
2. Justin Smoak
3. Carlos Santana
4. Joey Gallo
5. Jose Abreu
6. Anthony Rizzo
7. Travis Shaw
8. Trey Mancini
9. Paul Goldschmidt
10. Buster Posey

Eric Hosmer’s three stolen bases over the past two weeks are the primary reason that he sits atop the Player Rater. While Hosmer likely offers more athleticism than most first basemen, he has not tallied doubled digit stolen bases since 2013, so expecting him to continue to contribute in that category seems overly optimistic. That said, Hosmer’s offensive production this season has been stellar, and his .323/.379/.499 line is a career-best. Neither Hosmer’s plate discipline nor contact metrics support the idea that he has reached a new level offensively, however, and Hosmer is currently running a career-high .357 BABIP that is likely due for regression. Hosmer should continue to hit for high batting averages, given that he has an all-fields, ground-ball heavy approach and limits his strikeouts, but his merely average power likely keeps him substantially below the league’s elite players at the position. Like Hosmer, Carlos Santana utilizes a high contact rate to limit his strikeouts, although he does so with one of the game’s best feels for the strike zone. Santana hits balls more often into the air and plays in a more hitter-friendly park, however, enabling him to produce more power consistently than Hosmer can. The other side of that approach, however, is that he pulls more than half of the balls that he puts into play, causing him to consistently run extremely low BABIPs. While Hosmer and Santana are vastly different players, they are likely in the same tier of overall first basemen, with Hosmer’s high-contact approach better for owners looking for batting average, and Santana’s approach better for power.

Second Base

1. Jonathan Schoop
2. Jose Altuve
3. Whit Merrifield
4. Dee Gordon
5. Rougned Odor
6. Cesar Hernandez
7. Chris Taylor
8. Jose Ramirez
9. Cory Spangenberg
10. Wilmer Flores

[the_ad id=”384″]Jonathan Schoop’s breakout season has continued with six home runs since July 18, although, of course, he will not continue to hit home runs on 30% of his fly balls. Schoop’s fly-ball and hard hit rates are at career highs, and, as I noted when recapping the first half of the season, he seems to have made strides this season in his plate discipline. He strikes out and hits pop-ups at higher rates than average, so he likely is not a true .300 hitter for the remainder of the season, but it is without question that he has improved dramatically this season as a hitter and profiles as one of the better second basemen in baseball at this point. It has been a forgettable year for Rougned Odor, as he currently sports a .222/.261/.435 line. Much of that has been BABIP-related, although his pop-up rate has nearly tripled from last season, indicating that his poor performance has been a product of more than luck. Odor’s pop-up rate has remained high over his recent hot streak, although his HR/FB rate has ticked back up as well. His fly-ball approach and free-swinging ways make him likely to continue to struggle in the batting average department, but it is worth remembering that he is only 23 years old and has demonstrated substantial power in the past. Counting on Odor this season is inadvisable, given his struggles, but he could be an interesting buy-low given his youth and past production. Cesar Hernandez has stolen four bases over the past two weeks, along with a .339/.422/.482 line. A patient hitter, Hernandez manages to draw a fair share of walks despite a lack of power that inspires pitchers to work him heavily inside of the strike zone. Given his ground-ball, all-fields approach, elite speed and patient approach, Hernandez should continue to reach base at a solid clip and hit for a high batting average. While he will never be a great power hitter, may be worth a flyer for owners searching for stolen bases.

Third Base

1. Nolan Arenado
2. Eduardo Nunez
3. Alex Bregman
4. Chris Taylor
5. Mike Moustakas
6. Joey Gallo
7. Jose Ramirez
8. Travis Shaw
9. Cory Spangenberg
10. Eugenio Suarez

Nolan Arenado defended his place atop the positional Rater by hitting .421/.500/.895 with a 3:1 strikeout-walk ratio over the past week. Arenado is one of the game’s better hitters, and he undoubtedly profiles as one of the game’s best fantasy assets moving forward. Alex Bregman has hit .350/.413/.775 since July 18, with better contact quality and a 48.6% fly-ball rate over that time. His batted ball profile, while not spectacular, is balanced, his contact rate is up a fantastic 10 percentage points from last season, and, relatedly, he has cut his chase rate by five percentage points. Bregman may get overshadowed on an Astros team overflowing with position player talent, but he is only a calendar year removed from being the best prospect in all of baseball on the strength of an advanced bat, and he has an above-average .266/.336/.464 career line as a 23-year-old. He is certainly not in the elite tier of major-league third basemen, and the influx of young superstars has left Bregman somewhat on the periphery of the league’s top young talents. However, Bregman’s career start has been special, and, if he becomes shortstop-eligible in Carlos Correa’s absence, he would immediately become an everyday option at that position.


