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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. Mike Zunino
3. Salvador Perez
4. Brian McCann
5. Buster Posey
6. Yasmani Grandal
7. Tyler Flowers
8. Manny Pina
9. J.T. Realmuto
10. Tyler Flowers

Gary Sanchez and Mike Zunino hold the top two spots on the positional Player Rater for the second consecutive week. Sanchez has run a .409/.480/.886 line over the past two weeks, propped up by an absurd 46.2% HR/FB rate. Sanchez has made solid contact over that time, though, while drawing walks at a well above-average rate and striking out less than average. While he cannot continue to hit home runs at this rate, his batted ball profile looks remarkably similar to the one that he produced last season, and he has cemented himself as one of the top catchers in baseball. Following Mike Zunino’s seven RBI performance, I opined that Zunino’s strikeout rate made him “more likely to be demoted…than to cement himself as a fantasy catcher.” Since then, however, he has produced a .333/.407/.792 line with seven home runs. His batted ball profile has been quite strong over that time, and his obvious raw power and propensity to hit fly balls does make him a legitimate power threat for a catcher, but Zunino’s strikeout troubles have failed to subside, even during this recent hot streak. Once his .378 BABIP falls (and, given his fly-ball propensity and lack of speed, it is likely to plummet soon), he seems likely to settle back in as a power-only option.

First Base

1. Cody Bellinger
2. Edwin Encarnacion
3. Paul Goldschmidt
4. Matt Adams
5. Trey Mancini
6. Ian Desmond
7. Joey Votto
8. Matt Carpenter
9. Anthony Rizzo
10. Logan Morrison

Cody Bellinger has ridden a power spike to the top of the positional rankings. His hard contact rate over that time is a ridiculous 65.8%, with Bellinger further embracing his profile as a fly-ball, pull hitter. Almost as encouraging is that Bellinger has trimmed his strikeout rate during this hot streak to nearly average levels while retaining his average walk rate. Bellinger has rebounded from a less excellent May by improving his feel for the strike zone this month, a sign of the talented rookie making an adjustment to the league. Another talented rookie first baseman, Trey Mancini has hit his way into the top five by running a .362 batting average with five home runs over the past two weeks. Mancini’s improvement, however, looks less sustainable than Bellinger’s. Mancini’s season-long BABIP of .383, while partially a result of his tendency to hit a lot of fairly hard ground balls, has also been boosted recently by a dramatic uptick in infield hits and remains destined to drop, and his below-average plate discipline would seem to support his current high strikeout rate. Mancini does make enough contact, in a strong enough lineup, to be relevant as a contributor in batting average, home runs, runs and RBI, but he seems to profile as a back-end first baseman moving forward. Ian Desmond’s five stolen bases are the primary reasons why he sits on sixth on the rater. Desmond’s recent .321/.350/.464 slash is solid, but unspectacular, for a first baseman, and he has continued to hit a high number of relatively weak ground balls and pop-ups, failing to take advantage of his home park. Desmond has always rated as a plus baserunner and offers good speed for the position, but his power output this season has not been commensurate with the top first basemen around the league.

Second Base

1. Dee Gordon
2. Jose Ramirez
3. Jose Pirela
4. Treat Turner
5. Yangervis Solarte
6. Starlin Castro
7. D.J. LeMahieu
8. Matt Carpenter
9. Ian Kinsler
10. Brandon Drury

After adding six more stolen bases in his last seven games, Dee Gordon now sits tied for second in that category with 27 this season. Gordon’s profile is well-known at this point — he hits a ton of ground balls across the field before using his legs to do damage on the base paths. So long as Gordon continues to put the ball in play (and his swing and contact rates are right in line with his career norms), his speed will likely keep him near the top of the second base rankings. Anchoring a Cleveland lineup that has caught fire recently, Jose Ramirez has hit .548/.578/.1048 since June 14. He has continued this year to be one of the most difficult major league hitters to strike out and has hit for more power than many would expect for a player his height. He has doubled his HR/FB rate this season thanks to a 10 percentage point jump in his hard contact rate. Given his solid contact and ability to put the ball in play, Ramirez is a safe bet to hit for a high batting average, his power gains seem legitimate, he has demonstrated above-average speed in the past (although he has been more cautious on the base paths so far this season), and he offers positional versatility. Still one of the most underrated players in baseball, Ramirez seems to have cemented himself as a core piece on a very good team. As I noted last week, Jose Pirela has been fantastic since being recalled from El Paso, although the sample size was much too small to make any significant judgments. Pirela’s most recent week did not yield particularly strong results (a .192/.276/.346 line), although it is worth noting that he has continued to limit weak contact and strikeouts over that time, with a .222 BABIP largely to blame for his poor week. He remains a bit of a mystery, but the longer he continues to demonstrate a more mature approach at the plate and makes consistent hard contact, the more relevant he becomes. At just 27, it is not impossible to believe that he could establish himself as useful major leaguer moving forward. The Padres, at the very least, have every incentive to let him try.

