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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. Gary Sanchez
2. Christian Vazquez
3. Robinson Chirinos
4. Alex Avila
5. Wilson Ramos
6. Welington Castillo
7. Cameron Rupp
8. Yadier Molina
9. Roberto Perez
10. Yan Gomes

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Gary Sanchez’s appeal of his suspension has yet to be heard, making it likely that he will be forced to serve a small ban in the midst of fantasy playoffs for applicable leagues. In his stead, owners would be wise to consider adding Welington Castillo, who surprisingly remains available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues. Long a productive offensive player at the position, Castillo’s offensive numbers look as good as ever this season. His batted ball authority, plate discipline and contact rates all appear largely in line with his career averages, and he has hit a stellar .357/.419/.679 since August 15 with tons of solid contact over that stretch, albeit it with a slightly-alarming increase in his ground-ball rate. Nevertheless, Castillo’s season-long numbers are solid, he plays in a hitter-friendly park, and, given that his defensive metrics have ticked up this season and Baltimore is back on the periphery of the Wild Card race, he is almost a lock to hold down the majority of playing time behind the plate down the stretch (barring injury, of course). Cleveland’s catching tandem has hit well in recent weeks, although their nearly equal divide in playing time and spotty performance history makes it difficult to trust either player. Roberto Perez’s most recent 20 plate appearances have been exceptional, and he has long demonstrated fantastic plate discipline, but his ground-ball tendency and infrequent hard contact (as well as a disturbing drop in his in-zone contact rate this season) make him unlikely to sustain any measure of offensive success long-term. In that sense, Yan Gomes is the more preferable of Cleveland’s catching options, although he too has massive offensive flaws. Gomes’ plate discipline and batted ball authority are both subpar, and although he continues to make a decent-enough amount of contact, the days of Gomes resembling an up-and-coming, power-hitting catcher appear to be long gone.

First Base

1. Rhys Hoskins
2. Anthony Rizzo
3. Jose Abreu
4. Eric Hosmer
5. Carlos Santana
6. Paul Goldschmidt
7. Jay Bruce
8. Luis Valbuena
9. Mark Reynolds
10. Josh Bell

[the_ad id=”384″]In the five days since I noted that “projecting him as a top ten first baseman for the season may be too bullish” after his scorching start, Rhys Hoskins has proceeded to raise his season line by hitting .400/.438/1.067 with three more home runs and only two strikeouts. Of course, an adjustment period for Hoskins is coming, as he will not continue to hit like Babe Ruth, and 80 plate appearances is not enough to entirely change one’s opinion on a player. It is worth noting, however, that everything that Hoskins has done offensively as a major-league player has been elite (his contact, plate discipline, and, obviously, power, have been off-the-charts). Perhaps even more encouragingly, after feasting on subpar competition for the first few weeks, Hoskins homered in three consecutive games off of Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Koji Uehara. While none of those pitchers are having career seasons, they have all had massive success in the past and have still been capable in 2017, perhaps demonstrating that Hoskins is capable of hitting quality pitching as well. For now, he looks like an everyday play, at least until pitchers make an adjustment. In a league where everyone seemingly hits home runs, it has become easy to overlook that Mark Reynolds has hit 28 this season, including five over the past two weeks. He remains largely the player that he always has been: a low-contact, pull-oriented power hitter taking full advantage of a hitter’s park. Interestingly, Reynolds’ ground-ball rates have ticked up in recent seasons, aiding his batting averages on balls in play but decreasing his power output, making him a less-effective hitter. Over the past two weeks, however, his fly-ball rate sits at 58% and his strikeout rate at 34%, as he seems to be making a conscious effort to elevate the ball once again. His warts are well-documented, and he is always going to rack up massive strikeout totals, but Coors Field tends to inflate BABIPs as well as power, and Reynolds is hitting .274 this season after hitting .282 (that Mark Reynolds nearly hit .300, whatever the reason, is stunning) last year. His reverting to a power-only approach (if it is a conscious change) may cause that batting average to drop a bit over the next few weeks, but he could be one of the league’s top power hitters for the rest of the season as compensation.

Second Base

1. Anthony Rizzo
2. Dee Gordon
3. Brian Dozier
4. Howie Kendrick
5. Jonathan Schoop
6. D.J. LeMahieu
7. Ian Kinsler
8. Brandon Phillips
9. Kolten Wong
10. Josh Harrison

Anthony Rizzo’s last two weeks have seen him hit .423/.500/.750, albeit with a large amount of soft contact that curiously has resulted in a .487 BABIP over that time. Despite the soft contact, Rizzo is one of the league’s best first baseman, and, in leagues in which he is technically a second baseman, even more valuable. Ian Kinsler has only a .242 BABIP over that past two weeks despite an absurdly low 5.6% soft contact rate in that time. Comerica Park has seemingly inflated players’ hard-hit rates this season, so perhaps that number reflects a calibration issue of some point, but there is no question that Kinsler has hit the ball well recently. His strikeout rate is up by ten points over his season mark, but his recent performance seems to correspond well with some poor luck all season long. Kinsler’s BABIP is .255, while he has been closer to the league-average of .300 for the course of his career. While some of that can be explained by an increased pop-up rate, it largely seems that Kinsler’s fly-ball approach has seemingly let him down this season, despite his contact profile remaining much the same. In his prime, Kinsler offered a solid combination of contact, power and speed, and his underlying metrics largely remain the same this season. Detroit’s depleted roster may limit his opportunities to score runs and tally RBI, but the player himself is still a potential across-the-board contributor.