1. Eduardo Nunez
2. Didi Gregorius
3. Marcus Semien
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Andrelton Simmons
6. Corey Seager
7. Freddy Galvis
8. Trevor Story
9. Jose Iglesias
10. Wilmer Difo

I have, in the past, noted my skepticism of Eduardo Nunez’s ground-ball approach. Nunez has hit .463/.500/.685 over the past two weeks on the strength of a .479 BABIP, despite a ground-ball rate of 56% and a pull rate of 44%. Nunez makes a ton of contact and hits quite a few ground balls to maximize his speed, and, as such, he should hit for a high batting average, but he has not quite been the stolen base threat that he was last season and offers virtually no power upside. While his recent trade from San Francisco to Boston should boost his value (he moves to a more hitter-friendly park, a stronger lineup that should offer him more run-scoring opportunities, and, given Dustin Pedroia’s absence, he may add second base eligibility down the stretch), his offensive upside is nearly entirely reliant on making contact. Wilmer Difo has taken advantage of increased playing time in the wake of absences to Trea Turner and Stephen Drew, hitting .283/.298/.522. Much of Difo’s offensive production, however, has been the result of an unsustainably high 32.4% line drive rate and 42.9% HR/FB rate, with much of his contact relatively weak. Difo does not make enough contact to offset his terrible plate discipline, and much of his contact is of the ground-ball variety. Difo is not a particularly appealing fantasy asset moving forward.


1. Eduardo Nunez
2. Justin Upton
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Bradley Zimmer
5. Whit Merrifield
6. Brett Gardner
7. Adam Jones
8. Charlie Blackmon
9. Michael Conforto
10. Chris Taylor

Justin Upton has hit .352/.444/.648 since July 18, working deeper into counts and making better contact than he has all year. I noted Upton as a second-half target during the All-Star Break based on his career track record and fantastic batted ball quality this season, and Upton has expanded upon that over the past two weeks. Of some concern is that his strikeout rate has spiked to nearly 30%, although that spike has been offset by an improved walk rate. Although Detroit has moved some key offensive pieces recently, Upton should still get plenty of opportunities to drive in runs occupying a lineup with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, and he has continued his career-long offensive excellence. Long one of the more underrated players in baseball, Brett Gardner has continued to demonstrate elite plate discipline and contact ability. Encouragingly, Gardner’s contact quality this season has improved, as he has bumped up his hard hit rate by seven percentage points and his fly-ball rate by 10 percentage points to support his career-high home run rate. Gardner’s feel for the strike zone and balanced batted ball profile should enable him to hit for a high batting average, he continues to be a reliable stolen base threat, and his power breakout appears to have been supported by a legitimate change in process. Gardner should be able to contribute across all categories as one of the more well-rounded offensive players in baseball.

Starting Pitchers

1. James Paxton
2. Kevin Gausman
3. Luis Severino
4. Michael Wacha
5. Kenta Maeda
6. Charlie Morton
7. Jon Lester
8. Aaron Nola
9. German Marquez
10. Jacob deGrom

Kevin Gausman has struck out eight in each of his last three starts with a Joey Gallo home run accounting for the only run scored against Gausman in that time. His combination of strikeouts and ground balls have been intriguing, although his command has continued to waver despite his improved results. Gausman’s velocity remains elite, but he has lost an inch of drop on his splitter from last season, and his new slider has been a disappointment. Without a go-to breaking ball and spotty command, Gausman remains a risky play, although his fastball-splitter combination should enable him to continue to generate strikeouts and ground balls. German Marquez has run a 28:4 strikeout-walk ratio over his last three starts, including a seven-inning gem against Washington. Marquez has benefited from some batted ball luck, but his 23% season-long strikeout rate is above-average for a starting pitcher. Marquez’s high-riding 95 MPH fastball and 12-6 curveball have successfully changed hitters’ eye levels, inducing chases and pop-ups. Any pitcher is Coors Field is risky, and Marquez has yet to develop a solid third pitch, but he appears one of the more promising young pitchers in baseball, even if best deployed at the moment only in favorable match-ups.

Relief Pitcher

1. Aroldis Chapman
2. Brad Hand
3. Kenley Jansen
4. Kelvin Herrera
5. Hector Neris
6. Edwin Diaz
7. Addison Reed
8. Wade Davis
9. Trevor Rosenthal
10. Alex Colome

Each of the relief pitchers on this list has been propped up by high save totals. With the exception of Addison Reed (whose trade from the Mets to Boston has relegated him to a set-up role), all seem safe bets to close for their teams moving forward, with team performance more important to their continued save totals than anything specific to the pitchers themselves.

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