Third Base

1. Jose Ramirez
2. Yangervis Solarte
3. Matt Carpenter
4. Nolan Arenado
5. Brandon Drury
6. Eduardo Escobar
7. Matt Davidson
8. Justin Turner
9. Chris Taylor
10. Mike Moustakas

Yangervis Solarte has had a quiet power surge recently, having hit six home runs since June 7. He has done so with a 7:7 strikeout-walk ratio over that time and with a spike in his fly-ball rate to partially explain the power boost. Unfortunately, it appears that Solarte is headed for a DL stint thanks to an oblique strain. Solarte will be an interesting player to follow upon his return, given his recent change in batted ball profile. He noted vaguely that he had made “some adjustments” before the injury, so perhaps his improvements at the plate were rooted in a slight change in mechanics or approach. Eduardo Escobar’s .467 batting average placed him on the Player Rater, as he has continued his solid year for Minnesota in a utility role. Escobar’s peripheral statistics remain unremarkable on the whole, although it is worth noting that he is sporting a hard contact rate nearly seven percentage points higher than his career average, and that he has slightly cut down on his chase rate while swinging more often at strikes. His overall upside still seems limited, given that he has below-average power and speed, plays in a pitcher-friendly home park and on a mediocre offensive team, but his slight improvements at the plate could result in playing time all over the diamond moving forward.


1. Corey Seager
2. Andrelton Simmons
3. Trea Turner
4. Eduardo Escobar
5. Didi Gregorius
6. Xander Bogaerts
7. Dansby Swanson
8. Orlando Arcia
9. Jose Reyes
10. Manny Machado

The best shortstop in baseball, Corey Seager has only improved upon his MVP-caliber 2016 so far this season. Seager has remarkably nearly doubled his walk rate while maintaining his strikeout rate from last season, demonstrating more of a willingness to wait out pitchers who have understandably become progressively less willing to challenge him in the strike zone. Despite that patience, Seager has remained aggressive when he does get pitches that he can handle, and his improved plate discipline has been rewarded with more authoritative contact than ever. Even his defense, generally the only knock on him as a prospect, has been solid, and he is likely one of the top five players in MLB at this point. Xander Bogaerts has had a strong season in Boston, although his power has been curiously missing for much of it. That has shown signs of changing, however, as he’s slugged .507 with three home runs since June 6. Bogaerts’ contact quality has been solid, although he has continued to demonstrate more gap power than over-the-fence power, even recently, hitting five doubles thanks to a 24.5% line drive rate. His recent .299 batting average has actually been depressed somewhat by a .333 BABIP that is likely a little bit lower than what Bogaerts will run moving forward, given his plus speed and propensity to hit solid line drives. Encouragingly, Bogaerts’ strikeout rate over the past few weeks, although up a few percentage points from his season totals, still remained comfortably less frequent than average, indicating that Bogaerts may need not sacrifice much in the way of contact to become more imposing in the box. It has been another tough season at the plate for Orlando Arcia, and his placement on the Player Rater would appear to be temporary. Recently, Arcia has benefited from an extremely high BABIP despite a number of weak ground balls, and while his three stolen bases since June 6 are encouraging for a player who was lauded for his speed as a prospect, he has been a bit more cautious as a base-stealer in the majors, having stolen only 12 bases over his 124 career games. Without some substantial improvements in plate discipline or contact quality, Arcia seems unlikely to reach base enough to rack up enough stolen bases to be fantasy relevant.