Third Base

1. Manny Machado
2. Eugenio Suarez
3. Adrian Beltre
4. Alex Bregman
5. Nicky Delmonico
6. Josh Donaldson
7. Luis Valbuena
8. Brandon Phillips
9. Josh Harrison
10. Nolan Arenado

Manny Machado has, as noted last week, been one of the game’s elite players since the second-half, and, given his track record, should continue to be one of the top options at third base and shortstop down the stretch. A sprained wrist has stopped Nick Delmonico’s hot start to his big-league career, and, even if he does manage to return this season, wrist injuries tend to have a lingering effect on a player’s power, so he should probably be released at this point in redraft leagues. Josh Harrison’s dramatic walk-off home run to spoil Rich Hill’s no-hit bid was only one of four that he has in the last 61 plate appearances. His strikeout-walk ratio over that time, however, is an uninspiring 16:2, explaining his lackluster .295 on-base percentage. He has been a competent offensive performer despite below-average plate discipline in the past, however, using high line drive rates to support above-average BABIPs. This season, Harrison has cut his ground-ball rate by eight percentage points, increased his hard-hit rate by five percentage points and increased his pull rate by three percentage points. All of those changes have combined to make him more a power threat, as he (like the rest of the league, seemingly) has set a career-high with 16 home runs. Harrison’s line drives have remained largely steady and his strikeout rate is only up slightly, so the corresponding drop in batting average has been miniscule. Harrison’s stolen base totals are down somewhat, but still solid for a third baseman, and he offers multi-positional eligibility. He is not the most exciting player, about average across the board, and likely should not be starting on playoff teams, but he makes for a decent bench piece in most leagues.


1. Jorge Polanco
2. Manny Machado
3. Alex Bregman
4. Francisco Lindor
5. Elvis Andrus
6. Wilmer Difo
7. Tim Beckham
8. Brandon Crawford
9. Trevor Story
10. Paul DeJong

I wrote about Jorge Polanco’s hot streak in last week’s piece, noting that he is likely better than his season numbers would indicate, but that it is questionable whether he can continue to produce a substantial power output. Since Friday, Polanco has added six extra-base hits (including two home runs) in 19 plate appearances. He is young enough to still conceivably add power to his game, although he is performing at an unprecedented power level at the moment. This month has been extremely encouraging, particularly for next season, but owners likely will not want to count on Polanco every day in the fantasy playoffs. Paul DeJong has been remarkably productive all season despite subpar plate discipline, relying on solid batted ball authority to make up for low walk totals and a high strikeout rate. His recent hot streak has been more of the same, as his 14:2 strikeout-walk ratio is below-average, although his 23% strikeout rate of that time is much closer to average than his season mark of 29.4%. DeJong’s hard contact and nearly equal ratio of fly-balls and ground-balls should enable him to hit for a high BABIP despite poor speed (although his .372 mark is still due for regression), so even a slightly below-average strikeout rate would make him a very productive hitter. At this point, his profile is promising but unsustainable, but DeJong also has a long history of making adjustments to outperform expectations, so it is feasible that he could cut down on the strikeouts moving forward, and it is worth noting that he never had such an extreme contact problem in the minor leagues. As is, DeJong is a competent offensive player, but sustained contact improvement is necessary for him to continue to be a very good performer, especially because he lacks the speed upside typically associated with shortstops (he has zero stolen bases this season, stole zero bases in the minors in 2016 and is a poor baserunner overall).


1. Byron Buxton
2. Rhys Hoskins
3. Giancarlo Stanton
4. Charlie Blackmon
5. Starling Marte
6. Marcell Ozuna
7. Shin-Soo Choo
8. Christian Yelich
9. Howie Kendrick
10. Jay Bruce