1. Cody Bellinger
2. Lorenzo Cain
3. Cameron Maybin
4. Aaron Judge
5. Andrew McCutchen
6. Jose Ramirez
7. David Peralta
8. Trey Mancini
9. Ian Desmond
10. Mallex Smith

Lorenzo Cain has had a fantastic couple of weeks, hitting seven home runs while running a .333/.397/.754 line. Of course, his home run rate is unsustainable, although his recent contact quality has been elite. Many of Cain’s underlying numbers remain similar to years past, as his well-rounded skillset has made Cain one of the better players in baseball this decade. He is again running a less-than-average strikeout rate, is drawing walks at a slightly above-average rate for the first time in his career, makes consistent solid contact and has been remarkably proficient and efficient on the bases (he’s been a perfect 14-14 on stolen base attempts this season). With the Royals on the fringes of contention, Cain is all but certain to be traded if the team struggles in the coming months, and a move to a better offensive team and park should help his somewhat pedestrian runs scored and RBI totals. Conversely, should the team improve its play in the near future, it is likely that Cain would be right in the middle of it, making him a potentially undervalued trade asset in fantasy leagues. Since returning from the disabled list, Cameron Maybin has successfully stolen all eight of his attempts, pushing him to third on the positional Rater. Maybin’s game is built around a solid batting average and decent speed, and his devastating return on the base paths indicates, at the very least, that his oblique contusion appears to be behind him. Because of a ground-ball oriented approach, Maybin has never been a serious home run threat, and nothing in his approach this season would suggest that he will become one in the near future, but spraying solid ground balls is a good bet to improve your BABIP, and Maybin’s .325 figure for the season seems sustainable. If he truly has been green-lighted to run more often, Maybin could be a very strong steals play, given his solid batting averages and discerning eye at the plate that enable him to reach base at a very strong clip even without great power.

Starting Pitchers

1. Max Scherzer
2. Corey Kluber
3. Jacob Faria
4. Chris Sale
5. Jose Berrios
6. Mike Fiers
7. Carlos Carrasco
8. Clayton Kershaw
9. Gio Gonzalez
10. Carlos Martinez

Jacob Faria has gotten a win in each of his first three starts, allowing only one earned run in each. With an elite sinking changeup, Faria has racked up 22 strikeouts against only four walks. While he is, of course, not going to keep a 1.37 ERA all season, he dominated at the Triple-A level before his promotion, came into this season as a fairly well-regarded prospect and has been fantastic in his brief career on the back of a great off-speed pitch. He should be added in all leagues immediately. Mike Fiers has had a massive problem with the home-run ball this season, although he has not coughed one up over his last three starts. He has induced ground balls on two-thirds of balls hit against him, and has only allowed hard contact on 17.6% of balls in play. His previously mediocre year should not be disregarded due to a recent string of strong performances, two of which were against an Angels’ lineup without Mike Trout and against Oakland, but his recent production has been supported by missing bats and inducing weak contact. Gio Gonzalez has run a fantastic 22:3 strikeout-walk ratio over his last three starts, and while has been aided by some batted ball fortune, he has not given up solid contact. Gonzalez’s season-long performance has been solid, although his 2.96 ERA is largely a reflection of him stranding 84.5% of baserunners this year, which is unlikely to continue. That said, he has generated strikeouts at a solid rate and has a strong offense backing him (in addition to a heavy dose of weak divisional opponents), so Gonzalez profiles as a solid back-end starter option moving forward.

Relief Pitcher

1. Kenley Jansen
2. Fernando Rodney
3. Corey Knebel
4. Roberto Osuna
5. Edwin Diaz
6. Felipe Rivero
7. Jim Johnson
8. Alex Colome
9. Kelvin Herrera
10. Greg Holland

The reliever rankings inherently rely on miniscule sample sizes and save opportunities, not coincidentally paralleling many of the hottest teams in baseball. Kenley Jansen, Fernando Rodney, Corey Knebel, Roberto Osuna, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera have all had the fortune of closings games for teams playing particularly well recently, while Jim Johnson has picked up two wins. At the very least, all of these pitchers have taken steps towards retaining their ninth-inning role, with Jansen continuing his historic season with an unfathomable 50:0 strikeout-walk ratio.

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