Perhaps surprisingly, given the well-publicized tears of Giancarlo Stanton and Rhys Hoskins, Byron Buxton actually ranks as the top player on the Player Rater over the past 15 days, thanks to his combination of home runs and stolen bases. Buxton’s offensive success feels less certain than Hoskins’ (and is certainly less certain than Stanton’s), but he has hit seven home runs and has stolen four bases since August 15, including a three home-run game on August 27. This combination of power and speed is why Buxton was long considered the game’s best prospect, and it is massively encouraging that his strikeout rate over the past two weeks is at a manageable 22.2%, but it is worth noting that he has only drawn one walk and continues to hit a high amount of pop-ups. His poor on-base percentage will likely continue to prevent him from being one of the game’s elite stolen base threats despite nearly unmatched pure speed, and, like DeJong, he also needs to maintain his contact improvement in order to continue to hit for power at an above-average rate. That said, Buxton is only 23 years old, having major-league success at an age when many prospects are still yet to make their major-league debut, and he has a long track record of making successful adjustments. Caution is warranted until he proves his changes are lasting, but optimism should once again abound. (From a real-life perspective, Buxton’s incredible defense gives him a high-floor regardless of the sustainability of his offensive improvements, but fantasy owners are likely concerned only with his offensive output). Starling Marte’s Player Rater placement is almost entirely a reflection of his five stolen bases since August 15. Marte has long been one of the game’s elite baserunners, and his contact-oriented, all-fields approach, coupled with that top-flight speed, allow him to consistently hit for high batting averages, so his .311 mark over the past two weeks is likely more representative of his true talent level than his season-long .259 figure. On the other hand, Marte’s soft contact rate this season is up substantially (even more concerning given that he missed 80 games with a performance-enhancing drug suspension), and his isolated power has dipped to a lowly .093, so any preseason dreams of Marte being a potential power-speed threat are largely finished at this point. His speed makes him functional, but his complete lack of power in a year in which he was suspended for steroid usage casts doubts upon his future as an offensive player. Shin-Soo Choo has rebounded from a down July to produce another above-average offensive season, albeit largely as an underpowered DH option. Choo’s recent performance, however, has included a substantial power output, as he has hit .339/.381/.525 since August 15, but with a curiously low walk rate and a higher strikeout rate. For the season as a whole, Choo has again exhibited exceptional plate discipline and an above-average contact rate, and his contact quality is also quite good. Given that Choo plays in a hitter-friendly park and hits the ball with authority, he would seem to stand to benefit greatly from elevating the ball, as a miniscule fly-ball rate has limited him to “only” 17 home runs, despite his having a career-high HR/FB rate. Unfortunately, even his recent hot streak has largely been driven by a substantial uptick in line drives (which is extraordinarily difficult to maintain) rather than a more sustainable jump in fly-ball rate. Given that a pull-heavy, ground-ball approach limits one’s BABIP, that he has below-average speed (his 11 stolen bases are a four-year high) and he has not demonstrated any seemingly sustainable changes to help him to hit for more power, he remains a relatively unexciting option, despite the rare combination of contact, plate discipline and batted-ball authority.

Starting Pitchers

1. Patrick Corbin
2. Corey Kluber
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Luis Severino
5. Chris Archer
6. Jake Arrieta
7. Zach Davies
8. Mike Montgomery
9. Luke Weaver
10. Blake Snell

Patrick Corbin tossed seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his only start since last week’s edition of the Player Rater to retain his spot atop the positional rankings. I noted last week that he seems best deployed selectively in favorable match-ups, and few match-ups are as favorable as the Giants, even in Arizona’s extreme hitters’ park. Mike Montgomery has only allowed one run in his past three starts, encompassing 17.1 innings pitched. That he has only issued walks to 3.1% of hitters over that span is encouraging, particularly so for a pitcher who has long been held back due to poor command, but his 18.8% strikeout rate in that time is also below-average. The .250 BABIP against him since August 17 is less a reflection of great luck than that his starts have seemingly consisted entirely of softly-hit ground balls, generally a recipe for success for a command-oriented pitcher. To that end, Montgomery has had success at inducing grounders all season, thanks largely a sinker with very good run inside on left-handed hitters. Even after this run of success, however, Montgomery’s season-long walk rate is at a well below-average 10.1%, and his curveball has actually lost a substantial amount of its drop this season and has consequently been easier for hitters to take entirely or to make contact when they do swing. Given that the sustainability of his command improvement is in doubt, he lacks an impact swing-and-miss offering with a less effective curveball and that his ultimate role is undetermined (he will likely be transferred to the bullpen upon Jon Lester’s return from injury), Montgomery is only desirable in deeper leagues. There are no questions about the future role of Luke Weaver, whom St. Louis will get a deeper look at during the stretch run after he struck out 20 with only two walks against San Diego and Milwaukee. Weaver has also induced ground balls at an elite clip over those starts, and managed to allow only two runs despite opponents running a .357 BABIP against him in that time. Weaver has allowed a few more well-struck balls than one would like, but that he has so far increased his ground-ball rate by 20 percentage points from last season’s abbreviated major-league action is likely extremely encouraging to the Cardinals. Weaver’s straight changeup, which garnered many plus grades from scouts preseason, has been his most improved offering in terms of results, generating ground-balls at a much higher rate than last season, and, unlike Montgomery, Weaver appears to have extremely good command, consistently running low walk rates in the minors as well. Without a swing-and-miss breaking ball, Weaver’s strikeout rates will likely not continue at this level, but that he has two legitimate pitches and plus command make him a solid option down the stretch, even if he profiles more as a command-oriented, mid-rotation starter than as a true ace.

Relief Pitcher

1. Corey Knebel
2. Alex Colome
3. Blake Treinen
4. Craig Kimbrel
5. Brad Ziegler
6. Fernando Rodney
7. Sean Doolittle
8. Wade Davis
9. Edwin Diaz
10. Kenley Jansen

Each of the relief pitchers on this list have been propped up by high save totals. All of the closers (assuming Edwin Diaz’s back spasms prove to be a minor issue as expected) 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.

Note: All player statistics have been drawn from

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